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The First Reason to Visit North Dakota: Nature Wild as It is Meant to Be

Reasons to visit North Dakota? There are so many reasons. But here are eight of the best.  First off, North Dakota has the only national park named for a person, Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Furthermore, it immortalises President Theodore Roosevelt who put national parks on the agenda (and on the map).

The two separate units of this spectacular tract of nature, north and south, remain pristine, with no buildings or man-made structures. However, the wildlife abounds in its natural habitat, including buffalo, horses, elk, white-tail and mule deer, prairie dogs. Over 186 kinds of birds can also be found here. Take the loop road to view the wildlife best, but take it slow and enjoy the spectacular scenery without the crowds. You’ll encounter more wildlife than you believed possible, but don’t forget, it is WILD! Stay your distance and stay safe.

Buffalo grazing at sunset in North Dakota

Buffalo grazing at sunset in North Dakota

The Second Reason: The Best Little Cowboy Town in the West

Undoubtedly, Medora is one of the best places in the continental USA to channel your inner cowboy or girl.  Here’s why: it has original wooden sidewalks, the National Cowboy Museum, a place to stay called the Badlands Motel (or alternatively the Rough Riders Hotel); horses are still used as town transport and the Pitchfork Fondue is a popular dining option. What more could you possibly want?

Medora town sign on the mountainside

Medora: the best little western town in ND

Oh, you like a five-star golf course? Check! Bully Pulpit Golf Course is a challenging course. Surrounded by the spectacularly rugged scenery of the Badlands. It is rated one of the 100 best public courses in the U.S. THis comes as no surprise to locals.

A golfer putting on Bully Pulpit golf course ND

Bully Pulpit- one of the best golf courses in the U.S.

 

You’d like a national park on the doorstep? Check! Medora is literally the gateway to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

You need a running/hiking/biking trail to challenge the best? Check! The Maah Daah Hey trail is 150 miles of some of the best single-track in the world. It traverses the Badlands, Little Missouri Grasslands, private land and the North and South units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Finally you want a nightly entertainment spectacular? Check! The Medora Musical  is held in a natural amphitheater outside town every evening in summer and is a living slice of Americana. It’ll have you hootin’ and hollerin’ in your seat.

Medora Musical on outdoor amphitheater stage in Medora North Dakota

Medora Musical in a spectacular outdoor setting

The Third Reason: Authentic American History you Always Wanted to Learn

History is only as old as yesterday’s birding adventure in North Dakota or  a Badland’s trail ride. Reach back to the Jurassic Period or into Lewis & Clark’s exploration of the West to discover the stories of great leaders like Sitting Bull and Theodore Roosevelt.

Badlands rugged terrain North Dakota

Badlands North Dakota

The Fourth Reason: Forts and Five Tribes

You can visit many of the forts around North Dakota along the itinerary of your next road trip. They are historically accurate relics of an earlier age of the cattle barons, railroads, the push west and conflicts between settlers and Native American tribes. Here are a few of the most interesting:

Fort Abraham Lincoln at night

Fort Abraham Lincoln

Fort Abraham Lincoln  

is conveniently located outside North Dakota’s capitol, Bismarck. Its an excellent choice for a one-stop history lesson. The Native Americans’  authentic On-A-Slant Village recreation allows visitors to get an up close and personal glimpse of the way of life of the Mandan people and their cultural heritage. And on the ‘other side of the fence’, step inside the faithfully recreated General and Mrs Custer’s house with an army aide. He will show you around while they are out; all taking place as if you are really back in their day (rookie tip: don’t mention mobile phones).  Ask all the questions you want and check out exactly how a General lived back in the 1800s.

Forth Berholdt Indian Reservation

is located in the central West of North Dakota. Home for the federally recognized Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.   They are also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. The reservation includes lands on both sides of the Missouri River.

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

is considered the grandest fort on the Upper Missouri River. Between 1828 and 1867, Fort Union was the most important fur trade post in the area. Here, the Assiniboine and six other Northern Plains Indian Tribes exchanged buffalo robes and smaller furs for goods from around the world, including cloth, guns, blankets, and beads. A fortress of peaceful coexistence, the post annually traded over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 in merchandise.

Fort Union Trading Post in North Dakota

Fort Union Trading Post in North Dakota

Fort Buford State Historic Site Fort Buford

built in 1866 became a major supply depot for military field operations. Fort Buford, located near present-day Williston, is one of a few military posts established to protect overland and river routes used by immigrants settling the West. However, it is best remembered as the place where the famous Hunkpapa Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, surrendered in 1881.

 Lewis and Clark

Explorers Lewis and Clark were among the earliest visitors to North Dakota. The expedition spent 214 days in North Dakota on two separate visits. The group spent 146 days on its outbound trip in October of 1804, when it set up a winter camp near Washburn. The second visit was on its return from the Pacific. The expedition stopped again in August of 1806. This was when Sakakawea was returned to her home. One quarter of the expedition was spent in what is now called North Dakota. They have mapped out a trail for you to follow that takes you on their route.

The Fifth Reason: Native American Tribes and Experiences

North Dakota is home to five federally recognized Native American Reservations and tribes. These include: Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes), the Spirit Lake Nationthe Standing Rock Sioux Tribethe Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation.

Check out some of the enriching experiences you can enjoy:

The United Tribes Powow

draws tribes from around the U.S. to take part in drumming, dancing and costume displays based on a rich tribal culture and tradition. The event runs over three days in early October and is an eye-opening way to immerse in living, evolving, Native American culture. Be sure to respect the people and the traditions and you will be richer for the experience.

Dancer at United Tribes Pow wow North Dakota

Dancer at United Tribes Pow wow North Dakota

Stay in a yurt or a teepee (you know you want to!)

When it comes to ‘yurting’ North Dakota has you covered! Three state parks feature yurts as part of their lodging packages: Cross Ranch State Park near Washburn, Lake Metigoshe State Park near Bottineau and Fort Ransom State Park near Fort Ransom. So when it comes to finding a unique winter stay you will be spoilt for choice. Yurts fall somewhere between a tent and cabin and they have transformed winter camping in the state. The yurts in North Dakota’s state parks are luxurious with a rustic backwoods charm. They have heat and electricity, meaning there’s no need to stoke the fire after returning from a chilly hike.

A family approaching a yurt accommodation in North Dakota

‘Yurting’ in North Dakota,

Ranch Stay with Brad Pitt (OK not really, but close second).

Black Leg Ranch cowboy rounding up cattle

Black Leg Ranch cowboy rounding up cattle

Black Leg Ranch, just south of Bismarck, is one of the oldest working cattle ranches still in operation today. Additionally, it is home to over 17000 acres of grassland prairie near the Missouri River. With buffalo wallows, the ghost town of Brittin, abandoned farmsteads, post office foundation, quicksand, 1800’s wagon trails, abandoned railroads and trestles, native American teepee rings and artifacts and much more. Equally important to note is that it is a family-owned ranch with a rich and legendary history including outlaws.

a cowboy riding at Black Leg Ranch ND

Black Leg Ranch, ND

When I first visited, the Doan family’s three sons, were hardworking cowboys (the real deal) and one, Jay, had even had a starring role in a movie (and, to me, was the nearest thing to Brad Pitt).

The ranch offers cabin accommodation for visitors keen to fish and hunt, and ‘dudes’ like us wanting to learn the arcane arts of the cowboy; ropin’ ridin’ and ranchin’.

Over the years since then, the ranch has grown and diversified and gone from strength to strength with a new lodge, a brewery and many significant awards under their collective belt. Now it’s renown as the place to enjoy the local brew, locally-raised grass-fed beef or buffalo …or to even get married (once yout find your own cowboy or girl)

 

The Sixth Reason: Fargo (Seen the Movie? Now visit for real).

The woodchipper on display form Fargo the Movie

Fargo movie woodchipper, Credit: North Dakota Tourism

Yes, fans, the real woodchipper from the movie can be viewed at the art-deco theatre in Fargo. But this should be an added extra. Fargo the town has much more to offer from a quirky Frostival festival held in winter with more fun family activities than the temperatures suggest, to the Fargo Air Museum, loads of breweries and craft beers, the Hotel Donaldson, a boutique gem.

Downtown buildings of Fargo ND

Streets Alive in downtown Fargo opens city streets to foot traffic.

After some outdoor adventures? Be sure to check out Lindenwood Park. This is the largest multi-use park in Fargo, and it is located on Roger Maris Drive along the Red River. The Universal Playground is a large playground that is accessible to all children. It features several shelters fitted will amenities that can be used for picnics as well as baseball fields. There are several trails in the park including skating trails, and bicycles can be rented during the warmer summer months. The park also has a scenic campground.

For family fun pack up the kids and head to the Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm. Located on 28th Avenue North in Fargo, the Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm offers hands on exhibits and many other attractions that keep curious children entertained while learning.

The best part… it all comes neatly summarised best by the town slogan: Fargo: North of Normal!

Snowga at Frostival winter Festival Fargo ND

Frostival, Snowga, winter, Fargo, North Dakota

The Seventh Reason: Agritourism (Fun with Farming)

Agritourism, the combination of agriculture and tourism, is the practice of inviting guests to visit and/or participate in normal farm or ranch activities. It is growing in popularity and diversifying. It now includes working farms and ranch visits, vineyards, wineries and breweries, pumpkin patches, orchards for farm festivals, corn mazes and u-pick fun. North Dakota has become a standout destination for agritourism. This is no surprise with the region ranking first in the production of spring wheat, durum wheat, sunflowers, barley, honey and other crops.

Agritourism-wheatfields in North Dakota

Agritourism-wheatfields in North Dakota

The Eighth Reason: Nordic Dakota; the Scandinavia of the US (and we don’t mean IKEA)

One in three North Dakotans; 38% of the populations has Nordic heritage, the highest percentage in the US.  They settled along the main line of the Great Northern Railroad ,

immigrating from the 1870s to the north and central part of the state,

The Scandinavian Heritage Park   in Minot (rhymes with Why not!) North Dakota is the only living outdoor museum in the world to feature all five Nordic countries: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. It’s free, spread over parklands and features a Norwegian wooden stave church and a Danish windmill; well worth a day’s exploration.

And if you arrive in fall, be sure to check out Norsk Hostfest; the largest Scandinavian event on the continent, celebrated in Minot.

Norsk building in Scandinavian Heriateg Park, Minot ND

Scandinavian Park; credit North Dakota Tourism

 

Moreover one thing is certain, the people in North Dakota are incredibly hospitable and proud of their state.

Dueling accordions! North Dakota native, Josh Duhamel, takes on one of the Norsk Hostfest's finest at the Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, ND.

Dueling accordions! North Dakota native, Josh Duhamel, takes on one of the Norsk Hostfest’s finest at the Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, ND.

Your Next Road Trip in North Dakota: Fast Facts

  • You can fly into Bismarck from LA via MSPB or Denver and hire a car, motorbike or campervan
  • An east-west road trip across the i90 highway will touch on many of the above reasons to visit but our tip: get off the beaten path and explore scenic byways. Head up north for much of the history, Native American and Norse culture experiences
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park was named the #5 on the New York Times’ list of must-see places in 2016
  • In Rugby, North Dakota, you will find the geographical center of North America. That is right, the center to the entire continent is here in North Dakota!
  • Jamestown, North Dakota is home to the world’s largest buffalo (statue)
  • More info com and greatamericanwest.co.nz

Fargo (1996)

1996 comedy thriller Fargo, starring Frances McDormand, has become a cult classic and much of it was filmed in the magnificent snow-covered landscapes of north-eastern North Dakota as far north as Grand Forks.

Even though none of the movie was filmed in Fargo, you can visit the original prop from the famous woodchipper murder scene at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors’ Center. This quirky stop is the perfect place to take a photo with the legendary prop – friendly locals will give you a trapper hat to wear while you pretend to push a fake leg into the Fargo chipper.

More info at https://www.ndtourism.com/ or https://greatamericanwest.com.au/

The 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail is a popular cycling and hiking destination, with breathtaking views of plateaus, peaks, and valleys. This trail connects the North and South Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and is the longest single-track mountain biking route in the USA!  The ride is challenging but rewarding, with abundant deer, antelope, prairie dogs, golden eagles, red tail hawks, and bighorn sheep.

One end of the trail starts at Medora, an authentic cowboy town where bikes can be hired for the trail and a variety of accommodation is available. Medora is worth a visit for the history and western ambience alone. Dakota Cyclery is a great place to rent a bike or book a guided mountain bike adventure where an experienced guide will discuss local history and wildlife.

Credit: North Dakota Tourism

Drive along North Dakota’s famous Enchanted Highway to see one of the world’s largest collection of scrap metal sculptures. There are various sculptures including geese, deer, pheasants, grasshoppers, Theodore Roosevelt, and a Tin Family. This fascinating roadside display begins at Exit 72 on I-94 near Gladstone and finishes in the quaint town of Regent. Once you reach Regent, head to the gift shop to buy miniature displays of each statue or stay the night in the Enchanted Castle Motel which has 19 charming rooms. This hotel’s medieval-themed Tavern will take you back in time with its stone walls and handcrafted metal chandeliers.

Credit: North Dakota Tourism

Held in Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park which is considered one of the scariest places in North Dakota, Haunted Fort will provide you with an exhilarating night! Abraham Lincoln’s buildings are transformed into terrifying haunted houses each Friday and Saturday night in October. Actors at Haunted Custer House, Zombie Battlefield, and Clown House combine eerie effects with in-your-face-scares that will leave you scared. For children under 13, there is a Haunted Fort Halloween Kids’ Bash on October 21 that consists of five hours of fun games and spooky tours of Custer House led by Custer’s dead butler.

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

If you’re looking for an entertaining day with colour and movement, then head to the United Tribes Technical College International Powwow held in the Lone Star Arena at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. This year marks the 50th anniversary of this powwow and will be held on September 6-8. Dancers and singers dressed in unique cultural regalia will wow audiences as they perform while keeping in time with the drum. This annual celebration is sure to keep you entertained as it showcases over 1500 dancers and drummers from across the United States and Canada that represent over 70 tribes. You can even buy traditional arts and crafts from over 40 Native American artists selling their work at the powwow including handcrafted jewellery, war shields, rugs, woven baskets, and pottery.

Devil’s Lake is a fantastic place to go ice fishing in the winter since it is the largest natural body of water in North Dakota and has an abundance of walleye, large perch, northern pike and white bass. Woodland Resort’s winter package lets you go ice fishing at Devils’ Lake and have comfortable accommodation at the resort in a motel, lodge, cabin or suite. You can use two fish houses each day so that you don’t have to stay in one spot, with a fish house for morning and evening Walleye, and a second fish house for Perch during the daytime. Their modern fish houses are modern with electric lights, comfortable seating, and pre-drilled holes. You are sure to have a good time with their experienced crew eager to help out and offer top ice fishing tricks! Read more at https://woodlandresort.com/packages/ice-fishing/

One of the best ways to learn more about the intriguing history of the U.S.A. is to visit North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum. It includes four galleries, two theatres, and an outdoor amphitheatre. The museum has thousands of interactive exhibits and artefacts like a life size T. rex skeleton, mars spacesuit, and unique beadwork. There is a Treehouse exhibit where children can climb the mini treehouse for a scenic view of the museum. They can then explore exhibits which are aimed at engaging children including a bank, fire station and steamboat. While some exhibits are permanent, others change around. A new exhibit you should see is ‘North Dakota and the Great War’ which tells the World War I story of North Dakota through military weapons and documents.

For a meal you will never forget have a Pitchfork Steak Fondue in Medora, where chefs put steaks onto pitchforks and fondue them western style. You can enjoy your meal overlooking the picturesque Badlands while listening to live performances from The Coal Diggers Band from the Medora Musical. Your steak will be flavoursome as it comes with fruit, salad, coleslaw, vegetables, baked potatoes and garlic toast, with brownies and cinnamon donuts for dessert. Vegetarians are recommended to enjoy “Just the Fixin’s” Pitchfork Steak Fondue meal which includes everything except the steak. Lemonade and coffee are served alongside your meal and if you feel in the mood you can go to the Tjaden Terrace Bar for a beer or a glass of wine. The Pitchfork Steak Fondue is available from 1st June to 8th September. Read more about the Pitchfork Steak Fondue.