For outdoor enthusiasts, North Dakota has it all. Home to a spectacular national park, hiking trails, fishing, kayaking, mountain biking, golfing, horseback riding, and more — you will never run out of things to do in North Dakota.
In addition to all of the fun outdoor adventures, you’ll also find amazing museums, historic sites, gardens, awesome restaurants, and even a Cowboy Hall of Fame.
This Midwestern state may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but we think it definitely should be! Here are 17 things to do in North Dakota that you’re not going to want to miss.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
You can’t really talk about the major park systems in America without talking about President Theodore Roosevelt or, in this case, Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Teddy Roosevelt was a huge proponent of protecting the country’s outdoor spaces, and his outdoorsmanship far outlived him, by means of their preservation, as well as his namesake, The Teddy Bear. North Dakota’s wild Badlands are a perfect landscape to memorialize Roosevelt’s dedication to the outdoors.
Unlike other state tourist attractions, this one focuses more on taking care of the land than taking advantage of it. With over 70,000 acres of protected wilderness, all sorts of animals like pronghorns, feral horses, and prairie dogs call the area home.
The park is comprised of two different “units” that divide the area in half. The South Unit is the most visited section with two visitor centers, tons of hiking trails, wildlife, a scenic drive, and the town of Medora. If you’re interested in learning about how the park came to be, stop by the Burning Hills Amphitheater to take in the “Medora Musical.”
Whereas the lesser-traveled North Unit of the park has just as much beauty to behold, but with less development around it. This section is more rugged than its southern counterpart, with more hiking trails, overnight hiking options, a scenic drive, and opportunities to see wildlife — like bison. Don’t expect to find lodging, food, or other guest services in this part of the park. You can camp in the North Unit though, and amenities are available in the nearby community of Watford City.
A visit to this national park is truly one of the best things to do in North Dakota.
FORT UNION TRADING POST NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
During the 1800s — 1828 to 1867 more specifically — the fur trade was plentiful in this region of the country. To preserve that history, the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site was established to show visitors what commerce life would have been like for pioneers, as well as the Assiniboine, Crow, Cree, Ojibway, Blackfeet, Hidatsa, and other Northern Plains tribes.
Open year-round, the post has free entry with self-guided tours for visitors.
SCANDINAVIAN HERITAGE PARK
Run by the Scandinavian Heritage Association, Scandinavian Heritage Park is a place that celebrates the various cultures that make up the Scandinavian identity. Representing Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden, the park has developed ways to honor the various countries.
From a full-scale Stave Church replica to a delightful Dala Horse from Sweden, the park welcomes all to partake in Scandinavian culture. Before heading out to see the various replicas, stop by the park’s visitor center to find out if there are any events coming up.
WHITE HORSE HILL NATIONAL GAME PRESERVE
Protecting the livelihood of the American bison has long been an aim of the country’s conservationists. A huge part of that endeavor has been the White Horse Hill National Game Preserve, which has served as a significant contributor to the cause since its founding in 1904.
Not only is this preserve a space to help keep the bison population healthy, but it’s also home to many other native animals and over 200 species of birds. Hit up one of the many hiking trails at White Horse Hill to see if you can spot some incredible wildlife.
LAKE SAKAKAWEA AND GARRISON DAM
One of the largest manmade lakes in the country, Lake Sakakawea was created when Garrison Dam was erected. Lake Sakakawea State Park is a place beloved by many visitors through the years, and it’s the perfect place to try windsurfing or to camp overnight along the shores of the lake.
Though the spelling may not be what you’re used to seeing, it’s the official spelling of the name of Sakakawea, who served as a guide and translator for Lewis and Clark on their famed expedition. Historians believe that Sakakawea was responsible for not just the success of the expedition, but the survival of its history too, especially because she is credited with saving Clark’s journal.
DICKINSON MUSEUM CENTER
Spoiler alert: This is not an Emily Dickinson museum. What Dickinson Museum Center actually does is host four different museum spaces on a single campus in Dickinson, North Dakota.
On the property is the Badlands Dinosaur Museum, Joachim Regional Museum, Prairie Outpost Park, and the Pioneer Machinery Hall.
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop on your way out, and take a peek at exclusive products from the “Pride of Dakota,” or grab some dino gifts to remember your trip.
NATIONAL BUFFALO MUSEUM
While ecological organizations in North Dakota strived to keep the American bison population afloat, the National Buffalo Museum preserves the history of the mighty animal, as well as the cultures that have influenced it since ancient times. Not only can you learn about these creatures from a museum perspective, but you can also go outside and see the bison herds from afar, or up-close, in a guided tour of their grazing lands.
The museum is also home to another marvelous attraction. One of the most popular roadside stops in the United States happens to share space with the museum. The world’s largest buffalo — a 26-foot-tall concrete buffalo named Dakota Thunder — keeps a careful eye on the herd and museum alike.
TURTLE MOUNTAIN CHIPPEWA HERITAGE CENTER
Not far off from the Canadian border, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Heritage Center preserves artifacts, artwork, and other cultural items for the Indigenous people of North Dakota. These peoples include the Chippewa, Ojibwe (Anishinaabe), and Metis/Cree.
Per center director Kathy Peltier-Zaste on the center’s website, “The Mission of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indian Heritage Center is to preserve, promote, and apprise the history, culture, and language of the Tribe in order to promote wellness within the community and surrounding communities by educating the public – especially the youth – of the beautiful, health, holistic, diverse and living cultures here, and how this can be used to benefit the lives of community members now, and in the generations to come.”
THE ENCHANTED HIGHWAY
Off of exit 72 on I-94, there is a highway unlike any other, The Enchanted Highway.
Perched along the country highway in Regent, North Dakota, are a series of metal sculptures created to bring more life to the area. Each sculpture has a kiosk with a parking lot for visitors to enjoy the artwork.
Some of the pieces include “Grasshoppers in the Field,” “Teddy Rides Again,” and “Pheasants on the Prairie.” Miniatures of each sculpture can be purchased at the gift shop in Regent.
FORT ABRAHAM LINCOLN STATE PARK
Opened in 1907, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is North Dakota’s oldest state park. Not only does the park preserve the natural environment, but it also preserves the history of the people who originally called the land home. Reconstructed homes of the Mandan peoples show visitors what life would have been like for them on the plains.
Throughout the park, there are almost 20 miles of trails for hiking, biking, or horseback riding. Favorite trails include Little Soldier Loop Trail, Bob Tailed Pass, and Mato-tope Trail.
The rebuilt village, as reported by Lewis and Clark, shows a time when the Mandan people were thriving before being almost wiped out by a smallpox epidemic.
PLAINS ART MUSEUM
Originally called the Red River Art Center, which opened in 1965 in Moorhead, Minnesota, the Plains Art Museum came to its current home in Fargo, North Dakota in 1997. This former warehouse space houses a large art collection, studios, shops, performance spaces, and a visitor’s center. Admission to the museum is always free.
The museum collections include modern, post-modern, photography and art by Indigenous artists from a variety of places. Much of the museum’s programming includes its permanent collection, though they also have temporary exhibitions as well. Some past exhibitions have included “Architecture for the Birds,” “Notes Toward the Soul of Water,” and “La Línea.”
Read More: 14 PHENOMENAL THINGS TO DO IN FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA
MAAH DAAH HEY TRAIL
As is the case in much of North Dakota, the Maah Daah Hey Trail shows off how varied the landscape of the state truly is. Visitors can see not just the sprawling plains that are often associated with North Dakota, but also rock formations, waterways, and grassy gorges.
Nine trails through the system provide an opportunity for adventurers of all ability levels a chance to experience the area for themselves. Some trails are friendly for both biking and horseback riding, while others, like the mighty Maah Daah Hey Trail at 144 miles, can be a multi-day journey.
Because there are so many trails to enjoy, there are also campsites spread around the trail system.
NORTH DAKOTA HERITAGE CENTER AND STATE MUSEUM
Home to many organizations that try to protect the history of the region, the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum does important work.
The center itself is a massive space, and they added nearly 100,000 square feet of space in 2014. Exhibitions go far beyond just showcasing the human culture of the area. The Geologic Time gallery shows what life would have been like in North Dakota hundreds of millions of years ago. Other exhibit areas include The Prairie Post Office, Birds of North Dakota, and the Native American Hall of Honor.
When you’re ready to head outside, you can wander the Capitol Grounds Arboretum Trail to enjoy nature, as well as manmade art on display. Nearby, you can enjoy the sights from the observation deck on the 18th floor of the State Capitol.
INTERNATIONAL PEACE GARDEN
These 2300 acres of gardens at the International Peach Garden represent peaceful life between Americans and Canadians.
Established in 1932, the International Peace Garden greets visitors from across the world to spend time among its natural beauty. The gardens are home to over 155,000 flowers, as well as a range of wildlife.
The International Peace Garden is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2022.
KNIFE RIVER INDIAN VILLAGES NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Reconstructed earthlodge homes curate a look into the past at the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. Celebrating the lives of those who originally lived on the plains, this site teaches visitors about the Hidatsa people, Sakakawea, and others who once trod the land here.
Other topics to learn about on the site include the Lewis and Clark expedition, other elements of Native American history, and more about the history of the land itself.
LEWIS AND CLARK INTERPRETIVE CENTER
Housing artifacts, not just of the Lewis and Clark expedition, but culturally significant items to others who traveled or lived in the area, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center seeks to teach visitors about the famous explorers and much more.
The center’s website even acknowledges that the duo was simply the most famous travelers to come upon the North Dakota region, though they were hardly the first or the most significant. So this site tries to capture the stories of others who also made their way here.
Note: If you look this location up online or on a map, be sure to be specific. There are several Lewis and Clark Interpretive Centers around the country.
NORTH DAKOTA COWBOY HALL OF FAME
A nod to North Dakota’s storied history of cowboys, rodeos, and horses, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame opened in 2005. Obviously, the main draw (pun intended) of this center is the Hall of Fame itself, though it also houses both temporary and permanent exhibits on Western culture. The center has seasonal hours of operation, so be sure to check the website before heading out there.
Don’t be surprised to find that even animals are honored in the Hall of Fame (as they should be,) as are many others that you might not immediately expect. Inductees include the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, who was given the designation of Great Westerner by the Hall of Fame.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO THE MIDWEST
- FARGO: 14 Phenomenal Things To Do In Fargo, North Dakota
- SOUTH DAKOTA: 23 Really Amazing Things To Do In South Dakota
WHERE TO STAY IN NORTH DAKOTA
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