North Dakota Discovery Guide

The fascinating history of North Dakota is linked to legendary figures such as Sitting Bull, George Custer, and the renowned explorer duo Lewis and Clark. With such associations, North Dakota is definitely a place where history is in the air.

North Dakota is the ideal place to visit if you’re yearning to experience the Wild West of old legend. Recapture that Old West feeling with a visit to the Rodeos of Jamestown, New Salem, or Fargo, or visit Bismarck, White Shield, or Fort Yates to see—and perhaps even take part in—an American Indian Powwow.

The town of Medora is a great place for a family vacation, with horseback riding and buggy rides in the Badlands, as well as entertaining live shows and plenty of museums and historic sites to visit. The Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch & Trail Head is the ideal place to stay and enjoy the rugged beauty of the Badlands, with scenic horseback trails and great opportunities for viewing wildlife, including antelope, deer and elk, coyotes and a variety of wild birds.

North of Dunseith and located on the border of North Dakota and Manitoba, Canada, the International Peace Garden features more than 2,000 acres of gorgeous gardens—an ideal place for a relaxing picnic, with opportunities for wild-life observation as well as many miles of hiking trails. In fact, North Dakota is home to more national wildlife refuges than any other state, and an amazing variety of animals can be seen in their natural habitats—and the habitats themselves are very diverse.

In the western part of the state, the Little Missouri National Grasslands features vast wide-open prairies and awe-inspiring badlands. The Sheyenne National Grasslands in the east display similarly spectacular scenery. The Fall months are a great time to visit this area, with the autumnal colors of the prairies perfectly complementing the unique prairie skies. North Dakota is also home to four state forests—Mouse River in McHenry County, Sheyenne River in Ransom County, Tetrault Woods near Walhalla, and the largest, Turtle Mountain, lies close to the Canadian border. Any one of these is the perfect place for an outdoors-oriented vacation, with available activities including horseback riding, hiking, fishing, hunting, swimming and canoeing.

A vacation spent in North Dakota must definitely include some of the historic sites visited by Lewis and Clark, that legendary pair of explorers. In Washburn, located in the central western part of the state, the winter home of the Expedition on the Missouri River has been meticulously reconstructed, and the Fort Union Trading Post is another great place to visit. In the mid nineteenth century, this was an important Missouri River trading post, and now it is a fascinating store of local history and legend.

Washburn features several historic sites relating to Lewis & Clark’s famous expedition, as well as other attractions such as the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, which includes a full-sized replica earthlodge, and the McLean Country Historical Society Museum, with displays and exhibits about local wildlife and geology, Native American history, and life in the era of Lewis & Clark. With a wildlife refuge, state parks, and the Missouri River all located close by, it’s easy to spend a week or more in Washburn, with plenty of activities to enjoy every day.

Down-river of Washburn, the North Dakota capital city of Bismarck offers some fun things to do, with plenty of museums and historical sites to visit. If the earthlodge at Washburn captured your interest, check out the Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site in Bismarck, which includes the ruins of a much larger Mandan Indian lodge, inhabited more than 200 years ago by this agricultural tribe.

A really great way to spend a day in Bismarck is to take a ride on the Lewis & Clark River-boat, a paddle-wheeler that docks at the Port of Bismarck and cruises along the Missouri River—enjoy a daytime cruise with the kids or a romantic moonlit cruise in the evening with someone special. With the river and several lakes close by, Bismarck is also the perfect place for water-sports, including fishing, boating, jet skiing and swimming.

Nearby in the town of Mandan, Fort Lincoln State Park has several interesting attractions, including an Indian village, the Fort Lincoln Infantry Post, and the George Custer House, a replica of the house where Custer himself lived between 1873 and 1876. The Indian village located here features several reconstructed Mandan Indian lodges, and Lewis & Clark are known to have wintered with the Mandan people who lived nearby to the current village site.

There are a huge number of museums and cultural centers located all over the state, with something to see or do in almost every small town. Bonanzaville, located in West Fargo, is a prime example. This historic village features more than 40 buildings and thousands of items that tell the story of life in the Red River Valley more than a century ago. A tour of Bonanzaville includes buildings furnished with authentic period items, and the main museum includes an astonishingly diverse array of exhibits including Native artifacts, military memorabilia, toys and vintage vehicles.

While in Fargo, there are several other attractions that are well worth a visit, including the Maple River Winery, and the fabulously fun Children’s Museum at Yunker farm, where the kids will have fund with mini golf and carousel rides as well as a variety of interactive exhibits. Take a pontoon ride on the Red River, and stop at the Red River Valley Fair if you visit Fargo in June!

North Dakota is a great place to spend a vacation if you love to combine your relaxing getaway time with visits to historical sites. This is a state you will definitely want to visit if you’re interested in following in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark, and there is enough to do in the “Peace Garden State” to keep you occupied for all the days of your vacation.

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