20 Top Things to Do in North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Dakota
Photo: Getty Images

Unspoiled countryside and plenty of outdoor fun await in this rugged state. Highlights include Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the International Peace Garden and the Maah Daah Hey Trail as well as museums and historic sites that commemorate the state's heritage.

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Top Attractions in North Dakota

Maah Daay Hey Trail North Dakota
John Noltner

Some of America's most inspiring adventurers, including Lewis and Clark, Sakakawea, and President Theodore Roosevelt, left footprints in this sparsely populated state. Even today, the rugged land feels little changed since they passed.Traveling from sprawling Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the west to appealing Fargo in the east, visitors will find fabulously starry skies, whistling wind and vistas that stretch for miles. More than a century ago, Roosevelt called this land at the edge of the plains, "a world of beauty and color and limitless space." It still is.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Dakota
Ryan Donnell

Theodore Roosevelt referred to his time in North Dakota by saying, "Here the romance of my life began." One visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park explains his love affair. Some 70,000 acres of painted canyons and grassy hiking trails border Interstate-94 and the Little Missouri River. Bison graze along the road, and prairie dogs chatter at scenic turnouts.

The park is separated into two large units 50 miles apart, with a small parcel for Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch in the middle. The southern unit, anchored by nearby Medora, is busier, but the northern is just as spectacular. From Memorial Day through September, rangers lead guided tours and nature talks, as well as evening campfire programs about Roosevelt.

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North Dakota Heritage Center

north dakota heritage center
Ryan Donnell

Stand beneath a T. rex and a Triceratops as they battle. Stare down a mammoth. See casts of sea creatures that swam here millions of years ago. North Dakota's past takes shape in Bismarck at the North Dakota Heritage Center, which nearly doubled in size after a $52 million makeover. Exhibits in the Treehouse cater to tykes.

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Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

bison hide demonstration at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site North Dakota
Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

Now reconstructed, Fort Union was the most important fur-trading site on the upper Missouri from 1828 to 1867. The imposing white house at Fort Union, where the head merchant lived, looks strangely grand against the landscape, like a suburban mansion built expressly to outshine its neighbors. That's exactly what it was; traders built it in 1828 to impress area tribes. A self-guided tour, ranger-guided tours and living history programs are available for visitors. In Williston.

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Medora Musical

Medora Musical

The colorful, two-hour Medora Musical raucously relives Teddy Roosevelt's cowboy days (this is no dry history lesson). The outdoor show features singing, dancing, live animals and fireworks, all against a stunning badlands backdrop. You'll come away tapping your toes-and eager to check out nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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North Dakota State Capitol Building and Grounds

Exterior view of North Dakota state capitol building

Nicknamed The Skyscraper on the Prairie, North Dakota's 1934-era capitol in Bismarck is the tallest structure in the area (at 241 feet). You can take a guided tour, including a visit to the 18th-floor observation deck, for free. Also on the grounds: an arboretum trail, prairie trail, and numerous statues and memorials, in addition to the North Dakota Heritage Center.

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Maah Daah Hey Trail

bikers riding maah daah hey trail in North Dakota
Ryan Donnell

Fun to say and fun to ride, the Maah Daah Hey Trail packs in a lot of dramatic scenery (and some really tough climbs!). The 98-mile main trail connects the southern and northern units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, running through rolling prairie and rocky badlands-home to mule deer, coyotes, golden eagles, bighorn sheep and bison. Loop trails and a new southern extension add another 80 miles to the trail system.

Hikers and horseback riders share the trail with bicyclists. Guided mountain bike tours are offered seasonally through Dakota Cyclery Mountain Bike Adventures.

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Scandinavian Heritage Park

Stave Church in Scandinavian Heritage Park. Minot, North Dakota.
Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

In the small north-central city of Minot, the Scandinavian Heritage Park nods to northern Europe with a replica Stav church, Danish windmill, Finnish sauna and a 25-foot-tall Swedish Dala horse. Minot also is home to Norsk Hostfest, the continent's largest Scandinavian festival, where high-quality handcrafted merchandise and traveling shows make for a one-of-a-kind experience each fall.

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International Peace Garden

International Peace Garden in North Dakota
Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

Trails and lush gardens along the U.S.-Canada border celebrate peace between the two nations. The 2,300-acre garden is half in the U.S. and half in Canada, about 110 miles northeast of Minot. In summer, the International Peace Garden gets big splashes of color from perennials and annuals. For visitors year-round, an Interpretive Center offers a restaurant, gift shop and conservatory with 3,000 cacti. Guided tours of the gardens are available by reservation.

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Chateau de Mores State Historic Site

guests walking to chateau de mores
Ryan Donnell

A 26-room, 1883 hunting lodge built by the Marquis de Mores, an entrepreneurial French aristocrat who hoped to find his fortune in the Dakota Territory, overlooks Medora. His meatpacking business failed, but the town he named for his wife, Medora, prospered. The lavish home where he and his wife lived still contains many original furnishings. Docents stationed throughout Chateau de Mores State Historic Site offer insights and tours.

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Knife River Indian Villages

Interior of Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site showing Native American artifacts

Explore a reconstructed, furnished Hidatsa earth lodge, 15 miles of trails and a museum (22 miles west of Washburn). A rich culture thrived along the banks of the Missouri River in west-central North Dakota when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived in 1804. Today, trails weave through the sage and wildflower-dappled prairie to the remains of villages, including one where Sakakawea lived before she joined Lewis and Clark.

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Bully Pulpit Golf Course

bully pulpit golf course
Ryan Donnell

Rocky badlands provide the backdrop for this challenging, one-of-a-kind 18-hole golf course three miles south of Medora. The Bully Pulpit Golf Course takes golfers through meadows, woodlands, along the Little Missouri River and into badlands canyons.

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Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center/Fort Mandan Historic Site

Statues outside Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in North Dakota
Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/David Borlaug

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent more of their epic journey in North Dakota than in any other state. In Washburn, stop first at the striking Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and take in its fascinating exhibits about the Lewis and Clark expedition and area history. Then, continue to a replica of the fort, authentically reconstructed with 800 cottonwood logs, where the explorers weathered the brutal winter of 1804-1805.

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North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame

Bison exhibit at North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame
John Noltner

At the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, this interpretive center tells the stories of Native Americans, ranchers and rodeo riders on the North Dakota plains. The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame patio offers sweeping Little Missouri River views.

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Lake Metigoshe

Woman looking at lake in front of dock at Lake Metigoshe State Park North Dakota
Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

On the Canadian border, 200 miles north of Bismarck, Lake Metigoshe State Park offers a well-rounded, classic lake vacation—walleye fishing, a tidy beach, clean cabins, a Fourth of July fireworks show and canoeing—with way less noise and crowds than you'll find at big, better-known Lake Sakakawea.

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Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

fort abraham lincoln state park
Ryan Donnell

History buffs shouldn't miss North Dakota's signature historic site, 7 miles south of Mandan. Reconstructed earth lodges at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park make up On-A-Slant Village, occupied by the Mandan from about 1575 to 1781. Portions of the old infantry and cavalry post have been rebuilt, including the Custer House, called the Mansion on the Prairie. Two living history tours take visitors through On-A-Slant Village and the museum, as well as the Custer House and barracks.

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National Buffalo Museum

World's Largest Buffalo
Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

The National Buffalo Museum highlights bison art and history and manages a herd that grazes nearby. Visitors can also see the World's Largest Buffalo Monument, a 26-foot-tall, 60-ton giant, as well as the Frontier Village complex of historic buildings. In Jamestown, 100 miles west of Fargo.

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Bonanzaville USA

Visitors exploring buildings at Bonanzaville USA in North Dakota
Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

Interpreters and 40 buildings on 12 acres re-create life when "bonanza" farms ruled the prairies in the late 1800s. Bonanzaville USA in West Fargo includes just about every type of building and business that might have made up a small North Dakota town when the area was being settled—a log cabin, blacksmith shop, school, drug store, general store, creamery, saloon, newspaper office, bank, barbershop and more.

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Plains Art Museum

Plains Art Museum Fargo North Dakota
Courtesy of Fargo-Moorhead

A downtown standout in Fargo is the Plains Art Museum, in the renovated International Harvester warehouse. Beautiful inside and out, the museum houses more than 3,000 works by regional and national artists. The collection includes works by artists as varied as Impressionist Mary Cassatt and Native American contemporary artist George Morrison.

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Enchanted Highway

Large sculptures of pheasants along North Dakota's Enchanted Highway
Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

Turn off I-94 at Exit 72 (90 miles west of Bismarck) to find seven enormous sculptures along a 32-mile ribbon of rural highway. The massive artworks are the quixotic tourism initiative of retired educator Gary Greff, who established Enchanted Highway to bring more travelers to his tiny hometown of Regent.

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Lake Sakakawea and Garrison Dam

kayakers on lake sakakawea
Ryan Donnell

On the Missouri River 75 miles upstream from Bismarck, Garrison Dam, built between 1947 and 1953, is one of the largest earthen dams in the world. Exhibits in the power plant lobby feature displays about the construction and operation of the Garrison Dam and recreation on Lake Sakakawea. The corps provides free tours of the power plant daily during the summer months and by appointment the rest of the year.

Lake Sakakawea (pictured) stretches 178 miles from Garrison Dam northwest to Williston and averages 2 to 3 miles in width. The lake and its shoreline are popular for boating, sailing, scuba diving, sightseeing, bird-watching, camping and hunting.

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