Does North Dakota exist?
This is a top Google question when searching for information about North Dakota. Despite what maps and traditional education have to say on the matter, it seems some people aren’t sure if the state even really exists.
I grew up in North Dakota and spent the majority of my life within a couple hours drive from my hometown before moving to Iowa. (Though, most of us from the Midwest would agree that 6-8 hours is still pretty close and definitely drivable.)
Now that I have moved away and have a family, I have the genuine pleasure of taking my kids and my husband to great places from my childhood. I get to share experiences with them that not only spark nostalgia and old memories for me, but create new memories for my entire family.
I love so many things about North Dakota and the list of places I would recommend visiting could go on and on, but l promise to distill it down to my top spots, including a little fun for everyone. I would recommend visiting these spots like the locals do, by driving. This way you will get a chance to really soak up that huge prairie sky and maybe get a little tired of the wide open horizon.
Fargo (All Ages)
For someone who is visiting North Dakota for the first time, Fargo is a great destination. It is the most populated city in the state and offers a wide variety of outings and experiences.
The Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center is a great stop for information on anything going on in the Fargo area, including activities and places of interest. You can also tell your friends you went to North Dakota, toured a grain elevator and took a picture with the famous Fargo woodchipper. (You know, from the movie.) The visitors center is a great starting point for a family Fargo adventure. www.fargomoorhead.org
If you’ve seen photos of Fargo, you most likely have seen the Fargo theater sign, beautifully lighting the street and brick buildings surrounding it. This historic theater is only part of the appeal of downtown Fargo. On or near Broadway, you can find local restaurants (I would recommend rooftop pizza eating at Rhombus Guys), eclectic local shops, art museums, live music, a beloved comic book shop, and historical buildings. For an adults only experience, visit one of the amazing local breweries like Drekker Brewing Company. Parking is free and walking is the best way to explore, so get out there! www.downtownfargo.com
The Chahinkapa Zoo – Wahpeton, ND (All ages)
I admit to some bias, but I think this cozy, riverside zoo is the best zoo in North Dakota. They have 70 species of animals, from bison to kangaroos, and they offer inside looks at training and classes for all ages. If you are visiting with kids, check out The Prairie Rose Carousel, featuring 20 unique horses. There is a campsite available as well as some cabins available by reservation for those who would like to stay close to the zoo. For information on prices and exhibits, check out their website. www.chahinkapazoo.org/plan-your-visit
Fort Ransom State Park (Older kids, teens, adults)
For travelers who love the outdoors, I recommend Fort Ransom State Park in the beautiful, wooded Sheyenne River Valley, Southwest of Fargo. This remote expanse of campgrounds, hiking and equestrian trails, and natural waterways is perfect for those who want to get away from the rush of the city. The park offers both modern campsites, primitive campsites, and cabins, making it perfect for even those who don’t really like camping.
While you’re in the area, stop by the picturesque town of Fort Ransom and eat at a local favorite, The Lunchbox Eatery, or trek up what looks like a hill but feels like a mountain and take a picture with a 25 foot tall Hilltop Viking Statue. www.parkrec.nd.gov/fort-ransom-state-park
National Buffalo Museum – Jamestown, North Dakota (All ages)
While the main attraction of this stop is visible from the Interstate, if you see a 26 foot tall buffalo statue, it might give you cause to stop and see it. The World’s Largest Buffalo Monument is not all the Jamestown has to offer. In the National Buffalo Museum, you can learn about the history of buffalo in the plains and see buffalo remains, Plains Indian artifacts, and see the live buffalo herd. You may even get a glimpse of Dakota Miracle, the herd’s treasured white buffalo. www.buffalomuseum.com
(As a side note, if you are like me and love giant statues of animals, you should also visit Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow, near New Salem, ND.)
Bismarck (All ages)
The capitol city of North Dakota offers visitors a chance to learn about the state’s rich history. Visit the State Capitol grounds and tour the 19 story capitol building which was built in 1933. Relax in the Legislative Hall alcoves, stand in the state Senate and House of Representatives Chambers, and visit “The Monkey Room” to see faces in the grain of yellow California walnut wood that lines the space.
Also located on the Capitol grounds, visitors can enjoy the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum to learn more about the state and the land and people that lived there long before it was a state. www.nd.gov/omb/public/state-capitol-information
Badlands Dinosaur Museum – Dickinson, North Dakota (Older kids, teens, adults)
For dino lovers of all ages, visit this museum to see fossils, casts and real dinosaur bones, including a Triceratops skull. You can see the laboratory at work and learn about the process in the field and how fossil research is conducted. www.dickinsonmuseumcenter.com
Medora (All ages)
If North Dakota makes you think of cowboys and the Old West, Medora might be for you. This historic town is set against the stunning backdrop of the Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. A vacation in Medora has something for everyone. Shop and dine in historic Medora, camp or find a cozy bed and breakfast, golf at the rugged Bully Pulpit Golf Course, and enjoy the Medora Musical throughout the summer. www.medora.com
I would also recommend visiting the Chateau De Mores, a 26 room hunting lodge built by the French Marquis De Mores in 1883. It’s a great stop for those who love historic sites. www.history.nd.gov/historicsites/chateau/
International Peace Garden (All ages)
To celebrate the peace and friendship of The United States and Canada, the International Peace Garden was established between the two countries at North Dakota’s Northern border in 1932 and remains an enduring place of amity and reflection. Located in the heart of The Turtle Mountains, the Garden provides space for picnickers, bicyclists, hikers, and nature lovers alike. Visiting the International Peace Garden doesn’t require a passport, even though it is shared by both countries and you can technically stand in both places at once. This scenic, serene destination is well worth the trip. www.peacegarden.com/
Thank you for sticking with me on this brief tour of vacation spots in North Dakota. While this isn’t a comprehensive list of what North Dakota has to offer, I feel like all of the places listed here are worth visiting. I hope you’ll go visit some day, if for no other reason than to prove to yourself that it does, in fact, exist.
About the Author:
Leslie Karns grew up in rural North Dakota and now lives in Iowa with her husband and three children. She works free time and in her free time (what free time?) she writes poetry, fiction, and occasional blog contributions. Find her on twitter @Karns_LM
Leslie some day I will have to visit North Dakota and check out those dino bones! It looks like a super neat place. All of the places you listed does. I totally think its neat that you can be in two countries at once at the Peace Garden!