Being the lesser populated and visited of the two Dakotas, North Dakota is something of an enigma to even well traveled American residents. The state is one of the least touristed states in the Union, with many trips here being of a transitory nature by those journeying across America from east to west (or vice versa).
Those that do come here will find a state that symbolizes the wild west of the 19th century in many ways, as the stories of explorers, natives and soldiers enforcing the nation’s policy of Manifest Destiny can all be found here.
While the prairies that typify the landscape of much of the Great Plains can certainly be found here, a surprising diversity of terrain can be found through much of North Dakota, as mesas, buttes, and badlands will prevent you from slipping into a catatonic state of boredom, replaced instead by the sense of wonder that can only be found when you find something wonderful in place you weren’t expecting to find it.
Instead of blasting through on I-94 fuelled by black coffee and Redbull, take a couple of days to discover a place where the heart of Old West still beats strongly. It will be a choice that you certainly won’t regret.
What To Do – Culture & History
Get a solid understanding of this state’s past history by first visiting the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck. Possessing a number of exhibits relating to this territory’s natural and human history, you will be impressed by the T-Rex and Mastodon skeletons, murals that illustrate the lives of native peoples, and reconstructed structures from the pioneer settlements from the days of America’s westward expansion.
One military installation that played a huge role in the westward march that characterized the era of Manifest Destiny was Fort Abraham Lincoln, which was a post that was set at the confluence of the Missouri and Heart Rivers.
Built on the site of a native community that had been abandoned in the wake of a smallpox outbreak in earlier years, this fortification provided security for workers building the Northern Pacific Railway through to the west coast.
Later abandoned during the Great Sioux War, it has been restored to its former glory, including fortified blockhouses used for cover by defenders, as well as some of the earthen mound houses that the native peoples had lived in prior to the fort being built on their land.
The rivers that flowed through these flat lands gave America’s explorers of that time the passage they sought to pursue their burning obsession: to find the Pacific coast of their relatively new expansive territory.
The North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center relays the tales of one of this country’s most famous explorers as it related to the time they spent within North Dakota. This museum is built on the site where this dynamic duo battened down the hatches for the winter, as they constructed the palisades of Fort Mandan to shelter them from the cruel elements of the Upper Plains.
Temperatures here can dip to below -40 (the same in Celsius as it is in Fahrenheit) in the winter, making the exhibits that expand on how they survived such horrid conditions as pioneers much more interesting.
After Lewis and Clark had reported back on the land they had borne witness to, and soldiers had secured North Dakota for settlement and developments, the pioneers followed, looking to build a new life in a strange place.
Bonanzaville USA is a conglomeration of early pioneer structures that count among the oldest buildings in the state, weaving a tale around the bare necessities that early settlers built a life upon.
A church, a general store, a jail, and a schoolhouse are just a few of the 47 structures that will bring the experience of a community on the fringes of 19th century settled America to life, making it an excellent place to stop and stretch your legs of a couple of hours.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
Those interested in the planes that further opened up the West in the 20th century might want to pay a visit to the Fargo Air Museum. A collection of planes from the early days of aviation await here, including one of the original Wright Brothers flyers.
Looking for places that defy the stereotype of North Dakota and the Great Plains being as a flat as a pancake throughout? Start at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, which offers views of two of the west’s biggest rivers, along with dramatic bluffs alongside.
Located near Williston, you’ll also witness North Dakota’s biggest modern issue – the rapid expansion of the oil and gas industry, as there is no shortage of big F-350’s and flaming gas wells in the area.
Those looking for one of the nation’s best kept secrets will find in it in North Dakota, as Theodore Roosevelt National Park protects one of the USA’s most intriguing landscapes – the chaotic terrain that defines badlands.
The numerous gorges that have been eroded from this piece of land make for an excellent experience for hikers and photographers, and the complete lack of light pollution make it one of the few places in the lower 48 states where viewing the Northern Lights is possible during the winter, as well as having a perfect view of all the stars in the sky the rest of the year.
Finally, geography geeks will not want to leave North Dakota without paying a visit to the little town of Rugby, as it is the closest settlement to theGeographic Center of the North American Continent.
All the state, provincial and national flags of Mexico, the United States, and Canada can be found here, in addition to the cairn that marks the spot where you are the furthest away from the northern, eastern, southern, and western extremities of this massive continent.