The secret is out. North Dakota is a sleeper state that you need to put on your radar for your next road trip.
You may have heard of the amazing National Park, but it’s so much more than that…and so much friendlier than I anticipated too.
Appropriately, “Dakota” means friendly and the state lives up to the name by its Midwest hospitality, diverse scenery, outdoor adventures, attractions, and culture.
This article is written in partnership with North Dakota Tourism.
My dad and I enjoyed a week-long road trip throughout North Dakota. We started and ended in Bismarck, ND with MANY outdoor adventures in between!
Strike a Pose at the Enchanted Highway
We started our adventures in North Dakota on the Enchanted Highway. I LOVE art and roadside attractions, making this the perfect start to our road trip around the state.
The Enchanted Highway begins at Exit 72 on I-94 near Gladstone and ends 32 miles down the road in the small town of Regent. Begin with “Geese in Flight” at Exit 72, near Gladstone.
There are seven stops along the Enchanted Highway over a 32 miles stretch of highway featuring the world’s largest scrap metal sculptures created by Regent, ND local artist, Gary Greff.
- “Geese in Flight” (listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as the “largest scrap metal sculpture in the world.”)
- “Deer Crossing”
- “Fisherman’s Dream”
- “Pheasants on the Prairie”
- “Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again”
- “Tin Family”
You can see “Geese in Flight” from the expressway but you need to drive down the “Enchanted Highway” toward the city of Regent for the rest.
There are places to park at each of the sculptures so that you can safely observe them closer and stop for pictures at each one.
Outdoor Adventures in Medora, ND
The next stop on our road trip was Medora, North Dakota, conveniently located about one minute from the South Unit entrance for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit)
201 East River Road North, Medora, ND
This National Park is such a gem!
I loved every minute of it and can’t say enough good things about it. We visited the park several times during our stay in Medora.
Stop to View the Maltese Cross Cabin
As you enter the National Park, make sure you stop at the visitor center and view Theodore Roosevelt’s former cabin located behind it.
The Maltese Cross cabin was used by Theodore before he became president during a time when he split his time between New York and Dakota. You can’t walk inside the cabin, but you can still observe each room from the windows.
Visit During Golden Hour
I would highly recommend visiting around sunrise and sunset if you want to see a lot of wildlife activity. Another bonus is that the views are extra incredible with the colorful skies at dusk and dawn.
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park has hiking trail options for all comfort and duration levels: from easy to strenuous, to trails 10 minutes to 12 hours long.
You can truly choose your own hiking adventure based on your time and physical ability. We were really glad we did the short (but steep) hike up Buck Hill Trail which gave us INCREDIBLE views of the surrounding area.
It’s important to know that pets, bicycles, and motorized equipment are prohibited on all trails and in the backcountry.
If you see wildlife while on a hiking trail make sure that you keep a 25-yard distance from them as a safety precaution. Everything in the park is protected so make sure that the only things that you take are great pictures during your visit.
Watch Wildlife at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
I was hoping to see a few bison during our visit, a prairie dog, and a wild horse.
During our visit, we saw SO MANY bison! I seriously couldn’t believe how many animals we got to observe during our time in the National Park.
We also saw wild horses during our early morning visit and prairie dogs, and even a few deer. The time in the park observing the wildlife was truly such a gift to observe.
Speaking of observing, it’s very important you observe wildlife from safety inside your vehicle, at all times.
Wildlife can be VERY unpredictable. You don’t want to become one of those news stories about someone getting hurt by a wild animal for a selfie.
Make sure that are mindful of the speed limits and be prepared to stop if you see a vehicle stopped or pulled over because that typically means there is something worth seeing.
You’ll notice that the bison are HUGE and take their sweet time deciding when they want to cross the road.
Make sure you have your camera ready because there is a very good chance you’ll get “the shot” during your time in the park.
Play a Round of Miniature Golf at Little Bully Pulpit Mini Golf
Main St, Medora, ND
I love a theme and Little Bully Pulpit mini golf in downtown Medora has TWO themed sections! The first nine holes are unique western hazards while the back nine holes feature the Badlands of Medora.
On the signs at each hole, you can learn more about the area’s history and inspiration for each individual hole’s theme.
The miniature golf course is open from June 1st through September 9th.
Dine with a View at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue
3422 Chateau Rd, Medora, ND
Looking for a unique dining experience while you are in Medora?
The Pitchfork Steak Fondue dinner serves up your 12 oz. steak from a pitchfork by chefs who fondue them “western-style” along with a buffet of “all the fixin’s” of your sides to go with it.
(Fresh fruit, salad, coleslaw, vegetables, baked beans, garlic toast, baked potatoes, brownies, cinnamon-sugar donuts, lemonade and coffee, all served buffet style.)
Guests who are vegetarians can opt to purchase a ticket for the buffet only and kids 12 and under can enjoy a hot dog meal with a buffet. You can also purchase beer or wine or an additional fee.
The dining environment is very casual and the experience is often paired by guests who are also attending the Medora Musical. Both venues are located steps from each other and share the same parking lot.
After your pitchfork fondue steak dinner, enjoy more views of the Badlands from on top of the bluff at the Tjaden Terrace.
This is a very popular experience and I would highly recommend booking your tickets online July-September, to get your desired date and for the best pricing for the dinner.
Watch the Medora Musical in the Outdoor Amphitheater
3422 Chateau Rd, Medora, ND
The Medora Musical is an outdoor show performed live every night. It’s a fusion of patriotism, Theodore Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands, and the Great American West!
You’ll experience incredible musicians and singers, dancing, live horses, comedy, and even a fireworks finale!
If you have a younger family, you’ll appreciate that kids ages 6 and under are FREE!
Check the Medora Musical website for tickets and additional discounts.
Wednesdays and Sundays: Kids 17 and under are FREE
Tuesdays and Thursdays: Seniors get 15% off
*Promotions were accurate at the time of this article. Check their website for current promotions.
Stay or Play on Lake Sakakawea at Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina
4781 ND-1806, Watford City, ND
Did you know that North Dakota has a lake that is 180 miles long, with more shoreline than the California Pacific coast???!!!
During our visit, Peggy from Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina gave us a tour of the lake on a pontoon boat. I was blown away by the beauty and size of Lake Sakakawea during our visit!
Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina is located 25-miles north of Watford City on the south shore of Lake Sakakawea.
Guests can enjoy camping, water sports, fishing, hiking, and hunting as a year-round destination. We also learned that ice fishing is very popular during the winter.
There are two rustic, heated cabins available to rent which sleep 4 if you don’t want to camp. The cabin has a full-sized bed and bunk bed, a gas grill, and a fire ring and includes electricity and a ceiling fan.
Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina has kayak and “Go Boat” rentals available and there’s also an awesome restaurant on site too with fantastic burgers.
Admire the Sunflower Fields
More fun facts: Did you know that North Dakota is one of the top producers of sunflowers?
Seriously, it’s AMAZING to witness in person! I’ve never seen so many sunflowers in a field before, as far as the eye could see!
*Make sure you don’t enter a sunflower field without the land owner’s permission. You can still easily take pictures of sunflower fields from the side of the road.
Where is the best place to spot sunflowers in North Dakota?
Be on the lookout for sunflower fields near Mott, Aneta, Mohall, Lakota, and Bismarck.
Sunflowers are planted in higher concentrations in central and western North Dakota so be prepared to slow down to take it all in during peak season, which is from late July to mid-August.
Outdoor Adventures Near Lake Metigoshe
Experience Beauty on the Border at the International Peace Garden
10939 Highway 281, Dunseith, ND
An incredible garden located on the border of the US and Canada, the International Peace Garden is definitely worth a stop!
There are 2400 acres of formal gardens, cacti and succulent Conservatory (with the largest unique cacti species collections in the world-more than 5000+ species!), prairies, forests, and lakes at the International Peace Garden.
In 1932, the garden was founded as a symbol of peace, friendship, and cooperation.
The International Peace Garden has 80,000+ flowering annuals creating beauty at every turn.
Have your camera ready because there are so many gorgeous flowers to photograph!
There is also a 9/11 Memorial, the hands of peace sculpture, The Peace Chapel, hiking/biking trails, and year-round recreation including two different scenic drives that you can take, one on the Canadian side and one on the United States side.*
*Because the gardens are located on the border of Canada and North Dakota, make sure you bring your passport or driver’s license (with a birth certificate) to present at the port when you leave the Peace Garden.
Stop For As Many Roadside Attractions As Possible
Why? Just because you can! Roadside Attractions typically are weird, wacky, unique, and the main reasons why most travelers go out of their way on road trips to find them.
Tommy Turtle Statue
103 S. 11th St., Bottineau, ND
At over 26 feet tall, Tommy the Turtle has bragging rights at the world’s largest snowmobile-riding turtle.
W’eel Turtle Made From Wheel Rims
ND Hwy. 3, Dunseith, ND
Another turtle in the area not to be overlooked is the W’eel Turtle made from 2000+ steel wheel tire rims. It has bragging rights as the “world’s largest man-made turtle.”
The North Dakota turtle roadside attractions in Dunseith and Bottineau are both in the Turtle Mountains, which is a fun play on the theme.
106th St NE, Bottineau, ND
Known as the “Stonehenge” of the prairie, Mystical Horizons offers incredible views from Turtle Mountain over the farmlands below.
The “Stonehenge” themed structures made of stone and cement are designed to view the equinox and the summer and winter solstice.
There is a GIANT working sundial which you’ll want to get a closer look at.
Make sure you walk beyond the stones to check out the beautiful views of the surrounding area from Mystical Horizons.
The Geographical Center of North America
107 US-2, Rugby, ND
The marker is a 15-foot tall rock obelisk with an American flag and Canadian flag nearby on display.
Hike or Kayak at Lake Metigoshe State Park
Lake Metigoshe is a popular destination for summer cottage residents and tourists year-round who enjoy outdoor recreation on the water.
The 1544 acre lake is warmer than you would anticipate for a lake bordering Canada thanks to its deepest depth of only 24 ft.
During our visit, we paddled on School Lake located within the park.
We LOVED the kayak ramp that made it super easy to enter and exit the water. I was extra grateful for the ramp because we were in a double kayak together.
Our kayak ride was really peaceful and scenic with a few bird and duck sightings.
We were also really grateful we took the park ranger’s advice to kayak on School Lake instead of Lake Metigoshe because it was pretty windy that day.
Attend a Ski Show on Lake Metigoshe
During the summer months, you’ll definitely want to watch one of the summer water ski shows by Club De Skinnautque. While we didn’t get to watch the actual show, we got to watch a few of their members practicing their impressive water-ski skills.
Follow Club De Skinnautqu on social media to learn about their ski show season schedule.
Outdoor Adventures in Jamestown, North Dakota
You can find three of the outdoor adventures listed within walking distance of each other in Jamestown, North Dakota.
“The World’s Largest Buffalo”
404 Louis Lamour Ln, Jamestown, ND
“Dakota Thunder” is 26-foot tall buffalo made of 60 tons of concrete. The World’s Largest Buffalo has been one of the Midwest’s most popular roadside attractions since 1959.
404 17th St SE, Jamestown, ND
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, you can walk inside original buildings that were brought to this site from frontier villages of North Dakota. There are artifacts inside that help you learn and envision what life was like during that time period.
A few of our highlights are the Frontier School, Church, Bank, Post Office, and North Pacific Railroad Depot.
Be on the lookout for the real bison herd located near the National Buffalo Museum located within walking distance of Frontier Village.
Take a Self-Guided Tour of Fort Seward
615 10th Ave NW, Jamestown, ND
Fort Seward was in operation from 1872-1877, and the men who served there had a big role in overseeing the building of the railroad in Jamestown. Inside the interpretive center, you can learn more about the Fort’s history and view lots of artifacts. The largest United States flag in North Dakota is also on display there.
If you are looking for a unique glamping experience, you can sleep in an 1875 -style Sibley tent on the property with everything except for your food provided.
Outdoor Adventures in Bismarck, ND
There are several outdoor adventures that you can experience within a pretty close radius in Bismarck, ND
Find Your Favorite Mural in the Art Alley
117 N 5th St, Bismarck, ND
I LOVE street art so of course, I was thrilled to discover that Bismarck has an Art Alley filled with incredible murals.
Alley 5.5 has more than 20 unique murals. The hardest part is deciding which one will be your favorite!
Explore Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
4480 Fort Lincoln Rd, Mandan, ND
Established in 1907, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is the oldest state park in North Dakota.
The state park was a former military post established in 1872 which later became a designated state park in 1907.
From 1876-1877, Fort Abraham Lincoln was a base of operations for the U.S. Army’s campaign against the Northern Cheyenne Nation and the Lakota Sioux.
You can go inside one of the replicas of the military buildings and climb up to the rooftop deck for an incredible view of the Missouri River.
There are hiking and biking trails along with campsites and cabins available at the park if you want to extend your stay.
We both were really impressed with the visitor center where you can learn about the history of the property.
4480 Ft. Lincoln Road, Mandan, ND
On-A-Slant Village is a replica of a former Mandan settlement, estimated to have around 1,000 residents and 75 earth lodges.
The village is also a High Potential Historic Site on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
Unfortunately, the Mandan population was drastically reduced by the 1781 smallpox epidemic with few remaining survivors. There are five earth lodges that have been reconstructed allowing you to explore on your own or take the park’s guided tour.
Scenic Views from Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site
ND-1804, Bismarck, ND
To envision how differently this site would have looked while the 10,000 Mandan Indians were living there, read the interpretive signage, and use your imagination while you gaze at the visible depressions.
The property has several benches if you want to stop and enjoy the scenic views of the Missouri River.
Go Kayaking Down the Missouri River
Speaking of the Missouri River…who knew North Dakota had giant sandbars in the middle of the Missouri River??!!!
We enjoyed a relaxing paddle on the Missouri River with rentals from Missouri Kayak Adventures. We started our trip at the kayak launch at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site.
Thankfully the friendly staff from Missouri Kayak Adventures bring the kayaks down to the water for you because the grade down the hill is pretty steep.
Bike Along the Missouri River
411 Fraine Barracks Rd, Bismarck, ND – Rentals from 701 Cycle & Sport.
1605 River Rd, Bismarck, ND – Keelboat Park
I highly recommend exploring their scenic bike trails If you are looking for another scenic option to explore Bismarck.
We rode for several miles along the bike trails near Missouri River both ways with bike rentals from 701 Cycle & Sport. The bike shop was conveniently located a short ride from the bike path. Their store has both high-quality bikes for purchase or for rent.
We really loved the dropper post feature on our bike rentals. It allowed our bike seat to move up and down allowing for better form while riding and easier stopping.
The bike trails were wide, really flat, and very scenic, perfect for all ages. My dad was even open to trying out one of the mountain bike trails.
Explore the Dakota Zoo
602 Riverside Park Rd, Bismarck, ND
During our bike ride, we passed by the Dakota Zoo. Out of curiosity, we decided to come back later that afternoon to check it out. It’s a smaller zoo but it ended up being much larger than I originally anticipated.
I’m used to my home zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo that has LOTS of steep inclines. The Dakota Zoo is pretty flat which is really nice for young families with strollers or guests using wheelchairs.
Kids will love the farm area where they can feed the barnyard animals with food pellets purchased from the zoo’s feeders only.
For an additional fee, you can take a 30-minute train-themed tram ride. A train ride is a great option if you want to learn more about the zoo animals or just need a break from walking.
Are You Ready to Plan a North Dakota Road Trip?
After spending a week in North Dakota, we discovered so many reasons to want to come back!
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