What's the extent of your knowledge of North Dakota? Is it only that it's not where Mount Rushmore is located? (Did you even know that?) Well, I'm going to change that for you right now, because North Dakota has a huge array of activities and attractions for you to choose from, especially if you're traveling with kids and you're on a budget. Also, did you know that North Dakota has been crowned Happiest State in the U.S.? To me, that's enough of a reason to plan a trip there. You probably want more though, so let's look at some of the super cool things there are to do and see there.
If you're traveling as a family, then you'll want to find things to do that everyone likes, and maybe even sneaking in some educational opportunities. Here are just a few of the things the little ones (and everyone else) will love:
- North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame: Who doesn't love a cowboy? You and the littles can learn more about what life was like for those living on the North Dakota plains for real cowboys, the Native Americans and rodeo riders. Permanent and rotating exhibits ensure you get a good idea about American ranching. The museum is open every day in the summer season and you can buy a family pass for just $30.
- National Buffalo Museum: Help protect the American buffalo as you visit and learn about bison as a species. The herd includes three white buffalo and are located next to Frontier Village, which is full of old pioneer buildings like a barbershop, jailhouse and post office. Admission is just $5 for adults and a crazy affordable $1 for kids 7-18.
- Enchanted Highway: Fancy a little bit of a road trip? Make sure you have your camera ready, because this 32-mile stretch of highway has giant metal sculptures that would be fun to stop at and get up close and personal with. Make an afternoon of it and pack a picnic lunch to eat in front of your favorite. Totally budget-friendly, because it's absolutely free.
- Fort Union Trading Post: This fur trading post is a fantastic way to educate your kids for free. Roll up to Fort Union and learn about what was traded, between whom and how it made everyone's life better.
- Knife River Indian Villages: Another free way to entertain the children, Knife River Indian Villages has a recreated Earthlodge, garden and drying racks. You'll see actual Indian artifacts from the Hidatsa people and even get in some birdwatching. Spend an hour, two or the whole day. Between the villages, the museum and the hiking trails, you can expend some of that excess energy the kids may have and learn something in the process.
Love the Outdoors?
Some places just have amazing natural beauty. North Dakota is one of those places. If you like hiking, biking, boating, fishing or any other outdoor activity, you'll find it here.
- Lake Sakakawea and Garrison Dam: If water sports are your thing, this is definitely a stop for your itinerary. Lay out on the beach or engage in boating, sailing, or scuba diving. The area is full of wildlife as well, so stay on the lookout for pheasant, grouse, partridge, turkey, waterfowl and deer. Hunting is and fishing can be done in the area as well.
- Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park: Fun for all ages, the state park was once an important infantry and cavalry post. Portions of the military post have been reconstructed for visitors, plus you can also visit an Indian village and even a playground for children. Take in the panoramic view of the Missouri River and take advantage of the historic trails.
- Lake Metigoshe State Park: Rent a cabin for overnight stays here, or spend the day canoeing, picnicking, hiking and even fishing. The lake is full of northern pike, walleye and perch.
- Maah Daah Hey Trail: If you enjoy biking, then this 96-mile trail is sure to please. Finally complete, the trail runs through Theodore Roosevelt National Park and is also popular among hikers and horseback riders.
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park: "Here the romance of my life began." stated Theodore Roosevelt after his time in North Dakota. If you want to know why, you only need to visit this amazing National Park for just $20 for an entire vehicle. Between the beautiful scenery, the driving loops, the interpretive center and guided tours, you're sure to fall in love with North Dakota, too.
- Bully Pulpit Golf Course: Named one of the top 100 public courses in America by Golf Digest, if you're a golfer, make sure to book your tee time at this course that is surrounded by beautiful landscape and rolling hills. You may find yourself distracted from your game.
- International Peace Garden: Opened to the public in 1932, the International Peace Garden is full of native plants (over 150,000 flowers), lovely places to sit and reflect and fountains. Your whole carload can visit for just $15.
Want to Get Some Culture?
One of the fun things about going on vacation to a new destination is learning about what makes it cool and unique. Find out the history of North Dakota, learn how things have changed and when with these awesome attractions.
- Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center: Fort Mandan is an educational and interactive stop along the Oregon Trail. You'll find yourself in the midst of a recreated fort and tons of artifacts and exhibits.
- Chateau de Mores State Historic Site: Explore the home built by the Marquis de Mores, a French aristocrat who moved to North Dakota to raise cattle to sell for their meat. He founded the town of Medora, which he named after his wife. Less than 15 years from his move to America, he was killed and his family only visited the chateau once more before caretakers took it over. Now it stands as a museum with period furniture and decor. Adult admission is $10 and children over 6 are just $5.
- North Dakota Heritage Center: See the complete history of North Dakota from unearthed dinosaur bones to Indian artifacts to a 50's soda shop. You'll learn about homesteading, farming and everything in between through permanent and changing exhibits. And here's the best thing: It's completely free!
- North Dakota State Capitol Building and Grounds: Want a behind-the-scenes view of what happens in the capitol? Take a guided tour where you can view the Capitol building, Legislative Hall, the Senate Chamber and several other interesting stops where all the government magic happens.
- Plains Art Museum: If you're looking for some traditional culture, then the Plains Art Museum is full of awesome art that you'll want to check out. Exhibits change periodically and the museum hosts many events throughout the year, like a ceramic sale. Admission is nominal at just $7.50 per adult.
Just Like to Have Fun?
If you're like me, sometimes you just look for funky things that will give you a good time. If that's you, here are two bonus activities that can make your trip more awesome.
- Bonanzaville USA: Did you love the show Bonanza? If so, then you'll want to check out this awesome small town set that includes a log cabin, a blacksmith, general store, newspaper office and more. There are 43 buildings on 12 acres and 400,000 artifacts. So cool! All this and museum access for just $12 per adult and $6 for kids 4-14.
- Medora Musical: One of North Dakota's most popular attractions, the Medora Musical is a nightly rootin' tootin' show set in the North Dakota Badlands and features live horses, great music and a good time that's fun for the whole family. This is a bit of a splurge at $37/$17, but you can save if you book seats during Kids' days on Wednesday and Sundays when kids get in for free.
- Scandinavian Heritage Park: Can't make it to Scandinavia? The park gives a unique look at the culture of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland with replicas of important buildings, like the Gol Stave Church, an actual 18th century home brought all the way from Norway and even a 25-foot Swedish Dala horse. It's the only museum in the world that features all 5 Scandinavian countries, it's open-air and it's free to visit.
Did you know that North Dakota was so amazing? I bet you didn't. Who's adding it to their vacation wish list now?
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Disclaimer: This post has been brought to you by North Dakota Tourism. // All photos courtesy of NDTourism.