Home to stretches of prairies and miles of badlands, North Dakota was once a frontier for discovery and exploration. The Great Plains here hold Native American, pioneering and even presidential history. In fact, 25th president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt once wrote, “I have always said I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.” That’s high praise from the man who is credited with expanding our national parks system! To see what got the “conservationist president” hooked on the outdoors, a trip to the Roughrider State is in order. Embark on your own expedition with this list of the best places to visit in North Dakota.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This national park is aptly named for the president who fell in love with the beauty it holds. Teddy Roosevelt originally traveled to North Dakota from his home state of New York to hunt bison in 1883, and he was never the same. Roosevelt said, “It was here that the romance of my life began.” He eventually bought land in North Dakota and that land is now part of his namesake national park, established in 1978.
It’s unique in that the park is split into three “units” that are miles apart along the Little Missouri River: the North Unit, the Elkhorn Lodge Unit, and the most popular South Unit. The South Unit is 68 miles down the road from the North, with the lodge in between. In the park’s most popular South portion, you can see the Maltese Cross Cabin, Teddy Roosevelt’s personal abode and the Painted Canyon. In the park, you’ll find a plethora of wildlife from prairie dogs to elk, as well as other-worldly rock formations in the rugged terrain of the badlands.
Maah Daah Hey Trail
You can travel between the units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park by road, but why do that when there are 98 miles of trails connecting them? The Maah Daah Hey Trail bills itself as North Dakota’s Best Kept Secret, but the secret is out: you won’t find a more authentic experience of the state’s wilderness. The name comes from the Mandan Indians and means “a place that will be around for a long time.” It’s most common to bike the trail, but you can also hike or ride horses. Along the paths you’ll find grassy prairie stretches as well as jagged buttes in the badlands, and no shortage of wildlife.
Fort Union Trading Post
This National Historic Site was the most important trading post on the Upper Missouri River in the mid 1800s. Located on the modern day border between North Dakota and Montana, the fort was built as a hub for business as requested by the Assiniboine nation. Here, native tribes and settlers exchanged goods such as buffalo hides, weapons, cloth, beads and beaver pelts. The large white building with the red roof was actually the home where the head merchant lived.
On your visit, you can step back in time with a tour of Fort Union’s grounds to learn about what life was like when the profitable trading post was at its peak. In June, the trading post holds its annual Rendezvous fair complete with period vendors and historical re-enactors. You can also take a walk on the Bodmer Overlook Trail on site and learn plenty about the local tribes that once conducted business at the post.
Intrigued by Teddy Roosevelt’s history with North Dakota we described earlier? This is the place to learn all about it! The Medora Musical is an outdoor play that celebrates the cowboy days of the 25th president and the Old West. The Burning Hills Amphitheater seats almost 3000 people and is set against the beautiful backdrop of the badlands. The show certainly doesn’t lack for energy with choreography, live animals, and melodies you’ll be singing long after you leave. It’s the perfect family-friendly way to learn more about North Dakota’s history and be entertained all at once.
International Peace Garden
There’s a reason why they call it the Peace Garden State. This beautiful oasis is indeed international, spanning the USA-Canada border between North Dakota and Manitoba. It’s a 3.65-square mile park that features floral displays of both the Canadian and American flags and ever-changing garden landscapes. Its peace chapel is the only building that straddles the border between the two countries. Sit and enjoy the serenity of the flowers, the lakes and the musical chiming of the Carillon Bell Tower. Don’t forget your passport if you’re planning to make a stop here! A birth certificate also works for minors and for adults when accompanied by a drivers license.
Scandinavian Heritage Park
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As the state where Lewis and Clark met Sakagewea, North Dakota’s Native American and pioneering history is well-known. But did you know it also has a rich Scandinavian history? Scandinavian Heritage Park pays tribute to the immigrants who settled in this area of the United States from the 5 Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. It’s main attraction is a beautifully ornate replica of Norway’s Gol Stave Church. You’ll also find a Finnish sauna, a Danish windmill and a giant Swedish Dala horse carving. The park’s annual Norsk Hostfest is a festival celebrating Scandinavian heritage with cultural food, traveling shows and educational programs.
Best Places to Visit in North Dakota
A visit to some of these sites in North Dakota will certainly leave you more cultured and more aware of the history of the Old West. You’ll also find plenty of places for soaking in the beauty of the state’s unique landscape. Whether you’re out for adventure or tranquility, you’ll find it all in North Dakota.
Did this list of the best places to visit in North Dakota get you excited to plan a trip to North Dakota? Let us know where you’re headed next and be sure to check out more of our must see places!