12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Bismarck, ND

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Dec 28, 2023
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Heritage, history, and the great outdoors are easy to find in Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. Among the many tourist attractions are the skyscraper State Capitol, wonderful city parks, and a great zoo, to name just a few.


Culture is alive in Bismarck, and a multitude of art shops, galleries, and museums are a testament to this fact. And the different state parks and historic sites surrounding Bismarck speak to its frontier and pre-colonial past. For a fun afternoon or evening on the water, the Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises is an enjoyable experience for the whole family.

Plan your sightseeing and learn about the best places to visit with our list of the top things to do in Bismarck.

See also: Where to Stay in Bismarck

1. Dakota Zoo

Bald eagle at the Dakota Zoo
Bald eagle at the Dakota Zoo

One of Bismarck's best family tourist attractions is the Dakota Zoo. The zoo has been in operation since 1961 and has grown over the years. It now houses more than 600 animals on a 90-acre facility.

Some of the resident animals at the zoo include Bengal tigers, American alligators, arctic foxes, African tortoises, and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. The Jack and Joyce Schuchart Big Cat Complex at the zoo features a viewing area complete with family-friendly tunnels that lead to an up-close look. And the zoo's resident gray wolves are seen from an overhead viewing platform.

The zoo, which focuses on education, allows close-up encounters and offers a variety of scheduled events to make visits even more interesting. The zoo is open daily between late April and September and only open on the weekends throughout winter.

Address: 600 Riverside Park Road, Bismarck, North Dakota

2. North Dakota State Capitol

North Dakota State Capitol building
North Dakota State Capitol building

The North Dakota State Capitol building is an Art Deco structure built in the mid-1930s during the Great Depression. It features a landmark skyscraper tower at one end, contrary to most state capitol designs, adding to the unique experience of visiting and photographing. This building replaced the original State Capitol, which burned down in 1930.

The Rough Rider Hall of Fame on the ground floor of the State Capitol building recognizes people who have contributed significantly to the state. On the 18th floor is an observation deck with views over Bismarck. Artworks and other furnishings within tell the unique story of North Dakota's statehood.

Guided tours are available seven days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Reservations are not necessary, except for big groups. Visitors are also welcome to take a self-guided tour throughout the public building.

Address: 600 East Boulevard Ave, Bismarck, North Dakota

3. North Dakota Heritage Center

North Dakota Heritage Center
North Dakota Heritage Center | Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

The North Dakota Heritage Center contains the permanent collection of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The center focuses on everything from prehistoric times to the 20th century, offering a good overview of North Dakota. It also offers free admission, making it one of the most popular free tourist attractions in South Dakota.

The center houses dinosaur bones, a prairie post office, and a Native American Hall of Honor among the many permanent artifacts and relics on display. The museum also regularly rotates new exhibits into the space, offering something new to see with each visit.

The Northern Lights Atrium is a fascinating piece of architecture within the center, and the Capitol Arboretum Trail winds its way through the landscaped property outside. Other notable places to visit at the Heritage Center include the interactive children's Treehouse exhibit and the hall dedicated exclusively to North Dakota Birds.

In addition to the galleries, the Heritage Center also offers educational programs open to the public, and the on-site James River Café provides light fare throughout the day. The Heritage Center is open nearly every day of the year except for major holidays.

Address: 612 East Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck, North Dakota

4. Former Governors' Mansion

The Former Governor's Mansion
The Former Governor's Mansion | Richie Diesterheft / photo modified

The Former Governors' Mansion offers a glimpse into the life of a governor in the 19th century. The mansion has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and is decorated in period pieces. It was built in 1884 and housed 20 governors from its inception until 1960.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota manages the property and has done so since 1975. The site grounds are open year-round, and the mansion itself can be toured every day from May through September. Other notable sightseeing opportunities include a 1903 Carriage House and an extensive flower garden with over 60 heritage plants.

Address: 320 East Avenue B, Bismarck, North Dakota

5. Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises

Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises
Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises | North Dakota / photo modified

Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises offer a pleasant and relaxing way to explore the Upper Missouri River. This 150-passenger paddle-wheeler departs from the Port of Bismarck and provides a comfortable environment to view the beautiful countryside. Lunch, afternoon, and evening cruises are available. All public riverboat cruises offer a family fun affair.

Cruises operate between May and September, and advanced reservations are recommended. Public cruises last an hour or two depending on the route. This scenic water ride is also popular with large group events, including weddings, reunions, and school outings.

Address: 1700 River Road, Bismarck, North Dakota

6. McDowell Dam Recreation Area

The McDowell Dam is a popular recreation area approximately eight miles east of Bismarck. The park encompasses over 270 acres and several facilities, including picnic shelters, horseshoe pits, and a concessions area with rentals.

Boating, fishing, and paddleboarding are some of the most popular activities at the park, as well as setting towels down on the expansive beach. Nature trails explore some of the wooded surroundings, and a paved trail is popular with bicyclists. A nature trail also circles the entire body of water.

The park is open throughout the year, but expect the most activity between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends (May through September). This is the same timeframe when boat rentals are available at the park, including kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards.

7. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

On-A-Slant Indian Village
On-A-Slant Indian Village

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park provides an array of historical and recreational opportunities a 20-minute drive from Bismarck, accessible through the neighboring city of Mandan.

Many historic structures have been recreated within the state park, including the On-A-Slant Indian Village — a state historical site with six reconstructed Earthlodges commemorating the original Mandan peoples of the area.

A reconstruction of General Custer's Victorian-style house is also within the state park and offers guided tours every half-hour. Other prominent structures at the state park include various military barracks, blockhouses, and granaries.

Hiking trails can be found throughout the park, connecting the various structures and attractions. A modern campground is set on the shores of the Missouri River, with over 80 sites catering to RVs with electricity and water hookups. Primitive campsites, tepees, and cabins are also available.

Address: 4480 Fort Lincoln Road, Mandan, North Dakota

8. Camp Hancock State Historic Site

Camp Hancock was established in 1872 to provide a safe haven for the workers on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Visitors will find the original log building that served as the camp's headquarters here. Inside the building are displays and artifacts from the local area.

Bismarck's oldest surviving building is also at the historic site — an 1872 supply depot that served many purposes over its life. Also on-site is The Bread of Life Church, the oldest church in Bismarck. Admission is free at this grassy, open-space historic site, and the picnic area is great for an outdoor lunch.

Address: 101 West Main Avenue, Bismarck, North Dakota

9. Sertoma Park

The Super Slide Amusement Park at Sertoma Park
The Super Slide Amusement Park at Sertoma Park | Martin Lewison / photo modified

Sertoma is a riverfront park full of play areas and scenic walking trails next to the Dakota Zoo. Park visitors can often be found playing horseshoes, sand volleyball, or yard games. The park is one of the most popular outdoor places to visit in Bismarck.

The park also features eight playground areas that are a big hit with children and families. Running, walking, and biking are popular ways to navigate the natural space, and eleven large picnic shelters are also available to rent.

Within the park, the Super Slide Amusement Park is open, with free admission and fun things to do, like miniature golf, bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, and other rides and attractions for all ages.

Check out the Sertoma event calendar for weekly events, like pop-up art festivals and organized river walks.

10. North Dakota's Gateway to Science

North Dakota's Gateway to Science Center is in the Frances Leach High Prairie Arts & Science Complex. The center features hands-on exhibits with themes such as electricity, magnetism, light, machines, and air pressure. In addition to the regular displays, the Gateway to Science Center also hosts traveling exhibitions.

Programs and events offered by the center include STEM adventure camps, after-school science clubs, and a visiting scientist series. This is a great outing for all ages. Special rates are available for large groups and field trips. The center is closed on Tuesdays.

Address: 1810 Schafer Street, Bismarck, North Dakota

11. Keelboat Park

Keelboat Park
Keelboat Park | Kwanchanog Noiinwong / Shutterstock.com

Keelboat Park connects with Steamboat Park along River Road, overlooking the banks of the Missouri River. These natural spaces provide historical and cultural outlets with a landscaped route along the water.

Three of the larger installations that are hard to miss include the Thunderbird eagle sculpture, a Lewis and Clark Statue, and a replica keelboat akin to the one the Corps of Discovery used for their travels.

Keelboat Park is a great place to watch the sunset. Other interpretive information is available along the paved path, and a public boat ramp enables visitors to get out and enjoy the water.

Address: 1605 River Road, Bismarck, North Dakota

12. Belle Mehus Auditorium

Belle Mehus Auditorium
Belle Mehus Auditorium | Sheila Herman / photo modified

Named after a piano teacher from Bismarck, the Belle Mehus Auditorium has been hosting shows since 1914. In conjunction with the Bismarck Event Center, this historic theater is the epitome of community arts in Bismarck.

Performances range from professional dance series to the symphony and children's choir Christmas concerts. The theater underwent major renovations in the 90s to return it to its original grandeur. That work, and the history behind it all, is readily apparent the moment you walk into this theater now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Performances take place throughout the year at Belle Mehus Auditorium. Many shows extend into the evening, making attending a concert a typically fun thing to do at night.

Address: 201 N 6th Street, Bismarck, North Dakota

Map of Attractions & Things to Do in Bismarck, ND

Where to Stay in Bismarck for Sightseeing

We recommend these convenient hotels with easy access to the top attractions in Bismarck:

  • Sleep Inn & Suites Bismarck I 94: For mid-range pricing, a great breakfast, a heated pool, a hot tub, and a fitness room, check out this Sleep Inn.
  • Wingate by Wyndham Bismarck: Affordable rates, great service, an indoor pool, and comfortable beds are what you can expect to find here.
  • Hampton Inn Bismarck: This 2.5-star hotel offers an indoor swimming pool, family rooms, and free parking.
  • Days Inn Bismarck: At this budget hotel, you'll find friendly staff, free breakfast, and an on-site fitness center.