9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in North Dakota

Written by Brad Lane
Nov 17, 2020
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The rugged badlands, lush woodland settings, and water-fed natural features of North Dakota provide seemingly endless landscapes to explore. As well as stunning scenery, the state presents a fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of the region through its museums and historic sites.

Visitors to North Dakota often spend time outdoors at places like Theodore Roosevelt National Park or Lake Sakakawea. Indoor tourist attractions include the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck or the Plains Art Museum in Fargo.

Discover more places to visit with our list of the top attractions and things to do in North Dakota.

1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the main highlights of any trip to North Dakota. Named after the naturalist, rancher, and 26th president of the United States, the national park still encompasses the same landscapes that once enamored Roosevelt himself.

The Little Missouri River winds its way through the rolling hills and Badlands of the park. Visitors are encouraged to hike or simply drive through the park to appreciate the natural beauty alongside free-roaming bison.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is geographically separated into a North and South Unit, as well as the additional Elkhorn Ranch Unit, where Roosevelt himself spent much time among the Badlands. Plenty of hiking trails and designated scenic drives are a big draw to the North and South Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

In the South Unit, the Painted Canyon Visitor Center provides engaging information and one of the best viewpoints in the park. The Maltese Cross Cabin is also in the South Unit, restored to the era in which President Theodore Roosevelt called it his temporary home.

Camping is one of the popular things to do in the park. RV and tent camping is abundant here in two different campgrounds.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/thro/index.htm

Accommodation: Where to Stay near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

2. National Buffalo Museum

Frontier Village and the National Buffalo Museum
Frontier Village and the National Buffalo Museum | mrbillt6 / photo modified

Approximately halfway between Bismarck and Fargo on Interstate 94, drivers can see the world's largest, albeit concrete, bison from afar outside the National Buffalo Museum. Its living counterparts graze at its feet; among them are rare albino bison.

Within the National Buffalo Museum, visitors can learn everything about the great beasts that once roamed the American West. The 6,000-square-foot facility has several exhibits regarding the near extinction of buffalo in the American West, and the efforts to reintroduce them into the landscape.

The museum also includes a Frontier Village which includes a collection of old pioneer buildings, with a barbershop, church, drugstore, jailhouse, schoolhouse, post office, and many more.

During the summer months, visitors to Frontier Village can tour all the historic sites, enjoy stagecoach and pony rides, and partake at the on-site old-fashioned soda fountain.

Address: 500 17th Street SE, Jamestown, North Dakota

Official site: https://www.buffalomuseum.com/while-youre-here/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bismarck

3. Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site | minnemom / photo modified

Near Stanton, on an old camping ground of the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians, is the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. A number of villages have been rebuilt here in an attempt to preserve the culture. Today, this historic site introduces camps, field trips, and individuals to the native environment.

A popular thing to do at the Knife River Indian Villages Historic Site is checking out the museum on the grounds. This educational facility features artifacts and relics from the village, as well as significant cultural emblems of the people native to the area.

Patrons also enjoy walking the Village Trail, checking out the reconstructed earthlodge, and hiking the various trails that wind throughout the scenic landscape.

Different activities and events take place at Knife River Indian Villages throughout the year, including games, craft shows, and ceremonies, all of which really bring the historic site to life.

Address: 564 County Road 37, Stanton, North Dakota

Official site: http://www.nps.gov/knri/index.htm

4. North Dakota Heritage Center

North Dakota Heritage Center
North Dakota Heritage Center | minnemom / photo modified

In Bismarck, the North Dakota Heritage Center offers an overview of the history of North Dakota from prehistoric to modern times. Visitors to the Heritage Center can choose from four museum galleries to peruse.

In total, the museum contains thousands of different exhibits, artifacts, and displays, ranging from a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton cast to a scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Another popular point of interest is the Northern Lights Atrium. This steel and glass piece of architecture welcomes guests to the museum and provides an eye-catching spectacle at night.

For warmer months, the immersive landscapes of the Capital Arboretum Trail at the Heritage Center also draw some interest. Refreshments are available at the onsite James River Café.

Address: 612 East Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck, North Dakota

Official site: https://statemuseum.nd.gov/

5. Plains Art Museum

Plains Art Museum
Plains Art Museum | ajleon / photo modified

In the historic downtown district of Fargo, the Plains Art Museum is home to an impressive collection of works by regional and national artists.

Contemporary art, as well as traditional American Indian art and traditional folk-art feature prominently in the permanent collection. The museum presents changing exhibitions throughout the year within its 56,000 square feet of space.

Youth and family programs are available at the Plains Art Museum, as well as adult workshops. The Plains Art Museum also presents various public art and gardens throughout the city that enhance any visit to Fargo, including the homage-to-history Sodbuster sculpture located downtown.

The museum is closed on Sundays and most major holidays. Admission is free for all ages.

Address: 704 First Avenue North, Fargo

Official site: http://plainsart.org/

6. Scandinavian Heritage Park

Scandinavian Heritage Park
Scandinavian Heritage Park

The Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot offers a unique look at aspects of Scandinavian culture in the countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. This outdoor museum includes numerous replica buildings, statues, and cultural points of interest to explore.

Visitor favorites include the replica Gol Stave Church, an 18th-century home transported from Sigdal, and a 25-foot-tall Swedish Dala horse on display. Also on the grounds, the replicas of a Finnish sauna and Danish windmill are popular spots for visitors and photographers.

Attractions are not heated at Scandinavian Heritage Park, and the summer is the best time to visit. The park offers tours of the various on-site buildings between approximately mid-May and late-September. The end of the season at Heritage coincides with the annual Norsk Høstfest, which takes place at the fairgrounds every year.

Address: 1020 South Broadway, Minot, North Dakota

Official site: http://scandinavianheritage.org/

7. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is a great a place to engage with history, hike some trails, and spend the night next to the water. The state park reflects both its military history and Native American roots.

On-site, visitors find reconstructed buildings, like the Custer House and the reassembled On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village. These reconstructed pieces of history offer an opportunity to learn about the legacy of the landscape. The On-A-Slant Indian Village features six recreated earthlodges, and the Custer House is accompanied by several other restored barracks, granaries, and a commissary store.

For recreation, the nearly seven miles of trails attract hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. To extend your stay at Fort Abraham Lincoln, the state park also offers a modern campground near the shores of the Missouri River, complete with showers and flushing toilets.

Address: 4480 Fort Lincoln Road, Mandan, North Dakota

Official site: http://www.parkrec.nd.gov/parks/falsp/falsp.html

8. Lake Sakakawea

Lake Sakakawea
Lake Sakakawea | dvs / photo modified

In the west-central part of the state, Lake Sakakawea is North Dakota's largest reservoir. And with more than 1,500 miles of shoreline, it's a popular place to enjoy the water.

Two state parks can be found close to the shore of Lake Sakakawea: Fort Stevenson and Lake Sakakawea State Park on the eastern banks. Both offer overnight options, with modern campgrounds, and ease of access to the water, with public-access docks and boat rentals.

Sailing, kayaking, and motorboating are popular activities associated with Lake Sakakawea, and the lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. Hiking is also sought after at Lake Sakakawea. The park is the western terminus for the North Country National Scenic Trail, which, when completed, will span 4,600 miles from Lake Sakakawea to upstate New York.

Address: 781 42 1/2 Ave NW, Hazen, North Dakota

Official site: http://www.parkrec.nd.gov/parks/lssp/lssp.html

9. Maah Daah Hey Trail

Maah Daah Hey Trail
Maah Daah Hey Trail

For avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, the Maah Daah Hey Trail is known as North Dakota's best-kept secret. Attracting hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, the Maah Daah Hey Trail covers more than 140 miles of iconic North Dakota landscapes. Scenic spots on the route include Badlands, the Little Missouri River Valley, and portions of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Ambitious trail travelers can navigate the entire route over an average of 10 days. Numerous trailheads along the route allow for scenic day trips. The city of Medora is often a basecamp for day trips on the Maah Daah Hey Trail.

Official site: http://mdhta.com/

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More Places to Visit in North Dakota: To see more of the natural side of North Dakota, have a look at our article on the best state and national parks in North Dakota. Explore the highlights of North Dakota's most popular cities with our articles on the Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bismarck and Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Fargo. Just south of the border, a visit to the South Dakota can extend your trip quite nicely.

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