10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in North Dakota

Written by Brad Lane
Updated May 4, 2023

Author Brad Lane has enjoyed extensive travels throughout North Dakota.

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.

Little Missouri River in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Little Missouri River in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

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 top outdoor destinations in 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.

The 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, as well as visitor resources.

The Painted Canyon Visitor Center provides engaging information and one of the best viewpoints in the park in the South Unit. 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. All camping is considered primitive, with no hookups or shower facilities. Campgrounds do have drinking water and flush toilets. Campsite reservations are available six months in advance.

2. National Buffalo Museum

National Buffalo Museum
National Buffalo Museum

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.

Visitors learn everything about the great beasts that once roamed the American West within the National Buffalo Museum. 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 Frontier Village at the museum includes a collection of old pioneer buildings, with a barbershop, church, drugstore, jailhouse, schoolhouse, post office, and many more. Visitors to Frontier Village tour 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

3. Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

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

Checking out the museum on the grounds is a popular thing to do at the Knife River Indian Villages Historic Site. 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 earth lodge, 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

4. North Dakota Heritage Center

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

In Bismarck, the North Dakota Heritage Center offers an overview of North Dakota history from prehistoric to modern times. Visitors to the Heritage Center have four museum galleries to peruse, including Adaption, Innovation, and Inspiration Galleries, as well as a rotating Governor's Gallery with temporary exhibits from around the world.

The museum contains thousands of different artifacts and displays, ranging from a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton cast to a scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Northern Lights Atrium is another popular point of interest. This steel and glass piece of architecture welcomes guests to the museum and provides an eye-catching spectacle at night.

The immersive landscapes of the Capital Arboretum Trail at the Heritage Center also draw some interest. For warmer months, refreshments are available at the on-site James River Café. The Heritage Center is open every day of the year, expect major holidays. Admission is always free.

Address: 612 East Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck, North Dakota

5. Plains Art Museum

Plains Art Museum
Plains Art Museum | ajleon / photo modified

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

Youth and family programs are available at the Plains Art Museum, as well as adult workshops. The event calendar also has something going on nearly every night of the week, including family movie nights, book clubs, and low-sensory Mondays. The museum is open seven days a week. Admission is free for all ages.

Address: 704 First Avenue North, Fargo

6. Scandinavian Heritage Park

Gol Stave Church, Scandinavian Heritage Park
Gol Stave Church, Scandinavian Heritage Park

The Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot offers a unique look at Scandinavian culture in 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. The replicas of a Finnish sauna and a Danish windmill are also on the grounds and 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

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 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 with replica villages and still-standing military buildings.

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

For recreation, the nearly 20 miles of trails attract hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. These non-motorized routes span several directions throughout the park, navigating shrublands and woodlands. The newest trail in the park, the 2.2-mile Keller Loop Trail, connects to the longer Scouts Trail for those interested in a longer hike.

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. Nearly 100 sites are available, with over 80 sites including electricity and water hookups. All sites have an affordable overnight rate.

Address: 4480 Fort Lincoln Road, Mandan, North Dakota

8. Lake Sakakawea

Lake Sakakawea
Lake Sakakawea

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

Two state parks are 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. They each also have easy 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. Lake Sakakawea State Park has a marina with boat slips available. The park also operates two boat ramps, including a multi-lane access point on the west side of the park.

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

9. Dakota Zoo, Bismarck

Porcupine at the Dakota Zoo
Porcupine at the Dakota Zoo

Dakota Zoo is a popular family attraction in Bismarck, near the shore of the Missouri River. The Zoo is home to over 500 animals representing several species from across the world. Among their collection are threatened and endangered animals, including Bengal tigers, tamarins, and snow leopards.

The zoo is open seven days a week throughout the summer (late April through September). It's easy to spend the day wandering the 90-acre facility and observing all the animals. Other areas of the zoo, like a Rose Garden and shaded play areas, are also worth visiting.

Dakota Zoo is home to several special events throughout the year. Some of the most popular include Breakfast at the Zoo, annual Easter egg hunts, and Wednesday Night Activities occurring weekly.

Address: 602 Riverside Park Road, Bismarck, North Dakota

10. Maah Daah Hey Trail

Maah Daah Hey Trail
Maah Daah Hey Trail

The Maah Daah Hey Trail attracts hikers, bikers, and horseback riders and is known as North Dakota's best-kept secret. This multi-use, non-motorized 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.

The Maah Daah Hey Trail Association is the best resource for planning overnight and day trips on the trail. Ambitious trail travelers can navigate the entire route over an average of 10 days, and there are 10 campgrounds along the route. Numerous trailheads along the route allow for scenic day trips.

The city of Medora is often a base camp for day trips on the Maah Daah Hey Trail. The trail portion crossing through Theodore Roosevelt National Park is also a common stretch to explore.

Map of Tourist Attractions in North Dakota

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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 tourist attractions in Bismarck and the top attractions in Fargo. Just south of the border, a visit to South Dakota can extend your trip quite nicely.