Our first trip to North Dakota was in 2012, a very short trip with a single purpose: to see North Dakota in our quest to see all 50 states. We flew into Fargo and planned to spend one day there before driving south to Omaha, where we were spending the weekend at a wedding. Our flight touched down on the tarmac, we loaded our suitcases into the rental car, and we were off to see just enough of the city that we could feel secure in telling others we had been to North Dakota. Our visit was short, but the impressions it left ran deep: we were both somewhat surprised by the cosmopolitan feel of Fargo and the comforting peace of the spaces outside of the city. Although we expected our visit to be one and done, we agreed we would both like to make a more intentional visit in the future.
When we started planning our 2021 road trip, North Dakota felt like a natural destination. During a time when social distancing was still top of mind, a state we remembered most for its open spaces and smaller populations felt very inviting. For as much as we enjoyed our quick stop a decade before, we couldn’t get enough of the Peace Garden State as we wove our way from destination to destination. There were historical spots that helped us understand the state’s role in how the USA grew and changed over time. There were artsy spots that showed local color and personality. There were more than a few surprises that proved North Dakota is a lot more than fields and snow. If North Dakota is on your radar—and especially if it is not—here are 10 things to do in North Dakota that might push this incredible state to the top of your vacation planning list!
Enchanted HighwayOne of the most creative and artistic stretches of road in North Dakota runs between I-94 and the small town of Regent, and scattered along the 32 miles of highway are seven unique sculptures that reflect the spirit of the state. Each sculpture, constructed of metal, can be seen from the road or by pulling off into one of the parking areas for a closer look. Most of the sculptures represent the outdoors, with geese, deer, and even grasshoppers depicted. We also loved Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again, which pays homage to the US president who found solace in the state.
You can access the highway from north or south, but most of the statues tend to face north so keep that in mind as you drive. You can find a map outlining the landmarks at the north and south entrance, but be sure to check out the full Enchanted Highway visitor center in Regent for souvenirs and additional information. The address for that is 607 Main St, Regent, ND 58650. No matter which direction you are coming from, you’ll find helpful reference material to learn about the sites along the Enchanted Highway!
Mystical Horizons: The Stonehenge of the Prairie
Located in the north central part of the state, just five miles from the Canadian border, the “Stonehenge of the Prairie” is worth a visit if you plan to visit North Dakota. Officially called Mystical Horizons, the structure includes a working sundial and multiple granite pillars that are aligned to the summer and winter solstice as well as the spring and fall equinox. It was designed to be a 21st century Stonehenge and became a tribute to Jack Olson, an aerospace engineer who dreamed of a place that could connect visitors with the cosmos but died of cancer in 2001 before his vision could be realized. The Stonehenge of the Prairie attracts visitors on every solar alignment date. There is no fee to enter, and you’ll find a parking lot and informational plaques to help you interpret what to see during your visit.
Geographical Center of North AmericaDuring our trip to Ecuador, we learned there are three ways to visit the equator, and it seems appropriate that there are three ways to experience the geographical center of North America when visiting North Dakota. The spot with the longest history is Rugby, a town that erected a monument declaring itself the geological center in 1931. For decades, tourists sought the town out to say they had visited the very center of the continent. Then, out of the blue, a challenger emerged: the town of Robinson declared geography was on their side and that the center of the continent was located inside Hanson’s Bar. A legal battle erupted as to which location had the rightful claim to the title (as well as the official trademark, which Rugby let lapse and Robinson scooped up), and ultimately the trademark was awarded back to Rugby. Then, in 2015, a geography professor from the University of Buffalo, Peter Rogerson, declared the continental center was in a town appropriated named Center. Dr. Rogerson’s calculations are likely more accurate than the calculations used to declare Rugby, then Hanson’s Bar, then Rugby again as the center. Until an official or fully validated method of determining the geographical center is identified, though, all three spots lay claim to the location.
If visiting the geographic center of North America is on your list of things to do in North Dakota, you’ll have more than one stop to make—but like our experience in Ecuador, each stop will show you a different side to a unique attraction.
Fort Mandan and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
As explorers Merriweather Lewis and William Clark set off to explore lands acquired through the Louisiana Purchase, they spent their first winter at Fort Mandan in North Dakota. It was from that location that they planned their journey, connected with local native tribes, and met Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife Sacagawea, both of whom accompanied the Corps of Discovery Expedition as they departed for the west.
Today, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center provides a reconstruction of Fort Mandan, which provides a nice look into what winter might have been like for the explorers and the native people they befriended. Be sure to check out the giant dog statue near Fort Mandan, a six-foot tall monument built to pay tribute to Lewis and Clark’s dog Seaman. The visitor center offers exhibits that provide a great historical overview, and you can also walk through the replica fort to get a better sense of the size and layout of the buildings. We have visited a few Lewis and Clark historical locations, and this stop reminded us quite a bit of Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the Corp stayed for several months at the end of their expedition. For history aficionados, Fort Mandan is a must-see location to add to your list of things to do in North Dakota!
More Information: NPS.gov
Salem SueIf roadside kitsch is something you seek out, Salem Sue will not disappoint. Located in New Salem, Salem Sue weighs in at 12,000 pounds as the world’s largest Holstein cow. Built in 1971 to honor and promote dairy workers in North Dakota, you can see Salem Sue from five miles away on a clear day due to her position on a hill. During our visit there was just one other family there to see Salem Sue, and our time only briefly overlapped which meant we had no trouble taking a few photos and enjoying the quiet. Just a half mile off I-94, it’s a stop you won’t want to miss!
World’s Largest Buffalo
Much like Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Buffalo is a fun stop for a photo op and some great views. Located in Jamestown at Frontier Village and the National Buffalo Museum, which is home to a real buffalo herd, it is one of the state’s most popular roadside attractions. Our visit occurred just before sunset, which provided some great photos as well as a sense of calm that can only come from relaxing on vacation—under a giant buffalo.
More Information: BuffaloMuseum.com
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
If there’s one place we insist you include on your list of things to do in North Dakota, it is Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We wrote in detail about our experience spending a day in the park, and of the national parks we have been to it is one of the most memorable experiences we have had. If a day exploring how the plains meet the Badlands and watching wildlife interact with some of the most stunning sites on Earth sounds like your idea of a good time, we know you will love Teddy Roosevelt National Park.
Take a look at our video below for a few of the scenic highlights around Teddy Roosevelt National Park!
Decommissioned Missile Silos and the Pyramid of Nekoma
Not everyone knows the role North Dakota has played in our national defense, but the missile silos scattered across the state tell the story of how they were designed and strategically placed to keep the county safe during the Cold War. We shared a full recap of our visit to the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site and the Pyramid of North Dakota in an earlier article, and history fans will want to be sure to check it out and plan to add the decommissioned missile silos to their lists of things to do in North Dakota!
Visit FargoFargo is a fantastic city, and there is no shortage of things to see and do if you plan to stop there. Although North Dakota might sound more synonymous with open spaces, Fargo is a first-rate city with great food and fun, quirky spots to check out. We started our day with breakfast at BernBaum’s, a Scandinavian-Jewish deli that crossed a New York City bagel experience with some of our favorite breakfasts in Iceland. Between meals, check out the Mario mural, where you can take a photo of yourself against the backdrop of one of the best video games in existence. Fans of the movie Fargo won’t want to miss the Fargo Wood Chipper, which pays homage to one of the movie’s most famous scenes. The Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center has the actual wood chipper from the movie in their building and a replica wood chipper outside near the parking lot. Finally, don’t miss dinner at Wurst, a German bier hall with a great menu. After a long day of exploring Fargo and some of the surrounding area, we had a late dinner of knoephla soup, spaetzle, currywurst, and sausage. Hearty, filling, and exceptionally tasty, the entire experience was memorable and worth a stop in Fargo.
Believe it or not, grapes grow in North Dakota, and there are a few great wineries to choose from if you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon. We stopped at 4e Winery, which has a refreshing tasting menu that focuses on sweeter wines. Lisa and Greg started the winery as a passion project, and their wines are a testament to their skill for getting the very best out of their vines. We loved the wine, but we loved the hospitality even more—we were glad to be driving so we could bring a few bottles home with us!
More Information: 4eWinery.com
Where to Stay in North Dakota
North Dakota is a big state, and if you’re planning a road trip as you check items off your own list of things to do in North Dakota you may have a need to do a little hotel hopping. We used Booking.com to plan our stops as we navigated the state; Booking.com helped us find hotels that met our criteria (free parking! free Wi-Fi! free breakfast!) along the route we were following. Take a look at Booking.com to see if there is a hotel that meets your needs as well!
Enjoy North Dakota!
Despite a completely packed agenda for our visit to North Dakota, leaving was still bittersweet. We arrived with a complete list of things to do in North Dakota, and although we crossed each one off, we found most of them were highlighted as something we would love to experience again. We don’t often take the same vacation twice, but our North Dakota road trip will almost certainly be repeated. If you’re planning a trip of your own, be prepared to be surprised—it’s a beautiful state with an incredible variety of things to see and do, and you might find it quickly becomes a favorite of yours as well!
Want to learn about more interesting locations around the United States? Check out these posts from our archives!