Grand Forks, about 80 miles south of the Canadian border along Interstate 29, is home to one of the top collegiate hockey programs in the United States as well as the Grand Forks Air Force Base. It’s also been the site of some of the worst flooding in American history. Here are some of the best things to see and do in this unique city.
Things To Do In Grand Forks
From bird-watching to exploring the historic downtown along the Red River, Grand Forks offers plenty of ways for visitors to enjoy themselves. The city is home to a great culinary scene, fun college sports, and lots of quirky culture.
Here’s what to do on a trip to the area.
Appreciate Regional Creativity At The North Dakota Museum Of Art
The North Dakota Museum of Art is perfectly situated in the nearly 120-year-old former University of North Dakota gymnasium and is home to a series of special exhibits featuring regional artists. Highlighting everything from contemporary Native American life to Chinese vases, the North Dakota Museum of Art challenges visitors to expand their horizons and conceptions of art. The museum also includes permanent collections, such as the apartment and studio exhibit of New York artist Barton Lidice Benes and an outdoor sculpture garden.
Learn About The 1997 Red River Flood
Grand Forks has been the site of several of the worst floods in American history. The flood of 1997 crested at nearly 55 feet, forcing the evacuation of about 50,000 people and causing more than $3.5 billion in damage to the region. The downtown area suffered major damage from flooding and fires.
Today, thanks to a new floodwall, the Red River safely flows through the area, and there’s a walking and cycling trail located near where the floodwaters crested. The downtown buildings were renovated with respect to their historical appearance. On a walk through the area, you’ll see the county courthouse and newspaper office, as well as a flood monument featuring poster-sized photos of the damage and a unique sculpture celebrating the heroes who rescued residents from impending doom. A small streetside park features interesting art pieces, including a bicycle sculpture.
Tour The Ralph Engelstad Arena
The University of North Dakota is home to one of college hockey’s best programs; the Fighting Hawks have captured seven national championships and produced dozens of professional hockey players. Whether or not you’re a hockey fan, a tour of the Ralph Engelstad Arena is a must when visiting Grand Forks. From the giant scoreboard that encompasses about a third of the hockey rink to the championship hallway featuring floor-to-ceiling photos of some of the best players to advance to the National Hockey League, you’ll see what makes the sport so important to Grand Forks.
Watch For Birds At Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge
Home to more than 300 bird species, Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge, about 20 minutes west of Grand Forks, offers nature enthusiasts a fun place to bird-watch. Ducks, dowitchers, and the American avocet can all be found at the wetlands. The refuge has three trails -- two that are about a quarter of a mile long and a third that’s about 2 miles long. The area attracts more than 30,000 birds each spring and summer.
Enjoy A Drink At A Craft Brewery
If you’re looking for great brews, you won’t be disappointed -- Grand Forks is home to two fantastic craft breweries. Rhombus Guys Brewing Company, located in Grand Forks’s historic opera house, sells unique IPAs, pales, and stouts in its 15-barrel brewhouse. You can also order a pizza or sandwich during your visit. If you’re up for a challenge to your taste buds, try the brown ale or green tea pale ale at Half Brothers Brewing Company in downtown Grand Forks.
Sample Fine Wine At Grape Mill Vineyard & Winery
Cross the Red River and head into East Grand Forks, Minnesota, to sample some excellent northern wine. With a short growing season, Grape Mill Vineyard & Winery uses the best cold-weather grapes to create their white and red wines. Open Friday through Sunday, Grape Mill is the perfect spot for relaxing before dinner and unwinding after an action-packed day.
Experience Cold War History At The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site
Grand Forks Air Force Base was once home to 150 missiles pointed at the Soviet Union and its allies during the Cold War. Today, you can tour the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site near Cooperstown, North Dakota, about 90 minutes southwest of Grand Forks. See the launch control facility and the place where the missile crew spent their 24-hour assignments on alert.
Where To Shop In Grand Forks
Known for its chippers, or chocolate-covered potato chips, Carol Widman’s Candy in downtown Grand Forks is one of three locations in the area. The tasty treats combine the sweetness of chocolate with the saltiness of potato chips. Once you try them, you’ll be hooked! The store also features a variety of locally produced goodies, such as chocolates, sunflower seeds, and chocolate roses.
Art lovers will adore Badman Design, featuring the creations of metalsmith David Badman. The artist produces jewelry, metal flags, and religious works. If you love antiques and vintage finds, head to the Plain and Fancy Antique Mall, where you’ll find almost anything you desire, including home goods, clothing, and fun knickknacks.
Best Restaurants In Grand Forks
From pub food to upscale dining, the Grand Forks area has it all. Look for steaks prepared to order, burgers, and poutine, a northern favorite.
Located inside the Canad Inns Destination Centre, Tavern United is a favorite hangout following University of North Dakota sporting events. But it’s a great choice at any time. The menu focuses on pub food -- mainly burgers and sandwiches -- but the poutine is a must. Featuring French fries smothered in dark gravy and fried cheese curds and topped with meats such as pulled pork, bacon, and buffalo chicken, the Canadian dish has found a home in Grand Forks.
The Toasted Frog
Don’t worry about ordering the frog legs at The Toasted Frog, but definitely try the fried cheesy pickles starring dill pickles wrapped in Havarti cheese and fried and served with a side of sriracha. The entrees are rather good, too -- wood-fired sandwiches, lavash flatbread pizza, elk burgers, and more.
Sky’s Fine Dining
Featuring an upscale menu of steaks, such as filet mignon and New York strip, Sky’s also offers grilled salmon with a special North Dakota sauce. The restaurant is perfect for a romantic night out. Sky’s also offers an outstanding Sunday brunch, with items such as smoked salmon eggs Benedict and huge bananas Foster pancakes.
The Blue Moose
The Blue Moose has all the classic bar food, like burgers, wings, and fries. They also offer great dry-aged steak, barbecue ribs, and fresh walleye. Located along the Red River in East Grand Forks, the restaurant provides lovely views as well.
The Urban Stampede
The Urban Stampede, a downtown coffeehouse, is located inside an old furrier shop and features Wild West saloon-style decor. Order a coffee, and you’ll half expect the barkeep -- er, barista -- to slide it down the bar to you. Instead, they’ll make you the drink of your choice, talk to you a little about the history of the place, and let you enjoy your drink. The coffeehouse also features “the world’s smallest art gallery,” with paintings and sculptures in a corner.
Best Places To Stay In Grand Forks
With nearly three dozen national chain hotels to choose from, Grand Forks offers plenty of reasonably priced places to rest your head after a long day of shopping or exploring.
However, if you’re looking for a unique choice, consider the Canad Inn Destination Centre, connected to the convention center and the University of North Dakota’s domed stadium. It feels like a small town inside a hotel. There are several restaurants on-site, including Tavern United, ’l Bistro, and Garbonzo’s Pizza & Arcade, so you won’t need to leave the hotel to get some great bites.