Oftentimes, as we drive across states along the interstate, boredom sets in. We see small towns off in the distance or pass through medium-size cities, all the while lamenting how bored we are, never stopping except for gas or a personal break.
To combat this boredom, my wife and I have attempted to start checking out attractions along the way -- ones that might not otherwise make our itinerary. When you head off the interstate for a while, you never know what you’ll discover. During a recent drive through North Dakota, we got off the interstate and drove 2 hours out of our way to find Dinosaurs on the Prairie, a few dozen old-fashioned farm threshers lined up as if they were walking in a cavalcade.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you do exactly as we do, because your family and friends might call you crazy and try to take your car keys from you. But if you happen to be driving along Interstate 29, which runs from North Dakota to Kansas City, you’ll stumble upon a variety of landscapes and communities, along with some unique attractions. Here are a few places you could stop to break up the drive through South and North Dakota.
1. Adams Homestead And Nature Preserve
North Sioux City, SD
Located in southeastern South Dakota, a few miles north of Sioux City, Iowa, the Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve features about 10 miles of trails through the prairie, as well as along the scenic Missouri River. You can learn about the park’s significance as one of the earliest homesteads in the state and see historic buildings such as the Adams family house, a Lutheran church, a country school, and a cabin.
2. Falls Park
Sioux Falls, SD
As the most popular attraction in Sioux Falls, Falls Park is a must-see when traveling through the city. The Big Sioux River roars through South Dakota’s largest city, forming a series of smaller waterfalls. You can walk along the rocky shore and stand inches from the water, but you can also enjoy higher-up views from observation spots along the walking trail. Also located at Falls Park are the remnants of an old mill, a restaurant, and a visitor center with an observation deck.
Falls Park connects to the downtown area, where you’ll find fascinating public art, such as sculptures and murals, as well as the iconic Arc of Dreams, a beautiful work of architecture that hovers over the Big Sioux River.
3. McCrory Gardens
With more than 25 acres of floral gardens and another 45 acres of arboretum, McCrory Gardens on the campus of South Dakota State University offers an opportunity to enjoy a relaxing walk in nature while admiring the campus of one of the state’s largest colleges. McCrory Gardens is home to a variety of trees, bushes, and plants that are either native to South Dakota or have adapted to the state’s climate.
4. Redlin Art Center
The Redlin Art Center in Watertown showcases Terry Redlin’s paintings for magazine covers as well as the personal pieces he created. The South Dakota native focused on the natural world, and the scenes depicted are vivid and memorable. You’ll want to look closely at the art, because one painting may later play a role in another work. There are about 150 paintings and sculptures on display. The art center is located on a small campus featuring a path, a pond with waterfowl, and a beautiful view of the area.
5. Continental Divide
For a quick stop, you can check out the Continental Divide sign near Sisseton in northeastern South Dakota. The sign, which is located near Lake Traverse, can be accessed from Exit 224 from the south and Exit 232 from the north on Interstate 29. The Continental Divide runs from Hudson Bay in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and travels back and forth through eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota.
6. World’s Largest Catfish
The 13-mile excursion off Interstate 29 from Exit 23 pays off if you like off-the-wall attractions. Wahpper, the world’s largest catfish sculpture, can be found along the shoreline of the Red River. At 40 feet long and 5,000 pounds, Wahpper is every fishing fanatic’s dream catch. While in Wahpeton, take a short walk through the Chahinkapa Zoo, with 18 acres dedicated to more than 200 animals, including a bison, lemurs, and red kangaroos.
7. Historic Downtown Fargo
Fargo, North Dakota’s largest city, offers several attractions that could keep you busy for a weekend. However, if you’re pressed for time, head downtown and take in some of the city’s historic sites, such as the Fargo Theatre. With its neon sign, the Fargo Theatre has been a part of the city’s downtown skyline since 1926, serving as a vaudeville venue as well as a cinema. You’ll find artifacts from the theater’s history, as well as memorabilia related to the movie Fargo. If you’re a fan, you can stop by the city’s visitor center and have your photo taken with the wood chipper made famous by the movie.
Baseball fans will enjoy visiting the Roger Maris Museum at the West Acres Mall. The museum, which is free for visitors, houses each home-run baseball hit by Maris during his 1961 chase to become Major League Baseball’s single-season home-run king, overtaking Babe Ruth. There was an asterisk next to his name in the record books for decades, because he accomplished the feat in 162 games, while Ruth hit his 60 home runs in 154 games. The asterisk was removed in 1991.
8. Fort Abercrombie State Historic State
Established in 1857 as the first permanent military post in North Dakota, the Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site offers a look at the military outpost’s role in providing security for the fur trade, as well as for military supply routes, for stagecoach travel, and for steamboats traveling along the Red River. Fort Abercrombie was the lone United States military post to be overtaken by Dakota Native Americans during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. On a stop here, you can tour a working fort from the time period as well as admire views of the Red River Valley.
9. Downtown Grand Forks
Grand Forks, ND
While the North Dakota Museum of Art on the campus of the University of North Dakota offers an interesting look at regional contemporary art, a walk through downtown Grand Forks will give you a sense of history as well as a glimpse of public art pieces.
The city has been ravaged by floods several times over the years. In 1997, the Red River spilled over its banks at more than 54 feet above flood stage, washing over the downtown and other parts of the city; the water spread about 3 miles inland and caused $3.5 billion in damages. But downtown Grand Forks rebuilt and today, a flood wall helps protect the city and provides a bit of art along the riverfront trail. Public art is also located throughout downtown, including a sculpture of people being rescued by first responders. Historical markers help tell the city’s story.
Downtown Grand Forks has maintained its historic architecture, with some of the buildings dating back to the mid-1800s. Take a self-guided walk to admire the historic structures and public art, including the small park near Badman Design, an art gallery with pieces crafted from metal. While downtown, check out Urban Stampede, where you’ll find great coffee in a converted furrier’s buildings. It’s the home of the world’s smallest art gallery, with paintings and unique sculptures. Before getting back on the road, make a stop at Carol Widman’s Candy Co., where you’ll find chocolate-covered potato chips, a North Dakota favorite.
Whether you’re the type of driver who prefers to get from Point A to Point B in minimal time, or whether you enjoy taking your time as you travel America’s highways and byways, everyone needs a break. Why not make it worth your while and have a little fun along the way? With these recommendations, you won’t find yourself going an extra 2 hours out of your way like we did (while I found Dinosaurs on the Prairie to be worth the drive, my wife may have a different opinion), but you may enjoy a memorable site or find a delicious treat to enjoy along the trail.