Travel along I-94 in North Dakota and you will come to the state capital, Bismarck. Nearby is Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the oldest state park in North Dakota. When you camp in this North Dakota State Park, you will find yourself longing to return before you leave to go home. Your campsite is the gateway to everything in the park. The historical sites, sunset views, nature hikes, bicycle trails, and nature experiences are incredible. There is nothing like sunset near the cemetery on the hilltop.
There is a daily fee to visit Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, and your campsite fees are separate from your daily pass. The beautiful scenery, level campsites with full hook-ups, and opportunities to explore make this an incredible value. This state park has many attractions and amenities that some national parks do, and it is in exceptional shape. You will not be disappointed when you decide to camp in this state park.
1. Riding A Bicycle
As you step out of your camper, hop on your bicycle and hit the trails in the park. The trails connect to the campground, which makes it easy to navigate. You can explore the visitor center, the historical sites, and find a picnic area while riding your bike. There are approximately 14 miles to ride your bike on. Not all of the trails are paved. If you want to do a little off-roading with your bike, you also have that option. We stayed on the paved trails and rode our bikes more than 15 miles in the park. There is a steep hill when you leave the campground, but otherwise, it’s all relatively level. You can choose to climb a few hills and even drive to the Post Cemetery parking area, which is an uphill adventure. Each time we returned to our campsite, we found that we wanted to head back out after a little rest. Our bicycles were easy to use, and we found something new each time we hopped on them.
2. Listening To The River
When is the last time you went to sleep with the sound of a river in the background? When you set up camp in Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, you will have an excellent opportunity to listen to the river. The Missouri River flows nearby, and if you listen closely, you will hear the water flow. During the day, pack up your chair and carry it over the banks of the river. Set your chair up and listen. Relaxation in North Dakota’s oldest state park comes easily. If you want to walk a little, a paved trail sits along the river bank. You can walk up and down the river and take it all in while getting a little bit of exercise.
3. Hiking Through The Park
Pack up your backpack and lace up your hiking shoes, and be ready for a day of fun hiking the trails in Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. There are several trails to choose from. Birding enthusiasts will want to hike the Bloody Knife Trail. This is a 1.97-mile trail that starts south of the Post Cemetery and runs south to the horse corrals. Bikes are not allowed on portions of this trail. Have your binoculars in tow, as this trail offers some fantastic birding opportunities.
For the ultimate hiking experience, download a map and enjoy your day out. When you are ready to call it a day, find your campsite and unwind with a night around a campfire. If you are new to hiking, this is a good place to begin hiking through North Dakota.
4. Visiting Fort Abraham Lincoln
After the Mandan occupied On-A-Slant Village, the U.S. military established an infantry post on a bluff that overlooks the On-A-Slant ruins. Here you can explore a blockhouse and other buildings that have been replicated to resemble their 1870 state. Take an hour to walk around the fort. Look out over the Missouri River Valley with a set of binoculars glued to your head. You never know when you may see a beautiful bird flying by. Take in the views, history, and the experience of stepping back to the 1870s. If you want to see the grounds from above, climb the steps that are inside each building. The stairs are steep, but they do have handrails.
5. Learning And Refilling At The Visitor Center
The visitor center of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is a short hike from your campsite. You can avoid the parking lot by hiking to this site. It is one of the most well-done visitor centers I have visited. The park rangers were helpful and answered questions about the history of the area and general inquiries. Restrooms and a bike-repair station can be found here, and it’s an ideal place to fill up your water bottles. If you have scheduled a tour of the On-A-Slant Village, those tours begin at the visitor center.
A highlight of this visitor center is the statue out front featuring a Civilian Conservation Corps worker.
6. Touring The Custer House And Commissary Bookstore
Take a step back in time to 1875 with a guided tour of the Custer House. This 45-minute tour will showcase what life was like in 1875. A docent will be your guide and will have a wealth of information from that period. Lieutenant Colonel George Custer and his wife, Libbie, lived in the house from 1873 until Custer died in the Battle of the Big Little Horn in 1876. In 1989, the house was reconstructed and is open for tours today. It includes a small number of Custer family heirlooms.
We rode our bikes from our campsite and parked them in a bike rack while we toured the house. There is a small fee to visit.
At the nearby commissary bookstore, find souvenirs, books, and other memorabilia to help you remember your time at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. Free Wi-Fi is available, as well as a coffee bar. You will find fair-trade coffee roasted in North Dakota. Indulge in a latte, cappuccino, or a smooth, cold-brewed iced coffee. Need a snack after biking or touring? You can find one here.
7. Exploring On-A-Slant Village
The On-A-Slant Village was once home to around 85 earth lodges and 1,500 people. It got its name due to its slant towards the river. The Mandan lived in sedentary communities in permanent homes called earth lodges. They fished, hunted, and tended crops. They lived in this area for two centuries, and in 1781, a smallpox epidemic hit the tribe hard. Lewis and Clark visited the site in 1804, and the site was already in decay.
Today, On-A-Slant Village is a state historic site. There are six reconstructed earth lodges, including a large council lodge. You can take a guided tour for a small fee or tour on your own. The visitor center is close by, and this area is a short walk from your campsite. You can spend two hours exploring this area of the state park. It’s a fascinating site, and it’s one where you can try to place yourself in one of these lodges, way back in time.
8. Walking The Post Cemetery
The Post Cemetery is on the hill near Fort Abraham Lincoln, a short walk from the parking lot. Take the time to stroll through and read the grave markers. You will learn what the causes of death were, including murder, disease, and unknown causes. Visit this cemetery a few times during your stay. At different times of day, there are different butterflies, birds, and other natural experiences. I love strolling through this cemetery near sunset. It is quiet, and I have yet to see another person visiting at this time. If you have not experienced a North Dakota sunset, this is where you need to experience it for the first time.
Campsites fill quickly during the summer months, so make your reservations early if you want to visit in June, July, or August. Spring and fall are beautiful times to visit, as the seasonal colors are beginning to pop. The crowds are not present, yet you can experience a lot of the park on your own.