North Dakota is a state that is home to vast plains, epic views, and legendary adventures. What draws people here varies; it might be the wide-open spaces with sunrises and sunsets that make you pause or a surprising find that will take your breath away. As an avid traveler, I had always wanted to make it to North Dakota, and when I finally visited, the locals told me — obviously — I had saved the best for last, and they were not wrong.
Pro Tip: Plan to road trip through the state. While there is a great airport in Fargo, the views from the car and the ability to hop on and off the freeway, or take the long way through the back roads, are well worth the trek.
Bring your own kayak or rent one, then dip your oar into the waterways of North Dakota, or experience a day out on one of the lakes. If you are looking for a trip you will talk about for years to come, book a guided tour with an experienced guide down the Missouri River with Missouri River Kayak Rentals; you’ll be swept away by the experience. Visit a shallow sandbar, find a hidden shipwreck, and get insider tips on where to view wildlife in its natural habitat. Take a day out on Devil’s Lake and rent your kayak from the family-owned and -operated Eastbay Campground; you can rent by the hour or day.
Start your hiking adventure at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center; there is nothing better than learning about the area you will be exploring before you do it. Wander through the exhibits, get up close and personal with the hands-on activities, then map your walking tour through North Dakota. One of America’s best-kept secrets is the 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail; hikers will traverse the rugged terrain and rivers in the unadulterated badlands. Day trippers can take the walk out and back to get a taste of the trail, and for the true adventurer, take a week and backpack the whole path. If you want to mix history and hiking, Fort Abraham State Park is the oldest in North Dakota, offering historical points and beautiful views along the Missouri River basin.
3. Tobacco Gardens Marina And Resort
Trust me, this little gem is worth a trip off the beaten path! Encounter the outdoors on every level at Tobacco Gardens Marina and Resort. Bring your own boat or rent one for a fishing trip like no other out on Lake Sakakawea to pull in walleye, northern pike, and bass. Anglers come from all over to spend a day out on these waters. Tobacco Gardens might be known for its fishing, but the campground, rustic cabins, and nearby hiking are a draw. Burnt Hills Trailhead in the Little Missouri Grasslands is a short, unimproved hiking trail to a fabulous view of the shorelines of Lake Sakakawea. From the overlook, you can read about how Lewis was shot in the buttock just across the way by his companion Pierre Cruzatte; an unfortunate hunting accident.
Pro Tip: The Tabacco Gardens owner, Peg, is the mastermind behind this off-the-beaten-path destination and has a restaurant on the property where she cooks up some of the best fresh fish in the state. Don’t leave without trying some.
4. National Buffalo Museum
Learn about the American bison at the National Buffalo Museum; two hurds are maintained at the museum and can be seen right off the highway. However, it is recommended that you take the long road and stop to see these magnificent creatures that once filled the plains you have been driving through. Take a walk around the building and paths, then make your way to the world’s largest buffalo monument. This 26-foot-tall, 60-ton concrete giant has been part of Jamestown history since 1959!
Pro Tip: Plan a day here and check out the Frontier Village, where you can take a stagecoach ride and learn more about the early days of westward expansion.
5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
If there is one national park you need to put on your bucket list, Theodore Roosevelt National Park should be at the top. While many people have never even heard of this park, the ones who have are return visitors year after year. You’ll be surprised to see bison roaming freely, wild horses galloping in the wind, and those clever little prairie dogs chirping at you. Take a hike to one of the vistas, bike instead of driving to the park, or saddle up and take a horseback ride as Roosevelt would have done on one of his visits.
Pro Tips: Those with mobility issues can plan a scenic drive in the park’s north and south units. This is a big park, so you will want to plan at least 3 days. While you might not be out into the backcountry, from the windows of your car, you will likely see all the magnificent creatures that call this park home. Stay in Watford City at the Roosevelt Inn while you explore the south unit.
Tent campers and RVers flock to North Dakota in the summertime and choosing where you want to base camp for your evening campfires will be your hardest decision! Western North Dakota offers the badlands and camping off-grid within the north and south units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which are among the favorites. Book those sites in advance to ensure you can stay where you want. Bison can sometimes greet you on your site as you sip your morning coffee.
7. State Parks
North Dakota’s 13 state parks are an excellent way to get the full outdoor experience in one location, from rugged, unimproved trails to fully stocked cabins located near all the things that have brought the bougie outdoors people into the park. All of the parks offer something unique and they truly are the place to get away from it all and into nature at its finest.
One of the premiere destinations for fishing is Devils Lake, and a stay at the Woodlands Resort — the only full-service resort on this lake — pairs well with it. Pack your bags and book a package that will make your trip here one for the memory books. From two nights plus, you can customize everything just the way you want it. Perch Patrol are the guides that make this unbelievable fishing excursion one for the ages.
Pro Tip: Woodland Resort offers everything you need for a lakeside vacation to remember: a sandy lake beach, a bait and convenience shop, and a fantastic onsite restaurant.
Are mountain bike trails calling? How will you answer? North Dakota has trails for every level of mountain biking, from wooded treks to prairie miles; whatever our imagination can dream up for a Midwest state, North Dakota can give it to you. Enthusiasts love the Pipestem Trail in Jamestown, where you can take a 3-mile excursion or a full heart-pumping 8 miles. Looking to make this mountain bike trip one to remember? Frost Fire Park is the only MTB lift service in North Dakota, where they offer eight downhill trails. Rent a bike and book a lift ticket to make a day of this one-of-a-kind adventure.
Pro Tip: Book the Victorian House at First Fire Park; it sleeps up to 12 guests and is just steps away from all the mountain biking fun.
10. Audubon National Wildlife Refuge
One of America’s favorite past times is birding and North Dakota is home to many birds that make the “lifer list.” Put the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge on your itinerary to see some of the waterfowl, migratory birds, and birds that call this Midwest state their home. The trails within the wildlife refuge are rated from intermediate to beginner; close-toed shoes and boots are recommended.
Pro Tip: Not up for walking? The auto tour takes you on an 8.5-mile drive along the south shore of Lake Audubon; you’ll bird without breaking a sweat. Depending on what time of year you come, you will see many species of birds, squirrels, deer, and even a surprise moose can be seen meandering along the road beside you.