North Dakota, USA: The Best Things to Do in the Peace Garden State

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Updated On: November 09, 2023 by   Courtney AugelloCourtney Augello

North Dakota is an unexpected gold mine of remarkable tourist attractions that captivate the imagination and leave an unforgettable mark on everyone who visits the state. Adventuring beyond the well-trodden paths and diving into the heart of this unassuming state opens a world of diverse and captivating experiences.

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North Dakota is not a typical tourist spot, but it has much to offer.

While North Dakota may not feature prominently on the tourist map, it boasts a plethora of destinations that cater to a wide range of interests. The beauty of North Dakota lies not only in its individual attractions but in the collective narrative they tell—a story of resilience, diversity, and the enduring spirit of a land that embraces both its history and its future.

With so many possibilities awaiting inside North Dakota’s borders, it can be challenging to stick to an itinerary. To help you get the most out of a visit to the Peace Garden State, we’ve examined some of its most beautiful, fascinating, and historical attractions.

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North Dakota has many scenic areas to explore.

Natural Wonders and Outdoor Adventures

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Located in the picturesque landscape of North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is bursting with remarkable beauty and biodiversity. This national park has captivated the hearts of visitors seeking an authentic outdoor experience through its expansive grasslands, rugged Badlands, and diverse wildlife.

One of the prime attractions of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is its breathtaking scenic beauty. Vast stretches of undulating prairies are juxtaposed against rugged canyons and towering rock formations, creating a mesmerising vista of colours and textures.

Additionally, the park is home to a remarkable amount of wildlife. Bison, pronghorn, elk, and bighorn sheep roam freely across the prairies, providing an up-close encounter with North America’s species.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only US national park named after a single person.

The park’s avian population is equally captivating, with eagles, falcons, and various types of waterfowl soaring through the skies. As a result, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a sanctuary for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers alike, offering a unique opportunity to observe and appreciate creatures in their natural habitat.

Outdoor Recreation

The park boasts an extensive network of hiking trails and outdoor recreational activities that cater to varying levels of experience and fitness. These trails wind through diverse landscapes, from grassy plains to thrilling canyons, providing an immersive way to explore the park’s natural wonders.

The park also provides opportunities for camping, horseback riding, and even backcountry adventures, allowing visitors to embrace the wilderness to its fullest extent. The Little Missouri River, which meanders through the park, is great for fishing and canoeing, adding to the range of outdoor activities to try.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park exemplifies the remarkable natural wonders and outdoor adventures that North Dakota has to offer. Exploring this park allows visitors to admire the awe-inspiring landscapes that honour the 26th President of the United States and connect with the timeless beauty of the American wilderness.

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Some areas of the Badlands stretch into North Dakota.

International Peace Garden

Symbolism and Significance

Stretching across the border between North Dakota, USA, and Manitoba, Canada, the International Peace Garden is a living testament to the enduring human desire for peace and harmony. This enchanting garden features lush floral displays, a serene atmosphere, and meaningful peace-themed attractions.

At the heart of the International Peace Garden lies its deep symbolism and significance. Established in 1932 as a symbol of friendship and cooperation between the United States and Canada, the garden serves as a reminder of the shared values and aspirations of the two nations.

Amidst a world marked by conflicts and divisions, the garden’s purpose remains constant: to promote peace, understanding, and goodwill among all people. As visitors step onto its hallowed grounds, they are greeted by an atmosphere of tranquillity that highlights the importance of unity and collaboration in an increasingly interconnected world.

Displays and Attractions

The garden’s meticulously curated floral displays further enhance its appeal and reinforce its peace-themed mission. Thousands of vibrant flowers, including a diverse array of annuals, perennials, and ornamental plants, create a visual spectacle that speaks to the beauty that can emerge from cooperation.

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The International Peace Garden is located in both North Dakota and Canada.

Among the floral displays are gardens dedicated to specific themes, such as the Peace Bell Garden, the All-American Rose Selections Garden, and the Friendship Tower Garden. Each garden is a tapestry of colours and scents, inviting visitors to pause, meditate, and find solace in the beauty that nature can inspire.

Within this blossoming haven are peace-themed attractions that inspire peace and unity. The striking Peace Tower, a centrepiece of the garden, rises to commemorate the cooperative relationship between the United States and Canada.

At its base, a moving inscription reads, “To God in His Glory, We Two Nations Dedicate This Garden and Pledge Ourselves That as Long as Men Shall Live, We Will Not Take Up Arms Against One Another.” This inscription is a poignant reminder of the garden’s mission and its role in promoting lasting peace.

Lake Sakakawea

Boating, Fishing, and Water Sports

In the heart of North Dakota, Lake Sakakawea draws outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers to its shores. This sprawling reservoir, formed by the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River, offers a plethora of boating, fishing, and water sports opportunities, making it a haven for those seeking an exhilarating aquatic adventure.

Boasting over 1,300 miles of shoreline, Lake Sakakawea provides an ideal playground for water enthusiasts. Boating enthusiasts can navigate the serene waters under the vast open sky. The lake’s sheer size and calm waters are also perfect for fishing. It houses a diverse range of species, including walleye, northern pike, and salmon.

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Lake Sakakawea is a great fishing spot in North Dakota.

Beyond boating and fishing, Lake Sakakawea offers an array of water sports that cater to adventurers of all levels. From kayaking and paddleboarding to jet skiing and tubing, the lake’s calm and clear waters are ideal for leisurely exploration and adrenaline-pumping activities. 

State Parks and Campgrounds

Scattered along Lake Sakakawea’s shoreline is a network of state parks and campgrounds. Parks such as Fort Stevenson State Park and Lake Sakakawea State Park offer picturesque settings for camping, hiking, and picnicking, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the region’s unspoiled landscapes.

These state parks not only serve as gateways to adventure but also provide an opportunity to connect with the local ecosystem and appreciate the delicate balance that sustains it.

Water Conservation Efforts

As visitors enjoy the abundant water resources Lake Sakakawea provides, the importance of water conservation efforts becomes evident. The lake is not just a recreational playground; it’s a vital resource that supports local ecosystems, agriculture, and communities downstream.

The management of water levels and the responsible use of resources are crucial to maintaining the health and vitality of Lake Sakakawea. From encouraging responsible fishing practices to raising awareness about water conservation among visitors, these efforts play a pivotal role in safeguarding the lake’s ecological integrity for generations to come.

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North Dakota puts great emphasis on conserving its natural resources and beauty.

Cultural and Historical Attractions

Scandinavian Heritage Park

The Scandinavian Heritage Park is a unique cultural gem that pays homage to the state’s rich Scandinavian roots. It celebrates the enduring influence of Scandinavian immigrants on the region’s culture, architecture, and way of life.

The park serves as a tribute to their enduring contributions, inviting visitors to explore the roots of these vibrant communities and to appreciate the distinctive customs, values, and traditions that have left an indelible mark on North Dakota.

Authentic Architecture, Artefacts, and Festivals

One of the park’s most remarkable features is its authentic architecture, meticulously designed to reflect the building styles of Scandinavian countries. Visitors can admire a collection of traditional structures, including a stave church reminiscent of those found in Norway and a Swedish immigrant house that echoes the architecture of Sweden.

These structures provide insight into the daily lives of immigrants and their efforts to recreate familiar settings in a new land. Each building is a testament to the determination, resilience, and creativity of those who sought to preserve their cultural identity while embracing the opportunities of their adopted home.

The park’s captivating artefacts and festivals further enhance its immersive cultural experience. Visitors can explore the interpretive centre, which houses a rich collection of artefacts, photographs, and stories that chronicle the journey of Scandinavian immigrants to North Dakota.

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Some popular cities in North Dakota are Fargo, Bismarck, and Grand Forks.

Throughout the year, the park comes alive with a series of vibrant festivals that celebrate Scandinavian culture, art, music, and cuisine. The Norsk Høstfest, in particular, is a hallmark event that draws visitors from across the nation to experience the largest Scandinavian festival in North America.

This event showcases traditional crafts, live performances, and authentic Scandinavian cuisine, creating an immersive cultural experience that connects past and present.

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Located along the Missouri River in North Dakota, the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site links to the region’s rich cultural and historical heritage. As a pivotal player in the fur trade history of the American West, this site allows visitors to step into the world of fur traders, Native Americans, and European settlers.

During the 19th century, fur trading enabled the exchange of furs, buffalo robes, and other goods between European traders and Native American tribes. Fort Union served as a hub for these interactions, acting as a melting pot where cultures converged, alliances were forged, and trade shaped the social and economic fabric of the region.

Today, the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site preserves and recreates this significant era through meticulous reconstruction and guided tours. The buildings, artefacts, and interpretive displays offer insights into the daily lives of traders, Native Americans, and settlers who frequented the site.

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Many Native American Tribes used to reside in North Dakota.

Guided Tours

Guided tours further enrich a visit to Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site by providing context, anecdotes, and narratives that breathe life into the site’s past. Expert guides lead visitors through the fort’s various rooms, sharing stories of trade negotiations, cultural exchanges, and challenges faced by those who inhabited the fort.

These tours foster a deeper understanding of the complexities of the fur trade era, shedding light on the interactions and relationships that developed between diverse communities during a transformative period in American history.

North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum

Located in the capital city of Bismarck, the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum explores the state’s rich history, art, and culture. This cultural treasure trove highlights North Dakota’s diverse heritage, captivating visitors with immersive exhibits and educational programs.

From the ancient cultures that inhabited the region to the pioneers who shaped its destiny, the museum weaves together the stories of those who left their mark on North Dakota’s landscape.

Through the lens of art, artefacts, and historical narratives, the museum invites visitors to immerse themselves in the narratives that have shaped North Dakota’s past and present.

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The North Dakota Heritage Center takes visitors through the state’s history.

Interactive Exhibits and Educational Programs

What sets the North Dakota Heritage Center apart is its emphasis on interactivity and education. From life-sized dioramas that transport visitors to a bygone era to hands-on activities, the museum invites participation, igniting curiosity and fostering a deeper connection with the state’s history.

Visitors can step into a recreated village from the 19th century, marvel at the majestic dinosaurs that once roamed the land, and trace the journey of North Dakota’s Native American communities through time. By blending education with entertainment, the museum brings history and culture to life.

Moreover, the North Dakota Heritage Center offers a range of educational programs that cater to visitors of all ages. From guided tours and workshops to lectures and special events, the centre fosters a dynamic learning environment that invites exploration, curiosity, and dialogue.

Unconventional Destinations and Hidden Gems

Enchanted Highway

Tucked away in the heart of North Dakota, the Enchanted Highway is a mesmerising stretch of road adorned with the world’s largest collection of scrap metal sculptures. This highway offers a journey that seamlessly marries art and landscape, creating an unforgettable experience for tourists seeking the extraordinary.

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North Dakota is a great state to road trip through.

The Enchanted Highway owes its name to the captivating sculptures that punctuate the route, transforming the landscape into an open-air gallery. The towering sculptures are made from discarded machinery and scrap metal, each piece bearing a unique narrative that reflects the spirit of the local community.

Scenery and Attractions

More than a display of artistic ingenuity, the Enchanted Highway offers a scenic drive that highlights the beauty of the region. As tourists travel along this unique route, they are treated to vistas of the sprawling plains and rolling hills that epitomise North Dakota.

In addition to the sculptures, roadside attractions along the Enchanted Highway further enhance the experience. Rustic cafes, local art shops, and quaint towns provide opportunities to engage with the local culture, offering insights into the spirit of the communities that dot the landscape.

Pembina Gorge

Amidst the landscapes of North Dakota, the Pembina Gorge is a well-kept secret waiting to be discovered by adventurers seeking a unique outdoor experience. Tucked away in the northeastern part of the state, this lesser-known area offers a wealth of outdoor adventures.

The Pembina Gorge is an iconic exhibit of the unexpected beauty that North Dakota holds. Far from the well-known paths, the gorge e unfolds in a region marked by rolling hills, lush forests, and the meandering Pembina River.

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North Dakota is known for its hiking trails and outdoor recreation.

Outdoor Activities

One of the most enticing aspects of Pembina Gorge is the plethora of outdoor adventures it offers in an area often overlooked by mainstream tourism. Hiking enthusiasts can explore an array of trails that wind through the rugged terrain, leading to stunning viewpoints and hidden pockets of beauty.

Biking aficionados find themselves on a journey through nature, pedalling along paths that showcase the gorge’s diverse landscapes. Additionally, horseback riders can traverse trails that weave through the heart of the wilderness, forging a connection with the land and its history in a way only this mode of transport allows.

Hiking, biking, and horseback riding opportunities in the Pembina Gorge cater to adventurers of all skill levels, from novice explorers seeking a leisurely stroll to seasoned outdoor enthusiasts craving a more challenging terrain.

The trails lead to hidden waterfalls, panoramic viewpoints, and meadows that burst with wildflowers, reminding visitors that amidst the unassuming landscapes, there lies an abundance of experiences waiting to be uncovered.

Maah Daah Hey Trail

The Maah Daah Hey Trail offers a transformative journey through an untouched area, inviting backpackers and mountain biking enthusiasts to embrace the untamed beauty of the region in a way that few destinations can match.

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The parks in North Dakota are great for both beginners and experienced hikers.

The Maah Daah Hey Trail, with its name derived from the Mandan Indian language, translates to “an area that will be around for a long time.” This aptly named trail meanders through the heart of the Badlands, a region marked by dramatic canyons, windswept plateaus, and unique rock formations.

Backpacking and Mountain Biking

The trail’s appeal extends beyond rugged beauty to the thrill of exploration. Backpacking enthusiasts find themselves enveloped in a landscape that echoes with whispers of ancient history, carrying stories of Native American cultures and the resilience of those who called these lands home.

As they traverse the trail’s challenging terrain, backpackers are rewarded with panoramic vistas that unfold around every bend, evoking a sense of awe and wonder that ignites a deeper connection with the environment.

For mountain biking enthusiasts, the Maah Daah Hey Trail offers an exhilarating challenge that pushes their skills and endurance to new heights. The trail’s rugged lands, punctuated by steep inclines and descents, present an invigorating opportunity to navigate the wilderness on two wheels.

Each twist and turn reveals a new facet of the Badlands’ beauty, captivating cyclists with the stark contrasts between the tranquil valleys and the commanding plateaus. As mountain bikers pedal through the changing landscapes, they embark on a physical and mental journey through the beautiful scenery of North Dakota.

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Responsible Tourism and Sustainability

North Dakota proudly boasts its awe-inspiring natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and also its commitment to responsible tourism and sustainability. The state’s conservation efforts highlight the profound importance of preserving its unique natural and cultural heritage for future generations.

This dedication to sustainable practices encompasses collaborative initiatives among government bodies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and local communities, demonstrating a holistic approach to preserving the state’s intrinsic treasures.

The state’s vast landscapes, from the Badlands to the shimmering lakes, are invaluable ecosystems that support diverse flora and fauna. By balancing the desire to share the beauty of the state with the imperative to safeguard it, North Dakota showcases a commitment to nurturing its natural treasures.

Eco-friendly Tourism Practices

Promoting Responsible Travel

North Dakota’s commitment to responsible tourism and sustainability extends to its advocacy for eco-friendly practices that prioritise the preservation of its natural beauty and local communities.

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North Dakota encourages tourists to treat the land and nature with respect.

The state recognises that every visitor has the power to make a positive impact through conscious choices. Tourists are encouraged to minimise their ecological footprint by practising Leave No Trace principles, respecting wildlife habitats, and adhering to designated trails and recreational areas.

Through education and awareness campaigns, visitors are empowered to make informed decisions that align with the principles of sustainability. By instilling a sense of responsibility among tourists, North Dakota ensures that the natural beauty they come to admire remains pristine for generations to come.

Supporting Local Businesses and Minimising Environmental Impact

Supporting local businesses is another key pillar of North Dakota’s eco-friendly tourism approach. The state recognises that sustainable tourism isn’t just about protecting the environment; it’s about nurturing the local economy and communities.

Tourists are encouraged to seek out locally owned accommodations, restaurants, and shops, thus contributing directly to the livelihoods of North Dakota’s residents. By visiting local establishments, tourists create a ripple effect that bolsters the economic well-being of the region.

These initiatives not only showcase the state’s commitment to sustainability but also set an example for other destinations seeking to create a harmonious relationship between tourism and the environment.

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North Dakota is a fantastic and lesser-known travel destination.

North Dakota is a Beautiful Destination Full of Adventure

North Dakota is unfairly often overlooked on the map of tourist destinations. However, it is full of diverse and captivating attractions that cater to a wide array of interests. From the rugged terrains to the roadside art installations, North Dakota is a wonderful state to explore.

In essence, North Dakota proves that a truly enriching and fulfilling travel experience goes beyond the conventional tourist checklist. It invites tourists to embrace the road less travelled, engage with hidden gems, and cultivate a deeper appreciation for the wonders that emerge when the ordinary meets the extraordinary.

If you’re visiting the Northern United States, check out these 12 Amazing Things to do in South Dakota: The Mount Rushmore State.

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