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Do you need a reason to Visit North Dakota? North Dakota offers ample outdoor activities, a scenic views, abundant history and stellar roadside attractions.
When my husband and I drove across the country two years ago, North Dakota was on our list of places to see. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to cut a few things from our itinerary. North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin were those few things. While I was disappointed at the time, that decision worked in our favor because when we finally did make it back to see those three states, we had more time to spend in each.
My husband and I were invited to explore North Dakota and had the opportunity to sight see across the state. Today, I’m sharing a rundown of our experience with more posts to follow that go a bit more indepth of the various attractions.
Medora and the North Dakota Badlands
We left Ohio as Labor Day Weekend drew near. Our first stop was to Medora in the southwestern part of the state to see the Medora Musical which would be closing for the season the following weekend. While we had only planned to spend one night in the area, it’s clear that we should have arranged for several. Set in the shadow of the Badlands, Medora is historic and charming, the epitome of what I imagined a western town to be.
It’s that “Old West” feel that draws thousands to visit the area each year, and of course it doesn’t hurt that Medora is surrounded by Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The North Dakota Badlands were named for the 26th President, recognizing his contribution and legislature to protect our national resources. This park now tops my list of favorite national parks due to the abundant wildlife viewings we experienced. We spotted plenty of bison, prairie dogs and wild horses and the scenic views are unparalleled.
Pitchfork Steak Fondue and the Medora Musical
Another highlight in Medora was dining at the open-air Pitchfork Steak Fondue. Admit it, the thought of eating a steak grilled on a pitchfork is too tempting to resist! Well, it may not be for you, but it was for me and my husband. After dinner, we relaxed taking in the view of the sun setting on the landscape as we waited for the Medora Musical to begin in the Burning Hills Amphitheatre. The musical has welcomed visitors since 1965. Each year, the revue is updated so the show differs from year to year.
AmericInn in Dickinson
We spent our first night in North Dakota at the AmericInn in Dickinson. The budget friendly property offered comfortable rooms and a lobby reminiscent of a mountain lodge. Exhausted from our long drive west from Ohio, we slept in the next morning and missed breakfast, but on the way out, I did notice an AmericInn guide to weird things across the US. Be still my heart- they certainly know how to get my attention!
The Enchanted Highway
You may be curious as to WHAT drew me to North Dakota in the first place? Believe it or not, it was the Enchanted Highway, a 32-mile stretch of highway that boasts some of the world’s largest scrap metal sculptures. How could I not get excited about an entire highway full of roadside attractions? I’ll share more about this in another post, but I will tell you that I had an opportunity to meet Gary Greff, the artist who designed the sculptures that are located between Gladstone and Regent and for this roadside attraction lover, meeting him was like meeting a Rockstar!
The Enchanted Castle
The Enchanted Highway ends in Regent where you can dine at the Enchanted Castle. Unfortunately, due to us running behind on our schedule, we missed lunch. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t welcome an opportunity to return to dine and stay at the castle!
From Regent, we backtracked along I-94 to see Salem Sue, up close and personal. The World’s Largest Holstein Cow, Salem Sue has stood in New Salem since the 1970’s. She’s visible from the highway, but head my advice and take a minute to grab a selfie with the cow and stretch your legs. There is even a picnic table, so you can dine in the shadow of her udders for those who plan ahead.
Main Stay Suites in Bismarck
We spent the next night in the capital city of North Dakota at a Main Stay Suites in Bismarck. Our room was amazing and though the full kitchen made me want to cook- I resisted the urge and we ordered a pizza from a local pizza place. Our pizza was delicious, and I wish I could remember where we ordered it from.
We slept in a bit the next morning and while I was on a business call, my husband headed out to the continental breakfast in the lobby. Again, we caught breakfast right at the tail end so there wasn’t much left but we did have left over pizza to munch on.
I was disappointed to miss the Lewis and Clark Riverboat and the historical attractions in town, but I would not leave the area without taking a stroll down Art Alley. My husband wasn’t as interested as I was but I had to view every single mural on in the alley at least twice. Art Alley is simply an alley in Bismarck that the community has turned into a showcase for area artists. Their work is incredible, and I had to remind myself that my husband was waiting in the vehicle for me or I would have lingered much longer.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
We stopped at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center on our way to Minot and viewed the galleries. While my husband read about the small pox epidemic among the Indians, I strolled the gallery admiring the art work (are you beginning to see a pattern here)? While we originally planned to also stop at Fort Mandan, which is only a mile or so down the road, due to our late morning, we pressed on.
Seamen the Newfoundland
But not without convincing my husband that I needed to snap a photo of Seaman, the famous Newfoundland dog of Lewis and Clark that stands along the shore of the Missouri River.
Scandinavian Heritage Park
Passing through Minot, we stopped at the Scandinavian Heritage Park which features replicas from each of the five Scandinavian countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
We saw a 25-foot-tall Swedish Dala Horse, real grass roof Stabbur, and a replica Stave Church. They church was beautiful and we had hoped to get a glimpse of the inside. Unfortunately, all the buildings on the property were closed during our visit.
We stopped for lunch at Kroll’s Diner, which was a fun stop. Though it’s a chain restaurant, it offers an authentic diner feel with good service, good food and large portions. Enough that we didn’t eat the rest of the day.
We continued toward Bottineau and I marveled at the changing landscape. No longer brown and dusty, looking out the car window, the passing landscape had become green and lush with gently rolling hills. We were headed to the Pride Dairy which has been named the best ice cream in North Dakota and my husband was ready for a root beer float. But it was here that we learned a lesson.
The downside to visiting North Dakota (or anywhere) on a holiday weekend is that many of the attractions we had hoped to see, observed holiday hours or were closed completely. And much to my husband’s disappointment, that included Pride Dairy. We looked for another ice cream place in town but the local DQ was closed as well.
Tommy the Turtle
To console ourselves, we drove to Tommy the Turtle. Tommy is the world’s largest snowmobile riding turtle. Now I’m curious as to how many snowmobile riding turtles exist in the world- my research has uncovered two so far. Tommy cheered me up, but did little for my husband so we continued to our next stop, the International Peace Garden.
International Peace Garden
The garden was established to celebrate the peace between Canada and the United States for more than 200 years. Highlights at the International Peace Garden include the Carillon Bell Tower, the Peace Chapel, the Clock and the 9/11 Memorial. Originally, this stop was not on my list but my husband and I have been reading a devotional together that mentioned the attraction and we knew we had to go. We were not disappointed. We even considered van camping at the International Peace Garden, but we had gotten a bit behind on our schedule and wanted to catch so we continued to Rugby which had a few surprises of its own.
On the way to Rugby, we passed another giant turtle- W’eel Turtle, made of over 2,000 tire rims. It was at this stop that I realized my husband must really love me. He was driving and I had my face in my phone when he exclaimed, “What the heck! Look at that huge turtle!” Of course, he pulled over for me to take 30-minutes’ worth of photos but I very easily could have missed it. What a man does for a woman he loves.
Geographical Center of North America Monument
We made it to Rugby as the sun began to set. We hastily snapped a few photos at the Geographical Center of North America Monument, though the accuracy of the location is now debated and believed to be in Center, North Dakota, this historic pyramid has welcomed visitors to Rugby since 1932.
Northern Lights Tower
Right down the road is the Northern Lights Tower, which of course I had to photograph as well. This attraction is fashioned of multi-colored steel beams that light up at night to simulate the Aurora Borealis, which can be seen in North Central North Dakota.
Cobblestone Inn & Suites
We rented a room about 100-feet down the road at the recently opened Cobblestone Inn & Suites. The room was large and comfortable and unlike the previous two mornings, we crawled out of bed in time to enjoy the continental breakfast at the hotel.
Prairie Village and Museum
Originally, we had planned to skip the Prairie Village and Museum but as I was researching on my phone, I noticed that the property was in possession of a replica of the world’s tallest man. That sealed the deal for me. We couldn’t leave Rugby without seeing Clifford Thompson, the giant man, and I’m so glad we made the effort.
The Prairie Village and Museum impressed both myself and my husband and was one of our favorite stops in North Dakota. As we made our way through each of the 23 buildings in the village, we marveled at the collections on display. The Prairie Village and Museum is one of the hidden gems in North Dakota. We spent nearly two hours exploring, dragging ourselves away only so we could attempt to follow our remaining schedule.
The World’s Largest Sandhill Crane
While I couldn’t convince my husband to see all of the roadside attractions in North Dakota, there were some that were hard to resist. The Sandhill Crane in Steele, was one of those. Appropriately named, “Sandy”, this 40-foot-tall sandhill crane is fashioned from metal and sits in a park behind the Cobblestone Inn & Suites a short drive from I-94.
Next up, was Jamestown, about 2 hours and 15 minutes away. While I could not wait to see the white buffalo and the world’s largest buffalo statue, our bellies had something else in mind. We stopped at the Depot Café for an appetizer of Cheeseburger Eggrolls that we dipped in a tangy dipping sauce, followed by a sandwich and salad.
The World’s Largest Buffalo
The World’s Largest Buffalo was constructed in 1959 and is 26-feet-tall and weighs 60 tons! Visitors can look out over the surrounding field at the Sacred White Buffalo Herd to see some of the world’s only albino buffalo. I did see one of the elusive creatures, though I had failed to pack my zoom lens so I could snap a good photo.
I shopped for souvenirs in the gift shop at the Frontier Village before reluctantly climbing back in the car for another hour and a half to Fargo, our final stop in North Dakota.
Holiday Inn Express
We found our room for the night at the Holiday Inn Express. We were given a suite that was massive and gorgeous! It was perfect for our 5th night on the road. The spaciousness allowed me to stay up to the wee hours of the morning getting a few projects done, while my husband slept comfortably across the room on the large King size bed.
In the morning, we packed up and went in search of the best pancakes in North Dakota. We found them at CJ’s Kitchen. The food was served quickly, and the pancakes may very well have been the best we’ve eaten.
Wood Chipper, Painted Buffalo & Walk of Fame
By the time we’d finished breakfast, the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor Center had opened, and we stopped in to get a photo with the wood chipper used in the movie, Fargo. My husband could not be convinced to join me, but I took a moment to pose before checking out some of the other movie memorabilia inside. When my curiosity had been satisfied, I made my way outdoors to join my husband and read the names on the walk of fame and take a photo of the painted buffalo- only one of 20 that can be found scattered around the greater Fargo area. I had hopes of finding them all during our visit but that was short lived as my husband insisted that he was ready to begin making our way towards home.
We combined our sightseeing efforts with a shopping venture as we stopped in to Scheels, the world’s largest all sports store and only athletic/outdoors store we’ve been in that houses a full-size Ferris wheel. We threw our purchases in the back of our van and headed downtown to see the Fargo Theatre, which is gorgeous. I wanted to go inside, but my husband had his mind on one thing. Donuts.
We were told that Sandy’s Donuts are the best donuts in all of North Dakota. How could we leave without a six-pack of sweetness? Since we have not had the opportunity to sample donuts from all across North Dakota (why didn’t we think of that sooner?), we really can’t confer with the comment that they’re the best in the state, but they were pretty tasty.
Sadly, our time in North Dakota has drawn to a close. Originally, I thought four days may have been too much time to spend in the state but I realized that we could have spent two weeks and not have seen everything that was on my list. Do you know what that means? It means that I’m already plotting that return trip to North Dakota to see everything on my list.
Stay tuned, I’ll have more in depth information on the places we did visit coming up. Plus, you can subscribe to my newsletter so you’ll know when those posts have been written. Visit North Dakota Tourism for more information about visiting North Dakota or order your FREE tourism guides to help you plan your own trip.
Have you been to North Dakota? What did you enjoy most about your visit?
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Thank you to North Dakota Tourism for extending and invitation to visit North Dakota and arranging our schedule. Some of the hotels and activities were paid for by North Dakota Tourism so that we could share our experiences with readers of Travel Inspired Living.