Our vacation destination is...North Dakota!
August 21, 2014 11:53 AM   Subscribe

To celebrate our anniversary, Mr. DrGail and I are planning a weeklong road trip to the only one of the lower 48 states we haven't visited: North Dakota. Now that we have a destination, what is there to do?

We plan to spend our actual anniversary (8/30) in North Dakota, probably in the eastern part of the state so we don't have to really push the driving. So, first question: Can anyone recommend a nice, perhaps memorable, hotel (<$200/night) and a good nearby restaurant for the celebration? Then, second question: What sorts of things are available and appealing to do in or around North Dakota? We like interesting architecture, art/craft galleries, cool little towns, nice short hikes, kitschy things (including oddball museums), scenic drives, and so on. We have no problem spending most of the week in NW Minnesota or Manitoba, if North Dakota doesn't offer enough to keep us occupied.
posted by DrGail to Travel & Transportation around North Dakota (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Earlier this Spring, I spent a surprisingly enjoyable afternoon in Fargo's attractive and revitalized (but small) downtown. Trendy restaurants (I ate at this beer hall), a rooftop bar in the boutique hotel (Hotel Donaldson, though rooms appear sold out), several interesting art galleries. Just across the river in Moorehead, Minn., is the Hjemkomst Center, a local historical society museum that houses a replica Viking ship and stave church.

I spent another afternoon walking the nature trails at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center, an hour away in Fergus Falls, Minn., a quaint little county seat that has its own historical society museum.

posted by hhc5 at 12:39 PM on August 21, 2014

interesting architecture
The tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere is in Blanchard. There is not much around it, but it is only an hour's drive from Fargo.

scenic drives
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is on the other end of the state. It has live bison and wild horses in addition to the scenery.

If you make it into Minnesota, Lake Itasca State Park has some nice hikes and you can walk across the Mississippi River.
posted by soelo at 12:44 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is lovely. Do be aware that July-September is making season for bison - there are a lot of bison in the park and the last time we were there we were chased, other people we met were chased and rangers told us they had been "treed" by cranky bison in the visitor's center. Definitely adds to the adventure!
posted by leslies at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2014

This MeFi project has some great browseable photos of different places that you might enjoy. I haven't been to ND in a long time so I don't have timely recommendations. I enjoyed Fargo. I think I'd like to see the Geographical Center of North America and the Lawrence Welk birthplace. These people will pull a camper to a destination of your choice which might be worth some research and these folks have a cute Victoria cottage near a river which might make a nice place to stop.
posted by jessamyn at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2014

I grew up in North Dakota (Minot and Bismarck) and frankly, North Dakota has a lot of great places to visit and things to do. Have a wonderful trip!
- The Theodore Roosevelt National Park (aka Badlands) and the Medora area is truly amazing, and it has much to offer (lodging, restaurants, activities). It is in the far western part of the state, and the oil boom has also resulted in much higher hotel costs.
- For eastern North Dakota, I can highly recommend the Pembina Gorge and the Turtle Mountains (53-mile scenic drive). The town of Walhalla has great area parks (hunting, hiking, fishing, golfing) and a great B&B and restaurant: the Sanctuary Guest House & Eatery.
- The Lake Metigoshe area in the Turtle Mountains is a lovely area.
- I've heard really good things about the Coteau des Prairies Lodge in far southeastern North Dakota (really near Minnesota and South Dakota)
- Be sure to find a picturesque area to watch the sunsets. They usually rock in late August.
- The gems of North Dakota are outside the big cities (outside Fargo, Grand Forks, etc). You can look for some of the off-the-beaten path resources on the ND Tourism site.
posted by apennington at 1:04 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh how lovely!
You really must consider Medora and perhaps stay in Dickinson. This is the real wild west, and still has active cowboys and roundups.
There are endless trails because of the national park, and ranches that will set you up for trail rides. If you don't ride, you can instead rent bicycles.
Dickinson and Medora do have quirky museums including the cowboy hall of fame, dinosaurs, and Ukranian culture.
If your timing is right, there is a rodeo and stock car racing in Dickinson in late August.
Perhaps review this website:

Outside of the Medora area, the C'mon Inn hotels are fun, but very family-centered with a large pool and all rooms overlooking the pool. Very well priced and comfortable but unlikley to feel romantic.
posted by littlewater at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2014

On the kitschy side, there's a small chain called Space Aliens with locations in Fargo and Bismarck. I can't remember which one we went to, but it had an astronaut suit, Weekly World News updates on the walls, and a giant (velvet?) painting on the ceiling. And very cheesy names for the food, which was pretty much what you'd expect. Caveat: that was at least a decade ago. Fun!

Fort Mandan is probably further west than you're looking, but it's a very nice Lewis and Clark spot with walks. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is indeed really gorgeous and the bison are very cool to look at, but be warned that they will sometimes gore out your headlights. (Having camped there during rutting season, I would not recommend camping there during rutting season. Favorite ranger advice: "If they start charging you, just run into your tent-- they will think you've become a rock!")
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:04 PM on August 21, 2014

In Fargo, you need to have Duane's House of Pizza once. Every time someone posts about Fargo or North Dakota, I am legally obligated to recommend it.

One thing to note: North Dakota is BIG -- if you're driving from Chicago to Fargo, driving from Fargo to Dickinson is another 6 hours straight through, Painted Canyon and Medora a little further. If you want to do Fargo and Bismarck and the Geographic Center of North America and Medora, there's several days extra driving involved. You're better off picking one region and hitting everything within a couple hours.

Quirky museums: the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo is in a hallway of the mall, near the pet store.

The State Historical Society on the Capitol grounds in Bismarck is a good overview of the state's history. The Capitol building itself is, I believe, the tallest building between Minneapolis and Seattle. Someone mentioned the KTHI tower, the tallest man-made thing anywhere; it's fun, but there's no 'interpretive center', it's just a huge tower in the middle of a field.

Fort Abercrombie historical site, 1/2 hour south of Fargo, is a cool museum. Fort Union out west is too -- Fort Union is having a Living History Weekend that weekend. Too bad it's not a full Rendezvous, those are fun (think Renaissance Festival, but for French fur trappers and native American tribes)

That's all I got for now, will add more if I think of anything.
posted by AzraelBrown at 3:06 PM on August 21, 2014

Oh -- if you want quirky, historical, and interactive the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag MN is that weekend, 40min east of Fargo in Minnesota. I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically recommend it, particularly if you're not super familiar with farming history.

And here is North Dakota Tourism's own list of things to do this Labor Day weekend.

Apparently there's a threshing bee in Pekin, ND, about two hours northwest of Fargo, which looks similar to Rollag but smaller.

The wild west shootout in Jamestown could be fun, I've never been, but the Frontier Village there is neat. It's a couple hours west along I94.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:13 PM on August 21, 2014

Grand Forks is great town (previous ask), and hosted an impromptu mefi meetup last time I was there!
posted by gregglind at 4:23 PM on August 21, 2014

The Nature Conservancy has some preserves there:

Might be good for a short leg stretch with all the driving.

And if you'd like to try birdwatching it is supposed to be a good place.

Take advantage of the big sky at night and less light pollution and the new moon is 8/25.

Have a great trip!
posted by egk at 4:34 PM on August 21, 2014

2nding Duane's House of Pizza. You must stop there for one meal.

I enjoyed The Fargo Air Museum.
posted by Silvertree at 8:00 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Given your time frame, definitely take AzraelBrown's warning to heart! North Dakota is quite a big state geographically and people are giving lovely recommendations that will have you driving more than stopping.

Definitely check out the previous Grand Forks and Manitoba thread and of course there's lots of good advice about Fargo in this one. The Fargo Air Museum is quite fun, as has been mentioned, and the downtown is fun and quirky.

For unusual museums in small towns, try the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site near Cooperstown--it's actually two sites, decommissioned missile silos from the Cold War era. When people used to count up which state would go first in a nuclear war, North Dakota was at the top of the list due to its large number of missile launching sites and these were two of them.

If you get bored, I definitely second the suggestion to look at Lake Itasca (more of a two-day trip from Fargo/Grand Forks, FYI) or better yet, Bemidji. Bemidji is a delightfully arty small town with a large statue of Babe and one of Paul Bunyan, lots of interesting little things to see, and it's not far from Lake Itasca (which is the source of the headwaters of the Mississippi, sort of a cool thing to say you've done).
posted by librarylis at 4:26 PM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

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