The beauty of North Dakota is under-represented when we talk about nature around the United States. North Dakota’s state and national parks harbor the bulk of this amazing scenery, putting a wide range of outdoor adventures on a silver platter. A world you can explore on a hiking trail or in a kayak.
But it’s not just the Badlands, open plains and sparkling lakes that make these parks so memorable. Many form the basis of local and national history. These protected lands help showcase Native American heritage, the stories of Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark, along with the Pioneer Era and major fur trading hubs.
The state and national parks in North Dakota combine to help you experience it’s fascinating past and severely underrated scenery.
8. Turtle River State Park
In the eastern part of North Dakota, Turtle River State Park offers year-round opportunities for anglers, kayakers, hikers and cross-country skiers. The park was established in the 1930s with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps under the New Deal. Turtle River helps celebrate this important part of US history.
Turtle River State Park offers exceptional fishing opportunities from dry land or on the water. Here, you can fish for rainbow trout and other fish at any point in the year. A well-maintained trail system will also guide you through the park, bringing you through a variety of ecosystems with the chance to spot wildlife and a wide range of birds.
7. Fort Ransom State Park
Regardless of the time of year, there’s always a reason to visit Fort Ransom State Park. In the summer and fall, you’ll be able to experience the lovely Cheyenne River Valley where you can kayak along the gleaming streams and lakes. The park is also home to almost 15 miles of hiking trails, plus a campground.
When the snow begins to fall, the hiking trails become a haven for cross-country skiers who can explore the delightful nature now coated in white. Snowmobile trails are also another way to experience the park. Whenever you visit, be sure to stop by the original Fort Ransom, which was built in 1867.
6. Icelandic State Park
Just over an hour northwest of Grand Forks, Icelandic State Park covers nature, fun and history on the shores of Lake Renwick. You may think North Dakota is wild open country, but it was even more so during the heights of homesteading in the 19th century. The state park celebrates this side of local history while protecting native flora and fauna.
Visitors should begin at the Pioneer Heritage Center where you can explore historic buildings and the Gunlogson Homestead, which have been restored to their former glory. Afterwards, get to know the park’s nature preserve, including the woodlands along the Tongue River, home to colorful plants, wildlife and birds.
5. Lake Metigoshe State Park
In the foothills of the Turtle Mountains, Lake Metigoshe State Park is a sprawling abundance of gorgeous nature and endless photo opportunities. The glistening Lake Metigoshe is never far from view. Hikers can embark on beautiful scenic trails or journey out on the water for a paddle or fish.
The state park shares an international border with Canada and is, in fact, the largest in North Dakota. The park differs from much of the state due to its spectacular lake and wooded hills, which contrasts with the Badlands and prairies.
In the warmer months, laze by the lake before fishing, and in the winter, embark on the snowmobile trails as the park turns into a winter wonderland.
4. Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
You can learn all about the history and culture of the Mandan and Hidatsa Native Americans at the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. With the help of a series of reconstructed villages, you can step back in time and explore the world of local tribes in the years before and during the pioneer era.
Any trip to the historic site should begin at the on-site museum where you’ll find artifacts from the original Mandan and Hidatsa villages, along with several insightful exhibits. From there, wander down the Village Trail to experience the surrounding nature before seeing examples of earth lodges that were once home to Sacagawea.
3. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Mixing history and nature, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is always a memorable visit. You’ll find the park just back from the shores of the Missouri River, where you’ll spot a number of historic buildings with beautiful nature trails permeating throughout.
On your own, or with a guide, take your time exploring the many old homes, outposts and villages. Two major highlights include the Mandan Indian Village and Custer House. In the village, you’ll find six examples of traditional earth lodges once home to the Northern Plains tribes. While at the Custer House, you’ll find evidence of historic conflicts, commissaries and granaries.
To round off the experience, head along one of the hiking paths, with cycling and horseback riding also an option.
2. Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
On the border of Montana and North Dakota, the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site has a revered place in pioneer history. Construction of the famous Fort Union was completed in 1828. From then until 1867, the American Fur Company developed a business relationship with Northern Plains tribes who would hand over fur for a wide range of goods.
After closing, much of the fort was removed to help build Fort Buford. Today, you can visit a recreation of the original Fort Union, which was designed with grand architecture that would impress tribes. So, even in times of conflict, the fort remained a peaceful locale.
Visitors can embark on self-guided and ranger-led tours to discover the historic trading post where 25,000 buffalo skins were exchanged every year.
1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Carved in two by the rolling Little Missouri River, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park harbors the sort of beguiling and beautiful landscapes that once captured the imagination of the US’ 26th President. Upon becoming the nation’s leader, Roosevelt wasted little time turning this region into one of the state’s best national parks.
Visitors can explore the park which is a mix of gorgeous environs and thrilling drives. Start at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center to learn about the park’s unique history and stunning landscapes. Just a short walk away is the Maltese Cross Cabin, where Roosevelt used to stay.
Later, make your way through the Badlands on foot or in a four-wheel drive to see the bison meander their way over the rolling plains.