The state capital of North Dakota, Bismarck, is complete with an emerging local culture, Native American history and the footprints of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea. The downtown district will surprise travelers with its burgeoning arts and dining scenes alongside its Art Déco architecture and the towering capitol building.
Surrounding the city are several state parks that not only showcase Bismarck’s beauty but its place in the story of the United States. Here, you can explore the river like the iconic adventurers of years past, or learn about the city’s original inhabitants, the Mandan people.
There are enough things to do in Bismarck to ticks all the boxes and the city is ready to reward travelers who venture off the beaten path.
In this post, we'll cover:
12. Keelboat Park
Home to important art installations and beautiful views, Keelboat Park is a great place to have a picnic in Bismarck. During your travels, if you want to slow things down for the day, head here and enjoy the sounds of the Missouri River running along the banks.
The park got its name thanks to the replica keelboat within the park. The boat is an accurate representation of the Corps of Discovery boat used by Lewis and Clark. Around the park, you’ll also find a statue of the two men alongside Sacagawea, plus a Thunderbird Eagle Statue.
Stick around for dusk as the west facing park is a glorious spot to watch the sunset.
11. Kayaking on the Missouri River
A great way to experience the scenery along the Missouri River isn’t to drive alongside it, but to paddle down the surging water. It also provides a wonderful insight into the trials faced by Lewis and Clark on this iconic expedition in the early 1800s.
Double Ditch Indian Village is a popular launch point for a day on the Missouri River. This will leave you with a six to ten-mile journey back to Bismarck on beginner-friendly waters. Using the current, you can cruise along the river basking in the scenery before arriving in the city after 1.5 to 2 hours. Two common opt-out points are Misty Waters Marina and Keelboat Park.
10. Camp Hancock
As you travel along Main Street in Bismarck, you’ll eventually stumble upon the oldest building in town, Camp Hancock. Originally known as Camp Greeley, the historic site was created in 1872 to protect garrison troops and railroad workers building the Northern Pacific Railroad.
The railroad tracks have long since been completed and Camp Hancock Historic Site has been transformed into a museum. It showcases Bismarck’s history through a series of captivating exhibits and artifacts. Highlights include the old cards, a locomotive engine and the oldest church in the city.
9. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Near the banks of the Missouri River, the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park mixes history and nature in equal measure. The park is a simple 20-minute drive out of Bismarck, from which you can embark on a number of scenic hiking trails.
These trails not only guide you through beautiful scenery but also help connect the many historic sites within the state park. These include several important re-creations, such as the On-A-Slant Indian Village, featuring reconstructed earth lodges that celebrate the Mandan Native American community.
Another historic site that you should visit is the reconstruction of the Victorian-era home that belonged to General Custer. Every half hour there are guided tours of the home. Complement this experience by visiting the nearby barracks and granaries to gain further insight into Bismarck’s wartime past.
8. Former Governor’s Mansion
When the Former Governor’s Mansion was first built in 1884, its captivating green facade was a memorable sight. Back then, it was a private resident for Asa Fisher, a prominent local liquor merchant. But just nine years later, the Victorian Stick home became the Governor’s Mansion, a title it held until 1960.
Across those 67 storied years, it was home to almost two dozen state governors. After its final governor, the home fell out of favor. But upon being purchased by the State Historical Society, the mansion underwent extensive renovation to return it to its former glory, with its eye-catching colors now on full display.
All year visitors can explore the beautiful grounds and the carriage house, while between May and September you can explore the home itself.
7. Super Slide Amusement Park
Complement your experience at the North Dakota Zoo by visiting its next door neighbor, the Super Slide Amusement Park. Within Sertoma Park, Super Slide is packed with fun attractions for young and old. These include classic bumper cars, mini golf, a roller coaster and Ferris wheel. Not to mention the towering slide.
Alongside the major attractions are eight smaller parks where you’ll find batting cages, targets to aim water balloons, Downpour Derby and the bounce house. The latter being the perfect way to let the young ones blow off steam. When you’re feeling peckish, you’ll find your favorite snacks and lunch items at the park’s concession stands.
6. McDowell Dam Nature Park
In the warm summer months, locals and travelers alike flock to McDowell Dam Nature Park. The enormous park surrounds a man-made lake, created for the sole purpose of leisurely recreation. From the sandy shores, you can lay down your towel and lie out under the North Dakota sun before diving into the lake’s refreshing waters.
Around the beach, visitors can make use of the picnic shelters for lunch, while the kids can create sandcastles or climb all over the nearby playground. After lunch, make your way out onto the lake for great trout fishing and paddling to the far edges. You can also stretch your legs on the paved trail that envelopes the lake.
5. Lewis and Clark Riverboat
From May to September, a historic paddle wheeler roams the upper reaches of the Missouri River. The Lewis and Clark Riverboat showcases the beautiful countryside and endless prairies that flank the Missouri River. The boat can host up to 150 passengers, creating a comfortable and family-friendly way to experience the landscape and learn more about local history.
All cruises depart from the Port of Bismarck and last between one and two hours. Along the way, your cruise may offer live entertainment and special events. While the bar serves up refreshing beverages as you cruise along the scenic river. For an elevated experience, head out at night for a romantic dining experience with the lights of Bismarck flickering against the water.
4. General Sibley Park
Four miles south of Bismarck, General Sibley Park is an expansive natural space home to a range of recreational opportunities. During the day, visitors can embark on a journey around an 18-hole disc golf course, head out onto the water on a kayak or SUP or simply stroll along the many nature paths. The latter of which is complete with a series of informative plaques that showcase the natural and historical importance of the area.
For those who love to sleep under the stars, General Sibley Park has an extensive campground perfect for pitching your tent. You’ll also find space for RVs and cabins are another option for a less rustic experience. Keep in mind that the campground operates from May to early October.
3. Dakota Zoo
On the banks of the Missouri River, it’s hard to picture the humble beginnings of the Dakota Zoo. It began in 1961 as a family farm run by the Christensen family. After starting with a few local animals, it grew to be a home for over 600 animals that represent 125 species.
You’ll find all your favorites, from mammals and reptiles to birds and fish. One aspect that makes the zoo such a wonderful attraction is the efforts put in to protect the animals. Many of the resident species are endangered, with the Dakota Zoo playing a hearty role in an international preservation effort.
Roam the habitats and see each animal in their element. The zoo also raises funds through its Adopt an Animal program, perfect for protecting your beloved wildlife.
2. North Dakota Heritage Center
If you embark on a journey down the Capitol Arboretum Trail, you’ll eventually cross paths with the North Dakota Heritage Center. It’s here that you can cover the full story of the state from prehistoric times to the rise of the fur trade and deep into the 20th century.
The heritage center comprises all the artifacts, art and history gathered by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, carefully curated for your enjoyment and education. Some of the fascinating collection includes a Native American Hall of Honor, a reconstructed post office and ancient dinosaur bones.
The permanent repository is complemented by a rotation of temporary exhibits, while the Northern Lights Atrium is a breathtaking display in the heart of the center.
1. North Dakota State Capitol
For those who have seen their fair share of state capitols, North Dakota’s iteration will stand out. The striking Art Déco tower doesn’t just dominate the local skyline, it is in fact the tallest building in the entire state.
The state capitol was built in the 1930s and its highest point reaches 242 feet. It’s known as the Skyscraper on the Prairie offering a splendid viewpoint from the 18th floor. Adorned with floor to ceiling windows, you’ll enjoy 360-degree views of the entire city along with the surrounding landscape.
After exploring the building, spend some time relaxing on the Capitol Grounds where you’ll find monuments and memorials along with the beginning of the Arboretum Trail.