Remote and sparsely populated, North Dakota doesn’t see as many visitors as neighboring states. This is great news for adventurous travelers, especially since the state is packed with stunning landscapes and hidden gems, which can be enjoyed without the crowds. As you plan your getaway and book North Dakota vacation rentals, add these secret spots to your itinerary.
1. Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site, Cooperstown
Check out North Dakota’s unexpected connection to the Cold War at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site. Start your visit at the November-33 Missile Facility, where you can see above-ground systems such as the enormous missile launch door. At the Oscar Zero Launch Control Center, you can see how crew members lived and descended into the control center to check out the panels that once controlled a massive missile. The Missile Site is open from Memorial Day through late October, with appointment-only visits the rest of the year. Stay in nearby Cooperstown, or make the 80-mile drive from vacation rentals in Grand Forks.
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2. Chief Looking’s Village, Bismarck
Explore a historic Native American site at Chief Looking’s Village. Wander through the grounds, see where earthlodges once stood, and learn about the Mandan tribe’s architecture. The park offers a spectacular view of the Missouri River; after your visit, head down to nearby Pioneer Park for a picnic. The village is open year-round, but is most beautiful during the spring and early summer. Bismarck offers a variety of convenient vacation properties for your trip.
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3. Enchanted Highway, Regent
Massive scrap metal sculptures rise from the plains along the Enchanted Highway, a stretch of country road that starts about 12 miles east of Dickinson. Towering works of art dot the 32-mile route, which ends in Regent. Look out for the magical “Grasshoppers in the Field” and the charming “World’s Largest Tin Family.” This spot makes a great diversion on a road trip any time of the year; if you want to stay nearby, your best bet is Dickinson.
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4. Medora Musical, Medora
Experience a musical take on North Dakota’s history at the Medora Musical, a local family favorite. The show, which runs from early June to early September, features professional song and dance, live horses, and pyrotechnics, all in an open-air theater with a spectacular Badlands backdrop. Avoid the lines by booking in advance, and extend your trip with a vacation rental in the lovely, historic town of Medora.
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5. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Mandan
Learn about North Dakota’s fascinating Native American and military history at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. This beautiful park sits on the site of a former cavalry post, and was once home to legendary commander George Armstrong Custer. Explore the rebuilt Custer House, wander through the On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village, and check out the earthlodges and blockhouses. The park is open all year, and services and tours operate from May through September. Both Mandan and nearby Bismarck offer easy access to the site.
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6. Pembina Gorge, Walhalla
Get off the beaten path at one of North Dakota’s most beautiful natural wonders: the Pembina Gorge. There are multiple ways to see the oak woodlands and steep cliffs of this lush river valley – kayak or canoe the Pembina River Trail, hike the Three Sister Hills, or bring your ATVs and ride the multi-use trail near the Walhalla Country Club. In the winter, the gorge is a popular spot for cross-country skiing. The best place to stay is Walhalla, which places you within minutes of the area’s best natural sites.
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7. World’s Largest Buffalo, Jamestown
Take a break from a road trip any time of year at the World’s Largest Buffalo, a huge sculpture located near Jamestown. After you pose for photos by this 1959-era piece, spend an hour exploring the Frontier Village, a recreation of a historic Wild West town. Don’t miss the historic train caboose and the accurate log cabin. If you want to stay in the area, check for vacation rentals in Jamestown.
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8. The Pyramid of North Dakota, Nekoma
Check out one of North Dakota’s most bizarre sights year-round at The Pyramid of North Dakota. Built as part of the government’s Cold War anti-missile Safeguard Program, the site features missile silos and the pyramid itself, which was engineered to hold a radar system. Today, you can wander among the structures – most of which were operational for only a few days before the program was shut down due to high costs. The pyramid is near Nekoma, but you may need to make the two-hour drive to Grand Forks to find vacation rentals.
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9. Mushroom Rocks, Watford City
Hike under a forest of larger-than-life fairy tale rocks at the Mushroom Rock Formations in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. These charming formations are tucked away in the lightly visited North Unit of the park, so you can avoid the crowds. The rocks are located in the park’s Petrified Forest, so a visit also provides you with views of colorful stumps and fallen logs that have turned to rock over the years. The park is open year-round, and you can find vacation rentals in Watford City, Dickinson, Williston, or Medora.
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10. Fairview Lift Bridge, Cartwright
The Fairview Lift Bridge was built in 1913 to accommodate steamboat traffic on the Yellowstone River. Before the bridge was finished, however, the boats stopped running in the area; as a result, the lift mechanism was operated just once as a test. Cars and trains used the bridge, but it closed to motorized traffic in the 1980s. Today, you can bike or walk across the bridge and explore the train tunnel on the other side. If you want to make a weekend of your visit, stay in Cartwright or across the border in Fairview, Montana.
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