10 Best Places In North Dakota

At Bismarck State College today, two men who love North Dakota are going to sit on the stage and share with us their ten best places in North Dakota as part of BSC’s Community Conversations program. Clay Jenkinson and Larry Skogen surely know a lot about our state.  I am eager to hear what they have to say. Meanwhile, I have decided to compile my own list, and to ask anyone else interested to compile theirs, and I will put all of this on my blog. Here’s my list, with a note of explanation for each. They are in no particular order, except for Bullion Butte, which is far and away No. 1, and will be on their list as well. Send yours and I will share. (I’ll bet Clay and I have at least half our lists in common. I’ll report that later.)


  1. The top of Bullion Butte in the extreme southwest corner of Billings County (with just a bit of its west face in Golden Valley County). North Dakota’s most spectacular view and least accessible place
  2. Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch site. North Dakota’s most peaceful place.
  3. The North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, particularly the view from the Little Missouri River in a canoe about a mile west of Juniper Campground, where you see the Little Missouri’s highest and widest sheer canyon wall.
  4. County Road 55 west of Walhalla, through the Pembina Gorge and over the Red River Valley escarpment, west across the Little Pembina River to N.D. Highway 1, a 20 mile drive.
  5. The North Dakota State Capitol and Grounds. North Dakota’s most prideful and overstated structure, yet truly a people’s place, especially when looking south toward the Huff Hills from the 18th floor observation deck or celebrating on the lawn, with thousands of fellow North Dakotans, our nation’s independence, with symphonic music and fireworks on the 4th of July.
  6. Medicine Hole, and the hike up to it, in the Killdeer Mountains. Mystery, geography, geology and an aspen forest in the middle of the Great Plains.
  7. The Pastime Bar and Steakhouse in Hettinger on the opening night of pheasant season. A sea of hunter orange and camouflage with sirloin steaks and Windsor cokes, replicated in dozens—but probably not hundreds—of similar small town bars across the state.
  8. A personal and private place: a low-water crossing of Cedar Creek on a school section in what should have been a part of the Cedar River National Grasslands north of Lemmon, SD, just inside the North Dakota border. A wildlife haven meant to be experienced only on foot on the banks of my favorite creek (as opposed to my favorite river, which is the Little Missouri).
  9. Broadway Avenue in downtown Fargo on a late summer or early fall evening. An urban delight of college students and other young adults strolling between pubs, shops and restaurants, while rollerbladers, skateboarders, hand-holding walkers and teen drivers maneuver through their mating rituals.
  10. North Dakota’s three world-class architectural wonders, in Grand Forks and Medora: The Burning Hills Amphitheatre and Bully Pulpit Golf Course in Medora and the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. Many North Dakotans may voice disapproval of one or more of these, but the fact remains that the carving of a 2,800 seat ultra—modern outdoor theatre into a Bad Lands hillside, the environmentally-conscious design of a championship golf course along the banks of the Little Missouri River and up into the Bad Lands bluffs, and the $100 million hockey arena in Grand Forks are facilities that match any in the world.

Honorable Mention: A Dozen More Places That Are Hard To Leave Off Any “Best Places in” List (And All Places I Have Been to Enough Times to Be Familiar With them)

  • Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Home to, in most years, North America’s largest breeding pelican flock
  • Cross Ranch State Park and Smith Grove in the Missouri River Valley north of Mandan. Riparian forest, centuries old trees, camping on the banks of Lewis and Clark’s water highway to the West.
  • LaMoure County Memorial Park near Grand Rapids. Nine delightful golf holes, a campsite on the bank of the James River, and a summer theater that takes you back to your high school days with the quality of a big-city production.
  • Dykshoorn Park in downtown Mandan on summer evenings when local musical groups entertain in the bandshell. And wandering among hundreds of arts and crafts displays over the 4th of July holidays during Art In the Park.
  • Menard’s in Bismarck (and probably other cities in the state) on a Saturday morning, when white-collar would-be handymen and gardeners wander the aisles looking for supplies for their weekend projects.
  • Captain Jack’s in Bismarck and Happy Harry’s in Fargo and Grand Forks. Where North Dakotans go for a wine experience as good as they might expect anywhere in America.
  • The Grandstand at the North Dakota State Fairground. For nine marvelous nights in July, big-name country and rock acts take the stage to entertain during North Dakota’s summer break.
  • Any of North Dakota’s five Indian gaming casinos. Real, live Las Vegas-style gambling tucked into corners of our five reservations.
  • Lake Sakakawea. Haven for fishing, jet-skiing, sailing, motorboating, or just relaxing with a beer or a gin and tonic on a pontoon, houseboat or gravelly beach on one of America’s largest lakes.
  • The International Peace Garden and Lake Metigoshe State Park in the Turtle Mountains in August. In most years, 100,000 or more flowers in bloom at the Peace Garden and the state park offers a spectacular hike on a marked walking trail through the aspen and oak forest just before bedding down in a tent beside the lake.
  • Lillian’s Most Secret Juneberry Patch in the Bad Lands in mid-July. I could not point you to it. She last took me there in 2009 where we picked gallons of the precious berries, all day and into the evening, entering on one road and exiting on another so that even I, her trusted husband, would not be able to find my way back without her—or tell anyone how to get there.
  • A hole in the ice on Devils Lake (or, I guess, any number of small perch lakes in North Dakota) in January, over which I can stare down at my bobber while seated on a pickle pail with a little jigging rod in my hand and a pile of frozen perch at my feet.


5 thoughts on “10 Best Places In North Dakota

  1. You tended to be a bit biased toward the west…which I won’t protest, but you missed my favorite: the Sheyenne River Valley south of Valley City, and particularly the “valley road” from Kathryn to Fort Ransom.


  2. Here are Clay’s Ten (Actually Eleven) Greatest Places in North Dakota:
    1. Bullion Butte
    2. The Elkhorn Ranch
    3. Pretty Butte & Hwy. 16 north of Marmarth
    4. Medicine Hole
    5. Medicine Rock near Leith
    6. Oxbow overlook in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
    7. Sheyenne River Grasslands
    8. Bodmer Overlook near Fort Union
    9. The Missouri River Valley between Washburn and Double Ditch, north of Bismarck
    10. Prairie Pothole Country
    11. The Turtle Mountains between Rolla and Bottineau
    During his presentation, Clay also mentioned three places I missed that I wish I had included in my Honorable Mention list. They are the KVLY-TV tower near Blanchard, once the world’s tallest structure, now third; The source of the Sheyenne River south of Anamoose in Sheridan County; and Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve south of Devils Lake, all places I have visited and like immensely, but just didn’t think of when I was compiling my list. I should have stared at a North Dakota map for a while. Clay also had pictures of all the places on his list. You should have been there. It was a great presentation.


  3. The only state my wife has not visited is North Dakota. For 3 days between March 14-24th I’m going to surprise her and fly from St. Louis to N. Dakota and am looking for something to do for 2+days. I’m not interested in flying into somewhere and then spend driving to and from locations. I would rather try to fly in and either not drive or drive very little for someting to do, see or mayby do VERY little in ordr to be able to say she has visited N. Dakota and am looking for suggesitons.

    Thank you,
    Steve Walker


  4. Steve,
    Weather a little shaky on equinox weekend. No golf, that’s for sure. Fly to Fargo, get a room at the Hotel Donaldson, and eat and drink fine food and wine. Go to the Fargo-Moorhead CVB site and check out events for that time period.


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