Essential RV North Dakota:
A Local Guide to the Top Destinations
in the Peace Garden State
by Shel Zolkewich, with contributions from Lindsay Menting
Things are easy in North Dakota. Easy to get to. Easy to explore. Easy to find yourself on the edge of an unexpected adventure. The wide open and uncrowded spaces of the state invite visitors to slow down, follow their curiosities and most definitely discover the unexpected. Perhaps it’s a rare bloom on a rugged trail, a mouth-watering ribeye prepared cowboy style over the coals or a handcrafted dream catcher to hang in your window. Regardless of your final destination, set your compass for the Great Plains where the word Dakota is Sioux—and that means friends.
Western North Dakota
The jewel of western North Dakota is the vast and rugged Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a wild and free landscape that left a lifelong mark on the would-be president. His time in the region shaped a conservation policy that still benefits Americans today. There are endless scenic drives and robust hikes, including the Maah Daah Hey trail that covers 96 miles across the National Grasslands. Bison roam free in the park along with a herd of wild horses.
The Bully Pulpit Golf Course in Medora is ranked as one of America's 100 greatest public golf courses for good reason: it includes through-meadows and woodlands and a stroll along the Little Missouri River. The Badlands Holes—14, 15 and 16—even take golfers through a rugged fairway gorge of the craggy landscape.
Your time in Medora isn’t complete without visiting the one and only Medora Musical! A live outdoor show, performances are dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands and the Spirit of the Old West. It’s a treat for the whole family. You can round out the day with a bite of steak, cooked cowboy style, at Pitchfork Fondue.
A can’t miss stop is the historical area that includes Fort Buford and Fort Union, located just a few miles apart. Fort Buford was a supply depot for the U.S. army during the Indian Wars and the site of Chief Sitting Bull’s surrender in 1881. The now historic site offers visitors the chance to tour through field officer quarters and reconstructed barracks. In the mid-1800’s Fort Union was home to John Jacob Astor’s powerful American Fur Company, the trading post that dominated the peaceful fur trade on the upper Missouri River. Nowadays you can visit the Bourgeois House Visitor Center, the reconstructed building that houses Fort Union’s life and history through exhibits and park videos.
There’s also something for everyone at the Dickinson Museum, but its claim to fame is really North Dakota’s largest collection of real dinosaur fossils. You can visit the dinosaurs and even watch paleontologists at work at the fossil laboratory. Switch gears—or rather eras—by visiting the Prairie Outpost Park and the Pioneer Machinery Hall for some classic North Dakota history.
Where to Stay: End your time in Western North Dakota in the quiet oasis of Little Missouri State Park. Some 45 miles of trails are wide open to explore the beautiful badlands. You can also ride horses (Little Missouri is one of North Dakota’s designated horse parks), bike or stroll on foot. There are plenty of RV sites equipped with electricity.
Meanwhile, home base for your adventures around Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Badlands is the Medora Campground. There are 150 sites, nestled under cottonwood trees along the Little Missouri River—plus a playground, ample shower facilities, free Wi-Fi and even a general store. Toward the northwest corner of the state, Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina near Watford City offers 100 campsites along with a full-service restaurant, convenience store, bait and tackle shop and fishing on Lake Sakakawea. Nearby is the Birnt Hills Trail, a certified Lewis and Clark site that meanders along the lake.
Central North Dakota
Classic Americana comes to life in central North Dakota with a wonderful and whimsical collection of larger-than-life roadside art. There’s Salem Sue, in New Salem, that honors the dairy industry of the area. She measures 38 feet high and 50 feet long and, because she’s perched on a hill, you can see her five miles away. In Jamestown, Dakota Thunder is the world’s largest buffalo monument, comprised of 60 tons of concrete and watching over the Frontier Village. In the town of Steele, “Sandy the Sandhill Crane” stands in metal art form at 40 feet tall, paying tribute to the migratory birds that often stop in the upper Midwest.
Snug against the Canadian border, the International Peace Garden features uninterrupted prairie, forests and vast floral gardens along with plenty of space for a picnic after a healthy hike. Over 80,000 varieties of flowering annuals and perennials call the park home. Don’t miss the iconic floral clock, sunken garden and floral flags. Nearby you can visit the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Heritage Center and celebrate the vibrant Turtle Mountain Chippewa community, including a glimpse of traditions from the Ojibwe people and the Metis/Cree people.
Anglers and wildlife watchers could do no better than a stop at Devils Lake, the largest natural body of water in the state. It covers more than 160,000 acres with hundreds of miles of shoreline to cast, explore, photograph and check off a few species on that birding life list. For anglers, walleye, northern pike, white bass and perch are plentiful. For birders, a mixture of wetlands and lakes, along with grasslands and woodlands, make this an important migratory stop in the flyway where numerous species abound.
At the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, you can walk in the footsteps of America’s most famous explorers. In 1804 Lewis and Clark arrived at the Mandan and Hidatsa villages. Today you can engage in the center’s exhibit, browse period artifacts and world-class art collections and hear stories from interpreters. You can even visit the reconstructed Fort Mandan, where Lewis and Clark overwintered. Nearby, you can further explore Lewis and Clark’s adventures by visiting the Knife River Indian Villages, the meeting place of Sakakewa and Lewis and Clark as well as the home to preserved cultural artifacts of the Plains Indians.
Another must-stop destination is North Dakota’s capital, Bismarck. As the seventh fastest-growing small city in the nation, Bismarck is a bustling and exciting destination. One of the city’s most intriguing features is the capitol building itself. The art deco structure was built in the early 1930s and rises 19 stories—the tallest building in the state—with a sky deck open to visitors and offering incredible views. Another landmark is the Dakota Zoo, central to grizzly bears and endangered Bengal tigers. You can almost always find a fun community event going on there.
Where to Stay: Tucked into Creel Bay, Woodland Resort is a full service stop with well-protected, tree-lined overnight spots, along with a restaurant, playground and laundromat. Book a boat with a guide and make the most of your stay in Devils Lake. For a touch of history, settle in at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in Mandan and take your pick from over 80 serviced sites. You can visit On-a-Slant Indian Village, the military fort and the commissary store for a few souvenirs. It’s also one of the state’s designated horse parks, so your equestrian passengers are welcome. With easy access off Interstate 94, Frontier Fort Campground sits next to the Frontier Village, National Buffalo Museum and of course, Dakota Thunder, the world’s largest buffalo. There are 51 sites here along with a bar and grill, a gift shop and free Wi-Fi.
Eastern North Dakota
The vast northern prairies of North Dakota are the hallmark of the eastern region, making scenic drives exactly what they should be. Along the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway, stop at the Rosebud Visitor Center in Valley City for a glimpse into the area’s railroading history and see the Rosebud, an 1881 Superintendent's railcar with the original fancy furnishings. The byway slides by Standing Rock State Historic Site in Kathryn where the sacred rock—four feet tall and shaped like an inverted cone—stands on prehistoric burial mounds.
You can soak up the great outdoors at Pembina George—the 12,500-acre year-round state recreation area. There is an abundance of ways to explore the hilly landscape, whether by foot, horseback, ATV, or canoe. Looking to learn more about the land? Head to the Pembina State Museum, where you can take in the culture and artifacts of the native peoples that settled there, all while getting a stunning 360-degree view of the Red River Valley from the seven-story Observation Tower.
For some city action, you can pop into the Wurst Bier Hall in downtown Fargo, which just happens to have the best Bavarian pretzels, salted and served with the essential beer cheese dip. In fact, you can take your pick from over 40 local brews and faraway favorites.
Are you an aviation fanatic by chance? You can head to the Fargo Air Museum, home to aircraft that span all eras. Designed to inspire future aviators and enthusiasts, the museum’s exhibits and military memorabilia abound. The majority of planes are still able to fly, which means a more immersive experience. More of an art fanatic? The Plains Art Museum is in the heart of historic downtown Fargo and holds 56,000 square feet of collections. History buffs can take on Bonanzaville—North Dakota’s must-see historic attraction. With 41 buildings and more than 400,000 artifacts, you can explore everything from Fargo’s first schoolhouse to an authentic saloon and blacksmith shop.
Skip over the bridge into Moorhead, Minnesota—the sister city of Fargo—where the steeple of the replica Hopperstad Stave Church reaches skyward in a design akin to Harry Potter at The Hjemkomst Center. Inside, there’s a Viking ship that was built locally and made her maiden voyage from Duluth, Minnesota to Norway before finding a permanent home at the museum.
Where to Stay: You can dive into the heritage of the state with a stay at Icelandic State Park in Cavalier. Restored historic buildings in the park include Akra Community Hall and Hallson Church, plus there’s a three-mile trail system winding through Gunlogson Nature Preserve. Choose from over 130 serviced sites in the park with electric and water.
The Grand Forks Campground couldn’t be more conveniently located, right along I-29 and just a couple minutes outside the bustling city of Grand Forks. The well-trees complex includes more than 100 pull-through sites with full services including laundry and a playground. And, nestled along the Red River in Fargo, Lindenwood Campground certainly has the feeling of a wildness retreat thanks to a heavy canopy of trees. Sites include paved drives, electricity, picnic tables, running water and fire pits—plus there are hot showers, restrooms, two playground facilities, bike rentals and biking trails.