Becoming part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, North Dakota remained largely uninhabited until the railroad was established running through the territory. Today, the state is known for its beautiful and vast badlands, with many small townscapes sprinkled throughout. These 11 prettiest towns warmly welcome tourists to enjoy the naturally-beautiful and historical state of the nation.
Comprising a natural paradise, Bottineau is easily one of the most beautiful towns in North Dakota. Set on the sloping hills near the stunning Lake Metigoshe, the town is surrounded by seemingly-boundless nature. Embraced by two wildlife refuges to each side, the varied fauna in the area includes geese, ducks, deer, and moose. Known as the "Four Seasons Playground," Bottineau is also the last checkpoint before entering the mesmerizing Turtle Mountains, offering year-round activities for any level of fitness. One must take a photo with the 26-foot tall statue of the mascot in-town, Tommy the Turtle, before having a go at the peaks. The plenty of leisurely recreation options in the outdoors include boating, angling, and water-skiing, while the Bottineau Winter Park attracts hoards of snowboarders and skiers during winter.
The town is set-bounding the northern edge of North Dakota's largest body of water, the immense, 160,000-acre namesake lake. Offering a true haven for all the anglers and sports fanatics, the lake is known for record-breaking fish catches and a myriad of outdoor adventures, from water-based activities to recreational opportunities on the banks. One will find accommodations in-town for a comfortable stay, along with many stops for memorable ways to diversify one's time spent. Set in the cute, stroll-worthy downtown area, the Lake Region Heritage Center imparts knowledge about the town's life and culture back in the pioneering days. The "speck in the sea" Graham Island, with a state park, is a natural scenic paradise for bird-watchers, campers, and hikers while offering a different perspective of the townscape.
Perched on the crystal-blue Sheyenne River, the tiny town's "record-breaking" population doesn't even reach the 100 count. Despite its punitive size, Fort Ransom boasts a rich history, culture, and recreational opportunities to enjoy in solitude or in close company. Established in the late 1860s as a military fort safeguarding the settlers, the pioneers soon turned the village into a thriving farming community. The bi-annual Sodbuster Days at the Fort Ransom State Park are weekend-long living history festivals commemorating the culture of the early farming village. For the active, the same wooded-farmland park offers camping, boating, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling, along with historic homesteads to marvel via a stroll. The fall-time brings about the Sheyenne Valley Arts and Crafts Festival, promoting local artists with showcases and paying homage to the culture of rural North Dakota's south-eastern region.
Picturesquely bounding Lake Sakakawea, Garrison is a bountiful-in-nature treasure cove for the relentless seekers of outdoor pursuits. Lake Sakakawea is one of the country's largest man-made lakes and is beloved for the ample walleye, pike, and smallmouth bass catches. Meanwhile, Garrison's historically beautiful downtown will appease all the culture fans. The open-air Heritage Park and Museum is a must-visit for history buffs, families, and anyone wishing to stroll in the fresh air while reminiscing on the town's life back in the early 20th century. The Dickens Village Festival during the holiday season takes one right into the Christmas time of the Victorian era days, with festive streets full of parading horse-drawn carriages and costumed characters.
The town founded in 1872 between Fargo and Bismarck takes "great pride" in being nicknamed the 'Pride of the Prairie.' Comprising North Dakota's ninth largest community, Jamestown maintains a homey, small-town atmosphere, with many historical buildings and landmarks. The Northern Pacific Railway building from the 19th century commemorates the town's past as a significant stop on the railroad, while the Jamestown Frontier Village offers to transport one right back into those olden days. The re-created prairie town comes with the Louis L'Amour Writer's Shack, the former home of the well-known novelist born in 1908. There's also the world's largest, 26-feet Buffalo Monument signifying the importance of the animal to the region, as well as the National Buffalo Museum with history, a live bison herd, and the grazing ground of the single certified albino bison in the world.
Perhaps the prettiest small town in the state, Jud's quintessential townscape is home to barely 100 residents. The cozy and vibrant atmosphere comes with stunning streets brimming in color for scenic strolling, like nowhere else in the nation. Every building in Jud is famous for being decorated with murals painted by a resident. The beautiful paintings on each tower make for a wild conglomeration to feast with the eyes that no photo can do justice to. The town's one-of-a-kind ambiance must be experienced in person, and the unique setting may as well be one giant art gallery with depictions like cottages, stamps, landscapes, characters, and patriotic images.
Lisbon was founded by Joseph Lynn Colton from New York in 1880. Located in the state's south-eastern corner, down the river from Valley City and Fort Ransom, it is a beloved getaway for families, with sights and activities. Set on the Northern Pacific Railroad, there are many historical buildings in town nodding at the booming rail industry of the past. The marvel-worthy Lisbon Opera House from 1889 acts as a cultural hub for residents and tourists, for gatherings to see the many concerts, plays, and community events held throughout the year. The atmospheric Sandager Park set perched on the banks of the Sheyenne River offers campgrounds and a swimming pool to spend endless days immersed in its naturally-beautiful paradise. Boasting the Prairiewood Winery, one of the state's only six wineries, it warmly welcomes each visitor for tours and tastings.
Home to only 150-some residents, Medora is a must-visit town in North Dakota for the fairy-tale-like setting and ambiance, as well as an interesting past. Bountiful in beautiful nature, the town is set completely embraced by the limits of the famous Theodore Roosevelt National Park, offering endless ventures into the great outdoors. In-town, the stroll-worthy streets brim with historic buildings, including the 19th-century meat-packing plant and the Chateau de Mores, the former home of Medora's original founding father. Despite the town's minuscule size, its open-air venue Burning Hills Amphitheater, nestled beside the Little Missouri River Valley, boasts nearly 3,000 seats to fit all of the residents and visitors for an outdoor performance.
Located in the quaint Morton County, the charming town founded in 1882 boasts a population of just under 1,000 residents. A real playground for outdoor lovers, it is scenically surrounded by vast stretches of farmland, sunflower fields, and rocky bluffs in the vicinity of the real-picturesque countryside. Featuring a cozy townscape feel, with streets full of amenities to satisfy its rather largest residential count, New Salem is most known for the magnificent fiberglass statue of Salem Sue, the cow. Nodding at the surplus of dairy farmers in the area, one must take a picture with the “pretty grand” structure before having a go at the cheese-galore around.
Spreading along the banks of the Sheyenne River, the "City of Bridges," as known by its residents, is one of the most-visited small towns in the state. Featuring at least 11 old bridges, there's the most famous Wooden Valley City State University footbridge, as well as the Highline Bridge designated landmark of the National Civil Engineering System. Home to many more historical sights, one will find the stroll-worthy Medicine Wheel Park with fascinating Native American burial grounds, just on the outskirts, as well as two ancient solar calendars inside of the park complex. Fall-time paints the townscape in a remarkably-vibrant specter of colors that one can enjoy through an outdoor excursion with planned activities or via a drive-along the scenic 60 miles of the Sheyenne River Valley National Byway.
Despite its rather remote location-set almost on the border with Canada, Walhalla sees a lot of history buffs in the new faces, being the second oldest community in the state. At the very heart of "the Rendezvous Region," the town is a hub of attractions and landmarks that offer historical information reaching far beyond the town's limits. Boasting historically significant monuments, there's the Kittson Trading Post, the state's oldest building, as well as the Gingras Trading Post State historic site. The active knowledge-seekers must visit the Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area. Featuring miles upon miles of trails running through both wildlife and historic streets lined with ancient buildings, one can hike, bike, and even horseback ride for endless scenic outings. The Pembina River flowing right through town adds a natural touch to the doorstep, along with wonderful tubing opportunities. For more exciting adventures "in the rough," there is the whole of the Tetrault Woods State Forest to set camp and explore.
North Dakota is known for its history and natural beauty, with nearly 90% of the land involved in the deeply-rooted farming industry. The incredible 70,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a playground for the active. Each town on this list comprises a culturally-rich hub that combines life from the past and present for tourists through countless experiences, festivals, and attractions, like nowhere else in the nation.