The International Peace Garden in Rugby, North Dakota. Editorial credit: Jacob Boomsma /

8 of the Most Overlooked Towns in North Dakota

When one thinks of North Dakota, images of expansive prairies, rolling wheat fields, and rugged badlands often come to mind. Yet, beyond the commonly recognized cities like Fargo and Bismarck lie a plethora of overlooked small towns. From Kenmare, which celebrates the migration of geese, to Antler, the birthplace of the world's largest quilt, each town is waiting to be appreciated by intrepid travelers and curious explorers alike. Moreover, they are astray from the hustle and bustle of urban centers, providing travelers with a quaint environment to enjoy.


Danish Mill in Kenmare, North Dakota.
The historic Danish Mill in Kenmare, North Dakota. By Masterhatch - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Kenmare often flies under travelers' radar; however, many treasures await exploration. Situated along the Central Flyway, it hosts Goosefest, a week-long celebration commemorating the yearly migration of over 250,000 geese. This event attracts visitors with contests, live entertainment, and culinary delights. Additionally, the town features attractions such as the iconic Danish Mill Park in the Downtown Square, reflecting the town's rich cultural heritage. The Lake County Historical Museum preserves local history, while the V & R Toy Museum delights with its collection of toys spanning different eras.

On the other hand, nature enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the beauty of the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge Scenic Backway, which is perfect for observing local wildlife. After all the fun, Kenmare offers a diverse range of dining options, from the delectable pizzas at the quaint M&K's Pizza Hub to the community-centric allure of The Gathering Grounds.


The Geographical Center of North America Obelisk in Rugby, North Dakota.
The Geographical Center of North America monument in Rugby, North Dakota. Editorial credit: Dirk Wierenga /

Rugby, famed as the geographical center of North America, is a town often overlooked despite this interesting fact. Those who do visit Rugby head straight to the 15-foot-tall obelisk commemorating this accomplishment. Beyond its unique location, this town in North Dakota provides access to the scenic Aurora Borealis. Even though most of North Dakota allows for the view of this natural event, the town of Rugby goes further, allowing its tourists a different kind of experience. One can visit the Northern Lights Tower and Interpretive Center to learn all about the natural phenomenon through an interactive kiosk with footage, exhibits, and detailed information.

Back in town, Prairie Village Museum is a place where time seems to stand still. It has over twenty restored historic buildings, including jails and shops that offer insight into the early pioneer villages. The buildings showcase household objects and artifacts from Native Americans, and many structures were relocated from various small towns to create this immersive experience.


Mystic Theatre in Marmarth, North Dakota.
The 1914 Mystic Theatre in Marmarth, North Dakota. By afiler -, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Marmarth offers unique historical and natural attractions for those seeking off-the-beaten-path experiences. Visitors can delve straight into local culture at the 1914 Mystic Theatre, which served as an early cinema venue in the region. It has since been restored and now serves as a “working museum” that hosts various local events and meetings. Continuing the cultural side of town, visitors can explore the historic Maltese Cross Cabin, once used by Theodore Roosevelt himself. On the other hand, the nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a nature lover’s dream, showcasing the beauty of the badlands with opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and scenic drives. After all the fun, most people end the day at The Pastime Club & Steakhouse for its diverse menu of gourmet fare, from succulent burgers to delectable escargot.


Former U.S. Customs House in Antler, North Dakota.
Former U.S. Customs House in Antler, North Dakota. By Andrew Filer from Seattle (ex-Minneapolis) - P5221340Uploaded by dcmacnut, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Antler isn’t that known compared to the other towns on this list, and it isn’t that much of a shock. Located along the United States-Canada border and home to less than 30 residents, it is the definition of a “small town.” However, there is still lots to do in this quaint community. At the center of town is the former U.S. Customs House for international travelers, and during its 100+ year history, it has functioned also as a Bank, Post Office, and Telephone Office.

As tourists continue through the streets, one thing is sure to come up: the famed Antler quilt. The town was once home to the largest quilt made in the world, which measured an astounding 85 feet (26 m) by 134 feet (41 m), officially recognized and certified by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1988. On Main Street, tourists adore the Cabin Bar & Grill, often celebrated for its welcoming ambiance and delicious comfort food. With a menu featuring everything from mouthwatering burgers to spaghetti, patrons can enjoy hearty meals amidst a friendly setting.


View of downtown Grafton, North Dakota.
Quaint street in downtown Grafton, North Dakota. By Andrew Filer - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Grafton isn't usually a prominent tourist destination due to its small size and remote location in north eastern North Dakota. That said, tourists willing to wander off the beaten path to this town are in for some exciting experiences. The most prominent landmark in Grafton is the St. Nepomucene Catholic Church, renowned for its stunning architecture and spiritual ambiance. After taking in local stories, one can head to the Ardoch National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for various plants and animal species. Exploring the refuge's trails is a great way to spot local wildlife in its natural habitat, such as Red-winged Blackbirds and Northern Shovelers. After exploring Grafton's attractions, visitors can refuel at Granny’s Family Restaurant, a beloved local eatery known for its hearty comfort food and friendly atmosphere.


Street in downtown Stanley, North Dakota.
Cars along a street in downtown Stanley, North Dakota. By I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license: - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Once a small community, Stanley saw a recent population boom thanks to its growing oil industry and nearby Bakken formation. To this end, many people have yet to learn of this quaint town’s charm. Kids adore the iconic Dakota Drug in Stanley, which serves up a variety of soft-serve ice cream flavors you can not find anywhere else. Flavors range from watermelon and Oreo to peanut butter and dill pickles, each made with the Whirl-A-Whip machine. The locally owned Joyce’s Cafe is a locally owned establishment that's a popular spot for locals and visitors alike to enjoy scrumptious food in a friendly atmosphere.

The town has historical attractions like the Flickertail Village, an outdoor museum showcasing pioneer-era buildings, and the Sibyl Centre, a refurbished church now hosts arts and humanities programs. Enthusiasts of theatre can enjoy shows at the Regis Theater, while the Stanley Bowling Alley and the Prairie Rose Golf Club provide some recreational options.


Riders on Main Street during the annual Motorcycle Ride-In in Cavalier, North Dakota.
Riders along Main Street during the Motorcycle Ride-In in Cavalier, North Dakota. By Ndboy04 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Cavalier often slips under the radar of travel enthusiasts despite its plethora of attractions, like the annual Motorcycle Ride-In. This adrenaline-filled event draws hundreds of bikers, filling the town’s Main Street with motorcycles and excitement for one weekend. Similarly, visitors in August should stop by the Cavalier City Park for the Off The Charts Music Festival, a free music festival providing entertainment and snacks for all.

While events are occasional, Cavalier is home to plenty of year-round attractions, such as the Icelandic State Park. The park features the Gunlogson Nature Preserve, a haven for rare plant and bird species along the Tongue River. It is also a great place to learn about local history through the restored historic buildings and information about early settlers at the Pioneer Heritage Center.


Ransom County Courthouse in Lisbon, North Dakota.
Ransom County Courthouse in Lisbon, North Dakota. By Andrew Filer - Flickr: Lisbon, North Dakota, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Lisbon, founded in 1880, is a quaint town home to just over 2,200 residents today. However, don’t let the small population deter you, as Lisbon offers more than meets the eye. Cultural enthusiasts head straight to the 1889 Lisbon Opera House, a well-preserved landmark that has been a hub for artistic performances and community gatherings for generations. Renowned for its stunning design and acoustics, it continues to captivate audiences with various shows and events.

On the other hand, outdoor enthusiasts can spend their time at the Sheyenne River, one of the tributaries of The Red River. One of the highlights nearby is the Sheyenne River Bridge, which features beautiful scenery perfect from some vacation photos. Speaking of scenery, Sheyenne National Grasslands is also within driving distance and is an excellent place for tourists to admire the stunning landscape and nature.

These towns offer more than meets the eye. From their rich history to unique local culture, each town invites visitors to uncover the beauty and charm often hidden in plain sight. Exploring these lesser-known destinations promises an authentic experience where the true essence of North Dakota shines through its quaint streets and welcoming communities. Next time you venture through the Peace Garden State, consider taking the road less traveled to discover the untold stories and hidden treasures awaiting in its overlooked towns.

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