When the state of North Dakota comes to mind, one thinks of buffaloes, sweeping plains, and the rugged natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains at the state'sstate's southwestern edge, and for a good reason. North Dakota boasts a year-round fishing season, more lakeshore than even California, and the rustic charm of the frontier. Surprisingly, it is also the least visited state in the Union. But with its relatively mild summers, North Dakota is an unsung warm-weather alternative to the more popularly frequented coastal getaways of California and Florida. Read on to learn about small towns that would make delightful summer excursions and ensure your next trip to the Roughrider State is an unforgettable one.
Taken straight from the pages of a storybook, our list begins with the picturesque town of Medora, a small town of no more than 200 people, which nonetheless has received an endorsement of the highest order. President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Medora in 1883 to hunt buffalo and immediately fell in love with the state, calling his time in the Dakota Badlands the 'romance' of his life. Today, the town of Medora keeps his memory alive by organizing numerous events inspired by the man himself, including obstacle course runs and an original musical about the town's history and the opening of the American frontier. Visit historic Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the riding stables, and its lovingly preserved buildings to enjoy a journey back into a formative time in American history and a town that stole the heart of one of the nation'snation's most influential presidents.
Sprouting from the Sheyenne River, Valley City is a can't-miss destination on any North Dakota summer trip. Known as the City of Bridges, Valley City's history is inseparable from the waterway it adjoins. Experience the Sheyenne as never before through the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway tour or visit Lake Ashtabula to cool off at high noon. After dark, the town features a series of events called Summer Nights on Central which were designed to turn the town's visitors into repeat customers. During the warmer months, Central Avenue hosts live music, tasty eats, and more. Check the city's tourism website for a two-day itinerary loaded with attractions for tourists on a tight schedule.
Visitors to Walhalla, a picturesque town in northeast North Dakota, can expect an unparalleled outdoor experience where the only limitations are their imaginations and personal stamina. Scenic Walhalla is popular with lovers of watersports as the town is nestled along the Pembina, North Dakota's only white water river, perfect for comfortable canoeing along the scenic waterway. On dry land, the 420-acre Tetrault Woods State Forest is the perfect place to spend the day. Stop in for a production by the Frostfire Summer Theatre to see prairie history brought to life on stage, visit the Masonic Scenic Overlook by horseback for a breathtaking view of the Pembina River, or tee off at the Walhalla Country Club to take in a manicured island of green within the untamed Dakota badlands.
For ice cream lovers looking to beat the heat, look no further than the town of Bottineau. This small town is home to Pride Dairy, an old-style ice cream shop that the publication USA Today called the best in the state. Visit Mystical Horizons, known to some as the Stonehenge of the prairie, and catch a view of Turtle Mountains to the west. The structures there are designed to allow visitors to view both winter and summer solstices at the equinox. This town of roughly two thousand is known for having some of the darkest skies in the country. Camp under the stars in Bottineau for some of the best Northern Lights views in the continental United States. Lake Metigoshe State Park comes highly recommended as a viewpoint for the aurora borealis.
For lovers of giant animal statues, a pilgrimage to New Salem is certainly in order. Salem Sue is the world's largest Holstein cow, and at 38 feet high and 50 feet long, Sue may be the first to welcome visitors and vacationers to the town but is certainly not the last. The town is geared towards attracting tourism with its many attractions. The North Dakota Country Fest is a four-day summer country music festival right in the heart of New Salem. For a downtempo experience, be sure to visit the Custer Trail Museum for a trip through time and finish off the day at either the town swimming pool or Gaebe Pond.
Fishing and hunting lovers are sure to get hooked on the town of Garrison. The town is found on the north shore of scenic Lake Sakakawea, named after the Native American explorer who accompanied Lewis and Clarke on their expedition across the United States. The lake is home to walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, chinook salmon, and more for enterprising fishermen and women. The Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery offers a live demonstration of the fish farming process, and daily tours are available. To explore the town of Garrison, ride the free Wally Trolley, an open-air trolley plastered with posters advertising local events in the area, perfect for planning the next leg of your Garrison trip. Garrison even has an 18-hole disc golf course located in the Wilderness Park. Sadly, equipment is not included.
As one might expect from the name, Devil's Lake is an angler'sangler's paradise: The lake "boasts more places to catch walleyes, pike, white bass and perch from shore than any other lake in the United States," according to the town's visitor guide. Besides also being a shoreline fishing destination, Grahams Island State Park is perfect for campers and nature lovers. Bird watching is a favorite pastime of visitors to the park as it is over 1,100 acres of wooded land that shore birds, songbirds, and waterfowl call home. Summertime events are common in Devil's Lake and there is always something to do, including car shows, parades, live music, and competitive rib cooking at the annual charity Ribfest event. Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like.
History buffs are almost guaranteed to enjoy their time in Jamestown, North Dakota; the town is an absolute treasure trove of American historical artifacts. Sports fan? Visit the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame. For those who appreciate military history, visit Fort Seward to see genuine 19th-century howitzers. Literature lovers should be sure to stop by the Louis L'Amour writing shack for a peek into the famed author's life. For a more high-octane experience, spend your Saturday at the Jamestown Speedway for stockcar races from May through August. After swimming at the Jamestown Reservoir and seeing the plethora of parks in Jamestown, take a drive down the Chan SanSan Scenic Backway for a complete showcase of North Dakota'sDakota's natural beauty along 35 miles of magnificent panorama along the river.
With a population just shy of 600, Edgeley is undeniably a small town. This is without counting the birds, however. Birders travel from across the country to Edgeley to see the largest number of nesting ducks and pelicans anywhere in the United States. In terms of attractions, the Whitestone Historical Society hosts an annual summertime event at Whitestone Battlefield, a famous battle between U.S. cavalry and the Sioux, or see one of four productions by the LaMoure County Summer Theater each year. The town also offers world-class canoeing. Take a blue-light detox as you travel the area'sarea's many rivers and streams, trading the whirs of copier machines and chirping phones for the sound of a bladed oar slicing through freshwater and the wind passing between heads of wheatgrass.
North Dakota is an often overlooked but underrated Midwestern gem. The state is absolutely bursting with history and incredible natural beauty in equal measure. Ride on horseback across scenic mountain vistas, paddle down whitewater rivers, and stand on the very battlefields where the nation's future was once decided. It is no stretch to say that North Dakota has something for everyone.