As we pulled into our campsite, my wife, Esther, hopped out of the truck to start setting up the interior of our Airstream while I unhitched the truck and leveled the trailer. Just a couple of months earlier, we were learning the basics of life on the road, but we had finally settled into our new home on wheels. During our road trip across the U.S., we were determined to visit as many National Parks as possible. But besides just visiting the National Parks, we discovered there were plenty of places to visit in North Dakota during our first time in the state. Here are five of the best places we discovered!
Header image by Kyle Peters, Badlands National Park. Badlands makes Passion Passport’s 2021 Bucket List!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This was the highlight of our time in North Dakota. The park has three separate units (separate sections that comprise a national park) and we had the chance to explore two of them. The South Unit is the most popular and offers a 36-mile scenic drive. At every turn, our eyes darted back and forth, looking for wildlife. In one moment I would shout “PRAIRIE DOGS!” and in the next Esther would be yelling “BISON!” Needless to say, our cameras were firing non-stop. The route takes you through sprawling landscapes including the Painted Canyon, which provides a great view highlighting the vast number of colors throughout the badlands.
The North Unit has a 14-mile scenic drive ending at Oxbow Overlook. Before driving to the end, we stopped to see the cannonball concretions. These giant boulders were so much fun to climb and great for photos.
PRO TIP: If you’re looking for a serious hike, the Maah Daah Hey Trail is the one for you. It’s 98 miles and connects the southern and northern units. You can even tackle the trail on horseback or bike.
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
Moving along on our National Park tour, we stopped by Fort Union, which was a pivotal fur-trading site from 1828 to 1867. As we walked through the self-guided tour, we imagined what life was like back then. At the main gate, we were greeted by a living history actor portraying a fur trader. He stayed in character as we chatted about what it was like to trade fur, how they worked with Native Americans, and the struggles they faced living through the winters in the area. It really transported us back in time and helped us understand what life was like during this time period.
PRO TIP: We love doing the Junior Ranger program at each National Park. It helps you learn more about the area!
Knife River Indian Villages
We rounded out our National Park tour with a stop at the Knife River Indian Villages. The area has been home to a number of Prairie Indian villages, and you can learn more about their history and culture at this site. The highlight of this visit was the reconstructed earthlodge, which gave you a look at what their homes used to look like. It was an extremely hot day during our visit, but as soon as we stepped into the earthlodge, we were protected from the heat.
PRO TIP: Stop in the Visitor Center and watch the informative movie, which is all about what life was like in the villages.
Pitchfork Steak Fondue
Medora is the main town near the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. While there, you can head to the Pitchfork Steak Fondue. The food was unremarkable, but the experience was awesome. It was amazing to see how they cooked everything, and you definitely won’t leave hungry.
My eyes grew wide with excitement as I watched the cooks load steak after steak onto a giant pitchfork. Once they were done, they dropped them into giant cauldrons of boiling oil. All I could think about was how much I needed one of these set-ups at home!
PRO TIP: Arrive early to get a seat in the covered area so you don’t have the sun beating down on you while you eat.
The Medora Musical
After a very filling meal, we walked to the outdoor amphitheater to enjoy the Medora Musical. This local favorite is a broadway-style musical that attracts visitors from all of the surrounding areas. The beautiful amphitheater is built right into the hills so you can enjoy the views while watching the show.
PRO TIP: Check their website to see what show is currently playing. They will do seasonal shows, but everything is really fun to watch!
If you’re looking for more to do in North Dakota, check out our Bucket List.