North Dakota is one of the final frontiers of America, with more unexplored and unspoiled wilderness than any other state outside of Alaska. Known as the “Roughrider State”, North Dakota is true to its nickname; it is indeed a rough land of prairies, wheat fields, huge cattle ranches, badlands, and open ranges greeted by extreme cold weather in the winter. But North Dakota has its appeal. The Garrison Dam constructed in the 1950s has produced lovely reservoirs that now serve as beautiful recreation areas, especially around Lake Oahe and Lake Sakajawea, where fishing, hunting, and bird-watching are enjoyed year-round. Native American culture and heritage is also an important part of North Dakota, and while their reservations now host a number of big-draw casinos, their way of life lives on in their dances, festivals, ceremonies, and museums located on designated historic sites.
Native American tribes have lived in North Dakota for thousands of years. The first Europeans to explore the area were French fur traders who claimed it as part of the Louisiana colony. The territory traded back and forth between the French and Spanish over the next century, until North Dakota finally became part of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. It did not become a state, however, until 1889.
For much of the 19th century, North Dakota was sparsely populated. The land was aggressively marketed after the Northern Pacific Railroad was built in 1871 connecting it to other states. The construction of the Garrison Dam in the 1950s created a small electric power industry to supplement North Dakota’s mining and agriculture. There was also an oil boom in the 1980s when oil was explored and discovered in the state’s western region. In general, however, the economic situation in North Dakota is not the best; its severe weather is often seen as a hindrance to companies deciding to establish or relocate there.
North Dakota is prized mostly for its great outdoors. Game hunters, fishing enthusiasts, and campers are especially pampered by the state’s wilderness areas. North Dakota is particularly famous for its ducks, and is touted as the “duck factory”, but there are also pheasants, grouse, partridges, and deer in the state’s gorgeous Badlands.
North Dakota also features world-famous fisheries like Devils Lake and Lake Sakakawea, both reputed for their bass, yellow perch, walleye, and rainbow trout. Both lakes are particularly popular among serious anglers because the fishes are abundant and jumbo-sized. But fishing can also be enjoyed in other areas like Lake Oahe and along the Missouri River where northern pike, Chinook salmon, white bass, rainbow trout, and catfish can be found.
Camping adventures can be had at the more than 1,300 campsites scattered across the state. Notable sites include the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Beaver Lake State Park, Cross Ranch State Park, Devils Lake State Park, Lake Sakakawea State Park, Lake Metigoshe State Park, Lewis and Clark State Park, and the Turtle River State Park. In addition to camping, these recreational areas offer every kind of outdoor activity imaginable, from cross-country skiing, to horseback-riding, to mountain biking, to scenic hiking, to snowmobiling, to bird-watching.
Native American culture and heritage can also be explored in North Dakota at the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic site, which preserves the history of the Northern Plains Indians. The park features the remains of three Hidatsa villages, a museum that preserves the cultures of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes, and several reconstructed Hidatsa earth lodges. Also, at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, you can learn about the fur trading that took place in the early 19th century. The park’s museum exhibits showcase the trade goods and other artifacts bartered between the Indians and the French and British.
Casinos are also major attractions for North Dakota. High stakes gaming and slots are found at five casinos, all located on reservations: 4 Bears Casino and Lodge in New Town, Prairie Knights Casino and Resort near Mandan, Spirit Lake Casino and Resort near Devils Lake, Sky Dancer Hotel and Casino near Belcourt, and the Dakota Magic Casino about sixty miles from Fargo.
Another highlight of North Dakota is the International Peace Garden at the U.S.-Canada border. This 2,440-acre botanical garden features over 150,000 flower varieties, and is also a venue for night concerts.
Visiting the state capital of Bismarck is a must for any complete tour of North Dakota. Be sure to check out the Art-Deco North Dakota State Capitol building, which towers 19 stories high out of nowhere surrounded by parks, trails, and monuments that trace the state’s history.