The beautiful state of North Dakota might be more known for its friendly people and open hearts. And you might be expecting to read another blog article about beautiful big buildings, exquisite eateries, or glimmering art galleries. But this article is about more than that. It’s not of something tangible or aesthetically beautiful. It is something more of extraordinary experiences, places that touch your soul, and discovering a gratitude for life that is magical! Here are some ideas of family things to do in North Dakota!
During my childhood, my parents raised all 5 of us kids on a budget. My parents worked hard and did their very best. They provided for us according to our immediate needs. There was no such thing as a vacation or fancy gifts because we lived on a budget. However, there is one thing that there was plenty of, and that is love!
Cool Things I Did Growing Up in ND
Although we did not go on any vacations, we did make a few local road trips. Here are a few neat places and things my family and I did at that time.
- Attending a circus event in Jamestown, N.D.
- Medora, N.D. Musical and driving around the South Unit in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (My memory is very vague)
- Visiting the giant Buffalo in Jamestown, N.D.
- Road trip to Montana to visit relatives. (This one’s a big one, it seemed it was a day’s long drive)
My adventure and exploration was limited as a kid. So I am making it a point to seek and explore more of my home state. Since I visit home every year, I am out seeking adventures locally. There are a handful of unique things that make North Dakota not your average ordinary vacation destination. Nope, in fact it is an all around, peaceful, wide open spaces, beautiful and wonderful place to experience!
Enjoy North Dakota Museum and Heritage Center
Mostly, the people who live here are just common folks who work hard, care about others, and enjoy time with family. Speaking of spending time with family, I recently had the opportunity to visit the North Dakota Heritage Center along with my mother and her friend.
We enjoyed learning about the Native Americans that populated the area many years ago, as well as the prehistoric creatures that lived across the plain states and nearby areas.
Some of the fossil displays at the museum are actual findings as the one below with the attempt to preserve it and the dirt it was discovered in.
This exhibit is very interesting as the fossil still has some of the outer layer of skin preserved. The center offers static and rotating exhibits as well as a café inside; The James River Cafe. Check out more information here:
Let’s not forget about street art and other beautiful art pieces around town.
The beautiful Missouri River, downtown Bismarck, open spaces and farmland.
Visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This national preserve is filled with an abundance of rugged beautiful bluffs infused with red and sand colored landscape where you can get up close and personal with roaming wildlife.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit
The North Unit at Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a 14-mile scenic drive through badlands where you might encounter bighorn sheep, elk, and even wild buffalo. This is the perfect destination for those looking for a unique kind of adventure, history, and bison!
According to the Medora 2018 Adventure Guide; Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Medora for a buffalo hunt in September 1883 and fell in love with the land. After his experience in this area, his concern grows by the damage that was being done to the land and wildlife.
*Although you can get quite close to the wild animals, it is recommended to keep your distance as the buffalo are dangerous.
Roosevelt later pursued interests in conservation when he established five national parks, 51 federal bird reservations, four national game reserves and 150 national forests. “I have always said I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.” Says Roosevelt. (Source: Medora 2018 Adventure Guide) There is so much more to see and explore, learn about this gorgeous national park here .
Is the North or South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park better?
There are some differences between the North and South Units in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. The North Unit is slightly out of the way and north of I-94 and is about 70 miles away from the South Unit. You will find significantly less crowds in the North Unit and plenty of peace and quiet.
The South Unit also has a lot to offer with its beautiful scenic road to see incredible prairie landscapes and a glimpse of some of the wildlife. You might be asking what makes Theodore Roosevelt National Park so special. There are many reasons but one is the precious landscapes in this area. And it is a dedication to a man and U.S. President who has done more for the national parks than anyone before; Theodore Roosevelt.
Where are the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
The wild horses in Teddy Roosevelt National Park are some of the best highlights throughout the park. You can see them roaming around in various areas such as Buck Hill. But especially, they have been seen from high points from Painted Canyon.
Medora ND Travel
Medora, North Dakota is a town located at the far Western part of the state and is home to the infamous Medora Musical, and gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. My last visit here was with my parents in 1983 and I remember I did not appreciate it then because I was so young. My parents have attended this musical several times over the years.
This show is live outdoors on a stage setting as 2900 seats surround it. Burning Hills Amphitheater under the beautiful Badlands sky! The performance usually consists of dedication to President Theodore Roosevelts’ time in the Badlands and to the Spirit of the West.
Talented performers come from all over the world along with live horses make this high-energy musical show to be like no other. I look forward to my next visit and seeing this show again in the near the future. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is also located near Medora as well.
There are several other things to do in Medora as well, such as golfing at Bully Pullpit golf course, hiking, biking trails, camping and cabins, horseback riding, and a cowboy cookout. Find your own adventure at Medora.com.
Home to the world’s largest buffalo and the city where I was born. A quaint historical city where historical author writer Louis La’Mour walked the streets and gained inspiration for one of his novels called ‘A Walking Trail’. The Stutsman County Fair has made Jamestown home over the 4th of July for many years and one event I’ve enjoyed as I was growing up.
Jamestown is known for their Stock Car Races, which always makes for great family fun and excitement! You will also find in Jamestown the World’s largest buffalo monument.
Elks Camp Grassick
One of the best summer jobs anyone could ever have! I worked here for three summers along with my sister and we experienced some of the most magical times of our lives. As you drive into the entrance off the gravel dirt road leading to the camp there is an exterior sign that states; “Elk’s Camp Grassick, A Very Special Camping Experience.” This is exactly what it is.
Elk’s Camp Grassick is owned and operated by the Elk’s of North Dakota. This camp serves children and adults with various special needs and disabilities. My experience working at Camp Grassick was extraordinary.
My sister and I worked as Kitchen Staff, but we were still able to participate and be engaged with the camp participants. Here are some of the unique memorable things we experienced while working here:
- Enjoying time with special needs children, witnessing their improvements and making new friends. Learning to smile, laugh, and believe in themselves!
- Participate in Recreation events such as a costume party, seeing the campers dancing, laughing, and having fun.
- Attending the Stutsman County Fair where each staff member was assigned to tend to a camper and assist them so they can too enjoy the fair activities and feel like a regular kid.
- A peaceful canoe ride on Lake Isabel in the evening with other kitchen staff members, who have become lifelong friends.
- Making new friends with counselors, campers, and creating a special friendship with Camp Directors, Dan M. and others.
Learn more about this extraordinary camp and its quest to continue to helping those with special needs improve their lives.
Hometown of Tappen
The small town of Tappen, North Dakota is so small that if you blink as you drive on Interstate 94, you will miss the exit ramp. This town with a population of 250 give or take a few; is the town where I lived, attended school, and played piano for the small white church on the corner street located across from the school (there is only one school).
There were not very many events or activities happening in this small quiet little town, but the one event the entire town looks forward to is the Tappen Demolition Derby.
The Tappen Derby
One of the biggest days of the year, this annual community event brings hundreds of folks to this small town of Tappen. Crowds park their personal vehicles around the circle where they sit and watch junk cars and hot rods crash into one another. Trophies are given to the one left standing, or should I say driving. There are only a few vendor stands; there might be T-shirts and food sold. However, this event was formerly free to attend in the past, but recent years, there is a fee now.
Many folks from all over North Dakota attend this event, and this year’s show did not disappoint. Attendees bring their campers, lawn chairs, or large pick up trucks backed in as they sit and watch the crashing and demolition derby action. This is a great event for affordable, family fun. Here are a few captions.
A great event for family fun. Tappen, North Dakota celebrated its 125th Year Quasquicentennial Anniversary in 2003, and it was quite a celebration. The entire town was looking like something in a picture book of green manicured lawns, gardens and flowers, and tidy as far as I could see. I remember the 100th year Centennial Anniversary and found some old photos in my parents photo albums.
Historical Small Town of Tappen, North Dakota
According to the centennial book, Tappen was a hopping, busy little town. Today, however, it has remained its quiet slow pace with abundant farming, and several of the old time buildings have been either torn down, dilapidated, or removed from Tappen and taken to Bismarck. A replica of a small midwest town called Buckstop Junction, has been re-created in Bismarck, using original old building and structures from various small towns.
Businesses in Tappen
Tappen may be small, but there are a few businesses that help make Tappen a great place to live or stop in and visit this small town USA.
- Roadhouse Bar and Grill: Offering a hometown fun and friendly place to enjoy cocktails and food. Occasionally, they will feature a live band. Roadhouse Facebook page.
- Standard Station: Gas and Auto. (We used to buy candy bars from the station as kids).
- Several Organic Farm businesses
- Tanning N’ More
- Tappen Farm Supply
Life In North Dakota
Of course, some of these businesses are somewhat new and were not around when I lived there. I didn’t appreciate the simple good living I had growing up in North Dakota at the time. I do now, however realize how much I miss those wide open spaces, quiet lazy days, and forever sunsets. Everyone knew everyone; my classmates were like my brothers and sisters.
But I was a small town girl with big time dreams, I had goals to achieve, and it was difficult to leave home. I had the drive and curiosity to go out and experience the world that I was so shielded from as an adolescent. I am happy with the choices I’ve made in my life, I gained lifetime of experience and wisdom that are priceless. And although I miss my family tremendously, I do visit them and see North Dakota a couple times a year, which gives me a break from the busyness of life.
So if you have an opportunity to travel or planning on traveling in the future, you might consider adding North Dakota to your list. Read more here: www.NDtourism.com.
Thank you for reading! Do you miss your home town or state? Comment and let me know where you are from, I would love to hear from you!
Very nice Shannon
Thank you very much!!
Hey Shannon, this is definitely the definitive post on North Dakota! ND is a beautiful and under appreciated state. I have a photographer friend who fell in love with it’s wide-open landscapes years ago, and went back again and again to take photographs. Like you say, the wide open spaces. North Dakota is a great state for road tripping. And I’m plenty close by in Minnesota 🙂
Thank you so very much Cynthia! I would love to see some of your friends’ photos of those ND landscapes! If you ever come over to ND, let me know!
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