Often overlooked, North and South Dakota are full of history, beauty, and a welcoming atmosphere. Here's your ultimate guide to a road trip through the Dakotas.
Often overlooked by those who aren’t familiar with the magnificence of the area, North and South Dakota offer a road trip travel experience that feels like stepping through a portal in time. They were granted statehood on the same day in 1889, but each of the Dakotas has preserved its own individual heritage. If you plan to embark on a road trip through the Dakotas, make sure you add the following sites to your must-see list:
According to Kim Schmidt, Public & Media Relations Manager for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, 22 million people visit the state each year and spend more than $3 billion. Schmidt believes she understands the draw. “It starts first and foremost with the people. There is genuine hospitality, and everyone is so welcoming.” Start your road trip by traveling from east to west along the I-94 corridor in North Dakota.
Made famous by the Coen brothers’ movie “Fargo,” this city is the most populous in the state and has a lot to offer. A mix of old and new, the sights in Fargo include the Plains Art Museum, the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, and Red River Market. If you’re a beer lover, you will be in good company in the city. The growing community of craft beer brewers began creating specialty brews long before the craft beer fad officially swept the rest of the country. Nearly every bar and restaurant in Fargo has at least one locally crafted beer on tap.
Known as the “Pride of the Prairie,” Jamestown is famous for its hospitality and wide variety of entertainment venues. For a taste of the Old West, make the trip to the National Buffalo Museum, an organization formed in 1991 with the goal of starting a herd of buffalo that could graze nearby. Also check out the collection of original 19th century buildings and antiques at Frontier Village.
The state capital is a great stop for anyone who wants to learn more about the state. With plenty of walking trails, parks, and monuments on the grounds of the capitol, you can enjoy a leisurely tour outside before going inside the tallest building in North Dakota (241 feet). Other not-to-be-missed sites include the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, Fort Abraham Lincoln, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
Medora/Theodore Roosevelt National Park
For a taste of the 19th century with all the modern amenities of the 21st, visit Medora. Schmidt calls it a “small cowboy town,” and Medora lives up to the description. Located at the base of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the town hosts the Medora Musical, a performance that bills itself as “The Greatest Show in the West!”
Beyond the entertainment options in town, outdoor opportunities are abundant in the national park. Camping, hiking, horseback riding, and discovery programs for kids are all available. The Maah Daah Hey Trail features 144 miles of paths for horseback riding, biking, and hiking. Finally, don’t leave town without checking out the Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Once you’re past Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’re officially in the Badlands, a barren plateau known as much for its stark beauty as its inhospitable terrain. “What I love the most about the Badlands is the way reds, golds, and greens come to life,” Schmidt says. Watch the colors change as you head south along the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway toward South Dakota.
Kenin and Lauren Bassart, Texas residents who gave up their careers to roam the U.S. and record their experiences in a popular blog called The Constant Rambler, have made the trip to South Dakota several times. According to Kenin, there is a lot to appreciate about South Dakota. Navigate this portion of your road trip from west to east.
Spearfish Canyon is an isolated, creek-carved gorge that could only be reached by horseback until 1893. The 1,000-foot canyon walls make up some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the Black Hills, leaving you amazed at the durability of the people who settled in the area.
Known primarily for its annual motorcycle rally, Sturgis is also notable for the mining-era buildings that line Main Street and nearby Bear Butte State Park with plenty of fishing, boating, and hunting opportunities. The park offers an amazing bird’s eye view of four states.
This is the area of South Dakota that keeps travelers like the Bassarts coming back for more. “To us, the Badlands are an absolute must see,” Kenin says. Not only will you find Badlands National Park just east of Rapid City, but Mount Rushmore National Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Custer State Park are all within easy driving distance.
On the edge of the Badlands on the way to Sioux Falls, a town called Wall has “one of the world’s most well-known roadside stops,” Wall Drug Store. The popular tourist spot features shopping, food, a donut factory, a Western art gallery, and even a 6-foot jackalope. Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is a little farther down the road in Mitchell, and Porter Sculpture Park is located near Sioux Falls.
The spectacular sights and history of the Dakotas offer a one-of-a-kind experience for a bucket list adventure. Take your camera and share your amazing photos with us on Instagram.