Exploring North Dakota

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For most people who don’t actually live in North Dakota, the state is probably known only from the iconic movie “Fargo.” For others it may well be most well-known for its current oil boom.

Neither image is likely to entice visitors to the state, but it does have its attractions.

Exploring North Dakota

North Dakota map

Eastern North Dakota

The far eastern part of the state is defined by the Red River Valley (famous for being flat and ideal for growing sugar beets) and the northward-flowing Red River (famous for its spring floods) that mark the border between North Dakota and Minnesota to the east. This area is also home to two of the state’s largest cities, both of which are home to major colleges and/or universities.

Fargo (and Moorhead, Minnesota)

Fargo is the largest city in North Dakota. In combination with neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, it is the educational and cultural capital of the region. The city is home to three colleges (Concordia College, Moorhead State University, and North Dakota State University); arts, music, and theater groups; museums (including the Plains Art Museum, the Rouke Center for the Arts, and the Hjemkomst Center).

Dining in Fargo-Moorhead

Downtown Fargo has several very good restaurants. None seem to serve food after 9:00 p.m. My favorites include:

  • Both the bar and restaurant and the Hotel Donaldson. The stylish bar serves delicious small plates. The HoDo restaurant features innovative fine dining.
  • Monte’s

Old Broadway is recommended as a bar with great atmosphere. The food is standard bar food, but it does serve a partial menu later into the evening.

A huge number of fast-food and chain restaurants can be found on the west side of Fargo where they spread out from the shopping center.

Lodging in Fargo-Moorhead

Despite being a college town, lodging near the colleges – particularly in Moorhead – is limited. Currently (Feb. 2014) there are no bed and breakfasts or small inns in the metropolitan area. Indeed, there is very little lodging downtown at all. Most hotels are located near I-94 and I-29, with the vast majority located on the west side of Fargo near the shopping mall and assorted chain restaurants.

Options in downtown Fargo options are limited:

  • The Hotel Donaldson is the swankyist hotel in town, with stylish spaces and artsy rooms. It is, of course, the most expensive hotel in town. It used to be a flophouse before a multimillion dollar renovation and in infusion of contemporary art turned it into the hip place to be in Fargo. It looks fun and fabulous and I highly recommend it, if you can afford it. If you do stay there, tell me how you like it, since I’ve never been able to justify the cost.
  • The Howard Johnson’s is rather worn, but the rooms are large, the internet is free, and the staff is welcoming. It’s located adjacent to a liquor store, but I’ve never encountered any problems coming and going in the evening. The hotel does have a restaurant and the rates are low.
  • The Radisson should be the middle option; not as snazzy as the HoDo, but much more upscale than the Howard Johnson’s. Indeed, I used to enjoy staying here. . . until I discovered that it is run by absolute total a-holes. One really bad experience was enough to convince me to switch to the Howard Johnson’s or head out to one of the (nicer and cheaper) chains on the western edge of the city. This hotel is run by a regional hotel group and my recommendation is to avoid it at all costs.

The hotels outside downtown consist of the usual fungible chains and a few more up-scale options. A Priceline deal landed us at the ???????, which was absolutely perfect (except for the boring location). It’s designed as an extended-stay facility and is both highly functional and beautiful.

Fargo-Moorhead posts


Grand Forks

Historically an important business and trading center and home to the sprawling the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks is the third largest city in the state. Despite a devastating flood and fire, the city retains a small historic core of buildings far grander than is expected in a city of this size. While there aren’t a lot of activities for visitors, it’s worth driving through the sprawl that fills the space between the freeway and downtown to get a feel for what this city might have been like early in the 20th century. Unfortunately, the downtown core and adjoining historic residential neighborhood are separated (and protected) from the Red River by high concrete floodwalls. The wall makes the city feel closed-in, completely isolating it from the river that is both the city’s reason for being and the source of its destruction.

Maybe for this reason, there aren’t many restaurants downtown. However, a short walk across the Sorlie Bridge takes you over the Red River to East Grand Forks, Minnesota, where an invisible flood wall protects the city while allowing the tiny downtown to retain its connection to the river.

A walk across the bridge provides both a chance to ponder how high the floodwaters actually get here and leads to several dining options. Recommendations include:

  • Whitey’s is a classic Art Deco diner. The restaurant and its famous horseshoe stainless steel “wonderbar” were completely restored and expanded following the flood in 1997. It’s an institution and it has good food.
  •  The Blue Moose also has good food, which they serve either in a north woods dining room or out on the spacious deck overlooking the river.

 Grand Forks posts


Southeastern North Dakota

To the south of Valley City, we spent a pleasant long weekend in Fort Ransom, a very small town along the Sheyenne River south of Valley City. To the east, the larger city of Lisbon would also make a good base for exploring the area.

Ransom County and Around (2013)


Western North Dakota

The western half of the state includes the capitol, as well as the rugged landscapes beloved by President Teddy Roosevelt.


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