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 colleges, arts, music, and theater groups; museums (including the Plains Art Museum, the Rouke Center for the Arts, and the Hjemkomst Center).

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.

grasslands with buffalo and rainbows

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