48 Hours in North Dakota
This summer, take a road trip through the scenic Badlands of North Dakota.
Halfway between the Rockies and the Great Lakes, North Dakota is often overlooked for its neighbouring states. But if you’re looking to plan a summer vacation that’s a little off the beaten path, the Peace Garden State should be at the top of your list as a home to history, hikes and miles of scenic drives.
Here’s a 48-hour itinerary that will have you coming back to North Dakota again next year.
Fly into Bismarck Airport, where you can rent a car and hit the road west — you’ll have plenty of time to explore the capital city later. Take I-94 to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The state’s only national park is about a two-hour drive away.
Start your visit at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center for a spectacular first impression of the Badlands. Perched atop a canyon stretching far into the horizon, there’s no better introduction to North Dakota’s unique geography.
Once you’ve seen it from above, you’ll want to explore it all on foot. Pick the trail of your choice and get to it! With miles of hiking and cycling trails, there’s no time to waste and no better way to familiarize yourself with the beautiful Badlands. Biking within the park is limited to established roads. Mountain biking is not allowed within Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
A trail or two later, you’ll no doubt be wiped. Hop back in the car and take the scenic loop drive towards nearby Medora — your home for the night. Speckled with pullouts and interpretive signs explaining the park’s historical and natural features, the stunning route is a perfect way to get your bearings for day two.
In the meantime, enjoy your night in the heart of the Badlands. Small-town Medora is straight out of the 1800s, complete with Old West-themed horseback rides and classic saloons. The town isn’t all stuck in centuries past — you can spend the evening at modern museums, or catch a show at the Burning Hills Amphitheatre before resting your head at one of the comfortable local lodging options.
You’ll no doubt want to make the most of day two back in the beautiful national park. Consider renting bicycles so that you can cover more ground quickly before you have to think about heading home.
When it is time to leave the park behind, take Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway from Dickinson back to Bismarck-Mandan, where you’ll find a few final things to explore before leaving.
For starters, take a self-guided tour of the North Dakota State Capitol. The 19-story art deco building, pushing 100 years old, is also home to the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum. With exhibits ranging from dinosaurs and space suits to local historical artifacts, there’s something for everyone as you wait to board your flight home.
Of course, now that you’ve gotten a taste, you’ll want to go back again next summer to see more — like Fort Abraham Lincoln, On-a-Slant Indian Village, and Fort Ransom State Park.