NORTH DAKOTA IS home to more than just oil fields and Fargo. From golden prairies to the mighty Missouri River, the Peace Garden state has some incredible outdoor spaces. The state parks are the perfect way to enjoy them.
1. Cross Ranch State Park
Cross Ranch is situated along the Missouri River. Over 16 miles of trails wind through willows, through ravines, up prairie bluffs, and along the water. Canoe rentals are available during the summer, as well as ski and snowshoes in the snowy months. Spend a day fishing for walleye, spotting burrowing owls and migrating whooping cranes, or watching herds of bison in their grassland home in the adjacent Cross Ranch Nature Preserve. If you stay overnight, choose between yurt, cabin, and tipi rentals, or hike to a more secluded backcountry spot to pitch your tent.
2. Beaver Lake State Park
Gentle walking and biking trails at Beaver Lake follow the prairie as it rolls above the lake. Take a dip in the water or seek out chokecherries and juneberries growing along the banks. The park is a good spot for birding; it is home to bitterns, whistling swans, grebes, and cormorants to name a few. Enjoy a rainbow of wildflowers in summer, from scarlet gaura to silverleaf scurfpea. The campsite loop once served as a horse race track, and cabins are also available for rent.
3. Fort Ransom State Park
The park sits at the intersection of the prairies and the hardwood forests in the Sheyenne River Valley, home to various Native American tribes over thousands of years. Kayaks dot the river in the summer while snowmobiles race along forest tracks in the winter. Get yer overalls on for Sodbuster Days at the park’s own farm and learn about Scandinavian homesteading history, or visit a few months later to enjoy fall colors. A completed section of the North Country National Scenic Trail passes through the park – a good option for an overnight trek. For the more glamping-inclined, fully furnished yurts are available.
4. Lake Metigoshe State Park
The park’s eponymous lake derives its name from an Ojibwe phrase for “clear water lake surrounded by oaks,” but the state park actually contains several lakes just like that, as well as streams and wetlands. The entire park, which sits up against the Canadian border, is a wildlife sanctuary and provides a home for moose and deer, as well as smaller critters such as muskrats and mink. Take a sailboat out in the summertime, and bike through the bright yellow and white of a quaking aspen forest in autumn.
5. Grahams Island State Park
Grahams Island sits inside Devil’s Lake in the so-called pothole region of North Dakota, where retreating glaciers left behind ‘potholes’ of wetlands thousands of years ago. Complete with its own bait shop, the park is a renowned fishing spot year-round, hosting tournaments in the summer and ice fishing aficionados in the winter. Glowing mixed-grass prairie and woodlands fill the park’s 1,112 acres, and wild prairie roses, North Dakota’s state flower, dot the land.
6. Lake Sakakawea State Park
The park lies on a peninsula on the southern shore of Lake Sakakawea, which was not always a lake. The Garrison Dam was built on the Missouri River in the 1950s and the reservoir that slowly filled up now covers the remains of old towns, Native American farmland, and even a Lewis and Clark campsite. Today the park operates a full-service marina, campsites and cabins. It is also home to the western trailhead of the North Country National Scenic Trail which, when completed, will connect North Dakota to upstate New York. The park’s website provides an impressive bird checklist for avian enthusiasts, and jackrabbits, pheasant, and fox dart through the shrub lands and prairie.
7. Little Missouri State Park
The rugged badland formations of the Dakotas’ eastern borders define Little Missouri State Park. There is not much road access, but 47 miles of hiking and horseback trails of varying difficulties twist through the rolling, stratified hills. Juniper, sage, and tall grasses decorate the badlands’ colorful buttes. An overnight backpacking trip will let you see more of the park – walk up high ridges and try to spot a golden eagle, or explore the small valleys below. Campsites and RV spots can be reserved, and corrals and wells are available for horse-owners.