History played a large role during our visit to Bismarck. North Dakota’s capital offered an interesting look into Native American history, as well as the final days of George Armstrong Custer. We capped our visit with a look at the beauty of the Missouri River.
We started our Bismarck visit with a trip to the state capitol building. State capitols have become must-visits for us. You can learn a lot about a state’s history with a capitol visit.
The state capitol building is 19 stories tall. It’s currently the tallest building in North Dakota and is known as the “Skyscraper on the Prairie.” Most of the state’s agencies and departments are located in the building. The capitol is one of only four skyscraper capitols in the United States. Nebraska, Louisiana and Florida are the others.
The original state capitol was built in 1883-84. However, it was destroyed by a fire in 1930. The building housed all of the state government initially. But, as the years passed and the need for more staff grew, the building was expanded. Eventually, new buildings were built on the state grounds.
The capitol was conservatively designed. The only marble you’ll see is on a wall near the first level. It provides a beautiful backdrop to the area.
The capitol’s first floor is home to the legislative chamber, governor’s office and the state Supreme Court. The governor’s office was closed during our visit, but the door was very nondescript. Unless, the guide told you it was the governor’s office, you wouldn’t have noticed.
The legislative chamber is divided into the House of Representatives and the state Senate. The House has 94 members. The Senate has 47 members.
The Supreme Court has five justices, with one serving as the chief justice.
The capitol has an observation deck on the 18th floor, which offers a great view of the area. Visitors are no longer allowed to stand outside. Someone apparently ruined it for others by throwing things at people on the ground.
Following our visit to the state capitol, we checked out the history at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. It tells a couple of stories important to the history of North Dakota.
The Mandan Native American tribe has been a fixture in the region for centuries. A village from the late 1500s was discovered on the banks of the Missouri River. The village – named On-a-Slant Village – consisted of hundreds of earth lodges built on a slope along the river shore.
The state created six replica lodges. Visitors can check out a couple of the lodges on a tour. The tour guide explains what life was like during the time period. It’s a very interesting tour.
Fort Lincoln was the last home for Army Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. He and his wife lived at the fort 1872-76. He led his 7th Calvary troops from Fort Lincoln to what would be his final battle at the Little Bighorn River in Montana.
The Custers’ house is the third version of the original design. While Custer never lived in the house currently on display, it was designed on the second house, which replaced the first one following a fire. Some of the items inside the house were owned by the Custers. Other pieces are from the time period, and were likely items in the house.
Atop a bluff overlooking the Missouri River is the site of the original fort. Fort McKeen was established for the military to provide protection for the railroad workers building tracks in the area. Block houses are scattered around the site. You can get a great view of the river valley from the buildings.
Following our day of history class, we sought out dinner downtown. We prefer to try local places. We settled on Fireflour Pizza. It is a Neapolitan restaurant. We each had our own individual pizzas. Not having lunch will create a little more hunger come dinner time.
The pizza was delicious. Lisa had the Uptown, which featured provolone, goat cheese, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, red onion,red pepper flakes, arugula, walnuts and evoo. I had the Iowa, which was topped with prosciutto, arugula, crushed tomato, fresh Mozzarella cheese and sea salt. Amazingly good.
Following dinner, we headed to the river for a late evening riverboat cruise on the Lewis and Clark Riverboat. The boat departs from a small dock at Keelboat Park. Arrive early as you’ll want to check out the park, as well as Steamboat Park, just a short walk away.
Steamboat Park has a steamboat replica on the river shore. It had a grill on the deck, so my guess is you can have cookouts aboard it. That would be fun.
The public art on display was amazing. A piece called “Reflection” was created by a group of Native American artists. It had an eagle with its wings surrounding a mirrored ball. The piece shows off the views of the area.
Keelboat Park has a beautiful piece – Thunderbird. The sculpture has four heads of the Thunderbird consisting of a head and talons. The piece was dedicated in 2004.
Thunderbirds traditionally mark the power of thunder of lightning. The sculpture – 12 feet tall and 3- feet wide – reflect that belief with the birds emerging from thunder clouds. In their eyes, you can see lightning bolts.
A display highlights Lewis and Clark “exploring” along the Missouri greets visitors to Keelboat Park. A keel boat is also on display at the park.
Since our visit to the park was to take a river cruise, we decided it was time to board the Lewis and Clark. We had a fun time on the cruise. I pointed out to Lisa how much cleaner the river is up north. It hasn’t caught all the grit and grime that the Missouri does as it makes it way south to Sioux City and Omaha.
At times, it seemed like we were on a large lake with the view of the water. It was truly a majestic trip up and down the river.
Following our day of history and fun in Bismarck, it was time to settle in for the night. We stayed at the Hampton Hotel. We’ve stayed at Hamptons before, so that helped us determine a level of expectation – high.
We like how hotels have made the lobby area a more welcoming environment. You don’t hesitate to maybe grab a drink and sit in front of the fireplace and enjoy some downtime.
The Bismarck Hampton has the new scanner room cards. You no longer insert the key card into the door lock. Instead, you hold the card against the door handle and the green light comes on to open the door. It is much more convenient.
We enjoyed the room. The bed and chairs were comfortable. The work space was great. The room had plenty of outlets for the electronics and chargers.
The Hampton has an outstanding breakfast. You had your choice of eggs and sausage, waffles and biscuits and gravy. We even had a bowl of fruit to start the day.
We had a great time in Bismarck. There were a few more things we would have liked to check out, but our time was limited on this trip. We definitely could plan a return trip.
We recommend checking out Bismarck and its offerings. It would be a great weekend destination, maybe even a three-day weekend.
For more information on the Bismarck and Mandan area, please visit:
Disclaimer: Thank you to the North Dakota Tourism Division for organizing the visit. Thank you to the Bismarck visitors bureau for the complimentary stay at the Hampton Hotel and the complimentary river boat cruise tickets. However, all opinions and views are ours.