North Dakota’s tourism slogan is “Legendary.” That’s how I would describe our visit. We knocked a few things off our travel bucket list, including a stop at the Scandinavian Heritage Park and festival in Minot. We enjoyed a jam-packed trip around North Dakota.
It all started with a visit to our good friend, Dakota Thunder. He’s the world’s largest buffalo and calls Jamestown home. We visited him on last year’s trip, and since we were passing by on a nice sunny day, we felt a return visit was a good idea.
While researching possible roadside attractions to check out along the drive from Watertown, SD, to Bismarck, our first overnight stay of the trip, I found a unique attraction called “Dinosaurs on the Prairie.” I originally thought some guy placed dinosaur models along farm fields. Wrong. The farmer’s family arranged old wheat threshers in a field along a hill. It resembles a march of animals. It’s referred to as “Dinosaurs,” because they’re old machines. It was worth the jaunt off the interstate near Napoleon (not too far from Jamestown).
While driving to find the threshers, Lisa realized the world’s largest Sandhill crane was on the route to Bismarck. “Sandy” stands 40 feet tall in a park just off Interstate 94 at Steele.
Once we finally arrived in Bismarck, we thought we’d check out the state capital’s downtown area. As most people know, we are fans of downtown areas. Interesting architecture, art and good food can usually be found there. Bismarck didn’t disappoint. The buildings ranged from early 1900s to more contemporary. With autumn leaf color changes well underway there, I loved a building that combined nice architecture with a reflection of the leaves against its glass exterior.
Bismarck residents have recently launched public art projects that brightens downtown. The first project features painting electrical boxes. Instead of bland green or gray boxes, paintings can feature ballerinas or sunflowers among the art.
The second project features alley art. Oh, how we love alley art. About a dozen murals cover wall panels or columns. They range from recognizing great public school graduates to the famous Lakota Chief Sitting Bull. We loved every piece and can’t wait until we get back to see more alley art.
Since we enjoy downtown restaurants, we visited The Blarney Stone Irish Pub. The restaurant actually serves Irish food. I had corned beef and creamed cabbage. Lisa opted for a sandwich. The food was excellent.
After a long day or traveling and sightseeing, we retired to our room at the Ramada. It’s been a while since we’ve stayed at a Ramada. The hotel had two floors. It appeared to be an older hotel, but it had good service. It was well located, a short distance off the main streets and a few minutes from attractions.
Our Bismarck visit included a trip to one of the best pumpkin patches in the nation. Papa’s Pumpkin Patch has been recognized by the Travel Channel and other national publications as one of the top pumpkin patches in the United States.
It’s easy to understand why. The pumpkin patch offers an enjoyable visit, which can last an hour or so or stretch throughout the day. Papa’s Pumpkin Patch appeals to everyone. During our visit, we observed couples as well as families being entertained by attractions, including a hay bale maze, corn crib, tractor tire course and a prairie grass maze.
Papa’s has plenty of pumpkins of all sizes available throughout the grounds. We noticed the pumpkins that are spread out seem to create mazes. Papa’s offers more than a dozen varieties. Visitors are able to walk among the pumpkins and look for the perfect future jack-o-lantern. We loved the layout. Families with wagons were loading up several pumpkins. One preteen was carrying a pumpkin that was bigger than a basketball and probably weighted several pounds. On weekends, people can take a hay rack ride out to the field and pick their own pumpkins.
About a 30-minute drive north of Bismarck is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan. The Corps of Discovery spent their first winter of the two-year expedition (1804-06) at Fort Mandan. The expedition involved exploring the Missouri River area to the Pacific Ocean in an effort to help the young United States develop trade routes and relationships with Native American tribes.
The interpretive center has to be one of the best we’ve seen. The history of the expedition and its North Dakota period is presented well through the use of exhibits and displays. Items from that era are highlighted, as well as things “discovered” by the men along the expedition, including the first prairie dog seen by them as well as buffalo hide.
Did you know that dinosaurs once roamed the state? From prehistoric bison to triceratops, North Dakota has been the site of some interesting archaeological digs. The fossils are one of the main galleries people can visit at the State Heritage Center in Bismarck.
The galleries feature the state’s history involving agriculture, immigration, energy and military. One section focuses on steps the state has taken to become more “green,” or environmentally responsible. It’s located in the Governor’s Gallery.
Moving on from our two days in the Bismarck area, we headed a couple hours north to Minot. The drive was nice along a state highway. We passed the Garrison Dam. We stopped and checked out the view of Lake Sakakawea. It was beautiful. It’s one of the three largest man-made reservoirs in the United States. It is more than 175 miles long and stretches west to Williston.
Minot is home to the Dakota Territory Air Museum. The museum, which opened in 1986, features two buildings highlighting the history of airplanes and the military in the Minot area. The main building features a replica of an early plane from the days of the Wright brothers. Military equipment is also featured in the primary building.
A second hangar features World War II aircraft. The planes actually fly and are hosted by the museum for the Texas Legends flying group. Aircraft in the WWII hangar can be rotated out. We saw a variety of planes, from a British spitfire to a P51 Mustang, used by the Americans.
The museum also has a half dozen aircraft outside on display. Three of the planes have served at Minot Air Force Base.
While I love checking out aircraft, I was truly excited to visit the Scandinavian Heritage Park and then the Norsk Hostfest (pronounced hoose-fest). The heritage park highlights the history of the five nations that make up Scandinavia – Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden.
The park features statues of famous Scandinavians, including Leif Erikson, Hans Christian-Andersen and Sondre Norheim (father of modern skiing).
A replica of a Norwegian Stave church stands at the center of the heritage park. The Stave is based on the one located in Gol.
A 30-foot tall Dala (dawla) horse was one of my favorite stops at the park. My dad was Swedish, and I am proud of his heritage. The Dala was designed as a child’s toy, but it has become a national symbol of Sweden. Dalas are brightly colored.
The Hostfest is an annual celebration of Scandinavian culture at the state fairgrounds. Thousands of people from around the world visit the event. We took in music, dances, vendor exhibits and other attractions. People dress in Scandinavian attire and roam the festivities.
The food is delicious. We tried some Norwegian potato dumplings and a “Viking” (meatball on a stick). Man, both were so good! We also had some Rommegrot (Norwegian porridge).
After spending a few hours taking in all things Scandinavian, we headed to Souris River Brewing. Since it was dinner time, I tried the poutine burger. It featured gravy and cheese curds on the burger, with a side of fries. Traditional poutine had the mean and curds over a bed of fries. The burger was good.
Lisa and I each tired a beer. I had a nice pale ale, and she had a stronger one. She preferred mine. I thought both beers were tasty.
Our hotel turned out to be the Hostfest’s official hotel. The Sleep Inn and Suites is connected to the Dakota Square Mall. The hotel is a conference-sized facility. Our room was nice. It had a nice design, plenty of outlets and a great workstation (all important to us when we travel).
The hotel offers an excellent hot breakfast buffet featuring scrambled eggs and sausage. There are other options, including oatmeal, fruit, toast and bagels.
The Sleep Inn and Suites is home to an indoor waterpark and arcade. The park features a water slide and a couple of different pool options.
We had a great visit to the Bismarck and Minot areas (and places in-between). We highly recommend visiting North Dakota and its cities, including Bismarck and Minot.
Disclaimer: Thank you to North Dakota Tourism for arranging complimentary stays at the Bismarck Ramada and Minot Sleep Inn and Suites, as well as admission to the Norsk Hostfest. However, all opinions and views are ours.