Follow the Lewis & Clark Trail in North Dakots for Golf, Nature and More

By Elizabeth Ulrich on April 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm EST
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Lewis and Clark certainly did not hit the greens when they stopped in North Dakota in the 1800s. But when you take just one look at the 18 pristine golf courses that compose the Lewis & Clark Golf Trail, you can’t help but think that the famed explorers would be mighty tempted to play a few rounds if they returned today.  

For golfers with that same intrepid sense of adventure, there are more than 200 golf holes to explore along the trail that Lewis and Clark, Sakakawea (as the locals call her) and company blazed so long ago. With its emerald fairways and distinctive black coal sand bunkers, Bismarck’s Hawktree Golf Club is one of the greatest finds a golfer can hope for.

Located on the rolling high plains prairie, where rust-colored native grasses sway with the wind that sweeps across the hills, the Hawktree Golf Club is known for its world-class accommodations. In fact, Golf Digest named Hawktree as runner-up on its 2000 list of The Best New Affordable Public Courses in America. And GolfWeek gave Hawktree top billing as the best course in the state.

For downtown dwellers, there is the Tom O’Leary Golf Course, an 18-hole course that sits mere blocks from the state’s capitol building. Bismarck Parks and Recreation District Community Relations Manager Paula Redmann describes the Tom O’Leary Course as Bismarck’s Central Park. Residents can walk, run and rollerblade on the more than two miles of trails that line the perimeter of the park, which also features softball and tennis facilities.

All in all, Bismarck has more than 30 miles of recreational trails to offer residents looking to get fit among the cottonwoods and chirping birds that thrive in the area’s fertile landscape.

If you’d like to escape the bustle of the city, make like Audubon along the Bismarck-Mandan Birding Drive. This collection of three routes is includes a slew of tranquil back roads that are ripe for spotting, studying and photographing the birds of the Northern Great Plains. Here, the quiet stillness of the Missouri River floodplain is only penetrated by the calls of a wide array of shorebirds, songbirds and even the elusive whooping crane.

Looking for a bit more action? Outdoor Life named Bismarck No. 6 on its list of Top 200 Towns for Sportsmen. Whether you’re fishing for walleyes, perch, northern pike or smallmouths, the magazine gave top billing to the Missouri River’s reservoirs, where they assure fisherman that something is always biting.

Once the winter chill makes it way into the Missouri River Valley, you might think that Bismarck resident choose to hibernate. With an average January high of 21 degrees – and an average January low that falls a smidge below zero – it sure is tempting to toss another log on the fire, set the electric blankets ablaze and steep yourself in hot cocoa until the snow thaws. But Redmann says that the fun certainly doesn’t stop when the snowdrifts start building.

“North Dakotans aren’t afraid to get out into it,” Redmann says. “It’s just a matter of how many layers can you put on and what you choose to do to keep those winter months happy and healthy.”

Those choices are vast. From hockey and ice-skating to snowshoeing and sledding, Bismarck has plenty to offer. City crews even work to keep some trails free from snow for joggers and walkers and to groom others for cross-country skiers.

If you’re looking for a little motorized winter fun, well, there’s plenty of opportunity for that, too. According to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, the state has just over 3,400 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. An estimated 235 miles of those trails are in the Bismarck area alone.

 

For those who would rather not brave the winter cold, Bismarck also turns up the heat on its indoor activities. Redmann’s department works closely with local schools to offer free open gym programs throughout the city during the winter. Whether families are shooting hoops or playing a game of tag, Redmann says her department staffs the gyms just so kids and the young at heart can continue to play all year long.

 

Of course, attractions like the Dakota Zoo and the Gateway to Science center are open year round to provide hands-on entertainment for inquiring minds of all ages.

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