Visitors come to North Dakota for the view but stay because of the authentic lifestyle.
If you are looking to plant roots in a year-round destination that offers picturesque scenery, plenty of outdoor activities and great people, look no further than North Dakota.
Although winter gets most of the attention, North Dakota really does have four seasons, including warm summers perfect for water adventures and outdoor concerts and mild spring and fall seasons made for exploring a variety of terrains via extensive parks and trails.
“Most people that come here for the first time are curious,” says Sara Otte Coleman, director of the Tourism and Marketing Division for the North Dakota Department of Commerce. “They don’t know much about us, they’ve never met anyone from North Dakota, and they’re curious to see what the state offers. Most people are surprised by the vast horizon, gorgeous sunsets and sunrises.”
How many ways are there to explore the great outdoors in North Dakota? We’ve got a few suggestions for every season.
Fall Is for Football
Fall in North Dakota is mild. The first frost sets in about mid-September, signaling the end of the summer season. However, days are still pleasantly warm, and the nights are cool, creating the perfect opportunity to tailgate at a college football game or spend an afternoon visiting a pumpkin patch at Papa’s Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck or Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch in Emerado. It’s also the perfect time to visit farmer’s markets before they close for the season.
“Fall is my absolute favorite time of year,” says Coleman. “We’re known for our outdoor activities and football — it is a big deal here. So many people enjoy tailgating at NDSU, which are reigning champs in their division.”
Hunting also is a big draw for visitors to North Dakota.
“We have a tremendous outdoor resource on the hunting side,” says Coleman. “We’ve got so much land and great access for hunters.”
North Dakota Comes Alive in Winter
It’s no secret that it can snow a lot in North Dakota — indeed, visitors and residents alike look forward to this time of year to enjoy winter sports.
“Many of our communities convert their downtowns into active, engaged areas for winter,” Coleman says. “In downtown Fargo, there is an outdoor skating rink. Other communities have added sledding hills. Many golf courses and hiking trails transition into cross-country ski locations.”
Curling, a recreational sport enjoyed by people of all ages, has quickly become a favorite activity in North Dakota.
North Dakota is also a hockey hub, and there are many opportunities to hit the ice or watch a game indoors or outdoors.
“We’re a huge hockey state. UND has a championship hockey program, and they play in an arena that is one of the best in the world,” says Coleman. “The Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks is a beautiful destination.”
Spring Is for the Birds (And the Fish)
North Dakota is nestled in the middle of the Central Flyway, making it a top destination for millions of birds.
“We have 63 niche-focused wildlife refuges in North Dakota — more than any state,” Coleman says. “Birding is a popular activity, and there are plenty of opportunities for all levels. The spring is the perfect time to explore birds and other wildlife.”
Also known for its fishing, North Dakota offers direct access to vibrant lakes and The Missouri River — the state’s most valuable and readily available water source.
“The Missouri River system offers a world-class walleye fishery, and it’s easily accessible in many cities,” Coleman says. “You can go north or slightly south and do some great fishing. We also have two great lakes for fishing — Lake Sakakawea, which is part of the Missouri River system and Devils Lake, our largest natural body of water.”
Hiking is another year-round activity in many parts of North Dakota, but it’s optimal during the spring season. And visitors have plenty of paths to choose from. Whether you opt for picturesque scenery at Theodore Roosevelt National Park or prefer the rugged terrain of the Badlands via the challenging Maah Daah Hey Trail, now’s the time to get out and spot all that’s blooming.
“The snow is usually off the trails by spring, and you can see all the wildflowers and crocuses — the prairies are coming back to life. We have excellent hiking statewide regardless of the season.”
If biking is more your speed, you’ll find plenty of accessible recreational routes in many communities — bikers can pedal slowly along river bottoms and grasslands or climb steep grades.
Summertime and the (Lake) Living Is Easy
Summers in North Dakota are delightful — the days are warm, sometimes even hot, but nights are cool enough for a restful sleep. Some of the best summer activities are on the lake.
“Lake Sakakawea is a beautiful reservoir in central North Dakota. It’s not a traditional wooded lake or a mountain lake; it’s a hybrid,” says Coleman. “There are resorts where you can rent paddle boards or kayaks, especially in places like New Town, located at the heart of Lake Sakakawea on Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. They’re known for their hunting, fishing spots and casinos that are constantly hosting events. The scenery is beautiful, and there’s always something to do outdoors. You can experience the lake and rich history, culture and entertainment.”
“This area is full of sandbars, boats, pontoons, restaurants, great attractions and a river boat,” says Coleman. “You can jet ski, kayak or paddle board along the Missouri River — this is a must-see destination during the summer in North Dakota.”
And, if you’re hoping to attend a live concert or theater production, there are great facilities throughout North Dakota. For example, the Burning Hills Amphitheatre in Medora is the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and during the summer, it hosts the Medora Musical, Tuesday through Sunday.
But what’s the No. 1 reason to visit North Dakota, regardless of the season? The view.
“Our scenic views are endless,” Coleman says. “If you’re looking over the Missouri River, you can see for 50 miles. Especially in times of stress — or coming from a crowded place — people appreciate that.”
This article was sponsored by the North Dakota Department of Commerce.