What Is North Dakota Known For?

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Forming the northern half of the Dakotas region, the colourful state of North Dakota is a land rich in beauty, wildlife, natural resources, diverse cultures and a few rapidly expanding urban areas. It has a little bit of everything in one of the undiscovered parts of the United States. Inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years and settled by European fur traders, North Dakota’s growth and economic success has always been tied to the state’s vast natural resources, which include oil, natural gas, gold and even honey.

More than just South Dakota’s northern sibling, the state affectionately known as the “Peace Garden State” has a series of unique attractions and landmarks, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. From the large influx of Scandinavians and Germans to North Dakota during the turn of the 20th century to the state’s five federally recognised native tribes, the Peace Garden State is sure to wow with its colourful landscapes, unique culinary delights, traditional cultures and wide open spaces. Here’s what North Dakota is famous for.

What Is North Dakota Known For?

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1- Its Rugged Badlands

Theodore Rosevelt National Park
Its rugged Badlands is what North Dakota is known for.

Straddling the western slopes of North Dakota is the state’s Badlands region, which is a unique set of landscapes renowned for their harsh conditions, desolate appearance and almost otherworldly geologic features.

Distinct from the more famous Badlands region of South Dakota, North Dakota’s Badlands are less dramatic, with more greenery and foliage dotting the captivating landscape.

Once roamed by prehistoric beasts, Native Americans and early European explorers, the Badlands today offers miles upon miles of hiking trails available to outdoor adventure seekers keen to explore on foot.

2- Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Rosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a natural area North Dakota is known for.

Sandwiched between the Great Plains to the east and the rugged Badlands to the west, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an impressive natural region in North Dakota, encompassing several attractions within its borders.


Home to large populations of bison, prairie dogs, elk, coyotes, eagles, hawks and falcons, the national park’s most popular feature is the Maltese Cross Cabin, built by Bill Merrifield and Sylvane Ferris.

It which housed Theodore Roosevelt during his visit to North Dakota before his presidential run.

Roosevelt also returned to North Dakota several times seeking peace and solitude, commissioning the construction of Elkhorn Ranch in the national park along the banks of the Missouri River, roughly 35 miles (56 km) outside Medora.

3- International Peace Garden

Straddling the national border between the United States and Canada, the International Peace Garden is a one-of-a-kind landmark in North Dakota which was established in 1932 as a symbol of the two North American countries’ peaceful diplomatic relationship.

The garden spills over into parts of southern Manitoba and allows for free movement between the two countries, with more than 100,000 people stopping by this nearly 2,400-acre (971 ha) outdoor space every year.

Adopted as the official nickname of North Dakota and added to the state’s vehicle registration plates, the International Peace Garden is synonymous with North Dakota.

There are dazzling flower displays and various other interesting attractions worth checking out within the International Peace Garden.

4- The Enchanted Highway

The 32-mile-long (51 km) Enchanted Highway between the town of Regent and the I-94 near Gladstone, is a unique attraction in the Midwest where road trippers and curious travellers can see a collection of some of the largest scrap metal sculptures in the world.

Constructed by sculptor Gary Greff and placed along sections of the relatively short stretch of highway, these scrap metal sculptures reach heights of up to 110 feet (34 m) with the biggest weighing more than 78 tons.

About a dozen statues can be seen along the Enchanted Highway, with many more set to be unveiled at a later date, making it one of the best free attractions to stop by in North Dakota and a cultural mainstay in the Peace Garden State.

5- Native American Tribes

Home to five federally recognised Native American tribes, North Dakota is a Midwest destination steeped in Native American culture and traditions, with tribes such as the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Spirit Lake Nation are all within the borders of modern-day North Dakota.

About 31,000 Native Americans call North Dakota home, or about 5% of the state’s total population, making North Dakota among the top ten states with the largest percentage of Native American inhabitants in the nation.

One of the best ways to experience North Dakota’s native traditions is by attending the annual United Tribes International Powwow, which draws more than 1,500 drummers and dancers from over 70 Native American tribes across the United States and Canada to showcase their unique cultures.

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6- The Geographical Centre Of North America

The town of Rugby in north-central North Dakota was placed on the proverbial map virtually overnight when in 1931 the US Geological Survey deemed a spot just outside town to be the geographic centre of the North American continent.

Locals were quick to erect a large 15-foot-tall (4.5 m) obelisk commemorating the town’s achievement along US Highway 2, greeting motorists with the town’s biggest claim to fame.

Despite numerous challengers to Rugby’s claim, the town and its stone obelisk remain an immensely popular roadside attraction in North Dakota and among the top spots to visit in this stunning state.

7- Fargo

Fargo Street Signage In USA
Fargo is a city that North Dakota is known for because of the TV series.

Fargo is the largest city in North Dakota population-wise and a powerful economic, cultural and entertainment hub in the Peace Garden State, with a wide array of attractions.

The city started as a steamboat stopping point along the Red River during the late 1800s and was officially settled in 1871 as “Centralia” before being formally renamed Fargo in honour of William George Fargo.

Fargo was the “Gateway to the West” during the late 19th century, as well as the Midwest’s “divorce capital” because of its high divorce rates aided by lenient divorce laws.

Few Midwest towns and cities able to compete with Fargo’s colourful tales.

North Dakota’s largest city is home to the Hjemkomst Center, the Red River Zoo, the campus of North Dakota State University and the Fargo Air Museum.

8- Scandinavian And German Roots

Following the Louisiana Purchase and the discovery of its riches, European immigrants flooded in their droves to modern-day North Dakota, especially Scandinavian arrivals, who between 1892 and 1905 accounted for nearly half of all immigrants in the state.

Large swaths of Swedes, Danes and Finns brought with them their unique cultures, traditions and customs that visitors can appreciate through North Dakota’s architectural marvels, culinary specialities and community get-togethers.

Scandinavians weren’t the only major European ethnic group who settled the prairies of North Dakota in large numbers, with more than 50% of the state’s residents claiming German roots.

These two European ethnic groups have left a lasting legacy.

9- Oil

North Dakota Oil Pump Jack Fracking Crude Extraction Machine
Oil is what North Dakota known for producing.

First discovered in North Dakota in 1951, oil didn’t take off in the Peace Garden State until the early 2000s, when the discovery of massive oil deposits at the Parshall Oil Field was discovered and drilled.

This was the start of a six-year-long oil rush that turned North Dakota into one of the top three largest oil producing states in the nation.

The newfound riches of the state’s oil-drilling economy fuelled the state’s growth, both culturally and economically, as the boom attracted thousands of new residents to North Dakota and reduced the state’s unemployment levels to the lowest in the nation.

So dramatic was the sudden influx of wealth into North Dakota that numerous films and documentaries have been produced about it, with oil arguably being the single most impactful discovery ever made in North Dakota.

10- Honey

Honey Bee Is Collecting Pollen On Flower
Honey is another thing North Dakota is known for.

North Dakota is renowned for its vast gold and oil deposits, however, one of the state’s most lucrative exports is honey, with the state responsible for producing more honey than any other state in the nation.

North Dakota’s bee farms produce around 40 million pounds (18,144 tons) of honey annually and are actively supported by the Apiary Program, which manages the registering and licensing of beekeepers across the state’s beehives.

If you’ve tasted a batch of honey produced in the US, chances are it was sourced in North Dakota, making it one of the state’s biggest claims to fame.

11- Bison

Buffalo At Sunset
Bison is what North Dakota is known for.

A symbolic and truly iconic feature of the Prairie and American West is the bison, a large and furry bovine also commonly referred to as a buffalo, which can be found roaming the open plains of the central United States and up north across the Canadian border.

North Dakota’s large and sparsely developed tracts of land serve as the perfect habitat for bison, which were saved from the brink of extinction due to widespread overhunting during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today, bison numbers are once again stable and have returned to roaming the open plains of North Dakota, with visitors to the Peace Garden State bound to come across these majestic animals in popular outdoor tourist spots such as the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

12- The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Landing Of Lewis And Clark Expedition
Lewis And Clark Expedition is one of the top things North Dakota is known for.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was a defining moment in American history launched by then-President Thomas Jefferson to map the newly-acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase, resulting in the large-scale settlement of all the territories west of the Missouri River.

Named after expedition leader Captain Meriwether Lewis and his Second Lieutenant William Clark, the expedition party where tasked with crossing the Continental Divide and reaching the Pacific Ocean on the West Coast, setting off from the shores of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1804.

The party passed through what is today North Dakota twice during their expedition, the first occurring during the first leg of the journey in 1804 and the second when the party returned in 1806, laying the cornerstone for what would become the greatest period of discovery and exploration in American history.

13- The Chateau de Mores

Completed by the Marquis de Mores in 1883, the Chateau de Mores was an exquisite summertime hunting retreat for the Marquis and his family during the three years they spent in North Dakota.

The Marquis and his family moved back to France in 1886 following a string of failed business ventures throughout the Dakotas, leaving the chateau in the hands of its caretakers to be run as a boarding house.

The grandiose 26-room, two-story wood-frame manor was sold to the state of North Dakota in 1936 and converted into a museum, which is open to the public showcasing the chateau in its heyday with period furnishings, historic artefacts and a permanent exhibit about the Marquis himself.

14- North Dakota Heritage Center

Situated in downtown Bismarck, the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum is the largest museum facility in the entire state, boasting an impressive lineup of permanent and rotating exhibits and displays for visitors to look at.

The centre officially opened its doors to the public in 1981 before undergoing a major expansion effort in 2014, which added an extra 127,000 square feet (11,798 m2) of exhibition space in time for North Dakota’s 125th anniversary of statehood.

Among the centre’s collection of artefacts and items on display is a rare example of a mummified Edmontosaurus, the State Archives, gemstones and more than 12,000 years of human history in North Dakota.

15- Its Unique Capitol Building

Bismarck is the official capital city of North Dakota and is home to the North Dakota State Capitol Building, a magnificent 21-story Art Deco-style structure which was built between 1932 and 1934 to house the Peace Garden State’s judicial and legislative branches of government.

The capitol building replaced the state’s original capitol after it burned down in 1930 and was designed by architects William F. Kurke and Joseph Bell DeRemer, with artist Edgar Miller entrusted with the interior and façade of the grand capitol.

Nicknamed the “Skyscraper on the Prairie”, the capitol is the tallest building in North Dakota and boasts a myriad of attractions that make it unique, including an observation deck, an arboretum hiking trail and two public parks adjacent to the capitol.

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Jessica Shaw
Jessica Shaw is a storyteller who has lived in four U.S. states - Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and Illinois - and has visited many others. She loves history and nature and is a big fan of road tripping.