“It was here that the romance of my life began.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Roosevelt’s love of North Dakota endured long after his years of hunting, ranching and exploring the area as a young man. Something about the wide-open spaces, dazzling night skies and rugged terrain of the Badlands, touched a chord deep within his soul. He never forgot his early forays into the territory and made it a point to revisit frequently, right up until his death in 1918. It's still possible to enjoy many of the same charms Roosevelt experienced so here's how to plan a visit and capture some of the magic for yourself.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
No visit to the Roughrider State would be complete without a stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Roosevelt is well-known for his role in creating and conserving our national parks but this park is thus named because he actually lived here. He settled on the banks of the Little Missouri River which today winds its way through 70,000 acres of protected wilderness. Wildlife is as abundant as it was back then as herds of buffalo, wild horses, elk, bighorn sheep and others, outnumber visitors almost any day of the week.
The park can easily be explored by car, bike, on foot, or even on horseback. Whether you’re keen on getting your first glance at the Badlands’ buttes at Painted Canyon Overlook, exploring the remains of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, catching an evening showing of the Medora Musical, or driving the 35-mile scenic loop, know that the awe you feel is a mere echo of the man's namesake.
Away from street lamps and city lights, the countryside’s overwhelming blackness is tempered by innumerable stars and the moon’s glowing orb. The beauty of North Dakota skies weren’t lost on Theodore Roosevelt when he visited in the late 1800s. “In the soft springtime the stars were glorious in our eyes each night before we fell asleep,” he wrote. Despite the population boom and the ever-growing reaches of artificial light, North Dakota still offers great stargazing. One of the best spots is at Theodore Roosevelt National Park during their annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival. The three-day celebration is held every September and offers evening star-gazing, presentations, rocket building and launching, solar system hikes, and a sky photography workshop. Grab your telescope and prepare to be awestruck by millions of twinkling stars. (For other amazing stargazing experiences in the U.S., check out our list here.)
Step into Bonanzaville and it will become quite clear that you’ve entered another world entirely. Calico dresses, sunbonnets, and Stetsons appear to be the norm as the saloon and blacksmith shops dominate the town landscape. A 12-acre complex featuring 43 historic buildings, museums and 400,000 historical artifacts, Bonanzaville is run by the Cass County Historical Society and exists solely to bring the heritage of the Red River Valley to life through reenactments and interactive tours. Bring the whole family to experience how North Dakota evolved through the years.
International Peace Gardens
Straddling the border between North Dakota and Manitoba, the International Peace Gardens have long stood as a testament to the friendship and between the United States and Canada. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit annually to witness its Peace Chapel, its Peace Towers, and 2,300 acres of floral designs dispersed throughout the wilderness. Every year 150,000 flowers are planted, each worked into patterns unique from any previous year. The flowers are a huge draw, however, there are plenty of other things for visitors to do. The gardens are situated in Turtle Mountain National Park which offers plenty of hiking and camping opportunities. Keep in mind that by entering the gardens you are leaving either the U.S. or Canada so be sure to have your passport handy for border officials.
Whether you’re just passing through North Dakota or you’re planning to stop by each and every worthwhile tourist attraction, be sure to include at least one of the state’s 10 scenic byways on your itinerary. Each has it's own draw, but they all provide scenery and attractions far more interesting than the regular interstate. Roads wind through the Turtle and Killdeer mountains, up the Missouri River Valley and past rolling hills, wooded valleys and quaint towns full of American charm. If the scenery isn’t reason enough to visit, the routes are peppered with historic landmarks, museums, and plenty of outdoor recreational areas.