Best cities in North Dakota to visit along the Missouri River

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail covers thousands of miles of the continental USA. A large part of the trail follows many towns along the Missouri River. Two states in which the trail runs straight through the center are the Dakotas. 

Outside the Bismarck capital building in Bismarck, North Dakota with a statue on the right
Bismarck, North Dakota

As the trail starts to turn towards the west in North Dakota along the Missouri River, there is no shortage of great hiking spots, along with other sites to visit. Chances are, you have already heard how the state capital, Bismarck, is a great town to take a stroll along stretches of fresh water and spot the local fish or other wildlife. After spending a few days in the area, visitors will begin to realize how important access to water is for a city like Bismarck. Luckily in North Dakota,

Bismarck isn’t the only city with great views of the Missouri River.  Here are some other charming towns to see over the course of a few days along the river. If you like hiking, fishing, and good food, then a 2-3 day trip in North Dakota might be exactly what you are looking for. Here are some of the best cities in North Dakota to visit along the Missouri River.

Missouri River Day One Pick City, North Dakota

Located about 1 hour and 20 minutes north of Bismarck, Pick City will be the first of the few cities in North Dakota to visit along the Missouri River. It has a population size  under 200 and was  founded in 1946. Residing right by the state park, Lake Sakakawea, Pick City is a great option for a first stop.

Lake Sakakawea State Park

Two minutes north of Pick City,  the 368,000 acre lake has great views and a long list of things to do. Water lovers can bring their sailboats or windsurf. If you prefer dry land, you can hike on the Western Terminus of the North Country National Scenic Trail. This trail begins in the state of Vermont and stretches 4,600 miles across several states. 

Pick City Meals

After enjoying the activities at the park, hungry visitors can eat at some local favorite dineries. If you’re hungry for burgers or other sandwiches, then definitely try Littles Bar and Grill.

If you prefer a heartier meal with a cold one, then Dam Bar & Steakhouse is perfect for you. Teresa’s Grocery & Bakery offers visitors supplies for their next destination. If you need to rest for the day, try Sakakawea Motel, which is a quick walk from Littles.

Garrison Dam

Panoramic photo of the Garrison Dam releasing water into the Missouri River in North Dakota
Garrison Dam photo by David Valdez

On the way to Riverdale which will be the next in the series of cities in North Dakota to visit along the Missouri River , travelers can stop at the most important site in the region, the Garrison Dam. Constructed by the US Army Corp of Engineers from 1947 to 1953, this two-mile earthen dam is the fifth largest in the world. It currently uses hydrogen-powered turbines to help conduct electricity. 

Besides catching a snapshot of the dam, visitors can spot at the nearby Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery. This aquarium features acres of ponds to help conserve sturgeon fish species  to release them back into the wild. Visitors can observe the hundreds of fish at the hatchery and learn more about them. 

Missouri River Day Two Riverdale, North Dakota

The young city of Riverdale, founded in 1986, is a great pitstop between Pick City and Coleharbor. For scenic views, try driving on Overlook Road or take a gander at the metal sculpture Misty the Mermaid at the center plaza. Before making the trek to Coleharbor, be sure to get some grub at the former high school turned event center Riverdale High & Lodge and Knights Bar and Grill.

If all you need is a quick cup of joe to get you moving, then try Spillway Coffee House. This locally brewed coffee shop not only serves homemade specialty coffees but also breakfast and other dinner meals. There is an outdoor patio where customers can enjoy the sights and food. 

Wolf Creek 

On the way to Coleharbor the next stop on the journey  is another spot to get your outdoors kick. This campground features all the activities a camper will need including ice fishing, boating and hiking. Many species of fish can be spotted in the lake. Campers flock to Wolf Creek to see Chinook salmon which can only be found in this body of water in the state of North Dakota. 

Along with the campground, wine lovers can enjoy the nearby winery Wolf Creek Winery. They have been crafting wines from locally grown grapes for 15 years. Feel free to indulge in tours of the winery or explore the different flavors in their tasting rooms.

Missouri River Day Two Continued Coleharbor, North Dakota 

Founded in 1904, this small city is the last stop before we cross the Missouri River towards Garrison. With Coleharbor residing next to Lake Audubon there is the convenient Audubon NWR Country Trail that goes along the lake. There are a couple of parking lots to decide where to start.

A less than three mile drive east of the city leads directly to a parking spot to begin the hike. Hiking north on the trail for a mile and a half will lead to the Lake Audubon Beach Shore.

After soaking in the views of Lake Audubon, travelers can observe some of the wildlife at the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  14,739 acres of prairies and wetlands is a great place to unwind. Bird lovers can witness hundreds of migrating birds and other water fowls. Besides birds you can see white-tail deer, coyotes or even some red foxes. 

Totten Trail Park

It is time to take Highway 83 across the Missouri River to get Garrison. Once across the river we have another park to hike around. Totten Trail State Park allows visitors to hike along Lake Sakakawea from another angle.

Be sure to try the nearby restaurant named after the park Totten Trail Bar and Grille which features a Monday happy hour from 4pm to 6pm.  

Missouri River Day Three Garrison, North Dakota

Garrison was founded in 1907 and is the capital of the world for fishing Walleye. It is a prideful small community that has everything one would need. Winner of the Main Street ND Excellence Award in 2018, this town is the best  place to stay a day with plenty of options for dining and hotels. This is also the best town on our list for families with the nearby Firefighters Museum and tasty restaurants like the Ye Old Malt Shoppe.

Walleye fish on a blue and gray wooden deck
Plenty of Walleye can be found in the waters of Garrison, North Dakota

Affordable and minutes from Lake Sakakawea, North Shore Inn & Suites has 19 double rooms and 3 deluxe suites. Another option is the Cabernet Inn, a five bedroom house built by John J. Behles in 1917 that has been recently renovated into a hotel.

For big groups, visitors can rent all five bedrooms, including the fully stocked kitchen if they wish! With Fort Stevenson state park just three miles away it might be recommended to spend a day in Garrison and then another at the state park to avoid burnout.

North Dakota Firefighters Museum & Fallen Firefighters Memorial

This museum opened in 2006 and it aims to preserve the stories and traditions of the local firefighters. This small but respected museum houses vintage equipment and other firefighting memorabilia from the state. Fire safety and other educational programs are available so this is a great spot for younger children and families

Best Places to Eat and Drink in Garrison 

The final destination in the trip to see the best cities in North Dakota to visit along the Missouri River will be Fort Stevenson State Park just south of Garrison but before heading down to the park be sure to sample some of the local eateries. 

The Four Seasons Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor is known for its patty melts and soup. Need a meal that isn’t a burger then try Hot Stuff Pizza. Over 18 flavors of Ice Cream can be purchased at Ye Old Malt Shoppe. This 50s styled restaurant also serves breakfast and the usual American classics. It is home to the Lewis & Clark Sundae and Sakakawea Parfait. 

Fort Stevenson State Park

Located three miles south of Garrison. This state park along the north shores of Lake Sakakawea is the final stop in this road trip along the Missouri River. This park is great for boaters, featuring two marinas Garrison Bay on the west side and de Trobriand Bay Marina on the east. If you forgot your boat, never fear, there are over 10 miles of trails for hiking or biking.

View of Missouri River Valley from Fort Ransom State Park in North Dakota
Missouri River, North Dakota

After completing this mini road trip, travelers would have almost made a circle from Pick City over to Garrison seeing plenty of the best cities in North Dakota to visit along the Missouri River This is just a tiny area of the Missouri River and only a fraction of what you can see along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. 

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