Region: Great Plains

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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Visiting the Dakotas’ Top Historical Sites

Along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, we serve to preserve the history of Lewis and Clark’s great exploration. But did you know there are so many other great sites that appear near the trail? The Dakota’s are rich in archaeological evidence of the first Native American peoples, military contact, ice age creatures and more! The following blog spotlights six sites that have been part of archaeological digs that have allowed historians to reconstruct the history of North and South Dakota. Visualize the past by visiting the Dakotas’ top historical sites on your next trip to the Great Plains!

Visiting the Dakotas’ top historical sites- North Dakota:

Fort Rice:

black and white image of an United States military fort. This photo is an example of visiting the Dakotas' top historical sites.
Researchers are able to reconstruct what top historical sites may have looked like through artifacts and traces left by the original site.

Located south of Mandan, Lewis and Clark would have directly passed by the land that would become Fort Rice 60 years later! Established by General Alfred H. Sully, this fort would become a site of important cultural interaction between ND military men and the Lakota tribe. The site was also a base for future expeditions: Fort Rice State Historic Site – State Historical Society of North Dakota (nd.gov).

Although none of the original buildings remain. Visiting the Dakota’s top historical sites such as Fort Rice allows for people to visualize the past. Visitors can see depressions and foundation lines as well as markers for where the buildings once stood. 

Archaeologists have additionally uncovered physical evidence of North Dakota’s history at this site. Such evidence includes cultural objects such as dentalium shell beads, different glass beads coming in a variety of beautiful hues, and antique dinnerware. Check out this resource to learn more: Adventures in Archaeology Collections: Fort Rice | State Historical Society of North Dakota Blog (nd.gov)

Huff Archaeological site as part of visiting the Dakotas’ top historical sites:

Timber fence resemblant of the timbers used to fortify the Huff archaeological site. Visiting the Dakotas' top historical sites like this one today!
The timber fence surrounding this top historical site would have likely been much taller.

While near Mandan be sure to check out Huff Archaeological site. This site was occupied by the ancestors of the Mandan tribe around 1450 B.C. This site has been part of many archaeological studies spanning from 1902-1999. 

These studies allowed archaeologists to reconstruct what this village may have looked like. A ditch and a fence of 2,500 wooden stakes surrounding 3 sides of this village. Because of this it is believed that the prehistoric Mandan people had fortified their village to defend against conflict. 

Such discoveries at this top historical site have granted insight into North Dakota’s history and it’s peoples heritage. Interested in exploring more about the Mandan tribe’s heritage? Visit Double Ditch Indian Village – Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience as part of your North Dakota Lewis and Clark experience!

Menoken Indian Village Site

Plains landscape seen while visiting the Dakotas' top historical sites.
See the beautiful Great Plains landscape at this top historical site.

Menoken Indian Village Site has ought to be one of North Dakota’s most influential archaeological sites! Archaeological research beginning in 1937 has revealed this site to be over 800 years old. Stone, metal, and shell artifacts have been crucial to understanding the history of North Dakota’s Plains Woodland people. For example, 90% of stone tools excavated were composed of Knife River Flint. Knife River Flint is a stone abundant in quarries over 60 miles away. What’s more, 3 artifacts made of raw copper date back to 1200 A.D. The closest raw copper source is from the far end of eastern Minnesota. Such rare materials appearing in this site have caused researchers to conclude that the Late Plains Woodland people were highly involved in trade.

Located just miles away from Bismarck, the walking tour of Menoken Indian Village is an experience you do not want to miss. Be sure that Menoken is a stop on your trip of visiting the Dakota’s top historical sites! 

 

Visiting the Dakotas’ top historical sites- South Dakota:

Fort Thompson Mounds:

Visiting the Dakotas' top historical sites such as the Forth Thompson Mounds shows green man-made mounds amongst the flat plains landscape.
These man-made mounds are shown in striking contrast against the flat landscape of the Great Plains.

Running 6 miles long, the Fort Thompson Mounds are part of the Crow Creek reservation. Dated to be from 2450 B.C.E, the majority of these mounds serve a cemeterial purpose. Besides being a sacred burial site, these mounds also have evidence of ancient settlement. Such evidence includes pottery, stone tools, and stone hearths. 

Enjoyed learning more about South Dakota’s history through this site? Walk in Lewis and Clark’s footsteps by visiting the top historic site Vermillion Spirit Mound: Spirit Mound – Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) 

Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village as part of visiting the Dakotas’ top historical sites:

A group of children examining a fossil may be a common occurence while visiting the Dakotas top historical sites like Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.
Be free to explore and examine artifacts found from this site!

This 1,100 year old village is now a center for archaeology and tourism. Visitors can help further the understanding of South Dakota’s history through washing and sorting artifacts from the site. This educational historic site consists of museum exhibits, a store, and events making it the perfect stop for every visitor: Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village (mitchellindianvillage.org)

 While in Mitchell, be sure to check out the one-of-a-kind Corn Palace Mitchell Corn Palace, SD | Official Website and the Dakota Discovery Museum The Dakota Discovery Museum!

The Mammoth Site as part of visiting the Dakotas’ top historical sites:

While visiting the Dakotas' top historical sites like the Mammoth Site tourists may view A reconstruction of a Mammoth in a museum like pictured here.
Lions, and (saber-tooth) tigers, and Mammoths?!! Oh my! View the ice age animals that once roamed over the Dakotas.

Busy checking out some of our listings near badlands national park such as The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School – Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience, The White River Visitor Center – Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience, He Sapa Wacipi Na Oskate (Black Hills Powwow & Expo) – Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience?

If so, be sure to add visiting this top historical site known as the Mammoth site to your trip itinerary! This South Dakota “must-do” is another dig site that is also a museum. 

Mammoth site is located in Hot Springs, South Dakota and encompasses a Pleistocene sinkhole. This sinkhole is the final resting spot of many ice-age organisms. Researchers have so far dug up 61 mammoths making it the World’s largest Mammoth Research facility. 

Don’t miss this opportunity to experience some of South Dakota’s deepest history!

Interested in learning more about the top history sites around Lewis and Clark’s National Historic Trail? Explore Historic Places Along the Trail – Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience today!