Bismarck is mostly known for its role in the Lewis & Clark exploration during their visit to North Dakota and the Missouri River. The city is also the capital of the state and a hub of retail and health care.
Located in the middle of the Great Plains and separated by the Missouri River from Mandan, the region was inhabited by indigenous people for thousands of years. It was not until 1872 that European-Americans arrived on the east bank of the river.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Bismarck (ND)
1. Dakota Zoo
With 600 animals of 125 species, Dakota Zoo features tigers, grizzlies, penguins, otters, and a large grazing animal area. With such a broad variety of animals, this is the place to visit if you would like to learn more about wildlife. Besides the close encounter with endangered animals, the zoo also offers a trolley ride.
If you are traveling with kids, be sure to check out the Discovery Area and all the family activities they offer throughout the year. The zookeepers and staff are all very nice and well-informed. Overall, Dakota Zoo has something for everyone, and they are always expanding and adding new attractions.
2. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park’s highlight is the recreated fort led by Gen. Custer, featuring his home, a Mandan village as well as other rebuilt structures. This historical site is worth a visit as it provides needed history about important events in the country’s history. The park counts with a very informative museum focused on both Native American and US Army’s histories. Not to mention all the trails and hikes around the park.
Besides, the fort provides one of the best views of the Missouri River. There is also camping available next to the river, with spots for RVs, tents, and even teepees. Do not miss the visitors center next to the trail that leads to the Indian village. And wear your walking shoes as you will be doing a lot of exploring there.
3. Raging Rivers Waterpark
With many pools, tube slides, and a lazy river, Raging Rivers Waterpark is a summer park with mini-golf and a snack bar. Featuring a 500-gallon dump bucket, Aqua Play Area is one of the park’s highlights. Although the speed slides, river run tube slide, and black hole tube slide are also some of the most popular attractions there.
Overall, everything is kept clean and there are plenty of lifeguards at each station. Nothing is too overcrowded, even on the hottest days. And the variety of slides is excellent.
4. North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum
The state history museum of North Dakota Heritage Center offers exhibits on the state’s geologic prehistory, early peoples, and culture. A few highlights of the museum include a Mummified Edmontosaurus fossil nicknamed “Dakota”, some nice looking Tee-Pees, and a really cool model of the USS North Dakota. Try to spot the wood carving display and the glowing rocks in the Dinosaur exhibit.
Even though it is small for a history museum, it is still wonderful with a modern style giving you a solid lesson on the history of the region. Overall, it is a great place for kids to experience history in a fun, interactive environment.
5. Salem Sue
Supported by the local community, Salem Sue is the World’s largest Holstein Cow and a landmark in North Dakota. Located on top of the School Hill, the statue is made of fiberglass standing 38 feet high and 50 feet long. In fact, it is so large it can be spotted from miles away.
The view from the top is great to see the city and countryside, however not the best to take a photo of the cow with the scenery in the background. So, make sure to grab a picture with New Salem written on the hill at the nearby gas station. If you are driving by, this is a must-stop. Interstate drives can be boring, though places like this liven up the trip.
6. Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a museum dedicated to the historic Lewis & Clark Expedition, with hands-on exhibits and a shop. Displaying hundreds of artifacts and state of the art exhibits, the museum provides a great incite to discovery and agriculture in the region. If you happen to be there during the summer, you might even be able to watch a demonstration or two.
Close by you can walk to the Missouri River on the Lewis and Clark Legacy Trail which is 2.2-mile long. This is a very nice and easy walk with some elevation. There is also a Frisbee Golf course on-site.
7. Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises
Offering daily seasonal Missouri River cruises, Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises include dinner and entertainment tours. Offering a different angle of the region’s landscape, the boat itself is very nice and well-kept. And the crew is extremely friendly and knowledgeable making the ride even more enjoyable.
This great family adventure provides a very smooth ride along the river with beautiful scenery in the background. The most popular ride is the Sunset Cruise which is absolutely beautiful. Also, they book weddings and receptions.
8. Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Dedicated to the region’s native people, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site features a reconstructed lodge and a museum. While exploring the site you will come across a fascinating earth house model and a beautiful grassy area with visible mounds where the homes from the 1790s used to stand. With a lot of interesting information, you might even be able to see some archeologists in action while visiting the museum.
From the museum, you can access the Village Trail which takes you to Awatixa village sitting on the margins of Knife River. The walking trail is great because it has interesting displays of their huts and way of life.
9. SuperSlide Amusement Park
Established in 1967, SuperSlide Amusement Park is a kid-oriented attraction with a giant slide, a Ferris wheel, mini-golf, go-karts, and concessions. There is even a mini rollercoaster that is actually pretty fun for both adults and children alike. This family-owned park is nestled between the zoo and a park.
Not only are the rides fun and affordable but the owners are amazing people that would do anything for their community. Whether you are looking for something fun for the kids to do or if you are planning a party or family reunion this is the place to be.
10. Fort Mandan State Recreation Area
The reconstructed Fort Mandan State Recreation Area features a fort dating back to Lewis & Clark’s time. Nowadays, it houses a state-of-the-art history attraction. The museum covers North Dakota’s history, several local Indian tribes, and of course, Lewis & Clark’s trajectory. Upon arrival, you get a tour guide that will tell you all about the area.
Located only 2 miles from the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center & Museum, this is where the two explorers wintered from 1804 to 1805. The rooms inside are really nice and give an insight into their lives in this area.
11. Gateway to Science
Gateway to Science is a children’s museum with interactive exhibits on electricity, robotics, and other scientific topics. The small and humble-looking building has something for everyone to enjoy. Some of the exhibits are quite advanced and hands-on focusing on ferrous fluid, laparoscopic surgical equipment, carbon nanotubes, oscilloscopes, and wind tunnels.
Overall, children and adults can enjoy fascinating science exhibits that will thrill their minds. They are also constantly adding new exhibits. The downside is that due to its size, the museum tends to get crowded so try and visit it early in the day.
12. Belle Mehus Auditorium
Named after a piano teacher from Bismarck, Belle Mehus Auditorium is a gorgeous venue for intimate shows. With a century-old design and beautiful interior, the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Interestingly, the auditorium welcomed its first crowd back in 1914.
Besides the excellent acoustics, all seats are comfortable and there is not a bad seat in the place. You are guaranteed to have a great view from any angle. Although the balcony seats allow for an unimpeded view of the stage.
13. Riverwood Golf Course
Riverwood Golf Course is a challenging course due to the many trees and its tricky, helmet-shaped greens. So, you better hit fairly straight. The 18-hole course is always very well maintained with green grass. In fact, Riverwood has been selected as one of 2016’s Best Golf Courses to play.
Even though it is a cart path only, they allow you to drive off the paths during good weather conditions. This is also a great place to cross-country ski, and snowshoeing and fat bikes are allowed along specific trails.
14. Chief Lookings’ Village
Offering one of the best views of the Missouri River, Chiefs Lookings’ Village features a short loop walk with historical information along the way. The overlook from the parking area is well-known to locals, but the trails around this ancient Indigenous American settlement are the real beauties of the area. There are paved options as well as dirt trails that are suitable for walking or mountain biking. As a bonus, they all provide fantastic views of the Missouri Riverbed.
There is also a small garden, as well as a small playground, both up at the overlook. The road to the overlook is not plowed in winter, so beware upon entering.
15. North Dakota State Capitol
The North Dakota State Capitol complex features numerous administrative facilities in a charming park setting. The building is unlike other state capitols in terms of architectural style, but equally worth visiting. Guided tours are available during limited hours, but self-guided tours are allowed as well. Both chambers of the house and Senate are also open to visits.
Visitors can access the observation level on the 18th floor for nice views of the town. There is quite a bit to see there, mostly photos and views from the observatory. Not to mention the North Dakota Heritage Center which is a quick walk from the Capitol building.
16. Buckstop Junction
Historic buildings dating from 1875 to 1935 moved to Buckstop Junction site with historical exhibits and information. This is a great little historic town to walk around and with a guide, you can go to most of the buildings which are decorated really nicely. Be sure to check out the gas station, schoolhouse, and hanger.
It is a little way out of the city, which helps to maintain its atmosphere. So, if you are in the Bismarck area, this is a great place to visit and help keep the local history alive!
17. Sandy – The World’s Largest Sandhill Crane
Located in Steele, 40 minutes from Bismarck, Sandy – The World’s Largest Sandhill Crane is an oversize bird structure visible from the road. There are also directions on a sign for how to obtain the best photo of the crane. The site is really cool because many people do not realize that North Dakota has a population of cranes that frequent the rivers and lakes. There is also lots of interesting information on a few signs about the amazing bird migrations and habitat in the area.
Besides, there is a lovely, quiet garden around the sculpture planted with native plants. It is such a great spot to unwind for a bit and get a break from the road.
18. Former Governors’ Mansion State Historic Site
The restored 1884 Victorian home and carriage house of Former Governors’ Mansion State Historic Site was the residence of North Dakota governors from 1893–1960. With self-guided tours, this a really cool place with a detailed history of the governors of the state.
Given that each governor had their own style to decorate the house, they framed the different layers of wallpaper. They have actually peeled away layers of wallpaper and paint as well as the lath and plaster. There are also plaques mounted to the walls to describe the different living areas.
19. Fort Lincoln Trolley
Fort Lincoln Trolley provides a slow enjoyable ride with beautiful views along the way. You can spot wildlife dotted between Mandan and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, where the trolley departs from. It takes about 30 minutes to get into Ft. Lincoln, with a nice view of the Missouri River along the way. The scenic railroad excursion aboard historic, open-air trolleys is a fun way to get to the park.
There is plenty of shade to wait in if you get there early. You can get off the trolley and take a later train back or stay on and go back right away.
20. Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site
Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site is a fascinating historic and archaeological site situated on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. Before your visit, check the North Dakota Heritage Center to see their Double Ditch mural. This will help you become familiar with how life was like in this Mandan Indian village in its heyday. Then go to the real site, and with its silent stillness, let the past come alive in your imagination.
The site also provides a nice view of the river. The sun sets on the other side of the river and can be viewed very well from there. Although, there is not much for kids to do there since it is mostly about the historical boards to read.
21. North Dakota State Railroad Museum
Focused on the train history of the Great Plains, North Dakota State Railroad Museum features an amazing railroad model and cool antiques and artifacts. They have several cabooses that you can go in as well as many other train cars to see. Not to mention several historic buildings to go in and explore.
With lots of pictures and items from back in the day, the museum is a neat little area to visit. The staff is very knowledgeable and will try to answer any questions you might have.
22. Camp Hancock State Historic Site
Camp Hancock State Historic Site is a log building and headquarters of an 1872 military installation featuring exhibits on local history. This is a great opportunity to see an old steam locomotive and to be impressed by its dimensions. The building itself functions as a museum filled with artifacts and information about the local history.
There is also a gorgeous old church on the grounds and the weather service building. Not to mention lots of sweet, scented peonies on the grounds, a well-maintained lawn, the perfect tree to frame photos of the beautiful church from the back, a pair of soft stained glass windows complete the site. The railroad runs behind it and the front of the site is framed by the street with lamp post signs.
23. Bismarck Civic Center
Bismarck Civic Center offers many events, musical and sporting events for the city. The multi-purpose facility can seat up to 10,100 people so the facility is very accommodating for large groups. It is home to several organizations including the Dakota Wizards of the Continental Basketball Association and the NBA Development League.
The venue does a pretty good job at hosting events and bringing the community what they want to see. The staff is very friendly directing you once you pull into the parking lot.
24. Kirkwood Mall
Kirkwood Mall is the best place in the area for clothes, games, furniture, and more. It is pretty much the place to go within a 100-mile radius if you want new trends and good quality items. Also, there is a hobby card shop downstairs for sport card collectors.
This is your typical shopping center with something for everyone. Some of the stores include JCPenney, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, and Target. Besides being a comfortable retail center with a mix of popular stores, the mall also features casual eateries and beauty salons.
25. Texas Roadhouse
Texas Roadhouse is a lively chain steakhouse serving American fare with a Southwestern spin amid Texas-themed decor. Curiously, peanuts will typically be on the floor, they allow shelling them and throwing them on the floor while you wait for your table.
Although they are known for the prime rib, the tasty free hot and fresh sweet rolls with melted cinnamon sugar are reason enough to choose this restaurant. Being a favorite in Bismarck, this is a very busy place so if you are visiting the town and planning to come with your family or group of friends it would be a good idea to reserve your table/booth in advance.