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Bismarck, North Dakota is a city with plenty to offer visitors. From its beautiful parks and trails to its interesting museums and restaurants, there is something for everyone in this charming Midwestern city. If you’re looking for things to do in Bismarck ND, look no further! This bucket list will give you a taste of all the best that the city has to offer.
21 Things to do in Bismarck, North Dakota
When my friend asked if I wanted to visit Bismarck, she said “history, food, art” and sold me instantly. Honestly, it hadn’t been on my radar, especially as I was busy working on my book 100 Things to do in Wisconsin Before You Die. I am soooo glad she thought of me – seriously, Sara has the superpower of matching the right travel writers up with destinations.
I fell in love with Bismarck and can’t wait to take my family for a return visit next summer to the state capital of North Dakota.
Bismarck is the perfect destination for tourists looking to explore an iconic city while also enjoying some of the best natural scenery in North Dakota. The town was founded in 1872 by European-Americans and is located in the Midwest region of the United States, which has a population of over 73,000.
The city’s history, architecture, and natural attractions will please visitors. Bismarck is the perfect spot for spending your vacation, whether you’re a history buff looking to explore the old art deco courthouse and city hall or a nature lover who wants to visit nearby parks and wildlife refuges. From museums and food to nature trips and hikes, here are some of the best things to do in Bismarck.
1) North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum
Anyone who knows me knows I love history! A great museum is a fun way to spend time – you always learn something new and, if it is a really well-done space, you want to go back again.
The North Dakota Heritage Center is the official history museum of the state of North Dakota and fits that bill perfectly. The original building, opened in 1981, is operated by the State Historical Society of North Dakota and features exhibits on the state’s history, culture, and natural resources.
From the monstrous sea creatures living in primordial oceans to the rise and extinction of dinosaurs, from tropical swamplands with crocodiles and palm trees to the vast savannas with grazing herds of animals – over the eons, our planet has seen many changes. The Museum’s Adaptation Gallery explores these fascinating stories of survival and extinction.
The Adaptation Gallery focuses on five important events that include exhibits from Oceans, Dinosaurs, Tropical Swamplands, Ice Age, and mammals on the savanna. Each section tells a different story about how organisms have adapted to their environment.
In the Oceans section, visitors can learn about prehistoric sea creatures like the Plioplatecarpus, a 24-foot-long lizard-like predator, and Xiphactinus, a 16-foot-long tarpon-like predator fish, and many more exhibits related to marine life in prehistoric time. In the dinosaur section, you can explore the life casts of T-Rex and Triceratops, which are engaged in a fight.
This Innovation gallery showcases the beauty and breadth of the State Museum’s collections, from traditional art and clothing to contemporary artwork and artifacts. Visitors can explore the history and culture of various Native American tribes, learn about the indigenous people’s traditions and customs, and see how they’ve adapted to changing times.
The exhibits offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of North Dakota’s first inhabitants with the help of cutting-edge technological displays that are sure to impress.
Personally, I love how they incorporated the native people of today in this exhibit – from having their thoughts implemented to actual voiceovers in their native language.
The Inspiration Gallery in the North Dakota Heritage Center tells the story of the state and its people through six themes that continue to shape their history: agricultural innovation, industry and energy, newcomers and settlement, conflict and war, our lives, our communities, and cultural expressions themes are displayed through artifacts, photos, and interactive displays.
Make sure you check out the dino-mummy and take a minute or two to sit and experience the Double Ditch Indian Village Mural – it really is an immersive experience.
We love that this place is totally handicap accessible AND experienceable. Signs are low enough to easily read from a wheelchair, and it is beyond easy to maneuver through the displays.
The best part about this place? FREE admission. Seriously, it is a place I could visit over and over again.
2) Dakota Zoo
The Dakota Zoo is located on the banks of the Missouri River in Bismarck, North Dakota. It’s home to more than 600 animals from around the world. When the zoo was opened on June 3, 1961, It consisted of 75 mammals, 23 birds, and around 15 acres of developed land. In its initial year of operation, the zoo welcomed 40,000 visitors. The zoo today welcomes about 100,000 visitors a year and currently holds 125 different species of animals.
This excellent zoo is home to various animals, including the Bengal tiger, grizzly bear, North American river otter, emu, American Alligator, bald eagle, bearded dragon, etc. These animals can be seen at the zoo year-round and are a popular attraction for visitors of all ages. The zoo staff works hard to ensure that the animals are well taken care of and have ample space to roam.
In addition to the animal exhibits, the Dakota Zoo offers many fun things, such as a discovery center where you can learn about the environment through cutting-edge technology that includes interactive displays. This great zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas Day. Admission is free for children age 2 and under, and discounts are available for seniors and military personnel.
3) Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
An excellent place for history buffs and families alike, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is located on the banks of the Missouri River in Mandan, North Dakota, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is a great place to explore the nature and history of the American West. I really think this is a MUST when looking at things to do in Bismarck ND!
The fort was constructed in 1907 to protect settlers from the Sioux tribe, and it has since been turned into a park to preserve its history. It is home to a replica of the On-a-Slant Indian village where once Mandan Native Americans resided around the 1500s.
The Visitor Center Museum at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is a great place to learn about the history and culture of the area. The museum has a variety of artifacts on display, including weapons, clothing, and tools. It’s fascinating to explore the different cultures that have inhabited this region.
You can step back in time to a living history museum of General George Custer’s House – where you are guided through by a costumed guide who not only “served” under the general, but was very knowledgeable about all things about the General’s time at the fort and about life before Little Bighorn. Fort McKeen served as an essential military outpost in the late 1800s. Visitors can explore the fort’s buildings and learn about the soldiers who once called it home.
The Missouri River bottoms offer a picturesque view for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders traversing the scenic trail system. The trail winds through Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, providing access to the park’s heart and its many attractions. The park is home to various wildlife and offers picnic areas, camping facilities, and educational programs.
There is so much to see and do here that you could easily spend a full weekend (or more) just taking in all that this place has to offer!
4) North Dakota State Capitol Building
This wasn’t even on my radar until my friend Roxie, of Roxie on the Road, mentioned she collected capitols and she had to get this one. I tagged along and was delighted that I did. The State Capitol Building in Bismarck, North Dakota, is a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture. The building’s design is based on the classical style but with a modern flair and is the tallest building (habitable) in the state.
Like many state capitols, there was a history of being built, then burning down. The current version was started in 1932 with a cost of $2 million. The most prominent feature of the capitol building is its tower, which soars 213 feet into the sky. It is one of the tallest buildings in Bismarck, and its imposing presence can be seen all over town.
Inside, the grand lobby features marble floors and walls and a spectacular dome ceiling. The North Dakota State Capitol Building is a work of art designed on a monumental scale with majestic proportions. Upon entering, visitors will see chandeliers representing heads of wheat; ceiling lighting representing the sun, moon, and stars; and murals illustrating the state’s history. The bronze elevator doors at the State Capitol Building in North Dakota depict the history of life on the prairie.
It is just stunning.
The observation deck on the 18th floor offers a 360-degree view of the Bismarck-Mandan area, and visitors can see for miles in every direction. The view from the observation deck is breathtaking and make sure you check out all the photos along the walls – I love the largest snow-angel event! Visitors can see the Missouri River winding its way through the valley. The building is truly a sight to behold!
If you’re ever in Bismarck, North Dakota, check out the State Capitol Building. It is a beautiful example of architecture, but it’s also home to some incredible history. Luckily, if you’re not familiar with the building or its history, guided tours can teach you all about it!
5) Keelboat Park
Located adjacent to the Missouri River, Keelboat Park is one of North Dakota’s most popular parks. The park offers a pathway that follows an incredible stroll, replete with outstanding scenery and breathtaking historic locations. The park is also home to the Missouri Valley Millennium Legacy Trail. This paved trail runs for more than 4 miles and connects Keelboat Park with several other popular parks and recreation areas.
This park is a great place to learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition. The self-guided tour of the park takes you to key points of interest and provides historical information about the area during their time here.
In 1803, the Lewis and Clark expedition departed from St. Louis, Missouri, on a mission to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. Two hundred years later, their journey is commemorated at Keelboat Park with a large Thunderbird sculpture and a 55-foot full-scale replica keelboat.
The keelboat replica was built by local volunteers in honor of the Lewis and Clark expedition. It’s open for public tours, and visitors can climb aboard to experience what it was like to travel down the Missouri River in 1803. The park has a lot of open space for picnics and playing games and a playground for the kids. There’s also river access via the boat ramp on site.
6) National Day Calendar World Headquarters
Did you know that every day is somebody’s national day? Well, it turns out that there is an organization responsible for tracking all of these special days, and their headquarters just happens to be in Bismarck, North Dakota.
The National Day Calendar World Headquarters is open to the public and offers a variety of fun things to buy as well as a photo wall where you can make an Instagrammable moment.
7) Camp Hancock State Historic Site
Camp Hancock State Historic Site preserves part of a military installation known as Camp Greeley. It was constructed in 1872 to protect railroad workers while building the Northern Pacific Railroad.
After being taken offline as a military supply, the site became an official release for weather reports. The log headquarters in Bismarck, where records were first kept, was the oldest building. Over time, the authorities have expanded the buildings and refurbished them, and their logs have been concealed by clapboard siding.
The site has interpretive displays that tell the story of the soldiers who were stationed here and the civilians who lived and worked on the base. Several restored buildings, including officers’ quarters, a commissary, and various other attractions.
The site includes the city’s oldest church, LaFarge stained-glass windows, and a 1909 steam locomotive. Visitors can walk around the church and look at the stained glass windows. The locomotive is also on display and can be toured.
8) Heritage Art Tunnel
Close to both the Captial Building and North Dakota Heritage Center is an incredible surprise. You need to start on the east side and go west to see the timeline of this fun project that was coordinated between so many different groups.
It tells the history of North Dakota through the concept of connections seen through the timeline with an interpretation of “circuits”. It is soon to be topped off with ceiling art that goes from pterodactyls to drones.
This is another FREE thing to add to your list.
9) Dykshoorn Park
I think I would put a camp chair here and live in it all summer long. As Matt Schanandore of the Mandan Progress Center led us through all that happens there – I could envision an incredible resource for a community to come together, over and over again.
From the Dacotah Lions selling burgers & brats every Tuesday night (I can only hope the brats come from Sheboygan, Wisconsin!), to the live concert series every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday over the summer, this gem also offers play structures for kids and a killer view.
I’d pack a picnic and enjoy the camaraderie of the community.
10) Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises
Who doesn’t love a leisurely cruise in a beautiful area? When in North Dakota, take a scenic riverboat cruise down the beautiful Missouri River. The Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation, a firm operating the Lewis & Clark Riverboat, has been highly regarded by locals and visitors to Bismarck-Mandan.
It offers a variety of experiences, from educational tours to dinner cruises. In addition, you’ll enjoy stunning views of the North Dakota landscape as you travel down the river.
You’ll also have the chance to see various wildlife, including bald eagles, deer, and elk. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a bison! Visitors can also enjoy a meal or drink on the deck of the riverboat while cruising down the Missouri River.
11) Former Governor’s Mansion State Historic Site
The Former Governor’s Mansion State Historic Site is located in Bismarck at 320 E. Ave. Along with a two-story home and a carriage house, the site includes a restored Victorian-style building constructed in 1884. Historically, the house has been home to 20 chief executives from 1893 to 1960.
Later, The State Historical Society of North Dakota took possession of the house in 1975, intending to operate it as a historic house museum. The site features several rooms that have been restored to their original condition, showcasing the restoration process, architectural style changes, and furniture used by several governors.
Extensive research and restoration have been carried out to restore the house to its initial state, as it would have been in 1893. Throughout the house, restoration features are highlighted to guests to show how the restoration took place. These features include samples of wallpaper that have experienced changes in both style and color.
12) Fort Mandan
When you visit Fort Mandan, you are stepping back to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The fort was their winter home from 1804-to 1805, and it is now a National Historic Site. It was built on the Missouri River, and the fort’s exact location was not known. The original site now lies underwater. A replica has been built near the area that showcases the vernacular detailing of the period.
The replica of the fort was built out of cottonwood logs picked from the riverbank. It was built in an equilateral triangle, with defenses on all sides, ample internal space inside, and an entryway facing the Missouri River. The storage rooms were used to keep fort supplies safe.
One of my favorite things to learn was the simple fact that when 4th graders visit, they get a minute or two to look into a fort room and decide what the room is actually for. Is it the officer’s room, storage room, ammunition room, etc?
Fort Mandan is also a great place to learn about the Native American cultures that lived in the area. There are many things to see and do at the fort, including exhibits on the expedition, interactive displays, and guided tours.
13) Lewis And Clark Interpretive Center
After Lewis & Clark arrived at the Mandan and Hidatsa villages in 1804, they became the most infamous adventurers to visit in search of knowledge and trade over the past few decades.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is an excellent place to learn about the Corps of Discovery expedition. The center has permanent exhibits that allow visitors to learn about the journey in a hands-on way. There are also films and presentations that provide additional information about the expedition.
Presented in the gallery section of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, a selection of historic sights narrate the stories of explorers and native groups who made stops along its course over the centuries.
Interactive opportunities make this one of the top things to do with the kids – like trying on different period-style outfits.
14) Bismarck Art Alley 5.5
A dazzling alley lies halfway between Broadway and Main Street, also known as Alley 5.5. Since its inception in 2016, this project has brought together local artists to transform an unremarkable alley into an art exhibition.
The murals are based on a theme,” reflections of North Dakota,” that reveal a wide range of pictures of North Dakota, including scenes from the state’s various regions. The history of the area is showcased, from gorgeous barn quilt-like paintings to a wide array of items representing the state. In addition to murals on the walls, you’ll also find various mosaics. More than 20 artists have proudly contributed to these murals for all to see.
The diversity of the interpretation stuns me.
Alley 5.5 may have started out as just a normal passageway, but now it’s a one-of-a-kind destination that provides a treat to your eyes. Plus, it’s entirely free and resides in the heart of the downtown Bismarck area.
15) General Sibley Park
Established in 1967, the site lies on the land about the history of settlers and North Dakota. Its front rests on approximately 140 acres (55 ha), and the site is a popular recreational area and campground.
The park is famously named after General Henry Sibley, a fur trader, the first Congressional representative, and the US military leader in the Dakota war of 1862.
Where General Sibley Park now stands, the land was previously nicknamed Burnt Boat Island because of the steamboat “The Assiniboine” that wrecked and was burned down in the early 1830s.
The park attracts about 100,000 visitors every year due to its accessibility to 114 recreational vehicle sites, a separate area for campers, shower houses, and a day-use playground with two picnic shelters, a volleyball court, and a kids’ play area.
Most Saturdays in the summer have FREE family events.
16) Superslide Amusement Park
What kid doesn’t love a good amusement park? Built in 1967, this park offers visitors a wide variety of entertainment. From the thrilling roller coasters to the classic Ferris wheel, this park offers hours of fun for people of all ages.
For kids looking for something a little more extreme? Try the Superslide, a giant 42-inch slide that winds through the park’s trees.
Superslide Amusement Park has a great miniature golf course for testing your skills. The course comprises 18 holes that wind through the park’s forest and around its ponds.
Bumper cars are another popular attraction in Superslide Amusement Park, a small electric-powered vehicle covered with bumpers will surely leave you immense happiness.
So if you’re looking for an amusement park that offers something a little more exciting than your average carnival ride, check out Superslide.
17) Mcdowell Dam Nature Park
The 271-acre park is a beautiful place to walk and enjoy the scenery. It’s also an excellent place for fishing, bird watching, and photography. Five miles from Bismarck, McDowell Dam Nature park contains a man-made lake for recreational enjoyment.
This sandy shore has a magnificent location for sunbathing and swimming, and kids love it for making sandcastles. In addition, several boats and paddleboats can be rented, and the lake is stocked with several trout species, which is a popular attraction for anglers.
The cookout covers and the kid’s play place are lively throughout the summer and available to lease for occasions and celebrations. One additional location featuring a horseshoe pit is also found in the park, providing something unique from other areas. There’s clear walking trails through the beautiful surroundings of the recreation center.
18) Raging Rivers Waterpark
Raging Rivers Waterpark is one of the most popular water parks in North Dakota. With dozens of water rides to choose from, there is something for everyone at this park. From the family-friendly ride to the thrilling Speed Slides, there is something for everyone at Raging Rivers.
The park also features several attractions for those who want to get wet and wild. The River Run and Black Hole rides are two of the most popular attractions at the park, and both are sure to get your heart racing. So if you’re looking for a more relaxing experience, check out the Lazy River.
No matter what type of water ride you’re looking for, you can find it at Raging Rivers Waterpark. So be sure to head on over and experience all that this park offers.
19) Eagle Sculptures
Thunderbirds. Gathering of Visions. Reflections. Rising Eagle. The Keeper.
I love it when multiple groups partner together to make something that benefits the locals and visitors alike. This was a collaboration between the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District, United Tribes Technical College (UTTC), and the Bismarck-Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Along the Missouri Valley Legacy Trail, you will see these incredible pieces, that were created by student artists who were responsible for the design, creation, and construction.
As you walk the trail, enjoy the scenery, the river, the eagles, and the legacy of the land.
20) Steamboat Park
Skimming the banks of the Missouri River, you can find two of the five eagle sculptures, a beautiful section of walking trail, and lots of information on steamboats and keel boats.
From 1872 to 1887 Bismarck was an important transportation center and Missouri River port. They hadn’t built a railroad bridge yet and relied on the ships to bring the cargo to the port, so it could be loaded onto trains and keep going West.
Sorry, you need to get to Steamboat Park to learn more.
21) Things to do in Bismarck ND – Eat
I was blown away by the incredible variety of amazing eateries in Bismark. From farm-to-table restaurants to food trucks, there’s something for everyone.
Gourmet Waffles, French Pastries, Celebrity Chef Entrees, Killer BBQ, and even German delicacies.
No matter what type of food you’re in the mood for, you can find it in Bismarck. So be sure to check out some of the amazing restaurants that this city has to offer.
Summing it Up
As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Bismarck, ND. You can visit the State Capitol, eat at various restaurants, hit FREE museums, or check out living history experiences. Whether you are checking out historic buildings or walking trails to the next historical site, there is something for everyone in this vibrant city. So if you’re looking for a fun-filled getaway, be sure to add Bismarck to your list!