Bismarck, North Dakota: Ten Great Things

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Petrified forest in North Dakota.
Petrified forest in North Dakota.

Ten Fun Things to Do In Bismarck, North Dakota

It's plenty cold in Bismarck, North Dakota in winter. But the skiing is great. photos by Luke Armstrong.
It’s plenty cold in Bismarck, North Dakota in winter. But the skiing is great. photos by Luke Armstrong.

By Luke Armstrong

“What is the weather like there?” People always want to know about the weather of the place you call home. “Imagine,” I tell various international listeners, “You walk outside without a coat, and it is so cold, that you die in one minute.”

“No!” many say, “You are joking.” For how could it be thus?

Well, The National Institute of Aging estimates that of the 28,000 people hypothermia kills every year. Cold can kill you faster than heat. In around -80F IIRC, which North Dakota has experienced with wind chill, an exposed person will die in something like 15 seconds.

If you are into that (as my cross country skiing father is) the area around Bismarck is a winter wonderland half the year. If you are not, a visit in the summer might surprise you, because Bismarck has hot temperatures and a host of things to do in the summer.

Did I mention the economy?

Bismarck, North Dakota is booming. As ABC News said it, “In this North Dakota city, an economic portrait has emerged that is unlike any other in America.” In 2011 it was the city with the lowest unemployment rate in the country, at 3%. Oil may be behind the boom, but it is not the only reason to pay Bismarck, North Dakota a visit.

With the strong economy fueling new restaurants and recreational activities, it has never been a better time to visit this destination that is on few travelers’ radars. For hunters and fisherman, Bismarck has few rivals for what it can offer.

Tje World's largest buffalo statue in Bismarck.
The world’s largest buffalo statue in Bismarck. photo:

As lifetime Bismarck resident Eric Rose put it, “Walleye fishing on the river is as good here as anywhere. We have more deer and pheasant than you can shake a stick out. We have miles upon miles of paved trails all over Bismarck, and golf courses where the Missouri River runs through.”

The strong economy has Bismarck on the map, but outside of those numbers are more reasons to entice tourists. In the winter sometimes Bismarck competes with Alaska for being the coldest place in the country.

In the hot summers is competes with Death Valley for being the hottest place in the country. Bismarck is killer winters, where people live for the summers. When the weather is perfect, the community comes alive and every outdoor activity is up for grabs, from watercraft to hiking.

Here are ten of the top reasons why a stop-off in Bismarck might be just the trip you are looking for:

1. Bike Trails

Bismarck abounds not just in bike trails, but scenic bike trails. The roads do not have a bike lane, because there is not need—the bikes have their own roads. From riverside trails, to trails along and through golf courses, Bismarck has some of the best in the country.

2. The State Capital

There are miles and miles of bike trails in Bismarck.
There are miles and miles of bike trails in Bismarck.

Trip Advisor ranks the State Capital as the number three destination in Bismarck. It is a historical site for the country. On the campus is the Heritage Center, a cultural museum that reveals history as told from settlers and native indigenous groups.

The Bismarck State Capital building itself is gothic architecture built scantily to reflect the depression happening at the time. It is the tallest building in North Dakota, reaching 19 stories high.

3. Running Trails

The bike trails in Bismarck are also some of the best running trails of any US city. And they don’t stop at the city. They go right out of town, among other places, Fort Lincoln State Park

4. Grand 15 Theatres

Many theatres in the US have lost their character as having a prestigious part in the proud artistic tradition of Cinema. Grande Theatres has not. Curtains still close and open to reveal the feature. Going to Grande theatre is a step back in ticket booth time, and worth the experience.

5. The Missouri River

The River that supplies the Mississippi with its grandness instills here a myriad of timeless past times. These days it’s watercraft, jet skis, fishing, beaching, swimming, and if you’re young, frog catchin’.

6. The Lewis and Clark Riverboat

Bismarck is one of the few places in the world where you can have such an experience. Have dinner aboard a still commissioned steamboat that takes diners on a sunset river ride. Mark Twain is smiling somewhere about The Lewis and Clark Riverboat.

The Belle Theater
The Belle Theater. photo by Shaun Groves.

7. Camping

From backpacking in the wilds of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to a weekend at the activity-rich Fort Lincoln State Park, Bismarck is a staging ground to endless camping options.

8. Buckstop Junction

Buckstop Junction is a historic town in Bismarck.
Buckstop Junction is a historic town in Bismarck.

A historic town called Buckstop Junction is preserved within Bismarck’s borders. The town stands on a 20-acre plot of land by the Missouri Valley Fairgrounds.

It is funded by the Missouri Valley Historical Society and has various buildings dating from 1875 and 1935. You can schedule a tour, volunteer, or rent outbuildings for events.

9. The Bismarck Marathon

There is always international competition at the Bismarck Marathon. The flat terrain makes for a friendly marathon run for amateur and professional runners. Participants can stay and enjoy the other enjoyments the city offers this time of year.

10. Belle Mehus Auditorium

After catching a flick at the Grande, you can take in live music from internationally known acts. Cap the night off with drinks at the old speakeasy, Peacock Alley, across from the old train depot, now a Mexican restaurant, Fiesta Villa, serving the best margaritas in town.

Luke Armstrong



Luke Maguire Armstrong is an author and travel writer who has spent the last six years working in human rights and development from Guatemala to Kenya to The Bronx. His work was featured on ABC news 20/20 with Christiane Amanpour and in The Huffington Post, among other mainstream TV, radio and print media. He is a speaker and author of four books, including “How We Are Human” and “iPoems For the Dolphins to Click Home About.” Follow him @LukeSpartacus and he will sing you songs.