10 Unique Ways to Explore the Outdoors in North Dakota

Sightseeing in North Dakota.
Sightseeing in North Dakota. David Sorich, mods made
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North Dakota is often overlooked as an adventure destination, but that’s in part what makes it so incredible—it’s largely untouched, existing in its own beautiful little bubble. Therefore, it’s one of the best possible places to explore the outdoors in a truly unique and off-the-beaten-path kind of way. From landscapes that stole the heart of a president to giant metal sculptures of geese and grasshoppers, North Dakota has some of the most interesting and unexpected outdoor experiences around.

1. Hike to the World’s Largest Holstein Cow

Salem Sue, the largest Holstein cow in New Salem, North Dakota.
Salem Sue, the largest Holstein cow in New Salem, North Dakota. Nic McPhee

Located on the outskirts of the tiny town of New Salem is Salem Sue , the world’s largest (fiberglass) cow. She’s accessible via a family-friendly hike that can be undertaken from the bottom up or by driving most of the way and just trekking up to Sue herself. The extra ambitious can climb a small hill just to the back of the cow for a truly breathtaking view of the endless sky and gently rolling prairie lands that characterize North Dakota.

2. See Sculptures Along the Enchanted Highway

Enchanted Highway, North Dakota.
Enchanted Highway, North Dakota. Dawn Hopkins

The weather in North Dakota isn’t always hospitable, but that doesn’t mean you still can't enjoy the outdoors. Hop in your car, armed with a warm drink and good music, and hit the road to check out roadside sculptures along the Enchanted Highway . Along a country road between Interstate 94 and the tiny town of Gladstone you’ll encounter metalworks of geese in flight, grasshoppers, and an ode to the North Dakota-loving president Teddy Roosevelt among others.

3. Take a Cruise on the Lewis and Clark Riverboat

The Lewis and Clark Riverboat is a 40-foot flat-bottomed boat that departs from Bismarck and sails along the Missouri River every summer. You can choose to just cruise the river and take in the landscape views from the water (definitely go at sunset), or opt for the food-filled dinner cruise option if you want to make a night of it.

4. Experience an Outdoor Musical in Medora

Medora Musical, North Dakota.
Medora Musical, North Dakota. Roderick Eime

“Explore it. Adore it.” is Medora ’s new slogan and it couldn’t be more fitting. Among the many activities Medora offers, two of the best are the Medora Musical, an outdoor performance complete with views of the Badlands in the background, and Bully Pulpit, one of the best public golf courses in the nation, which includes signature holes (including a tee off from the top of a butte) you won’t find anywhere else.

5. Explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. Nic McPhee

Teddy came to North Dakota on a hunting excursion in 1883 and fell in love—with one visit to his beautiful little part of the state, you’ll understand why he credited it with igniting " the romance of [his] life ." Theodore Roosevelt National Park encompasses 70,446 acres and boasts over 100 miles of trails including the Maah Daah Hey Trail (the longest continuous singletrack mountain biking trail in the US) and top-notch backcountry camping. There’s never a bad time to visit—the scenery changes so much with the seasons that it’s worth at least four trips a year.

6. Climb White Butte, North Dakota’s Highest Point

White Butte, North Dakota.
White Butte, North Dakota. TCY

At 3,506 feet, White Butte , just outside of Amadon (population: 26) takes the cake as the highest peak in North Dakota. The hike is a pretty relaxed one with a path from top to bottom along the ridgeline. At the top you’ll find a trail log, a small tribute to the former landowner, Lawrence Buzalsky, and views of glacier-shaped landscapes. White Butte is on private land, but a $5 suggested donation in the mailbox at the trailhead gets you in, problem-free.

7. Splash Around Lake Sakakawea

Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota.
Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota. rick kloeppel

While you can ice fish in the winter, summer is really when this staggering reservoir really comes to life. Lake Sakakawea offers both primitive and hook-up camping and tons of options for swimming, walking, and biking. There’s a sweet little marina that has essentials for sale, sports equipment for rent, and gas for boats. Speaking of boats, wave running and boating are big summertime activities on the lake, most notably during Christmas in July—an aquatic parade of light-covered boats during Fourth of July weekend.

8. Take in the Beauty of the International Peace Garden

International Peace Garden, North Dakota.
International Peace Garden, North Dakota. Hugh Millward

The International Peace Garden is located on international land on the border of US and Canada. When you enter it you’re no longer in Canada or the US, so you’ll have to present identification to leave (passports aren’t required, but they’re the most efficient). This immaculately kept area is home to over 6,000 species of cactus and succulents, several flower gardens, and water gardens, too. If you can’t seem to tear yourself away from the beauty, you can pitch a tent and camp, no reservation required.

9. Drive Along the Four Bears Scenic Byway

Killdeer, North Dakota.
Killdeer, North Dakota. North Dakota

If art isn’t your thing but you still want to explore ND by car, the Four Bears Scenic Byway is for you. This 64-mile route weaves through a part of the state that is rich in Native American history and culture. The killer views of prairie lands, grasslands, and wetlands (including the Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge ) are best in the fall when the foliage changes.

10. Watch (or Participate in!) Extreme Sports

For those looking for a more extreme way to take in the outdoors in North Dakota, the state’s Extreme North Dakota racing ( ENDracing for short) events are where it’s at. From a 27-mile-long ultra marathon swim along the Red River in June to the frigid Bikecicle Fatbike Race in February, there’s something for every adrenaline junky during almost any time of the year.

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