I just got back from an amazing trip to Bismarck, North Dakota. If you haven’t traveled there, I highly recommend it! There’s so much for all ages – kids, families, couples, singles, groups – and I’m so excited to share my discoveries with you!
Bismarck is the state capital, and is actually part of the Bismarck-Mandan metropolitan area, which has a total population of about 130,000 people. It’s big enough to offer lots of things to do and see, but small enough that you can easily find your way around. It actually reminds me of my hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, which combined with its neighbor, Superior, Wisconsin, is about that size.
The Missouri River runs through Bismarck, so there’s actually quite a bit of water recreation in the area, in addition to the wide open spaces North Dakota is known for. And it’s beautiful! (But I’ll get to that…)
Bismarck is about 6 hours from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, which makes it ideal for a family road trip…that is, one that’s not super far away, but is far enough away that you feel like you’re in a different world.
And there is so much for families, but I’m listing my top 12 here! I wrote this list after visiting the area with a group of amazing travel bloggers, and with input from the visitors bureau and friends who live in the area, to make sure it’s a well-rounded list!
Disclosure: The Bismarck-Mandan Convention & Visitors Bureau hosted me for my visit, but all opinions are 100% mine.
12 Must-See Attractions for Families Visiting Bismarck, North Dakota
1. North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum
The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum is a must-see because it’s North Dakota’s largest museum and it’s FREE! Here you can see fossils, history and even a REAL MUMMIFIED DINOSAUR!
This totally FREE museum has enough stuff to see to fill up a full day. It’s located on the state capitol grounds right in central Bismarck, and is open year-round (except major U.S. holidays).
The most popular feature of this museum is probably the dinosaur fossils, dug up right here in North Dakota. You can find these right away when you enter and in the Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time. You can see life-sized casts of a T-rex, Triceratops, elephant-like mammals, underwater creatures and other animals going back millions of years, and kids can play with interactive games and features.
There is also a lot to see about North Dakota’s human history including “Fashion & Function” which displays clothing worn by politicians, movie stars and Native Americans (this is on display through November 2022). There are also galleries about the early people of North Dakota, agriculture and innovation, war and more.
Be sure to see “Dakota the Dino-Mummy” which is a real mummified dinosaur found right here in North Dakota back in 1999. It is being excavated right in this museum and parts of the dinosaur are on display in the gallery. It’s one of only 6 mummified dinosaurs in the world – it’s so neat to see the actual skin on the dinosaur’s bones!
Our group even got a glimpse of the mummified dinosaur in the museum’s lab with one of their paleontologists. They have been carefully working on it and doing research to learn more about dinosaurs and what they were like.
2. State Capitol Building
Right next to the North Dakota Heritage Center is the State Capitol building. Here you can tour the building and the grounds for free. There’s also an observation deck with a 360-degree view of the Bismarck-Mandan area,
On a nice day, there’s a beautiful lawn to have a picnic on.
3. Keelboat Park
Keelboat Park is located at 1605 River Road, which is right along the Missouri River. Steamboat Park, Steamboat Plaza and Keelboat Park are all located together and each provide uniquely-themed playground equipment and sculptures which are totally free.
Check out these cool play structures and sculptures, including two eagle sculptures created by United Tribes Technical College students. Here your family can play, learn and enjoy the river all at the same time!
But that’s not all. There are many playgrounds along River Road, each with a different theme, but first I want to highlight the Lewis & Clark Riverboat.
4. Lewis & Clark Riverboat
The Lewis & Clark Riverboat is located right by Keelboat Park. It’s open during the summer months in Bismarck. Enjoy the “mighty Missouri” and learn some history about the area!
The kids can play in the Keelboat Park playground while waiting for your boat tour, or before and after.
5. Superslide Amusement Park, Sertoma Park & the many other themed playgrounds
Think about this – if you were a kid and had the opportunity to go from playground to playground, and each had a different theme – spaceship, monkeys, wild west, train, battleship, etc. – wouldn’t that be the coolest adventure ever?
Well it is a reality here in Bismarck. Not only is Keelboat Park a unique park with boat structures to climb on, but Bismarck has a variety of other playgrounds, each with a different theme, and many are inclusive.
Sertoma Park is one of the most popular parks in Bismarck, and it located right near Superslide Amusement Park and the Dakota Zoo. Sertoma Park alone has 8 playgrounds, each with a different theme like bugs or a music ship.
Superslide Amusement Park is a family-owned, value-priced amusement park with various rides like a ferris wheel and of course, a superslide.
Learn about the many unique playgrounds here.
6. Dakota Zoo
The Dakota Zoo is the largest zoo in North Dakota, and is home to more than 600 animals – reptiles, birds and mammals. They’re open year-round: daily in the summer, and more limited hours in the winter.
Admission is reasonable, and there is also a train you can ride through the zoo for an additional fee.
Some of the animals include tigers, bears, otters, emus, alligators, owls, and more. Check them out!
7. Camp Hancock State Historic Site
Did you know that Bismarck was originally named Edwinton? And that it was named after Germany’s “Iron Chancellor” Prince Baron Otto Eduard Leopold Von Bismarck-Schoenhausen, a famous German statesman from Prussia? (That’s quite the name!)
You can learn this and other tidbits about Bismarck at the Camp Hancock State Historic Site, which was originally established as Camp Greeley in 1872 to provide protection for work gangs who were building the Northern Pacific Railroad.
The hours here are limited, but there’s a 1909 Northern Pacific Locomotive, Bread of Life Church (oldest church in Bismarck), and a site museum, plus picnic areas. It’s right near downtown so it’s within walking distance of stores and restaurants too. (This attraction is free.)
8. Bismarck Alley 5.5
Bismarck Alley 5.5 is a must-see in downtown Bismarck. It is an alley that was transformed into an art gallery with murals created by local artists. It’s located on 5th street between Broadway and Main Avenue.
The Alley is a unique project created by a partnership between the Dakota West Arts Council and six participants of the 2016 Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program. After support from the city, they made a call out to artists to submit samples of murals with the theme “Reflections of North Dakota.” The result was 22 chosen artists, each with a unique, colorful piece of art.
The Heritage Art Tunnel is another art project worth checking out, and it’s located right by the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum.
They’re both free, and they make excellent photo opportunities!
9. Fort Lincoln State Park & Slant Indian Village
Step back in time to 1875 with a guided living history tour of General Custer’s house, located at this Lincoln-established infantry post and home of the 7th cavalry. It’s located at what became Fort Lincoln, the state’s oldest state park.
The Victorian-style house, though rebuilt, is a beautiful mansion where General Custer lived with his wife and servants from 1873 – 1876. He led a command of 650 men here, the largest fort on the northern plains. It was a base of operations in the U.S. Army’s campaign against the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne nations during this decade.
It’s a fascinating tour of the house where you feel like you’re a guest, staying for dinner. And there are interesting facts to learn – like it took Mrs. Custer 90 minutes to get dressed in her sewing room, with the help of her servants. And you get to see all the rooms here including where guests slept, where the servants slept, and the kitchen.
Also part of Fort Lincoln State Park is the Slant Indian Village. The Mandan village was named On-a-Slant (Miti O-pa-e-resh) because of it being built on a sloping plain toward the river. It contained about 85 Earthlodges with a village population of around 1500. It now has 6 reconstructed Earthlodges that you can tour with a guide.
Life was challenging and harsh, which you’ll learn more about here. Due to the men’s lives being lost at battle so frequently, there were more women than men, so the Mandan actually practiced polygamy for survival purposes. Food was stored underground, though rats from the settlers ships actually were able to get into their food, causing famine for the Mandan. I learned this and much more during our guided tour and I recommend it for all. It’s very educational!
10. Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center & Fort Mandan
Located about 45 minutes north of Bismarck in Washburn, a must-see is the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, which is full of interactive exhibits, artifacts, and knowledgeable interpreters. It’s actually pretty big and I recommend spending some time here to get through all the galleries. There is an admission fee.
Be sure to get a guided tour of Fort Mandan. It’s a full-size replica of the fort where the Lewis & Clark Expedition stayed in 1804-1805. The Mandan and Hidatsa peoples helped them survive the harsh winter here, and they made friends with such important figures as Sacagawea, Toussaint Charbonneau and Sheheke-Shote.
The Visitor Center has additional information and a children’s play area with costumes and more.
11. Raging Rivers Waterpark
Hot out? Need to cool off?
Located in Mandan, the Raging Rivers Waterpark has tube slides, a lazy river, a kiddie pool area and concessions.
It’s perfect for a hot day!
Admission is reasonable too with discounted passes for spectators, and a twilite rate.
It’s located at 2600 46th Avenue SE in Mandan.
12. Chief Lookings Village Historic Site
And for a well-rounded visit, here are a couple of great places for pictures!
Head to Chief Lookings Village on a beautiful day. Chief Lookings Village Historic Site is a historic area where you’ll probably find the best view of the Missouri River in Bismarck. It’s located at 2023 Burnt Boat Dr. and there’s an interpretative trail, a new memory garden, and several places to sit and enjoy the view. A couple hundred years ago you’d see many Mandan villages from this spot. Get a picture of the family here together!
Nearby at Pioneer Park there’s a playground, an eagle sculpture and sand volleyball courts.
For another great view of Bismarck, head over to the University of Mary. It has a path you can walk on along the top of the hill it’s on. The college itself is beautiful and peaceful.
More Family Fun!
There is much more to do in Bismarck, such as the Gateway to Science, and even the National Day Calendar headquarters in Mandan (fun photo opps here!). Check out the Bismarck Mandan Convention & Visitors Bureau website to find out more.
Where to Dine
Bismarck is a foodie’s dream. There is so much here and during my visit I enjoyed meals at everything from cafes to upscale restaurants to a brewery – and so can you!
I’m highlighting a few that are a must-see with the kids – and a few for the grown-ups.
Copper Dog Waffles & Coffee
One dining must-see with kids is Copper Dog Waffles & Coffee in Mandan. It’s owned by a family with young kids who actually went to college in the Twin Cities and then returned to start a business in Bismarck. Why is it perfect for kids? It has a play area, and a mini gym for kids inside! The gym has open play time as well as classes. Copper Dog the perfect spot to bring the littles for some yummy waffles and playtime, while you get to sit and enjoy some delicious coffee. Kids love the waffles with sprinkles. My favorites here are the Banana Nut Waffles and Iced Caramel Macchiato!
Big Boy fast food restaurants are a classic from the past, but there are none in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and most states – but there is one in North Dakota. Big Boy is right in Bismarck and is popular and so delicious! Try their Hot & Tot drinks – they’re basically cola with cinnamon.
Brick Oven Bakery
Bread is baked fresh here every morning – you can pick up a loaf starting at 11:00am! But not only that, but Brick Oven Bakery has the most amazing Paris-inspired pastries, a lunch menu with salads and sandwiches, and the coffee, of course, is delicious. It’s located in downtown Bismarck.
3&ME Food Truck
A mobile coffee shop that stops in various places in Bismarck, 3&ME has coffee, lunch and desserts. I had a yummy chicken salad wrap here.
Laughing Sun Brewery
Looking for a brewery? How about one with ax throwing (and even spears!)? The popular Laughing Sun Brewery has a full menu, drinks and ax throwing! I tried and got the hang of it after a while. Though you have to be 18+ to handle the axes and other sharp objects, it’s very family-friendly and has great nighttime entertainment. We saw a local big band performing as we ate and tried the ax throwing together. It was great!
Want a fancy dinner? Something more elegant? A date night? Butterhorn is named after the buttery rolls you get with your meal here (and they’re the best ever). The menu has a mix of French and Italian cuisine with the highest quality ingredients. Filet mignon, walleye cakes, garden chicken and pastas like mushroom tagliatelle are a few of the quality menu items you’ll find here.
This brewery is located in the most unusual of places – a bank! That’s because the owners of the bank also own the brewery so it’s all under one roof here. The brewery’s name “Stonehome” comes from the Old Norse surname, Stenehjem, one of the two midwestern families that started the business. The menu has great burgers and pizza, and of course, beers. The building it’s in also has a great rooftop with events here during the year.
Some Additional Food Places the Locals Recommend:
- Kroll’s Diner
- The Wood House (great hamburgers)
- Scotty’s Drive-In
- Bruno’s Pizza
As you can see, Bismarck has so much for families to do – and to eat! And this list doesn’t even cover it all. There is so much more to explore in the area and throughout North Dakota.
What else would you add?
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