This post was written by Quirky Travel Guy and sponsored by North Dakota Tourism.
If North Dakota isn’t on your list of road trip destinations, the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway may change your mind. Among the cool sights in this area are historic pioneer cabins, fascinating Native American sites, scenic lakes, and quirky roadside attractions. Not to mention impressive scenery during autumn when the leaves change colors!
The road trip begins near Valley City, which Expedia named North Dakota’s most beautiful town. The byway runs for 63 miles and reveals some of the most interesting landscapes in North Dakota, with the rolling hills of the Sheyenne River Valley and lots of trees, farms, and small towns along the route.
If you’re looking to take a North Dakota road trip, here’s a sampling of the natural wonders, historic attractions, and roadside quirk you’ll see along the way.
North Dakota Road Trip: Things to See on the Byway
Baldhill Dam Overlook (Valley City)
Start your trek at the northernmost part of the Scenic Byway on 26th Street SE. Four miles into your journey, the first major attraction will be 1800-foot-long Baldhill Dam, built in 1951. Stop by the overlook to get great views of Lake Ashtabula and the nearby grasslands.
Rosebud Visitor Center (Valley City)
Open seven days a week during summer, the Rosebud Visitor Center is the perfect place to visit early in your journey. You’ll see an original 1881 railcar and learn about the history of the region and its earliest prairie settlers. If you like offbeat attractions, take note: The visitor center is also the home of the North Dakota Agriculture Hall of Fame, which honors contributors to the state’s farming industry.
The visitor center sits on Main Street in the heart of town. Stroll around to check out the small shops in Valley City and grab a bite to eat before moving on. Valley City is also known as the City of Bridges, so take some time to walk or drive across the many bridges that cross the river here. Here’s a PDF map with info for a self-guided bridge tour.
Medicine Wheel Park (Valley City)
Medicine Wheel Park in Valley City features nature trails, a walking tour of the solar system, and two large solar calendars. The horizon calendar, or medicine wheel, is made of rocks and measures 213 feet around. The park also contains 12 Native American burial mounds, which are believed to date from 500 to 2000 years ago.
Clausen Springs (Kathryn)
Just west of the town of Kathryn is 545-acre Clausen Springs Recreation Area, where you’ll find a large lake and swimming area. Clausen Springs has more than 60 campsites, so road trippers may want to consider pitching a tent here.
Wadeson Cabin State Historic Site (Kathryn)
In Kathryn you’ll encounter a log cabin from more than 140 years ago. The Wadeson Cabin was built by Norwegian immigrants in 1876 and served over the years as a store, home, and community center. It received major restoration work in 1981.
Standing Rock Historic Site (Nome)
Standing Rock is the site of four large sacred Native American burial mounds. These mounds date back to as early as 100 BC. Drive up the gravel path to the parking lot to see the mounds and take in expansive views of the valley.
Fort Ransom State Park (Fort Ransom)
Those seeking outdoor activities should stop at Fort Ransom State Park. Fishing, canoeing, and horseback riding are among the popular activities at the densely-wooded park. The park also hosts special events like River Fest and Sodbuster Days.
Fort Ransom State Historic Site (Fort Ransom)
Visit the spot of an 1867 military fort that housed 200 American soldiers. Nothing remains of the original buildings, though visitors can still clearly see where the fort and its 8-foot-deep moat stood. How often do you get to see an old moat anywhere in America?
Pyramid Hill & Viking Statue (Fort Ransom)
Maybe the most notable roadside attraction on the Sheyenne Scenic Byway is the Viking statue found atop a 100-foot hill in Fort Ransom. There’s long been a debate whether the hill was shaped naturally by glaciers, or whether it’s an ancient Indian mound, which would make it the world’s oldest man-made pyramid.
In either case, the hill has a large Viking statue on top. Standing 14 feet tall and composed of fiberglass and steel, the statue was erected in 1972 to honor the area’s Norwegian heritage. Now it’s one of the most Instagrammable sights in this part of North Dakota!
Town of Lisbon
The scenic byway North Dakota road trip ends in Lisbon, a community of just over 2000 people. Take in a movie at the historic Scenic Theater or watch car races on Sunday nights at Sheyenne Speedway. If you like, continue 12 miles east to Sheyenne National Grassland to end your trip with another taste of nature.
Visiting Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway
Spring and summer are good times to visit this part of the country, with sunny days and hot temperatures. Autumn is nice as well, with that gorgeous scenery and temperatures that average close to 60F well into October.
The Sheyenne River Valley is about an hour west of Fargo and two hours east of Bismarck, so it’s easily within reach for anyone visiting the state. The region sits less than a day’s drive from Minneapolis, Omaha, Des Moines, Winnipeg, and Mount Rushmore. If you’re heading to Theodore Roosevelt or Glacier National Park from Minneapolis or Chicago via Route 94, the byway is an ideal spot for a detour.
Additionally, much of the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway is part of the North Country Trail, a 4600-mile hiking trail that runs all the way from Vermont to North Dakota. The hardcore hiker who wants to tackle this trail may want to consider starting the adventure in the Sheyenne River Valley and heading east.
Would you want to tackle this North Dakota road trip in the Sheyenne River Valley?
Photos courtesy of North Dakota Tourism.