Travel to North Dakota – Episode 523

categories: USA Travel

Travel to North Dakota - What to do, see and eat in this least visited but beautiful state.

Hear about travel to North Dakota as the Amateur Traveler talks to resident Derrick Schiff about this often ignored state.


We will learn why, when you set out to see all 50 states, you should not save North Dakota for last… even though they have a t-shirt that says that.

We explore the Native American culture at places like the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, The Onaslant Indian Village Of The Mandan At Fort Abraham Lincoln, Knife River Villages NHP, United Tribes International Powwow, and even an Indian Casino.

We explore the Cowboy culture in the badlands in the western part of North Dakota through the Maah Daah Hey Trail, the Medora Musical, and livestock auctions.

We explore the German and Scandinavian culture through festivals like German Days and the Scandinavian Hostfest, the Scandinavian Heritage Park, some würst, and knoephla soup.

One part of the state is badlands and the other is so flat “you can watch your dog run away all night”. It is the least visited state in the United States, but Derrick makes the case of why “you should not save the best for last”.

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Show Notes

North Dakota
Fargo, North Dakota
German Days in Bismarck
North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum
North Dakota State Capitol Tours
Otto von Bismarck
Northern pike
Lake Sakakawea State Park
Water Wars: The lost towns of Lake Sakakawea
Wally Walleye
World’s Largest Sandhill Crane
W’eel Turtle Made From Wheel Rims
Enchanted Highway
Prairie Knights Casino and Resort (Bismark)
Prairie Knights Casino and Resort (reviews)
The Onaslant Indian Village Of The Mandan At Fort Abraham Lincoln
Knife River Villages NHP
Fort Lincoln Trolley
Rolling Hills Restaurant (truck stop) (reviews)
Knoephla Soup Recipe
Double R Meats
Maah Daah Hey Trail
Medora Musical
North Dakota National Parks
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Little Missouri National Grassland
Little Missouri National Grassland
Caves of North Dakota
Bakken Formation (Oil Fields)
Scandinavian Heritage Park (Minot)
Norse Hostfest (Minot)
Rugby, North Dakota (center of North America)
International Peace Garden
Hotel Donaldson in Fargo (HoDo)
Hotel Donaldson (reviews)
Plains Art Museum (Fargo)
Mandan Independence Day Parade
Indian Taco Recipe
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Grand Forks Downtown
United Tribes International Powwow
Mandan Rodeo Days
Würst Bier Hall (Fargo)
Würst Bier Hall (reviews)
Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway
Lewis and Clark Riverboat (Bismark)
Polka Fest
Assumption Abbey
Church of St. Joseph (Mandan)

Travel to North Dakota - What to do, see and eat in this least visited but beautiful state.


Chris: Amateur Traveler, Episode 523. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about flatlands and badlands, cowboys and Native Americans, Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea as we go to North Dakota.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by Away, makers of innovative luggage that have a solution for the problem that you’re at the gate, your cell phone is dead and what do you do? We’ll talk about Away more in this episode as well as give you a coupon code, so you can save money on them. But for now, thanks to Away for supporting the Amateur Traveler.

Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. We’ll hear more from our sponsor Away later on, but first we’re going to talk about the least visited state in the United States and make a case, a good case I think, for why you might want to go there. And find out what it is our guest said that made me laugh more than anything, I think, in any recent show as we talk about North Dakota.

I’d like to welcome to the show Derrick Schiff, who’s coming to us from the proud state of North Dakota, and come to talk to us about the same. Derrick, welcome to the show.

Derrick: Thank you for having me. I’m actually quite excited to share my home state with you guys.

Chris: Now North Dakota is, when ranked in tourism in the 50 states of the United States, 50th. We’re going to talk about why people are wrong, that they should be going to North Dakota.

Derrick: Don’t save it for last, even though there’s a t-shirt that says that.

Chris: Well, it’s one of the five states I haven’t been to, so let’s just put it out there that I’m one of those people. Why am I wrong?

Derrick: The best thing is that you’ll find when you come here, there’s a lot more to it than people give it credit for. I think once you dig in and you find certain things, and maybe that works against it in a way too is that there’s so much that can do here, that if you were separating it out, you may go elsewhere. But here, you could do families, you could do a single younger person, you could come for parties, you could come for outdoors, so it’s just a wide level of a base. It’s maybe not the high point.

Chris: Let’s get into some detail here. What would you recommend I do? Lay out a one-week itinerary for me, if you would.

Derrick: If you were coming in, I would suggest starting in probably one of our two biggest metro areas. One being Fargo, which is… Don’t relate it to the movie, you’ll have a misconception already, or Bismarck. Bismarck is the Capitol area. It’s located kind of in the dead center of the state. I live in the Bismarck Mandan area, so to me, that would be the best place to go. And not just because I’m biased, but because you could easily jettison out whichever way you wanted to go from there, and take it as you wanted to go.

The other way to do it would maybe be to set it up into like three portions, the east portion, the west portion, and then the central portion. It’s a very grid-like state, so it’s really easy to get around.

Chris: Well, why don’t you give us a specific recommendation? I would recommend you go here and then do this, and then go here and do this. What should we do?

Derrick: Okay, I would start in Bismarck. Bismarck is your home, and then you could start from there, and then go. So if you wanted, we’ll take it from west to east, because I think there’s more things to do as you go towards the east side of the state. If you started in Bismarck, you could stay in Bismarck for a few days. You could hit… We have the Heritage Center, which is our big museum. It has one of the largest Native American artifacts for the Plains Indians I suppose, and it’s a really huge thing. It’s right on the Capitol Grounds, so you can go in and visit the State Capitol. We have a really interesting, really tall state Capitol so you can see it from all over.

Chris: Kind of visit the State Capitol or can I actually visit the State Capitol?

Derrick: I don’t know how much you can go into like… Because you know how the have our Congressional Floor, depending on if they’re in session, you can maybe go in there or not. But you can walk around and they’ve got a lot of stuff. The Heritage Center is always open to the public, so there’s lots of stuff in there. One of the biggest history things, of course, for North Dakota was the Plains, when everything, the big expansion, “Go West,” and everyone came in to find the land. The Heritage Center has a lot of really great artifacts and setups where you can actually see what life was like back in early 1900s, late 1800s, and really get a sense of what that life was like and that was true Americana.

Bismarck was originally named Edwinton, and it was first settled in 1872. They eventually changed it to Bismarck after, of course, the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and they got, after that, a huge chunk of Germans to come over. You got a lot of Germans from Russia, so there’s this unique German perspective to it, and it’s ended up settling in the areas mainly around Bismarck, north and south adjacent. That Plains Museum or the Heritage Center really shows off a lot of that, and it shows off the Native American history there. I would recommend go to that, because it is a really huge museum. You probably could spend a good chunk of a day in and out of there to see the different exhibits they have, and then walking around the Capitol Grounds. They’re actually really nice and manicured. There’s a big front lawn where people are always riding their bike. They’re sitting out on the grass. They do fireworks there during the Fourth of July, which just happened so it’s always a big event there.

Chris: When I picture North Dakota, I picture it as part of the Midwest. So I’m picturing, gosh, I don’t know how to say this in a nice way. My family’s from the Midwest, and so I picture meat and potatoes in a very substantial but not a spicy way, both from food, but also just culturally. What am I wrong? Tell me what Bismarck is really like.

Derrick: In general, I think that you are probably closer to the nail than I personally would like to admit. You are going to find pretty standard kind of food. If you were coming here trying to find a German food, it is a little bit harder to find, actually, which I think is crazy, but you’re going to find a lot of Americana. I mean, you’re talking burgers and sandwiches and different things, and it is going to be sort of regular food, at least from American perspective. Maybe if you’re Taiwanese, that’s what you come here for.

Chris: What’s going to surprise me about Bismarck, both culturally and otherwise?

Derrick: It’s more modern than people give it a lot of credit for. If you could hit the downtown areas, especially on Friday and Saturday night, you’re going to see what I call the Yuppies, that young little crowd. There’s rooftop bars and restaurants that are serving alcohol and food, and having really a grand nightlife time, but I think that’s probably as much as that would maybe surprise someone.

We do have a lot of outdoorsy things to do, if maybe you’re thinking of that, but I suppose if you think of us as the out there place, then yeah, that would make sense that we have lots of different things to do outdoors. Fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, anything like that is very high on our list of things to do.

Chris: Okay. If I’m coming there to fish, do you have preferred place to go, or fish to fish for?

Derrick: Oh, there’s so many things. Walleye is probably the biggest and best-tasting fish to me. You could also get a lot of northern pike in the area.

Chris: Now the northern pike bites back.

Derrick: It can. You know, a big one on the line, it’s going to take you a little while to reel that one in, but that’s the whole part of the fun, supposedly, as I’m told. I prefer the eating portion, but okay. You can do it pretty much everywhere. Minnesota is known as the land of the lakes, but we do have quite a few lakes here as well. In the Bismarck area, you could hit Lake Tschida. You could just go right out here on the Missouri River and do a pretty good amount of fishing. The biggest thing that I would suggest, if you really want to go fishing, you probably want to hit Lake Sakakawea, which is north of us, just about an hour or so, and you could get in there. They’ve got lots of campgrounds. It’s split into two sides because the highway, or the interstate goes right through it and there’s kind of a bridge over it. It’s a rock bridge, it’s not exactly connected-connected but …

Chris: I’m a little worried about it being kind of a bridge and then it’s not quite connected-connected.

Derrick: Well, I would call it a bridge, but then it’s kind of like, you know, it’s a rock on a rock structure that kind of goes through the middle, because it’s a man-made lake. There’s a dam that created it, so it wasn’t like it’s a natural lake there, but it was built up by the Garrison Dam, and actually there were few settlements in there, especially Native American settlements that people will lament that are now under water that they would like to go in. When the waters get really, really low, like in the drought time, you’ll actually be able to go in and see some of these settlements. I don’t think any more, but when I was a kid you could maybe see a chimney or two sticking out of the water. You could actually go scuba diving around these submerged places that are now rubble. I think they’ve probably fallen down since, but that’s probably the best place. They have a lot of derbies and things there that you can get involved in, and walleye is big there.

Chris: Let’s take a break here and hear from our sponsor, who is Away, as I mentioned. I had a suitcase delivered from Away while I was away, and my reaction to it when I opened it up was very positive. I liked the hard shell, four-wheeled case. I also liked that it came wrapped in its own laundry bag, which I thought was clever, but I was missing the big point. It wasn’t until I saw that there was a USB cable in there, that I got a clue that the carry-on case in this set, which is what they sent me, also has built-in 1100 mAh battery, so that when you’re at the airport and your cell phone is dead, you can recharge it. In fact, you can recharge it five different times off that battery, and so you can be the one person at the airport who is not fighting for that wall plug.

Rob Walsh from Lipson who sent it to me said he’s already had somebody say, “What are you doing with that suitcase,” and want to order one. So it is a clever idea. You can get $20 off an Away suitcase by being a listener of Amateur Traveler. Go to and use the promo code “traveler” to get $20 off. And that’s traveler with one L, the U.S. spelling. And thanks to Away for sponsoring Amateur Traveler.

Derrick: We have a lot of big, I would call them fiberglass attractions. It’s sort of chintzy, if you’re a world traveler and you love big Neuschwanstein Castles, and we’re like, “Oh we’ve got a fiberglass walleye that’s the size of a car.” You can do what you can do. I’ve actually sent a few of my friends from Minnesota on a trek to find… There’s a bull, or not a bull, I should say a buffalo, there’s a cow, there’s a crane, there’s a turtle.

Chris: When you say crane, you mean the bird?

Derrick: Right, crane, like a sand crane. Then in Medora, there’s Enchanted Highway, I guess they call it, and it’s got metal figures of different birds. You can’t miss it if you’re driving along the highway. You’ll see this big sun and these ducks flying in the air, and it’s Enchanted Highway. There’re big crickets made of metal sitting along the road that some farmer made. For kids, it’s always fun. You’ll always see the kids going up and trying to stand on Salem Sue’s hoof and reach the udder and take a photo with it, so it’s fun. If you aren’t interested, you can just see it from the highway and be like, “Oh, that’s a curious oddity,” and then drive on to your destination.

Chris: What else are we going to do in the Bismarck area before we head out?

Derrick: I would suggest, if you wanted to get one of the better meals in town, if you want to hit what I would call one of the more classy meals, if you go south of town here into the Fort Yates area, there is a casino there. If you go into the casino, you can go into their buffet area. I always avoid buffets, but they’ve got what’s called the Hunters Club. And the Hunters Club has a little bit more refined food. I actually find it to be quite superb in terms of flavors, of layering and different things. The last time I was there I had the lobster bisque, which was quite incredible. I can’t remember what else. but they give you these big, Native American bread doughs covered in this sauce, which is to die for, and then they grill it, and you get a big wedge of it to eat with your meal. It’s fabulous.

Chris: Is that an Indian casino?

Derrick: Yes, Native American casino. I have a couple different Native friends that I know. They were planning on listening to this, and if I call them Indians, they may have…

Chris: Fair enough, I misspoke there and I’ll take full credit for it.

Derrick: Many people around here will say that. I have more than one acquaintance in the area. It’s sort of an interest of mine, so I pay more attention to it. I just usually try and tell people, “Don’t walk up and call them an Indian, they’re going to be like, ‘We don’t want to know curry. We want to actually talk about that stock and that’s what you’re gonna find.’”

Chris: And what tribes are most common in the area?

Derrick: The Mandan Indians and then it’s a lot of Sioux-Mandan conglomeration is in our area. The Heritage Museum has a huge chunk of that, and that’s one of the main things to see here too. Right south of Mandan, we have the On-A-Slant Indian Village. When you think of a lot of Plains Indians, the Sioux mainly did use teepees, but the Mandan Indians actually had this really cool idea of building these earth lodges. It’s like a little truncated hill that’s dug out inside. It’s a man-made hill and they have a hole in the center of the top. There’s actually a bunch of these in this park that you can go in, and you can actually go through the sweat lodges, and you can go through these dome village things, and go in and look at them, see how they lived and whatnot. It’s a really great site there, right by the river. There’s a few forts there you can find from the old settlements that they’ve got, and you can crawl up all the way to the top on the forts and get a really good vantage point out on the river.

Chris: And we’re talking about the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Park?

Derrick: No, that another place, but this is right south of Mandan.

Chris: Okay.

Derrick: You could leave Mandan, and within five minutes, you’ll hit this. Knife River is also one of the larger areas that’s down by Stanton, but they have another very good historical point, if you want to get an idea of this is what the native people lived like here, before European civilization tromped its way through.

Chris: So then I think you’re talking about the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

Derrick: Yes, yes, that’s exactly what it’s called. It’s right south of town. Actually, there’s General George Armstrong Custer who, depending on how you look at him, is maybe not the greatest historical figure, he’s actually got his house there that they’ve redone into a museum and you can go in there and see that Colonial aspect from the plains, how it looked when he was here. It’s a really interesting historical site. If you live in the area, you’ll always go down to that.

One of the interesting things, if you’re trying to make of a trek with it, is that there’s a trolley that you can get in the south of Mandan. You would have to check on the times that the trolley goes, but there’s and old, antique trolley that goes from the south of Mandan all the way down to the park. Then you can take the trolley, look around, do a couple of different things there, and then trolley back into Mandan, if you wanted to make it more scenic, perhaps say, rather than driving.

Chris: Okay.

Derrick: From there, I would say your German collective is in this area. So if you are looking for German food — spaetzle, kuchen, sliced chikla [SP] — one other place that I recommend is the Rolling Hills Truck Stop, which is just west of Mandan. It’s really, really cheap prices and they probably have the best knoephla soup that was ever created outside of my own. And if you don’t know what knoephla soup is, probably a Norwegian, and then I’m going to have to dock you points.

Chris: I’m half German and was just in Germany, and I still don’t know what it is.

Derrick: Knoephla is the little bread dumpling, and then the way that the soup is made where it’s got a cream base, it really depends on who’s making it because it seems like each family has a different recipe of how to make it. I’ve seen some people that do carrots and potatoes in there. I’ve seen some people that do more of a thin chicken broth to it rather than a cream broth, and they have actual bits of chicken in there. More standard, I think, when it was poor people on the plains that were trying to make this, the Germans that had come from Russia, they probably just had knoephla, and it was just little bits of the bread in there. It really is quite fantastic. If you can’t find a bowl, call me, I will make you a bowl. It is probably one of the best things. They have a couple different other German things there.

If you’re trying to get down into the casino, you could also take a side trip out to Carson, North Dakota, which has a place called Double R Meats. They’re an old-world butcher. They do just a really good quality meat. They’ve got really great sausage and bologna and hot dogs, so if you were popping there on your way out to the east, which was probably where I would say to go next, you would maybe load up on some meat so that you could have grills out in the western part of the state, and have some fun there.

The western part of North Dakota gets a lot more hilly because you start to get into what is known as the badlands. South Dakota usually likes to take the most credit for the badlands, but I’d say North Dakota has a pretty substantial portion of the badlands territory there that you can go through. If you were going to come out from Bismarck, I would definitely stay in Dickinson if you want to stay a little bit more upscale city like, but if you wanted to get out to Madora, they have a few lodges and resorts out there. You could also camp, if that was you so chose to do. Out there, we have the Maah Daah Hey Trail, which is big for bikers and hikers. It’s 140 miles of hiking trails, really great. I would say it’s kind of Grand Canyon bijou in a way.

Chris: You lost me there. Grand Canyon, a smaller version of the Grand Canyon.

Derrick: In a way, when I think of Grand Canyon, I think of lots of rocky outcroppings and things like this, that’s a lot of what that territory is. As you go from west to east in this state, if you drove it, you’ll definitely see in the west, you’re going to have lots of hills, lots of ups and downs, you’re getting closer to mountain territory as you start to get into the great plains. Then as you go east, by the time you hit Valley City to Fargo, it’s flat. They say you can watch your dog run away all night on the plains. It’s flat territory. There’s not a whole lot of trees, it’s grassland, lots of farms, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And not so much once you get past Jamestown and east, just starts getting more and more hilly. So I think it’s a really neat contrast that we have both.

Medora is one of those things that I think a lot of people say…but I know on your show we used to kind of say, what do you say not to do that the guidebooks recommend.

Chris: Right.

Derrick: If you are a world traveler, and you are used to Broadway or a lot of really classy shows like that, people will say, oh, go to the Medora Musical. You may like to go to the Medora Musical, but if you’re used to Broadway, I would maybe skip it. It can be a step down from that. I’m sure the people will kill me for saying that, but for my 10 cents, I’ve seen it, and I’ve been to New York and seen a Broadway show, and there’s really not a lot of comparison. Lots of people out here do it quite a bit, but you can do a whole day. They’ve got a lot of stuff there. That’s in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which of course is back to President Teddy Roosevelt. He considered himself a Rough Rider and an outdoorsman of a high caliber, that was kind of his thing, and he was one of the first people that started setting aside lands in America for national parks. This was his place that he really touted as one of the best places he’s like to live. There’s a lot of information about him there, and it is our rugged territory you’re entering, what I call ten-gallon zone, and by ten-gallon I mean hats. So lots of cowboy boots and hats out that way. Country music is the standard.

Chris: In the park itself, we’re in the badlands area?

Derrick: Yes, the park is right, kind of in the center of it, the main Interstate 94, which basically cuts the state in half from east to west, goes right by Theodore Roosevelt. You can’t miss it.

Chris: Okay, because I know that there are two other, well, there are two other larger national parks, not to mention historic sites that are the grasslands, but I thought that Theodore Roosevelt was more the badlands area.

Derrick: Yes, that grassland is the largest national grassland in the entire country.

Chris: Little Missouri National Grassland in the west, I think that’s the one you’re talking about. Just looking on the map, that looks like it’s the largest one.

Derrick: That’s right. That whole area out there is hiking and there’s actually some caves you can go find there. I think there’s a website online if you search North Dakota caves or something like that. You can get into some caves and do some spelunking. I remember doing it as a kid. If you really want to feel that wildlife in lots of the grasslands, I remember going through…you can kind of feel what the plains looked like before anything came through. It’s not like you’re in the middle of New York suburbia and you can just see towns and settlements. You’re going to see plains as far as the eye can see.

Chris: In the one in the west, the Little Missouri too, it’s not what I pictured. It’s not that flat, flat sort of plains, but it is still more of the buttes and that sort of thing too from the pictures. It’s quite low-laying from the pictures I’m looking at.

Derrick: Yeah, and that’s one of those fun things that I don’t think that most people associate that with North Dakota. They go, “It’s flat and there’s nothing there.” Well, you may be right on the second part for certain expanses of 94 but yeah, the grasslands are really beautiful. You can drive that whole thing. You want to just do that drive, and do that scenic drive.

That portion of the state is also under a lot of flux because of the Bakken oil field, which covers a big chunk of North Dakota and Montana. Williston and Dickinson, where I used to live, have changed and have really been exploding with this growth, because so many people came in to get oil in the Bakken and get rich. You might have to worry about your car. I would definitely try and get something that has a really smooth ride, because I’ve heard that because the roads are so beat up now, you just can’t keep up with it, and the DOT can’t keep up with it, so there’s a lot of road problems.

You could get up to Williston, which is the default headquarters of where oil boom is happening and apparently, I haven’t been up there since, but apparently it really is like the new wild west. When they found gold in South Dakota, this is the closest thing, but it’s just in modern times. The story was that there were kids from eastern Europe coming in for the summer and making close to $50,000 to $60,000 in wages for their period of time here and then they would send it back to their families in eastern Europe and then go home. You can get jobs for even waitering at McDonald’s that were paying huge wages just because there was so much need for it. It’s an interesting thing, a lot of culture clashes have been happening up there, so if you wanted to see that, it’s an interesting enough point to stop as you go through there.

As far as the rest of the west of the state, it is pretty sparse, but it’s really beautiful. I would say if you’ve been through on Dickinson and went through Medora, you could probably do that within a day, day and a half, unless you wanted to do a lot more outdoors, hiking and things like that. Also a fun thing to do over there would be to see the wild buffalo herd, which is the only one remaining, as far as I’m aware, in the contiguous United States. Buffalo used to the be the Native Americans’ main source of food, clothes, anything like that. They used to be huge, huge herds of these that ran up and down the plains, and now it’s down to this one herd through that national park there that you can actually see live and they’re roaming out there just like they did a millennia ago, which is really cool to see that history still on display there. But don’t get out and take a selfie with them. That’s dangerous.

Chris: No, that seems like a really bad idea. Although, I’ve seen one tourist do it with a large elk that was clearly nervous, but that’s another story. For those listeners who are not from the U.S., when we say buffalo we’re usually mean the American bison. It’s just we often call them buffalo here in the U.S., even though they’re not technically.

Derrick: Now I stand corrected. We all have our little pockets of history, I suppose.

Chris: When I was doing a little research for this show, the other spot that looked interesting to me but is way the heck in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know how to pronounce it because I’m never going to assume that I know how to pronounce something in the Midwest or in North Dakota, but M-I-N-O-T.

Derrick: Minot.

Chris: Minot, okay. See, I would pronounce it the French way and that would be not at all correct.

Derrick: Siri does as well, trust me. I’ve been like, “Take me to exit 154 to Minot,” and I was like huh?

Chris: And the Scandinavian Heritage Park there, including a large Stave church, which looks really out of place to me, sitting in the middle of North Dakota.

Derrick: Yep, and actually I would say that would be something to do as a day trip, or at least a two-day trip from Bismarck. You could really spend a lot of time there. Minot has…where the Norwegians and the Swedish, I’m not so much sure about the Finnish people, but the Scandinavians really hit that sector, the little bit of the northern portion of North Dakota. Minot has the Norsk Hostfest every year. It’s the largest Norwegian gathering outside of Europe every year. It is absolutely huge. It actually draws people that are Eurovision stars from Norway come over here and perform, which I was crazed about when I saw Didrik Solli-Tangen and his brother coming over here, I just about died a death and was super excited to go see them, but it is huge. It’s on the state fairgrounds, so you’re going to have rides, and you’re going to have lots of Scandinavian food, lots of music, lots of different vendors will be selling different things like fudge. You’ll get lots of stuff. It’s definitely worth going if you’re going to be here, then you can try…

Chris: And we’re talking about the Norsk Hostfest, I don’t know how to pronounce that exactly.

Derrick: Yes, and the Scandinavian may have to help with that because I’m German.

Chris: Well, I’m half-Scandinavian but that didn’t help.

Derrick: I’m trying to find the actual dates for it here too.

Chris: It is in the fall is all I have. It looks like it’s going to depend on the year. Since you may not be listening in 2016 when we are recording this, you might check the show notes for a link to the official website.

Derrick: This year is September 27th through October 1st. I think it’s always the end of September, if I’m honest. They usually try and do it about the same time every year. It’s the largest Scandinavian festival. Tens of thousands of people attend the event annually, and they have more than 200 internationally recognized artisans, craftsmen, chefs that participate in it every year. It brings out a lot of people and you definitely would probably want to maybe hit a hotel up there. I know a lot of them do shuttles to and from the event center, because I hear parking is really, really hard if you just drive up there. I would maybe suggest, if you were going to do Hostfest in that area, I’ll tell you some things you can do in there and around there. Maybe go up, get a hotel, and then have them shuttle you into that event because it can get pretty packed when it’s there.

Chris: Where else should we hit while we’re in North Dakota?

Derrick: In Minot, I would definitely take a jaunt over…you go just a little bit east and you can hit Rugby, North Dakota, which is the geographical center of North America. There’s a big portion of that but you’re basically in between the top of Canada and the bottom portion of Texas. It’s kind of a neat little monument that’s there. North of Rugby, you can hit the International Peace Garden. It’s dual-owned by Canada and the United States, and there’s huge amounts of gardens and flowers. You can always find during the summer months a lot of butterflies and things roaming around there. You don’t need your passport to go there if you are an American, but obviously if you’re coming from overseas to here, you’ll already have your passport. It’s a really great site, lots of nature and it’s just really quite beautiful and worth a stop if you can get out there. That’s kind of your north central North Dakota trip there.

On your way back down, if you stop in Turtle Lake, you’ll hit that large turtle that I was talking about earlier.

Chris: Please don’t hit that large turtle. That seems like a very bad idea.

Derrick: Well, check him out anyway. You don’t have to hit him, but I believe he’s made of tires.

Chris: Of course, he is, excellent. What else is going to surprise me about North Dakota?

Derrick: If you head through Fargo, you’re really going to see North Dakota at its most modern. It’s most young, if that’s what you come here to see, that’s where you want to go. Fargo has a number of different major colleges, so it’s known for being the young college town. You’re going to have a lot of different people and lots of nightlife, there’s martini bars. If you do go to Fargo and you want to stay, if you stay at the HoDo, which is the Hotel Donaldson downtown, they have really good food there. You can get walleye crab cakes, so it’s like a crab cake made with walleye meat.

Chris: Okay, so it’s fresh unlike seafood would be.

Derrick: Right, yeah, they pull in in each day, I think, from Sakakawea. It’s really good food. And if you stay at the HoDo, each hotel room is made up in a different style. It’s kind of a grab bag of whether you’re going to get 1920s or the Western, old Hollywood glamour. That’s a great place to stay if you’re down there. They also have the Plains Art Museum in there, if you’re looking for Midwestern art, but if you’ve gone to the Louvre, that’s maybe not number one on your list of things to do.

Chris: Okay, best time of year to visit.

Derrick: I would say if you want to really feel it, there were three different events that I would say you could probably hit which would be your best choices. One being the Norsk Hostfest, it is probably one of the largest that’s in the whole state, it’s huge. Definitely worth seeing.

If you come over the Fourth of July, you want to be in Bismarck Mandan. Mandan has one of the largest parades in the state and we really go all out for the Fourth of July. They have rodeos and demolition derbies, and there’s a parade. There’s Art in the Park, where you can get crafts and vendors and little fair food type things, which is super American.

Chris: Something deep fried in something.

Derrick: Deep fried candy bars, mini doughnuts. We call them Indian tacos, which should technically maybe be Native American tacos but it’s a flat piece of fried dough, and then you can usually layer it with like lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, meat, onions. Some of them will get enormous, but it is really… I mean, when you’re in the middle of the plains and you’re living in a sod house, you didn’t really have a whole lot to work with. A lot of the Native Americans too, it was bread and that was one of their main things. So it’s this big hunk of bread with… and they’re absolutely delicious. You really can’t make it healthy but who cares, it’s delicious.

Chris: You mentioned Mandan, and the other thing I noticed, because I’m going all over the internet while you and I are talking, I’m distracted, but in a good way, was the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center there in Mandan, because they spent quite a lot of time in North Dakota, since you mentioned the Missouri River, which is what they went across on.

Derrick: Yep, down by where we had talked about the On-A-Slant Village, they do believe that is the birthplace of Sacagawea, and they actually have a monument there that they believe is where she grew up and that was her home base there, where she originally would have grown up and then eventually came into contact with Lewis and Clark and of course was their interpreters through the rest of their journey out to the west coast. So she’s a really important figure for us, really quite revered. You’ll see a really great statue of her in Bismarck on the Capitol Grounds, of Sacagawea herself. We’re kind of a feminist state like that, which maybe you wouldn’t think of, but there you go.

You could head up to Grand Forks. I think the more interesting thing for Grand Forks is that they’ve had a big flood here in the ‘90s and so a lot of their downtown has been refurbished. Obviously, in that area, Devils Lake has one of the largest fisheries in the state, so again, if you’re doing fishing, that would be a good place to try and head out of there as well.

Chris: Okay, you mentioned a couple of things as we went along. One was…you talked about one of the particular forts, I think it was Fort Yates, if I want to get in touch with the history of that period, the expansion into the plains, what’s the best place to go?

Derrick: Definitely the Heritage Center in Bismarck, and then down through Fort Yates with a Y, if I didn’t pronounce that well enough. Fort Yates is the actual reservation lands right now, that’s why the casino was there. You could really see how the Native American population lives now, which is sort of a national tragedy, if you asked me. You can really see there. One of the interesting things about that, that I should maybe point out, a lot of the Native Americans that you see in our old westerns here, the spaghetti westerns, are always dressed up like Plains Indians, even if they’re Arapaho, or Comanche or something different. It’s that feather headdresses, which is kind of tying back to my third event, that I would say if you’re going to come here for a specific event, they have a Powwow. I believe it’s the end of August.

The annual Powwow that the Lone Star Arena at the UTTC, which is the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck is one of the larges Powwows in the country. It actually brings in international dancers, so they may actually bring in the tribes from South America and things like that. But there’s over 70 different tribes that come and 20,000 spectators come in and it’s a huge event. You’re going to see Native Americans really dressed up in full regalia, and I can’t express how amazing that looks, because this is something that is hugely prideful for them. Think of like some of the Mardi Gras natives down there, this is kind of like that. It’s huge decked out and it’s feathers everywhere and they’ll do drum songs and the dancing. There, you’re going to have lots of those Indian tacos, and it is a big, big event. If you want to see that, which is such an important cultural milestone of this area and the United States history, and prehistory to that, that’s probably one of the main places to go to see that. It’s definitely worth a stop.

Chris: Excellent. Then speaking of that time period just after that, how would I connect… you also mentioned the ten-gallon area, how would I connect with the cowboy culture?

Derrick: The cowboy culture, there are a lot of different… What do you call them, where they sell the cows? I’m not a cowboy, I consider myself a city slicker.

Chris: Yeah, you came off there as a city slicker. You’re not talking about the rodeos then, where they sell the cows.

Derrick: They do have, for the Fourth of July, Mandan has a really ginormous rodeo, so if you wanted to see that and maybe see that as a city slicker, that would be a good time to go. If you get out to Dickinson, there’s a lot of cattle shows where they’ll be selling cows. You can go in and you can walk.

Chris: Usually, there’d be a cattle auction I think.

Derrick: A livestock auction, right.

Chris: Livestock auction.

Derrick: There’s one in Bismarck, Kist Livestock.

Chris: If you’ve never been to a livestock auction, it is an interesting thing, just the whole auctioneer thing as a whole. My grandfather, and I swear this is true, once bought a horse at a livestock auction when he was swatting a fly, but he said it was a pretty good horse.

Derrick: I remember going as a kid, and they said, sit on your hands.

Chris: Yeah, yeah. My grandfather was a cowboy.

Derrick: You know, when you’re getting to the livestock auction because you can smell it.

Chris: Well, yes.

Derrick: You know when you’re in that area of town. It just is there. It comes before you get there. You’ll know what you’re getting into.

Chris: Excellent. Before I get to my last four questions and we start to round this up, what else should we know before we go to North Dakota?

Derrick: Let’s see, I have a few things that maybe I didn’t hit. One thing in Fargo, if you’re looking for that blend of German food and like young, hip cuisine, the Wurst Bier Hall is in downtown …

Chris: Is that the Wurst Bier Hall with the W-U-R-S-T?

Derrick: Most of the north Americans or the North Dakotans anyway, would probably say “worst,” but yes, if you’re doing technical …

Chris: We’re spelling it here, we’re not saying the “worst beer hall.”

Derrick: Yeah, not worst as in bad, but “wurst” as in W-U-R-S-T, they’ve got a lot of really good, kind of authentic sausages and wurst there. I have a few German friends who, when I had some of the mustards there, I was like, “Oh yes, they would approve. They would approve of this.” It is just really German. It’s a nice thing to hit there in town.

If you’re on your way to Fargo, a nice stop off south of Valley City, there is a Scenic Byway that I am told, even again, through our real big range of landscapes here, actually looks really interesting. I think it’s Highway 86. If you go through Valley City, there’s a Scenic Byway sign, and if you go south and drive, it looks really windy and tree, so it’s very much eastern American looking, which is kind of interesting. I’ve never driven it myself, but I have a lot of people who have recommended it and said it’s a really neat drive to do, if you have an hour or so to just kind of putz there on your way from one place to the other.

Chris: Excellent.

Derrick: We have 63 wildlife refuges in the state, which is more than any other state, I believe. We have more golf courses per capita than any other state.

Chris: Now what is the total population of this state. You’re going to have a lot of things more per capita.

Derrick: We are ranked 47th in population. Total population is 756,000 almost 757,000 as of 2015.

Chris: Okay, that is less than the city I’m sitting in, but a whole lot bigger.

Derrick: Right, and lots of space to traverse out in. Oh, I forgot one of the better things. In Bismarck, one of the fun things to do, if you want to go out to the river and you’re thinking, “I don’t know how to rent a boat” or anything like that, we actually have an old-fashioned river boat that does cruises up and down the Missouri River. You do a food cruise with them, where they’ll actually feed you dinner or whatever and you can kind of go out on the boat. It is actually really pretty if you go down there. They’ll actually go far enough South that you’ll see two of the forks that are near that, the Mandan Indian Village. I don’t know if you can see the earth lodges anymore because of the tree foliage, but it’s really actually a nice little thing to do, if you have the evening and you just want to have a nice night out. You can go get food and take the river boat up and down the tour. That’s one of my favorite areas is down along that Missouri River there.

Chris: Excellent.

Derrick: The polka, if you know of Lawrence Welk, polka is a really big thing in North Dakota. He was from North Dakota and went on to be a fairly famous musician.

Chris: His show was always on Saturday night in my home, not of my choice, I might add. My parents had to watch Lawrence Welk on Saturday night.

Derrick: Usually, the funny thing is at most weddings around here, if you’re lucky enough to get into one, they will have two separate dances. They’ll start off with a polka band and all of the old people will polka their hearts out for two to three hours. Then usually, after that, that band will close up and then the DJ will come in and it will be like Willow Smith, “I whip my hair back and forth,” and that’s when the young people come out an enjoy. So polka is a really big thing. I tried to find if there was a place that you could find polka just on demand, but there really isn’t. There is a Polkafest in Hankinson, but it’s one of those things if you’re lucky enough to see it live, it’s really quite interesting. It’s one of those dying dances that you probably won’t be seeing much of anymore, because they’re certainly not using it on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Chris: Well, maybe they should.

Derrick: They should.

Chris: Polka is a fun dance. I will give my parents credit for that.

Derrick: It’s a hard dance too, that works up a sweat. For the longest time in the United States’ history, the tallest tower was in North Dakota. It was the KVLY tower, 2063 feet just north of Fargo, and it’s still there. You can go in, it’s still used, and go in there. Obviously, New York has trumped that now a little bit.

When I go traveling, I love to see the churches and the cathedrals and abbeys of Europe. Obviously, people would say, “Well, there’s not much you can do in North Dakota for that.” There’s actually two or three churches that I would definitely recommend going in. There is the Abbey in Richardton, which is where a lot of people would go to learn to study to become priests. It’s a really old style abbey and it just is really beautiful inside. It really looks like it could be transplanted into one of Europe’s great cities and it wouldn’t look out of place.

I would also recommend St. Joe’s in Mandan. It’s a Catholic church and they have probably one of the most phenomenal stained glass windows all over the place. All their windows are stained glass, and they are absolutely fabulous. They have images in them and different pictures from people from the Bible. They are really, really quite fantastic.

An interesting story about North Dakota is that at one point in time in the ‘80s, if North Dakota had decided to secede from the United States we would have been like the second most military power, because supposedly, there are a lot of nuclear warheads hiding in our lands. So don’t make us angry.

Chris: No North Dakota jokes, good to know. If you’re standing in the prettiest spot in North Dakota, where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Derrick: I have kind of a dual answer for this, and I’ve tried to narrow it down and I really can’t. It’s one of two. One is standing at the beach at Lake Sakakawea and looking at what could easily be one of the great lakes of the United States, but it’s so beautiful and I just love being there. It’s like calm waters and out on the lake and really just taking in the natural beauty.

Secondly, if you weren’t there, it’s you’re driving along the Missouri River on River Boat Road in Bismarck. It goes right along the river for a really long expanse. If you do that on a cooling summer night, that air from the river hits that road and it’s just wind in your hair, one of those really great iconic moments of your life.

Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in North Dakota.”

Derrick: Let’s go with the easiest answer. Only in North Dakota will you legitimately find someone taking a proud stance of, “Well, this is the last state that you’ve visited of all of them, right? We’ve got a t-shirt for that.”

Chris: Finish this sentence. “You really know you’re in North Dakota when…” what?

Derrick: Oh, when you look at your travel companion and you go, “Really? I didn’t think that they would have that here.”

Chris: If you had to summarize the proud state of North Dakota in only three words, what three words would you use?

Derrick: Unique, undiscovered, and for lack of a better U, I’m going to go with legendary, which is the tourist’s motto for us. I do believe that’s very true. I think you can have a very legendary trip if you come here.

Chris: Excellent. Our guest again has been Derrick Schiff. Derrick, thanks so much for coming on the show and telling us about your love for your home state of North Dakota.

Derrick: Thank you. I hope that you will come and visit. And if you need someone to show you around, I’m happy to pick you up from the airport and make you a bowl of knoephla soup.

Chris: With that, we’re going to end this episode of Amateur Traveler. I have so much to do to catch up from a three-week trip. If you have any questions, send an email to host at or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at You can follow me on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram at Chris2x and as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

2 Responses to “Travel to North Dakota – Episode 523”

Mark Carrara


while the Polka may be dying in North Dakota it was alive and well in Wisconsin (at least a few years ago when I left). You can find small local bands playing bars and festivals all over the state. Not just for the old folks, even teenagers can be seen on the dance floor.

BTW Indian Tacos did not originate with the plains Indians. As the name implies it is Hispanic in origin. It drives from the Navajo fry bread and mutton combined with the Mexican’s love of beans. Lettuce and tomatoes are recent additions



Cindy wrote: “Chris, just thought I’d give you a few more reasons to visit ND (and return to MN too, of course). While the Plains Art Museum isn’t the Louvre, you’ll leave the Plains Musuem understanding Fargo a little better. The Louvre is great, but it doesn’t really help you understand Paris. The Plains Art Museum does some lovely shows. Also, since you seem to like stav churches, you should know that there is a a full-size replica of one in Moorhead. Ok, it’s not ND, but the church is by the river so you can see it from ND – and if you cross the river into MN you can tour it, as well as a homemade Viking ship a college friend sailed to Norway in one summer many years ago.”

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