Five Family Favorites for a North Dakota Vacation

Two summers  ago, my family and I set out on a mission to discover as much of North Dakota as we could in three months. We called our adventure “Lost on the Prairie,” and every weekend we’d load up our car to travel to parts of North Dakota unknown to us.

It wasn’t difficult to find those places. Born and raised in Fargo, I’m a lifelong North Dakotan. But, until that summer, I’d hardly ever traveled anywhere within North Dakota. In fact, with Fargo’s location on the border of Minnesota, I was much more familiar with our neighboring state.

As a cruise director throughout the 1990s, I’ve been lucky enough to visit all seven continents, but my home state of North Dakota was an enigma to me. And for many years, I was completely OK with that.

When my son, Giovanni, was seven, I began to think about how I wanted him to view North Dakota, especially as he is the sixth generation in our family to call this state home. I wanted him to know that there is a much more to North Dakota than just Fargo, and fortunately my husband, Tony (a Sicilian-Italian by way of Toronto, Canada), was 100 percent on board with my vision to get Lost on the Prairie.

In the 10 years we spent working and traveling together aboard luxury cruise ships, Tony and I had many amazing travel experiences, including visits to the Amazon, remote parts of Europe and even Antarctica. But we never imagined that one of our top travel experiences – ever – would happen right here in North Dakota.

Together with our son, Gio, we had the adventure of a lifetime and discovered that North Dakota is a state rich with natural beauty, diversity, culture, history, and wonderful people. While you may not be able to do everything we did that summer, here are a few of our favorite Legendary experiences:

1) Medora & Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We love to highlight places that are “off-the-beaten-path,”  but it’s hard to keep this special place off the list, especially as its North Dakota’s top tourist attraction. Full of rugged, natural beauty, you can enjoy a diversity of activities including: horseback riding, the Medora Musical and Pitchfork Fondue, nature hikes (guided or alone), biking trails, museums, and even four-star food and accommodations at the historic Rough Riders Hotel in Medora (we highly recommend dinner at Theodore’s). Three days was just not enough for us!

2) Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway & Valley City

Prior to that summer, we didn’t even know what a scenic byway was, so it was fitting that our first weekend getting Lost on the Prairie led us to Valley City, a starting point for this byway. We stayed at the Americinn, which had very comfortable accommodations and a good swimming pool. The byway is incredible and provides a look back in time to what life was like for our state’s early settlers. In fact, we drove it two more times that summer and noticed something new each time. Each time included a stop at the famous Pizza Corner in downtown Valley City, a favorite of Gio’s. Don’t let the very basic interior fool you – this place knows its pizza.

3) Devils Lake, Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, The Ranch

Devils Lake was a great surprise for us. With its high water issues and busy surrounding roads, we were not prepared to fall in love with this city, but we did. We stayed at the Fireside Inn and Suites, and again found comfortable lodging with a good pool. We spent an entire day exploring Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, where the buffalo freely roam and can be spotted right along the roadside,followed by a terrific steak dinner at the historic restaurant, The Ranch (now one of our favorite places to dine in North Dakota). The downtown appeared to be at full occupancy with its own bustling personality, beautiful old buildings, and charming fire hydrants.

4) Lake Metigoshe, Bottineau,  International Peace Gardens

We knew that our summer adventure would have to include a visit to the International Peace Gardens, but were unprepared for the natural beauty of Lake Metigoshe and the Bottineau area. We spent a day at the Gardens, and another day exploring Bottineau and the lake area. Surprisingly, food was another highlight here: we loved the breakfast and pastries at the local café, and the ice cream at locally-owned Pride Dairy was superb. Lake Metigoshe has a mystical air about it, and we would love to spend more time there. Large and winding, the lake is full of islands and surrounded by an abundance of trees - I had to wonder why Fargoans think all the good lakes are in Minnesota.

5) Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Washburn

We received several recommendations to visit this site, and our experience exceeded our expectations. In addition to the quality exhibits depicting the epic journey of Lewis and Clark, as well as other historical artifacts from that time, we participated in several guided tours, including a nature hike and the reconstructed Fort Mandan. The center is dramatically positioned high above the Missouri River, with great vistas all around.

Throughout the summer we used social media like Facebook and Twitter to connect with North Dakotans and receive their suggestions for places to visit. We also tapped into the wealth of knowledge available to us through the dedicated team at North Dakota Tourism, who were integral in helping us plan our adventure. Click here for more from Sarah Nasello.