50 by 50: Planning a Road Trip Through North Dakota

Today’s post is brought to you by North Dakota Tourism

With my 46th birthday less than a month away, the big 5-0 seems to be looming just on the horizon. As I think about that milestone birthday that is quickly approaching, I’ve set a goal for myself…which is to see all fifty states by the time or I hit fifty (or at least before 51!) Can I do it? Well I’m already at 35 states, so that just leaves 15 more to go. And in my “rulebook,” visiting a state ideally means staying overnight, but should at least include having a meal in a state – and airports don’t count. But no one is going to take those hours I spent driving west to east across Kansas and tell me that it doesn’t count as having been to Kansas, even if my only meal was some crackers from a gas station convenience store.

So that means visiting three new three states a year (if I want to give myself that fiftieth year.) Seems doable, right? This year I already know I’m adding in Montana and Wyoming. But as I look at the states that remain (Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, New Mexico, Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Alaska), I need to ask myself, what do I really want to do in these states? Some are easy (New Mexico, South Dakota and Alaska I’m thinking of you!), but others I just don’t know enough about.

When North Dakota Tourism approached me to write about planning a roadtrip through North Dakota I was happy to take up the charge. I’ve wanted to research this anyway for my 50 by 50 challenge. And one glance through North Dakota’s Instagram feed was enough for me to say yes…this is a place I want to visit. Bison roaming, Northern Lights glowing, starry skies shining, stunning sunsets, rocky vistas, dinosaurs, cowboys, and more saying…come explore.

Luckily the Northern Dakota Tourism website makes planning really easy as they have tons of ideas for themed road trips from National Parks to outdoor adventure to golf or family fun.

Update: Fast forward two years and I have made this road trip a reality as part of a larger midwest road trip with my daughter. I used this post as my guide and stopped in Jamestown, Salem Sue, and the Enchanted Highway. We absolutely LOVED our time in Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

But first, a few fun facts. Did you know?

  • Living in what would become North Dakota put Theodore Roosevelt on the path to the Presidency and inspired his conservation efforts (hence Theodore Roosevelt National Park is found there)
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park was named the #5 on the New York Times’ list of must-see places in 2016
  • The world’s largest buffalo (statue) is found in Jamestown, ND (26-feet of roadside attraction joy) and you can also find Salem Sue, the world’s largest Holstein cow statue in New Salem, ND
  • You can also find rare white buffalo in Jamestown in the wild herds that roam in Frontier Village
  • Lewis & Clark met Sakakawea here North Dakota (learn more at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center)
  • Fort Union, ND was home to Hugh Glass, the fur trader played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie The Revenant

Now that we have all learned a little more about North Dakota, how should you plan a North Dakota road trip? You can certainly fly into Fargo and spend lots of time exploring North Dakota. However, since I’d like to hit a few states at once, I’d likely fly into Chicago and make a big loop hitting Milwaukee, Minneapolis, then head into North Dakota. I’d take Interstate 94 across North Dakota, then turn south to Rapid City and the Badlands in South Dakota before heading down into Nebraska and across Iowa back to Chicago.

North Dakota Road Trip (East to West)

Day 1: Fargo – Jamestown – Lewis & Clark – Bismarck

Start off in Fargo and drive two hours west along I-94 to Jamestown, where you can find the National Buffalo Museum, Frontier Village, and that giant buffalo statue. From there, continue two hours more to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan.

North Dakota heritage center

Day 2: Bismarck – Medora

Salem Sue roadside attractions in North Dakota

After staying the night, take some time to explore the state capitol of Bismarck, including the State Museum at North Dakota Heritage Center before continuing west. Roadside attraction fans should definitely make stops to see Salem Sue in North Salem and the Enchanted Highway of giant metal sculptures. This highway begins at Exit 72 on I-94 near Gladstone and ends 30 miles down the road in the small town of Regent. Beginning with “Geese in Flight” at Exit 72, large metal sculptures are placed along the county highway, each with parking area and kiosk. Sculptures include “World’s Largest Tin Family,” “Teddy Rides Again,” “Pheasants on the Prairie,” “Grasshoppers in the Field,” “Deer Crossing” and “Fisherman’s Dream.” From here, drive two hours west to Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Day 3-4: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Spend the day exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park, from the Painted Canyon Visitor Center to the scenic loop for gorgeous views of the North Dakota Badlands. You can do hiking, horse back riding, and wildlife viewing. Back in Medora, you can also visit the Cowboy Hall of Fame and learn all about roping, cattle drives and rodeo. You can also tee up on one of Golf Digest’s favorite courses, or settle down to a steak and fondue dinner followed by a night of song and dance. Bikers can enjoy the 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail through the Badlands.

See why I think Theodore Roosevelt National Park should be on your bucket list!

Planning a North Dakota roadtrip

Day 5: Medora – Rapid City

Head south along the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway towards the Black Hills and Rapid City, South Dakota, with a stop to see the White Butte, North Dakota’s tallest point in Amidon, ND.

So that is my plan, now I just need to pick a year and make it happen! Who is with me? Anyone else on a mission to hit all fifty states (no matter how many years it takes?) How many have you done so far? Oh and if there are any North Dakotans reading this, tell me what else I should add to my North Dakota roadtrip.


I'm planning to roadtrip through all 50 states and this gives a great day by day itinerary for a North Dakota road trip with suggestions on what to see and do each day.

Note: North Dakota Tourism sponsored this post. All opinions are my own. Photos courtesy of North Dakota Tourism.


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Publish Date: May 23, 2016

16 thoughts on “50 by 50: Planning a Road Trip Through North Dakota”

  1. Looks like it would be a great roadtrip! I have a similar goal to you but mine countries instead of states! Living in Canada, it’s actually cheaper – and in most cases faster to travel to another country instead of within Canada.

  2. Thank you so much for your blog and the ND travel suggestions. Hubby and I are also on the 50 before we die quest. I am 57 and hubby is 63. We live in Florida and travel a lot for work and pleasure. 2020 has been particularly difficult with COVID-19 and the inability to travel certain places. We finally decided to plan a trip in October to Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Your plan, even though we are going the opposite direction has been so informative. Thanks for sharing your adventures. After this trip, we will have seven states left! Hubby is from Tennessee and I can give you some great tips for that area of the country. I would just say – don’t skip Graceland and it’s Muse, even if you are not an Elvis Presley fan. While in Memphis, go to the Peabody hotel and witness the ducks – go early, find a place to sit, have a mimosa or coffee and enjoy. Only do Beale street during the day. You will get the vibe without the sketchy people. Go to Nashville and spend the $$ to go to the Grand Ole Opry – it’s a truly Tennessee experience that I enjoyed so much more than I thought I would. The country Music Hall of Fame is there as well and of course no trip is complete without a little honky tonkin’ although your daughter might not be able to accompany you. Finally, finish the state in the Smoky Mountains. Rent a cabin in Gatlinburg and use it as your home base for the area. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are kind of touristy but once you get into Smoky Mountains National Park, you leave that behind. Make sure to go to Cades Cove and make the stops – the log cabins of the original settlers is amazing. I couldn’t get over families with 12 kids living and sleeping in these two room log structures. Anyway – that’s my two-cents. Happy travels! Kelly

    1. Hi Kelly, thanks for all the suggestions!! We visited Memphis and Nashville a few years ago on a mother daughter trip and skipped Graceland that time but maybe I’ll get there some day. We did stay at the Peabody and my daughter even got to be the honorary duck master for the day and lead the ducks up the elevator to the roof “penthouse”. We also really enjoyed the Grand Ole Opry way more than expected. Sometime in the future we still need to get to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountain national park. Someday!

  3. My husband and I have to visit 6 more states of the 50 till 2019 which is our 50th wedding anniversary. Planning on North Dakota, Iowa, minnesota and nebraska for one trip. thanks for your tips regarding north dakota. will definitely visit TR national Park.

  4. I have 12 remaining. It’s a beautiful country. Thanks for your inspiration and info regarding ND!

  5. Sarah Parker-Fullmer

    I have the same goal. I just added 7 which puts me at 34. I’m 38 so I have a few years to get my last 16.

  6. The.Restless.Worker

    Looks like it would be a great roadtrip! I have a similar goal to you but mine countries instead of states! Living in Canada, it’s actually cheaper – and in most cases faster to travel to another country instead of within Canada.

  7. traipsingterra

    Medora also has an amazing Ice Cream Parlor with some of the best ice cream I have found anywhere!

  8. I’d love to visit North Dakota! These activities are right down our alley, plus we could visit friends who moved there not too long ago.

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