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9 Beautiful Small Towns in North Dakota to Visit This Summer

North Dakota is a charming U.S. state bordered by the famous Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan to the north, the American states of South Dakota to the south, Minnesota to the east, and Montana to the west. Viewed from above, North Dakota appears as endless flat land or rolling prairie with black soil from cultivated land, a green blanket of new crops, and yellow fields of ripe grains. This is not surprising considering that nearly 90%, or 39.1 million acres, of the state's land area is used for ranches and farms. This makes the entire state one of the best locations for agritourism, and many of the small towns in the state are beautiful to look at.

If you want to see the farming industry for yourself or enjoy small-town charm, cuisine and local attractions this summer, consider the lovely small towns in North Dakota featured on this list. These small towns offer an exciting glimpse into the state's rich history, culture and nature.

Bottineau

The Botno Theater surrounded by small shops in the town of Bottineau, North Dakota. By Bobak Ha'Eri – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

There's no denying that Bottineau is one of the prettiest small towns in North Dakota. It's known for its winter park, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and year-round seasonal activities. Founded in 1883 as Oak Creek, Bottineau has grown from a small customs post and overnight stagecoach stop to a charming town of about 3,000 residents.

Bottineau is known as the “Four Seasons Playground” because there are always plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy no matter the season. Nearby – but not directly in town – the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest in the U.S. and is located in the Souris River Basin. This refuge offers a variety of habitats to explore, including grasslands, wetlands and forests.

Another outdoor activity worth your time is a trip to Mystical Horizons, North Dakota's own Stonehenge. This astronomical site offers views of the surrounding landscape and plenty of photo opportunities. But if you prefer to be indoors, you'll love a visit to the Bottineau County Museum with its local historical exhibits.

Valhalla

Trading post in Valhalla, North Dakota.
The Walhalla Trading Post, a historic landmark in Walhalla, North Dakota. By Elcajonfarms at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Walhalla, the second oldest community in North Dakota, is located just a few miles from the Canadian border. Known as the “Heart of the Rendezvous” region, it's a place history buffs love to visit in the summer. Some of the best historic sites include the 1843 Kittson Trading Post, one of the oldest and most historically valuable buildings in North Dakota. Then there's the 1845 Gingras Trading Post Historic Site, where you can see some of the oldest European-American structures in the state.

After touring the historic sites, visitors should plan some time outdoors. Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area offers adventurous travelers miles of hiking and horseback riding trails. You can also fish, hunt, tubing on the Pembina River, geocaching or participate in primitive camping at this state recreation area.

garrison

View of the Garrison Dam in Garrison, North Dakota.
View of the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River in Garrison, North Dakota.

Garrison is a lovely little town that was founded in 1905 with the expansion of the Great Northern Railway and officially organized as a village in 1907. The town has a quaint population of 1,500 and is known for its location on one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States, Lake Sakakawea. It is sometimes called the “Walleye Capital of the World” because of its amazing fishing opportunities. For this reason, every summer, fishermen from near and far come to Garrison to try their luck fishing in Lake Sakakawea. During their fishing trips, many are lucky enough to catch a few walleye, northern pike, king salmon, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch. In addition to fishing, the lake is also perfect for water sports, swimming, and boating. Garrison is also home to the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame, which displays significant sport fishing artifacts.

Visitors to Garrison also flock to the Garrison Dam, the birthplace of the Sakakawea Lake construction project. Visitors can learn about how this dam plays a vital role in the town's irrigation, flood control and hydroelectric power generation. Then there's the Heritage Park and Museum, where visitors can see what life was like in the 20th century. This open-air museum is home to an old county school, a village church and the town's first telephone office.

The Devil's Lake

Devils Lake in North Dakota.
Bare trees in Devil's Lake near the town of Devils Lake, North Dakota.

Outdoorsy vacationers should put Devils Lake on their small-town travel bucket list. This town of about 7,000 residents is known as a paradise for water sports and fishing lovers. Since the town is located near Devils Lake – yes, the town has the same name – all visitors can look forward to everything from kayaking, water boating, swimming and fishing to golfing, bird watching, hiking and other outdoor activities.

History buffs will enjoy visiting the Lake Region Heritage Center, which teaches visitors about the life and culture of the pioneers. After a trip to this center, downtown Devils Lake is the perfect place for an afternoon of shopping and dining at one of the local restaurants. Roosevelt Park is another must-visit place if you want to swim in the local town pool while also having a picnic on the grass.

Lisbon

Ransom County Courthouse in Lisbon, North Dakota.
Ransom County Courthouse in Lisbon, North Dakota. By Andrew Filer – Flickr: Lisbon, North Dakota, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Visitors will find it hard to deny that Lisbon is one of the most beautiful towns in North Dakota, especially in the summer. Founded in 1880, this small town has a population of about 2,000 and is known for its historic buildings, charming atmosphere, friendly residents and outdoor opportunities ranging from wine tastings and tours to bird and wildlife watching. Lisbon's biggest attraction is undoubtedly its Opera House, built in 1889. This opera house hosts numerous concerts, plays and community gatherings throughout the year, including in the summer.

Visitors can also stroll through Sandager Park to enjoy the fresh air or head to the nearby Sheyenne National Grassland. For those interested in architectural sights, the Ransom County Courthouse may also be worth a visit, and the Lisbon Bissell Golf Course is another option that offers a relaxing golfing experience in the sun.

Jamestown

Aerial view of Jamestown, North Dakota.
Aerial view of Jamestown, North Dakota.

Jamestown, nicknamed the “Pride of the Prairie,” is one of the largest small towns on this list, with a population of around 15,800. Founded in 1872, the town has a long, exciting, and influential history that visitors can learn more about at the Stutsman County Museum. But before visiting the museum, most people stop by the Dakota Thunder, a 26-foot-tall buffalo sculpture created in 1959 and the largest known bison monument in the world. It's the perfect place to snap a few photos and mark the start of your exploration of this stunningly beautiful small town.

Another attraction worth visiting is the Jamestown Frontier Village. Visitors can experience reenactments of what life was like on the prairie in the past. In this village, you can also explore the Louis L'Amour Writers Shack, a place that pays homage to the author famous for his American Western novels.

Valley town

The Hi-Line Bridge in Valley City, North Dakota.
The Hi-Line Bridge in Valley City, North Dakota.

Anyone who has ever wanted to visit a city of bridges will definitely want to explore Valley City. Although Valley City is a town of around 6,500 people near the Sheyenne River, it is famous for its many bridges. According to local sources, the town has over a dozen bridges, with the Hi-Line Bridge and the Valley City State University Pedestrian Bridge being the most visited. Of the two, the Hi-Line Bridge is the most impressive as it is an engineering marvel, measuring a whopping 3,860 feet long and 162 feet tall. Not only is it one of the highest railroad bridges in the country, but it is also a designated landmark under the National Civil Engineering System.

After crossing the various bridges, one can head to Medicine Wheel Park and explore the Native American medicine wheel and solar calendar created by a local university professor and his students. Those interested in learning more about the town's history can visit the Barnes County Historical Society Museum in the historic downtown area, which is full of charming shops, restaurants and historic buildings.

Medora

Aerial view of Medora, North Dakota.
Aerial view of Medora, a popular tourist town in North Dakota.

Medora is a small town located within the boundaries of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Since the town is so small, it's not surprising that it has a population of less than 200 people, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to do when you visit. Since Medora is located within a national park, it's also no surprise that it's one of the most popular tourist destinations in North Dakota, especially in the summer.

Medora is also full of fascinating history, best experienced at Chateau de Mores, once owned by Medora's founder and his summer home. Other attractions for history buffs include the immersive North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Maltese Cross Cabin, where you can learn about Theodore Roosevelt and his life in the late 19th century.

It's also a good idea to try Pitchfork Steak Fondue, a charming and quaint restaurant that serves some of the best steaks around. The 19th century meat packing plant is also quaint and interesting, and if you're lucky enough to catch a show at the Burning Hills Amphitheater on the Missouri River Valley, you'll no doubt enjoy a show.

New Salem

Salem Sue, the largest Holstein cow statue in the world.
Salem Sue, the largest statue of a Holstein cow in the world. Image credit: JWCohen / Shutterstock.com

New Salem in North Dakota is not to be confused with other Salems in the United States. This small town, founded in the early 1880s, has a population of about 1,000 people, with most of the people living in town being retired couples and people who love the beauty and tranquility of nature. Despite its small population, it has a lot of charm and is widely known as the home of Salem Sue, the world's largest inanimate Holstein cow. When you visit this statue, the first thing you'll notice is how big it is: a whopping 38 feet tall and 50 feet long.

While you're out and about, you may also want to visit the historic New Salem Depot, which now serves as a museum, or New Salem City Park, where you can have a picnic, take a walk, or play Frisbee with your friends and family.

Wrap up

From the stunning bison statue in Jamestown to the historic and scenic bridges of Valley City, each beautiful small town on this list in North Dakota is worth visiting. Each town offers visitors a unique experience and plenty of summer-appropriate activities, so pack your swimsuit, hiking shoes, and a map and get ready for the outdoor adventure of a lifetime, no matter which town you decide to visit!

Anna Harden

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