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17 Best Things to Do in Bismarck, North Dakota

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In 1873, the Northern Pacific Railway renamed this North Dakota city from Edwinton to Bismarck in honor of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. This German heritage can be seen downtown, where the buildings and shops show their German Alp influence. However, this area is most famous for its connection to the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Home to the state capitol building, Bismarck sits 196 miles west of Fargo, slightly southwest of the state’s center. Four colleges and universities are located in the Midwestern town, including the United Tribes Technical College, the University of Mary, and Bismarck State College. This petite city boasts dozens of state parks and excellent golf courses with sweeping views and rugged scenery. 

But enjoying the great outdoors is not the only thing to do in the historic city of Bismarck. With the mountainous landscape, you always have to have something to do when it snows and the Missouri River to navigate when it’s warm. Friendly brewpubs, art galleries, and dozens of intimate historical museums highlight a colorful town.

When visiting Bismarck, knowing a bit about heritage and history is vital to understanding the town’s foundation. For an overview of the area, try a ride on one of the Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises or take up a scavenger hunt around the city. But if neither of those is up your alley, here are a few more top attractions and things to do in Bismarck.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – Camp Hancock State Historic Site
  • Park to visit – Sertoma Park
  • Free activity – North Dakota State Capitol
  • Thing to do for kids – Super Slide Amusement Park
  • Thing to do for adults – Laughing Sun Brewing 
  • Place to eat – Pirogue Grille
  • Nightlife – Laughing Sun Brewing 
  • Place to stay – Courtyard by Marriott Bismarck

Things to Do in Bismarck, North Dakota

1. Dakota Zoo

A cougar taking a nap in Dakota Zoo
Matt Reinbold / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0

Address: 602 Riverside Park Rd, Bismarck, North Dakota 58504

Part of a larger community green space called Sertoma Park, Dakota Zoo is an animal wonderland for kids and adults. Home to over 600 animals of 125 species, this 90-acre zoo complex features local animals and many endangered species. It will take roughly three hours to see all the animals, including the white tigers, prairie dogs, Mexican Gray Wolves, snow leopards, and grizzlies at the Dakota Zoo.

One of the unfortunate results of cities is the danger to local animals. The Dakota Zoo’s Raptor Rehabilitation program cares for up to 65 fierce birds injured on power lines or by automobiles. You can learn more about this incredible program through the animal exhibits at the zoo.

After a day at the zoo, it’s time to relax. If you are looking for no-fuss accommodations near the animals and downtown Bismarck, grab a room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott: basic amenities and easy in and out, all roughly 10 minutes from the Bismarck Airport.

See Related: Things to Do in Dickinson, North Dakota

2. Sertoma Park

Eagle statue at Sertoma Park
Bismarck Parks and Recreation District / bisparks.org

Address: 300 Riverside Park Road, Bismarck, North Dakota 58505

Located along the Missouri River, Sertoma Park is the place to play horseshoes, tennis, or sand volleyball. The park has eight playgrounds for kids of all sizes and adventure levels. It is also home to the Dakota Zoo and Super Slide Amusement Park.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition came through here over 200 years ago, giving the park a historic edge. You may even spot the Lewis and Clark Riverboat since it docks at the park when it isn’t giving tours. The park also makes for an excellent middle ground when you explore Bismarck even more.

Numerous paths and many excellent walking trails wander through Sertoma Park. They connect with Bill Mills Nature Trail, a gravel-paved interpretive path highlighting the area’s unique habitats. Just south of the Horse Park, but still a part of Sertoma Park, is Atkinson Trail, a 1.65-mile hiking and horse trail.

See Related: Famous Landmarks in North Dakota

3. North Dakota State Capitol 

North Dakota State Capitol building
Paul Brady Photography / Shutterstock

Address: 600 E Boulevard Ave, Bismarck, North Dakota 58505

The tall, mason-white building in the heart of downtown Bismarck is the North Dakota State Capitol. Constructed in 1934 by architect Joseph Bell DeRemer, the iconic structure is the tallest building in the state and has gorgeous views from its observation deck.

DeRemer also contributed to several buildings on the University of North Dakota campus. So you’ll want to check out the capitol grounds while visiting Bismarck.

The state capitol building grounds complex includes the central tower building and half a dozen other government seats. There is no charge to tour the complex, which is open to the public.

Within the buildings, designated walking routes in Capitol Park range from one-quarter mile up to an entire mile loop. A great way to get your steps in and still learn about North Dakota’s history.

If you want to learn more about the city and the state capitol building, try a private Bismarck scavenger hunt. These activities are a great way to learn about the history and culture of Bismarck. Players visit landmarks, answer trivia, and solve challenges.

See Related: Best Things to Do in North Dakota & Places to Visit

4. North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum

North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum
Ken Lund / Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 612 E Boulevard Ave, Bismarck, North Dakota 58505

In Bismarck, the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum chronicles North Dakota’s and Native Americans’ history from prehistoric to modern times. Visitors to the Heritage Center can enjoy four history museums in one, thanks to preservation efforts by the State Historical Society.

The North Dakota Heritage Center contains thousands of exhibits, artifacts, and displays, ranging from a full-sized, ferocious T. Rex skeleton to a Hubble Space Telescope replica. Stop for a quick refuel between galleries at the onsite James River Café. The Northern Lights Atrium is the place to be if you have never seen the awe-inspiring phenomenon that creates the Northern Lights.

Just north of the North Dakota Heritage Center are excellent accommodations for solo travelers and families. The Courtyard by Marriott Bismarck offers guests an indoor pool and American Bistro. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, the Space Aliens Grill & Bar is one of the quirkier restaurants in town with space-themed comfort food, a full bar, and an arcade.

See Related: Things to Do in Minot, North Dakota

5. Super Slide Amusement Park

Roller coaster ride in Super Slide Amusement Park
Super Slide Amusement Park / Facebook

Address: 500 Riverside Park Rd, Bismarck, North Dakota 58504

The quintessential amusement park for kids, the Super Slide Amusement Park has been a part of the Bismarck community since 1967. It is adjacent to the Dakota Zoo in Sertoma Park, along the Riverfront Trail.

Home to the only roller coaster in North Dakota, Super Slide Amusement Park is one of the best things to do in Bismarck with kids. Mom and Dad can ride the authentic carousel at the heart of a park that started with one super slide. But there are also dozens of kid-centric rides like the Ferris wheel, the teacup, swinging chairs, and a munchkin-sized roller coaster

Once you are done for the day, grab a bite at Bruno’s Pizza before heading to the Raddison Hotel Bismarck for a night of well-deserved rest. Tomorrow, you can always go to the Bismarck Event Center or the Belle Mehus Auditorium, just feet from the hotel.

See Related: Best Restaurants in Fargo, North Dakota

6. Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site Exhibit

Address: 564 County Road 37, Stanton, North Dakota 58571

An hour northwest of the Bismarck sits the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, an old Mandan and Hidatsa Indians’ campground. Beautiful with a sweeping scenic vista, this area was a vital trading and agricultural center, and three separate villages stood on the grounds. By 1750, it had become a central fur trading marketplace.

The Village was also home to Sakakawea, also known as Sacagawea, an interpreter and guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition. The onsite museum features an introductory video of her life, village artifacts, and relics of the Hidatsa people. The reconstructed earth lodge and other historic buildings highlight their daily lives.

Knife River Indian Villages hosts various events throughout the year, including indigenous activities, craft shows, and cultural ceremonies. This museum is vital to understanding the native people whose land became North Dakota. I highly encourage you to make the trek from Bismarck.

See Related: Things to Do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

7. General Sibley Park & Campground

The General Sibley Park and Campground at night with a campfire and people
General Sibley Park and Campground / Facebook

Address: 5001 S Washington St, Bismarck, North Dakota 58504

General Sibley Park and Campground is a community green space four miles south of downtown Bismarck. Dedicated in 1967, the 138-acre park complex offers a wide range of free activities and amenities. An easy-access canoe ramp to the Missouri River and space for horseshoe competitions exists.

Picnics are a vital part of life in the beauty of Bismarck, and Sibley Park lives up to expectations. A nearby walking trail surrounds an 18-hole disc golf course. If a day at the park isn’t enough, the area offers free tent and reserved RV camping each summer.

Sibley Park is also a Poetry Box location. A creative idea supported by the Dakota West Arts Council, the poetry box allows for the exchange of poems. Be sure to check it out the next time you visit Bismarck.

See Related: Things to do in Grand Forks, North Dakota

8. Keelboat Park

Keelboat Park Attraction
Ken Lund / Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 1605 River Rd, Bismarck, ND 58503

Home to one of Bismarck’s most popular hiking trails and part of the Missouri Valley Millennium Legacy Trail, Keelboat Park is one of the quintessential things to do in Bismarck.

The Legacy Trail begins in Bismarck at Chief Looking’s Village and continues to Fort Lincoln State Park. This regional hiking route connects recreational, historical, and cultural along the Missouri River. 

The park’s signature exhibit is a bright red keelboat replica. The keelboat was used as Lewis and Clark’s riverboat and main vessel until the spring of 1805 when the boat mysteriously returned to St. Louis without its sailors.

Keelboats were used as riverboats throughout the Missouri River Valley because oars, sails, poles, and towlines could propel them. Other park sculptures include a tribute to Lewis and Clark and a Thunderbird Eagle Sculpture created by United Tribes Technical College students.

In addition to Keelboat Park, Steamboat Park and Pioneer Park are other Missouri River bordering parks in Bismarck offering relaxing hiking and walking trails.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in the Midwest

9. National Buffalo Museum

National Buffalo Museum Exhibit
Steve Cukrov – stock.adobe.com

Address: 500 17th St SE, Jamestown, ND 58401

The National Buffalo Museum is located east of Bismarck on Interstate 94, about 100 miles. No, it is not part of the city proper. But if it fits into your Bismarck trip, it is worth the side trip to learn about the cultural and ecological significance of the North American Plains bison. 

The 6,000-square-foot museum details the story of these incredible beasts whose herds once blanketed the American West. Exhibits detail bison anatomy and physiology while explaining the difference between bison and buffalo. A separate gallery is dedicated to the near extinction of these powerful creatures, with examples of ongoing North American preservation efforts.

This museum also houses an authentic Frontier Village. The village area contains a collection of restored pioneer buildings, with a prairie post office, barbershop, jailhouse, and church.

There is even a pioneer-style schoolhouse. Stagecoach and pony rides keep the kids entertained, and treats from the old-fashioned soda fountain round out the visit.

See Related: Things to Do in Medora, North Dakota

10. Camp Hancock State Historic Site

Camp Hancock State Historic Site
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 101 E Main Ave, Bismarck, ND 58501

Constructed in 1872, Camp Hancock State Historic Site has been known by several name variations – Camp Hancock Historic Site and even just Camp Hancock. In 1972, the site was named to the National Register of Historic Places, making it one of the things to do in Bismarck for history buffs, in particular.

Camp Hancock boasts the oldest building in Bismarck, known as The Four Seasons at Camp Hancock, circa 1872 to 1877. After being decommissioned from the US Army, the building was the site of a regional United States Weather Bureau Station from 1894 to 1939.

It also houses an 1880s church as well as a steam locomotive. These historic sites were initially built as Camp Greeley, charged with protecting the Northern Pacific Railroad work gangs.

Less than a mile from Camp Hancock is the Laughing Sun Brewing Company, where you can enjoy a relaxing pint after a day of historical lessons. Great hand-crafted beer and excellently prepared BBQ await you here.

And for in-house entertainment, reserve an axe-throwing lane. It’s no wonder Laughing Sun Brewing makes for a perfect evening. 

See Related: Best Places to Visit & Things to Do in South Dakota

11. The Castle House

Outside Castle House
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 2000 14th Ave SE, Mandan, ND 58554

Who said that the United States doesn’t have royalty or Royal scandals? Lady Whistledown may not be in residence, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our fair share of royal rumblings.

In the nearby town of Mandan, North Dakota, sits the infamous area landmark, the Castle House. The Victorian structure’s hilltop panoramic views are stunning in all four seasons.

One of the more scandalous attractions in the Bismarck area, Castle House, was commissioned in 1903 for German Count Joseph Weible. But builders soon discovered nefarious games afoot when the Count proved to be a commoner who had stolen the Count’s money–and his wife! 

Hiding out in North Dakota, they were eventually discovered and mysteriously disappeared, leaving an unpaid bill behind. The Count and his Countess were never seen or heard from again. I guess he couldn’t be counted on.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Fargo, North Dakota

12. Former Governors’ Mansion State Historic Site

Former Governors' Mansion State Historic Site
Esther S / TripAdvisor

Address: 320 E Avenue B, Bismarck, ND 58501

As the state capital, Bismarck is home to the current State’s Governor’s Mansion. However, you can still visit the Former Governor’s Mansion as well. This State Historic Site encompasses the impressive two-and-a-half story, gabled, and turreted Victorian home and carriage house.

The historic house museum is a fascinating example of upper-class Victorian life in North Dakota. This stately home was initially built in 1884 by Asa Fisher as a private residence. But he sold the property in 1893 for $5,000 or roughly $170,570 today.

North Dakota Governors used it as a residence from its purchase in 1893 until the new home was completed in 1960. It housed a total of 20 chief executives between 1893 and 1960. Visitors can enjoy the historic buildings by taking a self-guided tour or downloading a Former Governor’s Mansion Scavenger Hunt from the historic site’s website.

See Related: Things to Do in Aberdeen, South Dakota

13. Riverwood Golf Course

Man playing  golf at Riverwood Golf Course
Riverwood Golf Course / Facebook

Address: 725 Riverwood Dr, Bismarck, ND 58504

Riverwood Golf Course is an 18-hole, par-72 course off the Missouri River. One of four public courses in the area, this parkland-style golf course offers wide, tree-lined fairways and abundant wildlife. There is also an outdoor driving range and putting green next to chipping and pitching practice areas for those golfers who need more practice before tee time.

Once you have finished for the day, under par, of course, you will probably be ready for an excellent meal. Roughly two miles east of Riverwood Golf Course, in downtown Bismarck, is the Pirogue Grille. This upscale red-brick eatery features seasonal fare prepared from locally sourced ingredients in an intimate setting.

The menu includes bison, shrimp, hand-crafted cocktails, and an impressive wine list. Riverwood’s clubhouse is open to all players and offers equipment rentals as well as concessions. Or, to wind down with something a bit more casual, grab a sandwich and a pint at The Pier Bar & Grill overlooking the ever-changing Missouri River.

See Related: Best Small Towns in South Dakota

14. Bismarck Art Alley

An artist painting a mural in the Bismarck Art Alley
Bismarck Art Alley / Facebook

Address: 117 N 5th St, Bismarck, ND 58501

When a group of local artists came together in 2016 to create Bismarck Art Alley, there was a lot of excitement around the public art project. Nearly 50 entries for mural ideas were sent in for consideration at the Dakota West Arts Council’s request. A total of 22 were chosen, along with the Bismarck Art Alley logo.

Also known as Alley 5.5, these participating local artists know that, like the nearby Missouri River, these murals will change over time. Each mural represents a fraction of life in North Dakota, something which, too, will inevitably evolve. Seeing these permanent, yet technically temporary, artworks is one of the free things to do in Bismarck.

Should you want to stay by the art, the Radisson Hotel Bismarck is next to the art alley. Just a hop away, you can enjoy an indoor, atrium-style pool, delicious food, and easy access to everything in downtown Bismarck. What more could you want?

See Related: Things to Do in Hot Springs, South Dakota

15. Raging Rivers Waterpark

Lazy river and slides at Raging Rivers Waterpark
Raging Rivers Waterpark / Facebook

Address: 2600 46th Ave SE, Mandan, ND 58554

Owned and operated by the Mandan Park District since 2009, the Raging Rivers Waterpark is an affordable adventure not far from Bismarck itself. One of the most affordable things to do in Bismarck for families, Raging Rivers has water slides, an aqua play area for little ones, and a lazy river.

Open only in the summer, you can purchase a day pass or season pass to this delightful family retreat. Together, you can all enjoy the refreshing water without breaking the bank or traveling far outside the city. They also serve basic concessions as well as ice cream when the snacky mood hits.

Staying on the Mandan side of the city isn’t hard either. If you book the Home2 Suites by Hilton Bismarck, you won’t be far from the waterpark action any time of day. There’s even an indoor pool if the kiddos (or you) aren’t sick of the water yet.

See Related: The Incredible History of South Dakota’s Wall Drug Store

16. Fort Abraham Lincoln

Prairie at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park / Facebook

Address: 4480 Fort Lincoln Rd, Mandan, ND 58554

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is Mandan’s oldest state park. Besides keeping the area’s natural beauty safe from construction or demolition, it also preserves the history of the Mandan people who first inhabited the area. History tells us that the original settlement of the Mandan people here dates back to 1575, and that land is part of the park.

Fort Abraham Lincoln was established along the Missouri River basin when the Northern Pacific Railroad decided to expand in the area. Although this military fort was long abandoned, the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation has worked hard to reconstruct or restore buildings. These recreated areas can showcase the fort’s historic look for visitors.

The state park is terrific for things to do in Bismarck for history buffs and nature explorers alike. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, it’s sure to be a good time when you visit Bismarck.

See Related: Things to Do in Pierre, South Dakota

17. McDowell Dam Recreation Area

Swimming at the McDowell Dam Recreation Area
McDowell Dam Recreation Area / bisparks.org

Address: 1951 93rd St NE, Bismarck, ND 58501

Only a few miles outside Bismarck, the 270+ acre park known as McDowell Dam Recreation Area awaits visitors for all kinds of water and non-water related activity. Utilize the paved trail for walking or running, hang out on the beach, or even paddle boarding.

Swimming, boating, fishing, and other fun things are also permitted. Some fish you can expect to catch near the dam include Bluegill, Largemouth Bass, and Rainbow Trout.

The park is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. There are also picnic shelters on the premises if you’d like to indulge in a picnic. Plus, the park is pet-friendly, so your best four-legged friends don’t have to miss out on the fun.

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