Things to Do in North Dakota with Kids
Have you ever heard the saying, “I saved the best for last?” In my quest to visit every state in the United States, I did just that. North Dakota was filled with surprises and finds that left me asking myself, why had I never visited before!
Our family’s road trip across North Dakota was one for the memory books. From the moment our GMC Yukon hit the border until we reached the other side of the state on US 94, we were mesmerized. I can’t put my finger on just one thing that made this trip epic… quite honestly, it was all of it.
Thank you to Vist North Dakota for welcoming us and hosting our family for our visit.
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Things to Do with Kids in Fargo
Fargo is the perfect city to start a trek across the state. We are based out of Ohio, and the first thing we noticed when we hit Fargo, ND, was the wind. It’s the kind that gives you a surprise push as you step out of the car. We rolled in late in the evening and decided to visit Scheels.
Ok, Scheels was a little bit of a shock. We went for something to do before we checked into our hotel, but what we found was an indoor playground for the kids and a place to shop for mom. The kids got all the ants out of their pants from the long drive by playing indoor bowling, doing the shooting range, and riding the indoor Ferris wheel. Yes, you read that right, an indoor Ferris wheel.
We spent the next day exploring the MANY things there are to do with kids in Fargo, North Dakota. A morning at the Red River Zoo is a must if traveling with an animal lover. The zoo is very walkable, and all the animals were out and about waiting to say hello.
After the zoo, we wanted to get some ice cream, and downtown Fargo is the place for every foodie in the family. We went to Thai Ice Cream Roll, which was a sweet treat. Not only was it fun to watch them make it, but it was delicious. Walking downtown Fargo is a great way to see the sites and architecture in the city, which lead us to the murals. If art is your kid’s thing, Fargo has you covered.
Best place to stay with kids in Fargo, North Dakota: Delta Hotels by Marriott Fargo
Kids Friendly restaurant: Brewtus Brickhouse
Our time in Fargo went by way too fast, but Bonanzaville and an evening in Jamestown were calling!
As we headed west out of Fargo, we found Bonanzaville. What a hidden gem in the western part of America. This 12-acre historical mecca of all things North Dakota is worth the stop. When I say there is building upon building of historical amazingness, I am not joking. We loved everything from the old buildings with stories to tell to the large displays of memorabilia, but the structure with all the cars was absolutely incredible. We did not have enough time here, and I should have scheduled more time at the museum if I could have a do-over.
Pro-tip: Pack some water and a light snack to take a break halfway through the museum
Things to Do with Kids in Jamestown
We drove across North Dakota in small doses, which, in my opinion, is the best way to travel with kids. Jamestown was a welcomed oasis for our family, and before heading to the hotel, we did a little tour of downtown. We fell in love with the old architecture and historical feeling.
One of our main reasons for this stop along US 94 was to visit the National Buffalo Museum. The museum does a fantastic job educating and advocating for these magnificent beasts. Each exhibit was telling. Since we were road schooling, I wanted the kids to get a real feel for how the bison were almost eliminated from America. They loved it so much that they took home souvenirs and broke the travel bank in the gift shop.
Before leaving town, we added a stop at the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse, which became a real highlight. The stories these walls could tell would be fantastic, but even though they can talk, you can feel the history emanating from every pour of the beautiful building. If you have time to do the escape room in the basement…do it!
Best place to stay with kids in Jamestown, North Dakota: Holiday Inn Express
Kid-friendly restaurants: Sabir’s Buffalo Grill and Babb’s Coffee House
Pro-tip: Make sure to drive through the downtown and visit some of the local shops. We found some neat things to take home.
Things to Do with Kids in Bismarck
As with any road trip, getting back into the car can be a bit of a task, but once we were settled in, we were headed for a day of adventure on the Missouri River. I eagerly anticipated this stop because the river is like a vein of life running through North Dakota’s heart.
Notably, Lewis and Clark made their way through this vast land, not in a car like our family but by sheer grit and determination. I booked a trip on Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruises, and taking the riverboat ride out on this mighty river was endearing. While we enjoyed breakfast aboard the cruise, we sat back and learned the history of the river and the men that came to tame it.
And like any mom who has curated a trip across the country, I packed in everything I could, so after the cruise, we took the kids to Missouri Kayak Adventures. We went from cruising the shorelines without lifting a finger to paddling right up to the shore to get up close and personal with flora and fauna. The kids wanted to stop on a small island to walk around and explore the shallow waters, which we did, then we just sat for a bit to take in all the natural beauty,
Best place to stay with kids in Bismarck, ND: Expressway Suites
Kid-friendly restaurants: The Walrus Restaurant
Pro-tip: As you drive between Bismarck and Dickenson, ND, visit the Enchanted Highway. We could not complete the enchanted drive but have it on our future bucket list of things to do. One thing I learned on this trip was that I need to schedule more time for surprise stops like this one. Plan for at least two hours to complete this.
Things to Do with Kids in Dickinson
By now, your kids, if they are anything like mine, might be saying this state is super flat. While that might be true, the gentle dips in the landscape bring you to Dickinson, the western edge of North Dakota. It is the gateway to some coming landscape changes and a perfect base camp.
The weather on this road trip was fantastic, and we wanted to stretch our legs when we rolled into town. Crooked Crain Trail was a surprise find in the Patterson Lake Recreation Area; I could have spent hours here. Once we had the stiffness out of our system, we needed to fill our belly, and Phat Fish Brewing was on tap for the evening. We enjoyed this family-friendly brewhouse where we stuffed ourselves with some of the best pizza in the west.
We could not leave town without visiting the Dickinson Museum Center. You think kids might be “bored” with bones and rocks, but nothing could be further from the truth. Isn’t it just like them to “dig in” to history when it comes to dinosaurs?
Best place to stay with kids in Dickinson, ND: La Quinta
Kid-friendly restaurants: Country Kitchen Restaurant and Country Rose Café
Pro-tip: Stay in Dickinson for your trip into western ND. The hotel prices are reasonable, and the community is welcoming and friendly. There are fewer crowds, and you get the feel of ND in this beautiful town.
Things to Do with Kids in Medora
By now, we had driven thousands of miles to make it to this little town in the foothills of the badlands beside Theodore Roosevelt National Park. If there is one thing that must be said, it is that when you hit the outer edge of this area, you are swiftly taken back by the stunning beauty. Tucked into this grotto of many colors is a town keeping history alive! Our kids loved it in Medora; it is like the Disneyland of North Dakota. Let me be clear unless you stay 5+ days, you will not be able to do everything in town or nearby.
We started our Medora fun at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue and evening at the Medora Musical. To say this was a highlight of the trip would be an understatement. The dinner was fantastic, and the pitchfork thing gave it a western feel. Live music from the band was like icing on the cake! After we stuffed ourselves full, we walked down to the outdoor musical. My son Sam who was 15, was leery about a “song and dance” show, but by the time it was over, he was laughing and clapping along with the crowd.
While we loved the entertainment, we came for Theodore Roosevelt National Park to see what made Teddy fall in love. There is something magical about this place, an air of mystery of days gone by and the knowledge that seeds of our national parks were watered here. You might see bison, wild horses, deer, cute prairie dogs, and longhorn steer in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and we took two full days to explore the North and South Units of the park.
Other kid-friendly stops in Medora:
Chateau De Mores State Historic Site
North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame
Best place to stay with kids in Medora, ND: Badlands Hotel or Roosevelt Suite
Kid-Friendly places to eat: Badlands Pizza and Saloon, Cowboy Cafe (cash only), and Hatlee and Brea (carryout for a picnic)
Things to Do with Kids in Watford City, ND
When we got to Watford City, we were road-weary, but we perked right up when we got into town and stopped at Pioneer Museum at the Long X Visitor Center. I knew by the time we got here that we might want just to relax and enjoy the town, and that we did!
I called Watford City, the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the home of the quiet side. There was something about this town that made me want to stay longer, but time was not on our side. If we ever get this way again, I am base camping here for all the outdoor adventures nearby.
Surprisingly there is more here than you could ever imagine in this part of ND. We found gorgeous views at Ox-Bow Overlook and two fantastic hiking trails, Ice Caves Trail and Burnt Hills trail.
Things we missed but wished we had time for were Fort Union Trading Post, Wild West Water Park, Fort Buford State Historical Site,
Best place to stay with kids in Watford City, ND: Roosevelt Inn and Suites
Kid-friendly places to eat: Little Missouri Grille
Pro-tip: One day in Watford City is NOT enough. Make it your base camp for the North Unit of the park and exploration of the area.
Best Place for Families to Unwind with Kids in North Dakota … Tobacco Gardens
Have I saved the best for last? Quite possibly. If you know me, you know I love the outdoors, and Tabacco Gardens was the perfect place to end our road trip across North Dakota. If you ask anyone, they will tell you this is a little bit of heaven in the middle of nowhere. It is safe to say I fell in love.
When we headed out to Tobacco Gardens, we had no idea what to expect. What we found was a wonderful place of hospitality, friendship, and the best-fried fish we had ever eaten. Our kids said it was hands down one of the best stops on the whole trip. Thank you, Peggy, for welcoming us like family. It was an excellent way to end our trip to the west.
Pro-tip: You can camp, stay in a cabin, or just visit for the day. However, it would be a sin to come here when the restaurant is closed, so come when it is open and get some home-cooked food.
You are full of emotions when you get to the end of a cross-country road trip. Sad it is over, happy for the memories, and ready to start planning your next one. North Dakota will surprise you. You will find yourself falling in love with this part of America that holds so much history, gives new meaning to the grasslands and the hidden treasures, and a national park that is truly a treasure. It’s legendary.