Bismarck is the capital of the US state of North Dakota. It hugs the mighty Missouri River which lies along the west end of town. Bismarck is home to a unique kind of state capitol. History buffs with an overall interest in North Dakota will want to check out the North Dakota Heritage Center.
Another place that history buffs, along with those wanting to taste the North Dakota outdoors along the Missouri River, should visit Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. These are the things to do in Bismarck, North Dakota.
North Dakota State Capitol
The North Dakota State Capitol is located on East Boulevard Avenue north of downtown Bismarck. The state capitol is unique in that it is not a domed building as many other state capitols are. Rather, North Dakota’s state capitol takes the form of a 21-story tower. Believe it or not, the state capitol is the tallest skyscraper, not just in Bismarck, but also in North Dakota.
In fact, the state capitol has been dubbed the Skyscraper on the Prairie. It is designed in the Art Deco architectural style. The state capitol contains the office of North Dakota’s governor, Doug Burgum, along with the state legislature and the state Supreme Court. Both chambers of the state legislature are housed in the state capitol’s west wing while the state Supreme Court is housed in the east wing.
The state capitol also contains an observation deck on the 18th floor which you can visit in order to get a nice view of the surroundings. In fact, the observation deck offers the highest vantage point in North Dakota. The central part of the state capitol’s beautiful grounds is the Capitol Mall.
It contains a large, neat-looking lawn with walking paths lined with American Elm trees, including the one that former US President George H.W. Bush gave to North Dakota in 1989 for its 100th anniversary as a state. The grounds also hold two lovely parks – Myron Atkinson Park and the Capitol Park. The admission to the state capitol is available to everyone free of charge.
North Dakota Heritage Center
The North Dakota Heritage Center is also located on the grounds that houses the North Dakota State Capitol. So, getting there should be a nice breeze. This is the official history museum of the state of North Dakota where you can go and learn about the state’s history dating as far back as 600 million years ago. The museum is divided into three permanent galleries.
Each one of the three permanent galleries represents a time period in North Dakota’s history. They are Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time, Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples, and Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today. The first permanent gallery will have you explore what North Dakota was like between 600 million and 13,00 years ago.
A major feature of this gallery is the life-sized casts of a T. rex and Triceratops engaging in a battle during a time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. As you will see, the geology of North Dakota was vastly different hundred of millions years ago compared to today. You will also learn about the first people ever to set foot in the state 13,000 years ago.
The second permanent gallery is concerned with the Native American tribes and how they lived in North Dakota starting about 13,000 years ago through the 1860’s. One thing you will learn about is the inventions that the tribes had made which include the bow and arrow, and clay pottery. This gallery houses over one thousand artifacts for you to check out such as the skeleton of a bison that was killed by big-game hunters.
The third permanent exhibit covers the time period from two hundred years ago to today. The stories of North Dakota and its people within this gallery cover six themes. They are Agricultural Innovation, Industry and Energy, Newcomers and Settlement, Conflict and War, Our Lives, Our Communities; and Cultural Expressions.
Major features of this gallery include a homestead shack, a 1950’s soda shop, and a modern tractor cab. There is free admission to the North Dakota Heritage Center for everybody. There is an onsite restaurant called the James River Cafe. Those of you looking for souvenirs can browse the museum’s onsite store.
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is located on Fort Lincoln Road on the west bank of the Missouri River southwest of Bismarck. This historically significant state park served two purposes in the history of the area. First, it was a thriving village that belonged to the American Indian tribe known as the Mandan.
It was established in 1575 and lasted for about two hundred years until a major smallpox plague resulted in significant population losses for the tribe and forced it to move north. The tribe built earth lodges in order to form a village. The village supported itself by hunting bisons and growing a number of crops. After the tribe left, the location was converted into a military fort in 1872.
The military fort was led by George A. Custer who was known for leading the US Army in its war against the Sioux tribes for access to land in the Dakotas in the 1870’s. The fort was used in order to secure the expansion of the Northern Pacific Railway through the area. It also served as a base of operation for the US Army in its battles with the Sioux tribes.
Today, the state park contains two attractions that reflect the history of this location. The first one is the On-A-Slant Indian Village which is a replica of the earth lodge village that the Mandan tribe lived in. The second attraction is Fort Abraham Lincoln which is a replica of the military fort that George A. Custer headed. It contains replicas of the buildings that existed during the military fort days.
This includes the Victorian-era home of George A. Custer. Both the Custer home and the Indian village are open for guided tours. They act as living history museums with costumed staff onsite in order to transport you back in time. The tour fees are $8 for adults and $5 for students. You can go here to buy your tour tickets.
If you are looking for souvenirs and/or want something to drink, you can head to the state park’s commissary store. Also, the state park contains hiking trails for you to soak in the beautiful Missouri River scenery.
These are the things to do in Bismarck, North Dakota. Also, if you are into the outdoors, you may want to consider taking a trip to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park which is about two hours drive west of Bismarck on Interstate 94. You can learn more about by reading this post from late March.
Bismarck, North Dakota Hotels
If you are looking for a hotel to stay overnight at during your time in the North Dakota capital, I am happy to help you out with this. Here are the two hotels I would suggest you book your stay at.
Days Inn by Wyndham Bismarck
This hotel is located on East Capitol Avenue just south of the interchange of Interstate 94 and US 83 in Bismarck. This hotel offers free breakfast. If you get hungry, a few nearby dining options include 40 Steak and Seafood, Texas Roadhouse, and LongHorn Steakhouse. This hotel houses an indoor heated swimming pool and hot tub.
There is also a fitness center available at the hotel. All of the hotel’s rooms come with WiFi, coffee makers, mini refrigerators, and microwaves. The average rate for a standard room range from $59 to $84. You can go here to explore your booking options and/or check out some photos.
Sleep Inn & Suites I-94 – Bismarck
This hotel is located on East Century Avenue just north of the US 83 and Interstate 94 interchange in Bismarck. There is complimentary breakfast available at the hotel. A few nearby restaurants include Sickies Garage Burgers & Brew, 40 Steak & Seafood, and LongHorn Steakhouse. There is an indoor heated swimming pool and hot tub at the hotel.
A fitness center is also available for your workout needs at the hotel. All of the rooms and suites at the hotel come with WiFi, microwaves, and mini refrigerators. The average rate for a standard room range from $73 to $104. You can head here to browse your booking options and/or view some photos.
What are your thoughts? Have you spent time in Bismarck before? Feel free to leave a comment here.