North Dakota is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated places in the country – if not all of North America. While it’s filled to the brim with incredible natural wonders everywhere you turn, North Dakota is also the least-visited state in the nation ( we’re not sure why). But you know what this means? That’s right – more enjoyment with less crowds! So, if you’re seeking out a truly epic adventure from start to finish, you might want to consider the natural wonders in North Dakota that are sure to drop your jaw. From incredible state and National Parks to bucket-list-worthy destinations sure to amaze, you’ll get more than your time and money’s worth in the Roughrider State !
Best Gorges & Canyons In North Dakota
Who says you need to travel to somewhere like Utah or Arizona for an amazing canyon experience? Nope – you can experience all the amazingness of gorges, canyons, and more right here in North Dakota. From large and impressive to smaller and more secret, this state is home to numerous notable examples. It can be a little tough to decide, so the following three make for an excellent start! There are dozens – if not more – of options when it comes to epic adventures and natural wonders in North Dakota… you just need to know where to look. 1. Pembina Gorge
Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area, 5th Street, Walhalla, North Dakota, USA
Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area, 101 5th St, Walhalla, ND 58282, USA
Location: Walhalla, North Dakota Wow Factor: When you imagine a gorge, this is probably very close to what you think of. The views are to die for, and the river winding through provides endless recreation opportunities. Cost: Free, though once it becomes a state park there will be a $7 daily entrance fee per vehicle. Pembina Gorge
is probably one of the top destinations in North Dakota. Its outstanding beauty and awe-inspiring views are unlike anything else you’ll find in the upper Midwest; in fact, as of the time of this writing, it’s slated to become North Dakota’s 14th state park! There are 30 miles of trails, endless kayaking and canoeing opportunities, and so much more. A visit to North Dakota ALWAYS ought to have a visit to Pembina Gorge included.
2. Wind Canyon
Wind Canyon Trail, Medora, ND 58645, USA
Location: South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota Wow Factor: Watching the sunset from the incredible vistas along the Wind Canyon trail is to die for. Checking this one out at any time is a great idea, but at the end of the day, it REALLY shines. Bring a camera for some of the best sunset shots of your life. Cost: A standard entrance pass ranges from $15 to $30.
Wind Canyon is one of the most jaw-dropping views in all of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and it’s definitely worth a hike. The legendary
Wind Canyon Trail
is open year-round and offers amazing opportunities to check out Wind Canyon by foot (which is the best way to do so, if you ask us). The views are perfect for watching the sunset solo or with a special someone... just make sure you add it to the bucket list.
3. Painted Canyon
Painted Canyon Visitor Center, Exit 32, Belfield, ND, USA
Location: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Billings County, North Dakota Wow Factor: Does ANYTHING get cooler than incredible panoramic views of one of North Dakota’s most jaw-dropping natural wonders? We think not. Many of the items on this list are from TRNP... and for very good reason. Its WOW factor is EVERYTHING. Cost: A standard entrance pass ranges from $15 to $30. Painted Canyon
is a natural wonder in North Dakota rivaled only by the painted desert of Arizona. This incredible region is the perfect introduction to the Badlands, with seemingly endless geological formations that just so happen to be incredibly vibrant in terms of color (hence the name). You can hike through this beauty, and like many others, that’s the way we prefer to explore! To learn all about the geography of this area, as well as its history and its geology, be sure to check out the Painted Canyon Visitor Center.
Best Caves In North Dakota
Fun fact: North Dakota is home to a couple of caves. Sure, they might not be as dramatic as, say, Kirchner Caverns or something of the sort, but hey – our caves are a delight. Spelunkers and casual hikers alike will adore the chance to check out North Dakota in a way they’ve never checked it out before – from beneath! And, well, if you’re too claustrophobic for a real cave, you can always relax at
North Dakota’s best salt cave. 4. The Ice Cave Cliffs
Maah Daah Hey Trail, Medora, ND, USA
Location: Maah Daah Hey Trail, Fairfield, North Dakota Wow Factor: It’s an ice cave. It’s a literal ice cave! How cool is that? Well, in this case... very cool. Cold, actually. Usually always cold. Cost: Free
ice caves in North Dakota
are so named because they’re very chilly inside year-round – and many times, ice is seen on the inside thanks to the low temperatures. You can access the cave from the Maah Daah Hey Trail, between mileposts 108 and 109. You’ll spot a trail that leads right to it; it’s a short, mile-and-a-half trek to the cave. Dress warm!
5. Medicine Hole
Medicine Hole, Killdeer, North Dakota, USA
Location: Medicine Hole Historical Site, Killdeer, North Dakota Wow Factor: This is a highly unusual hole in a mountain near Killdeer that was said to be an escape route long ago for Native Americans escaping attacking settlers. These rumors have never been verified, but the area’s legends persist nevertheless. Cost: NA – Private Property NOTE: This cave, while it still exists in North Dakota, is not currently accessible to the public. It’s best to admire this one from afar. Medicine Hole
is both a natural wonder and a natural mystery. It is unknown just how deep (or far) the cave goes once you’ve squeezed through the narrow hole, but supposedly, it leads to a system of underground tunnels and caves that saved a band of Sioux from certain death at the hands of colonizers. Despite its status as being closed to the public, it’s still an incredibly strange natural wonder and worthy of mentioning. Maybe someday, we’ll know more about it... but the mystery is part of the fun.
Best Lakes In North Dakota
Water lovers, get this: there are more than 400 known lakes in North Dakota. That’s a LOT of bodies of water to sort through, so how exactly does one decide which one(s) to add to the old bucket list? Well, this depends on a multitude of factors; are you looking for man-made , or all-natural? Are you imagining a reservoir, quarry, or dam? No matter how you like your water, you’re sure to find plenty of it here in the ol ’ Peace Garden State. Here are a small handful of the must-see lakes in North Dakota that you’re sure to love: 6. Lake Sakakawea
Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota, USA
Location: Lake Sakakawea State Park, Pick City, North Dakota Wow Factor: It’s the third-largest lake in the United States. Yes, seriously. It’s enormous. Cost: As with all state parks in North Dakota, entry to Lake Sakakawea State Park is $7 per vehicle. Lake Sakakawea
is nothing short of absolutely jaw-dropping. It’s one of the largest lakes in the USA, and easily one of the most beautiful places in North Dakota. The lake is an amazing 368,000 acres in size and features boat ramps, shelters, camping, fishing, and more. You can even rent a pontoon boat if you want to! Lake Sakakawea isn’t terribly far from Bismarck – only about 50 miles, making it an excellent option for a day or weekend trip out.
7. Lake Metigoshe
Lake Metigoshe, Roland, ND 58318, USA
Location: Lake Metigoshe State Park, Bottineau, North Dakota Wow Factor: The Turtle Mountains are already incredible, but when you add a sparkling, clear lake to the mix, it looks like something from a fairy tale. Cost: $7 per Vehicle Lake Metigoshe
is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in North Dakota, and for good reason. The park is home to truly excellent hiking, boating, camping, birdwatching, and more. It’s so popular among wildlife watchers that you can even grab a “plant and bird checklist” from the Visitor Center to check off the critters you spot as you go. There’s also the Lake Metigoshe Outdoor Learning Center, which provides even more opportunities to learn. At 1,544 acres in size, this lake is perfect for watersports galore.
8. Lake Audubon
Lake Audubon, North Dakota, USA
Location: Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, Garrison, North Dakota Wow Factor: We’re pretty sure this is the most photogenic lake in North Dakota. It’s absolutely awe-inspiring. Bring the camera! Cost: Free
The 16,000 acre wonder that is
is something out of a postcard or jigsaw puzzle. It’s clear, blue, and gorgeous, making it a favorite among locals and visitors alike. At its deepest, it’s nearly 60 feet down – though the average depth is much shallower, at just over 19 feet. It’s home to an assortment of fish, and the fishing here is always good; coveted fish include walleye, smallmouth bass, perch, and more. Once you’ve been to Audubon, you might never want to leave – and we don’t blame you. This one’s simply amazing.
9. Lake Upsilon
Lake Upsilon, North Rolette, ND 58369, USA
Location: Rolette County, North Dakota Wow Factor: This lake’s clarity is incredible and unmatched. It’s not even super huge, so it’s perfect for a nice, low-key weekend trip. Cost: Free
At just 422 acres in size with 11 miles of shoreline,
is the smallest lake we’ll mention here, but it’s just as worthy of love and admiration as the others! This lake’s unusual name is thanks to its shape - “upsilon” is “Y” in the Greek alphabet, and so this lake has been named. The lake is noted for its extraordinary clarity; it’s surrounded by forest and alpine wonder, making it truly unique. There are no other lakes in North Dakota that will make you think you’re in Alaska instead... other than this one.
Best Overlooks & Scenic Vistas In North Dakota
There’s just something pure magic about a decent overlook. Whether you’re climbing mountains or checking out an old fire tower (or anything in between), few things are as exhilarating as being able to see for as far as your eye can see; even states without many mountains have some excellent overlook options. Luckily for us, though, North Dakota is home to a number of excellent overlooks, vistas, and lookout points. Come check out three of the downright best: 10. Crow Flies High Butte
Crow Flies High State Recreation Area, 10031 ND-23, New Town, ND 58763, USA
Location: Crow Flies High State Recreation Area, New Town, North Dakota Wow Factor: You’re going to want to yell “I’M KING OF THE WORLD” when you’re up here. Or queen, you do you. But seriously, the view is incredible and goes on forever. Cost: Free
Two miles west of the small town of Newtown, the nothing-short-of-epic
Crow Flies High State Recreation Area
is home to a view that’s utterly jaw-dropping. Overlooking Lake Sakakawea, this awesome view is named after a Hidatsa chief by the name of Crow Flies High. From the sparkling water to the bridge and the endless horizon, this one’s sure to take your breath away.
11. Painted Canyon Overlook
Painted Canyon, North Billings, ND 58622, USA
Location: Painted Canyon Visitor Center, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Belfield, North Dakota Wow Factor: The Painted Canyon is already awesome enough when you’re fully immersed in it; looking out over it for what seems like forever is especially awesome. Cost: A standard entrance pass ranges from $15 to $30.
When we say a lot of the must-see natural wonders in North Dakota are found at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we mean it – but truly, it’s for excellent reason. The wonders contained within this place really are something to write home about, and each one is so different from the others that you might forget it’s all in the same place. For example, the
Painted Canyon Overlook
allows you to see the Painted Canyon like never before: from a birds-eye perspective. You’ll feel a sense of awe like never before... just you watch.
12. River Bend Overlook
River Bend Overlook Trail, Grassy Butte, ND 58634, USA
Location: North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Watford City, North Dakota Wow Factor: Okay, so, take all the best parts of the previous two overlooks and then combine them with the majesty of the Missouri River, which winds and bends on and on forever. Cost: A standard entrance pass ranges from $15 to $30.
Come experience utterly incredible scenic views of the Little Missouri River and the Missouri River valley like you’ve never seen at the River Bend Overlook, which is a part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit Scenic Byway. This too-cool-to-be-real (only it is!)
overlook in North Dakota
perfectly illustrates the natural beauty of this entire region while leading visitors on what might be the best scenic drive in North Dakota. Truly, when you visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’re going to want to take at least a week – you need to see all of these points of interest for yourself! There’s more to it than just this one pullout - you’ll see!
Best Rock Formations in North Dakota
North Dakota is home to some truly epic, jaw-dropping geological wonders, including numerous bizarre and seemingly otherworldly spots all within our one and only National Park (Theodore Roosevelt National Park). Though some notable rock formations in North Dakota AREN’T within the park, many of them are – and we think that makes the adventure all the easier, since everything’s in one (enormous) place. Here are some of the most downright intriguing (or utterly baffling) rock formations in North Dakota: 13. The Petrified Forest
Petrified Forest, North Billings, ND 58645, USA
Location: South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota Wow Factor: It’s not every day, week, month or even year that you get to explore a genuine petrified forest... until now. Cost: A standard entrance pass ranges from $15 to $30.
As if TRNP
hasn’t proven to you what an amazing privilege it really is, perhaps this will do it – did you know it’s home to a legitimate, ancient
Yep! In fact, it’s home to the third-largest concentration of petrified wood on the entire planet. Skip the potential for crowds and lines at Arizona’s more well-known petrified forest and visit NoDak’s instead; it’s just as awe-inspiring, and you’d be amazed at how similar the landscape is to AZ’s anyway. This one’s a “see it to believe it” kind of thing; it’s a natural historic site where every single rock and mineral present is older than anyone alive today.
14. The Cannonball Concretions
Cannonball Concretions Pullout, Grassy Butte, ND 58634, USA
Location: North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Watford City, North Dakota Wow Factor: These nearly perfectly round, solid rock formations are eye-catching, to say the least. They’re so bizarre looking that we don’t blame anyone who might think they’re man-made... or perhaps placed here from another world. Cost: A standard entrance pass ranges from $15 to $30.
The otherworldly awe that is the awesome
cannonball concretions at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
are sure to make you do a double-take. What are they? Nearly perfectly round, smooth-looking rock formations that legitimately look like they’re something out of a science fiction movie formed over millions of years by very specific processes – trust us, you can’t miss them. Even if you didn’t expect to see them, they’re sure to be so strange-looking that they’ll catch your eye anyway. Like all the other wonders on this list, there are plenty of hiking trails that’ll lead you right through the good stuff.
15. Mushroom Rocks
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit., 315 2nd Ave, Medora, ND 58645, USA
Location: South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota Wow Factor: Do we really need to keep reiterating the amazingness that is TRNP at this point? Truly, it might be one of the most wonder-filled National Parks in the United States – and these bizarre “mushroom rock” formations just further prove the point. Cost: A standard entrance pass ranges from $15 to $30.
This will be the last attraction within Theodore Roosevelt NP that we’ll cover in this list – but trust us, there’s still more to be explored. Here, these bizarre
mushroom rock formations in North Dakota
will make you wonder just how they came to be (you know, like most of the weird and wonderful geology you’ll encounter here). These odd-looking delights are made of eroded sandstone that was likely deposited somewhere around 100 million years ago. It’s wild to think that these funky-lookin' formations are all-natural, but they are – and you’re sure to want to get a closer look. And before we leave TRNP for good here, we also would like to mention that you should stay in Medora if you find yourself here... it’s the only town located entirely within the park itself.
Unique Natural Wonders in North Dakota
You didn’t think we were going to end it at 15, did you? Of course not; there are still a few natural wonders in North Dakota that are definitely worth mentioning to add! This state is FILLED with awe-inspiring wonder, and we hope we can inspire you to get out and enjoy it, especially if you live here (and absolutely if you want to visit). There are so many options and ideas that you could easily make an awesome North Dakota natural wonders road trip out of it. There are incredible delights right outside your door, too; a few more notable wonders worth mentioning within NoDak include things like: 16. The Sheyenne National Grasslands Location: Southeastern North Dakota Wow Factor: THIS is what they mean by “home on the prairie”. This is all-natural grasslands just as North Dakota would have looked thousands of years ago, and the endless green fields are jaw-droppingly majestic. Cost: Free
Sheyenne National Grasslands
might just be the most amazingly vast feature mentioned on this list. With more than 70,000 amazing acres to explore, it’s the only National Grassland in the United States’s tallgrass prairie region. It’s home to a large population of the western prairie fringed orchid, a stunning flower species noted as “threatened” by US Fish and Wildlife Services. There are other unique flora to be found here as well, like certain types of fern and other orchid species as well. This is one of those hidden gems you’ll be amazed to find right in front of you.
17. The Prairie Pothole Region Location: Northern Great Plains, Upper Midwest Wow Factor: Long ago, this was part of the largest chunk of grasslands in the world. Now, it’s a totally bizarre – but also totally awesome – little geographical feature that looks odd from the ground and even stranger from above. Cost: Free
Prairie Pothole Region
is a North Dakota gem unlike any other in the world. Formed tens of thousands of years ago when glaciers retreated across the landscape and formed these deep, natural divots in the earth, this area looks really cool while you’re viewing it from ground-level, and even cooler from above. Perhaps coolest of all, this area is unique to North America; the region reaches from the Peace Lowlands of northwestern Alberta and northeastern BC, Canada, all the way southeast to the Tall Grass Prairie of Iowa. If you found yourself spellbound by the tallgrass prairie, you’ll likely also find yourself in awe of the pothole region as well.
18. Grahams Island Location: Grahams Island State Park, Devils Lake, North Dakota Wow Factor: Come on: it’s an ISLAND. In NORTH DAKOTA. If that’s not the coolest thing you’ve ever heard of, nothing will be. Cost: The daily vehicle entry fee is $7.
Did you know there’s actually a legitimate
island in North Dakota
? It's true – and they even made it into a state park. Grahams Island State Park is located within Devil’s Lake and it’s exactly what it sounds like: an island. The surrounding lake is amazing for fishing, boating, and simply lounging, and the island is home to some truly unique camping, too. There are plenty of trails to show you the way around, and we think this might be one of the coolest little places in the whole northern Midwest. Who knew you could escape to an island in North Dakota? Well, now you do. And then, once you’re tired of the island, you can always drive east to Grand Forks (or northeast to Fargo) to spend the night.
So, what do you think? Is North Dakota not the single most tragically underrated state in the entire nation? We think so; it’s much too beautiful and wonder-filled to go so unnoticed, so we figured we’d shine a light (or 18) on the best, most amazing natural wonders in North Dakota. Skip the crowds at all the beaches in California and Florida and head up to NoDak instead. You’ll love everything about it (unless you hate the cold… in which case, don’t come out during
winter in North Dakota…seriously). What are your all-time favorite natural wonders in North Dakota? Which ones did we leave off this list? Let us know.
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