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Saving the best for last. It’s a concept oft used for dessert. And, perhaps for that perfectly aged bottle of wine in your cellar. But for a visit to North Dakota? Yes, that too.
North Dakotans know their state doesn’t necessarily spring to mind when travelers brainstorm hot vacation destinations. But for many Americans, ticking off a visit to all 50 states is a point of pride, and you just can’t do it without North Dakota. So the state created a Best for Last Club that rewards visitors who finish their 50-state bucket list tour in North Dakota with swag, a picture in front of a specialty backdrop, and other celebratory honors.
Of course, checking something off a list is not the only reason to go to North Dakota. The 39th state ought to pop to mind as a vacation destination because it’s great for outdoor enthusiasts, foodies and craft beer drinkers, and history buffs and shoppers. Here are nine reasons to plan your 50-state finale in the Peace Garden State.
Snap a Sunflower Selfie
More sunflowers are grown in North Dakota than anywhere else in the country, and seeing field after field of tall, yellow blooms reaching for the sky shouldn’t be missed. The flowers are found throughout the state, but if you want to be certain to see a large expanse, head to the counties in the center of the state (from the Canadian border to South Dakota). August and September are prime blooming season.
Take a Hike
Named for the president who visited this land and credited it with shaping his views on conservation, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora is a remote park with amazing views, great wildlife sighting and both challenging hikes as well as more modest walks. There are three sections of the park to visit. Stop by the restored Maltese Cross Cabin near the Visitors Center, which was once owned by Roosevelt.
Take a Deep Breath for Peace
Hiking and biking trails, botanic gardens and a wildlife refuge make up the International Peace Garden, a serene space spanning the border between North Dakota and Manitoba, Canada. For more than 80 years this spot has fostered peace between nations.
See the Middle
Know the term Middle America? Technically, it is right here. The geographical center of North America is measured in Rugby, North Dakota…at least by some calculations. Since 1932 this landmark has been noted by a large stone cairn, although the technical spot is about 6 miles west. They’re close enough to each other that you easily can visit both.
Admire a Viking Ship
In 1982, a replica of a 9th-century Viking ship was built and sailed 6,000 miles back to Norway, as a way to honor the heritage of many of the folks who live in this part of the country. You can see the Hjemkomst Viking Ship and watch videos about the process and the remarkable voyage just a few minutes from Fargo in nearby Moorhead, Minnesota. The roof of the museum is an offbeat shape to accommodate the ship’s mast: You can spot it if looking out from one of Fargo’s many rooftop decks or from the guest rooms at the Radisson Hotel Fargo.
Get the Big Picture
If you want an overview of all things North Dakota, the state’s capitol, Bismarck, is your go-to destination. The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum has four free museums covering everything from rock formation to a 1950s soda shop. (The T-Rex skeleton replica is a big hit with kids.) Stay at nearby Roosevelt Place so you can stroll to the museum (including its sculpture gardens), the arboretum trail, and the state capitol building at your leisure.
Partake in a Downtown Renaissance
Downtown Fargo has a happening food, wine and craft beer scene, great boutiques for one-of-a-kind shopping, excellent outdoor murals, live music and the beautifully restored Fargo Theatre (its marquee has made many photographers’ must-shoot lists). Highlights include breakfast at Young Blood Coffee Co., featuring a high-end toast menu, and Sandy’s Donuts, which has 75 different varieties. Restaurant Mezzaluna, meanwhile, takes some of the region’s traditional tastes, and cooks up twists with fresh ingredients, all from a cozy space. For one-of-a-kind jewelry, gifts and antiques, head to Zandbroz and Unglued.
See a Piece of Movie History
If you’re a fan of the flick “Fargo,” stop by the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center and see the wood chipper—yes, that wood chipper. The Center houses the machine that was featured in the movie, along with the movie script and costume props for your perfect campy photo.
Take the Long Road
The 30-minute drive from Gladstone to Regent is referred to as The Enchanted Highway. This route is dotted with a series of large metal sculptures dancing in the Great Plains landscape. The one named “Geese in Flight” is currently listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture.
Check Out Giant Animals
Yes, there’s a lot of wildlife across the state, but North Dakota also likes its giant sculptures. It is home to the World’s Largest Holstein Cow (in New Salem, thus named Salem Sue) and the World’s Largest Buffalo (in Jamestown.) Fargo is dotted with more than 20 painted bison. Charge your phone: Instagram was made for these urban creatures. This map will help you find them.
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