4 Day Road Trip Itinerary for Northwest North Dakota

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit in North Dakota

Did you know North Dakota is considered the least visited state in the United States? This comes at quite a shock to us as we just spent 4 days exploring Northwest North Dakota and discovered it’s many treasures and highlights. Coming into North Dakota we didn’t have many or any expectations. That’s probably because you don’t hear alot about it when thinking or picking a travel destination or getaway. However, going into North Dakota and not knowing much was actually one of the best ways to come into a destination.

During our 4 days exploring Northwest North Dakota, we were introduced to one surprise after another from gorgeous vistas in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a colorful and historic downtown in Minot, enchanting lake towns, and more incredible prairie views.

This guide is to showcase not only amazing things to do in North Dakota along a North Dakota road trip but to help you plan an unforgettable trip visiting one of the most underrated and under-visited places in the United States.

Check out our guide and North Dakota itinerary to help you plan your next US road trip with some of the best things to do in North Dakota.

little house on the prairie of North Dakota

Table of Contents
    1. North Dakota Travel Tips
    2. Day 1 North Dakota Itinerary
    3. Day 2 North Dakota Itinerary
    4. Day 3 North Dakota Itinerary
    5. Day 4 North Dakota Itinerary

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North Dakota Travel Tips

road signs in North Dakota

Our North Dakota road trip itinerary focuses on the Northwest region of the state and starts and ends in Minot. The best way to get to Minot is by the Minot International Airport (MOT). We recommend if you’re coming in by air to rent a car, we personally like to rent cars with Expedia.

We highly encourage getting an SUV or larger vehicle with AWD or 4WD. While the North Dakota attractions mentioned in our guide don’t require this vehicle we found that some of the roads are traveled more comfortably by having a bigger vehicle. Some of the roads are dirt and if you’re visiting in any season besides summer there’s a chance of snow in which you’ll want to have more control and a better vehicle for driving in these conditions.

If you’re visiting in the summer we highly encourage you to bring bug spray. You’ll be in prairie land which is prone to bugs and mosquitos whether you’re on the lake or just exploring the national park. 

Last, the best time to visit Northwest North Dakota for comfortable weather is in the summer months. Even in the fall, the weather can get very cold and the middle of winter temperatures get very cold, while there are still winter activities to enjoy like ice fishing you’ll want to come prepared for seriously cold weather if you plan to visit during any time other than the summer months.

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Day 1 North Dakota Itinerary

Megan looking at the view at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Drive from Minot to Watford City (123 miles 2 hour 15-minute drive)

Your North Dakota road trip has come to a start after arriving in Minot. However, we are recommending to do more Minot exploring after heading west where we will start our North Dakota itinerary in Watford City. This scenic drive takes you through flat terrain through North Dakota’s oil industry spotting oil rigs and workers along the way.

Grab a pick me up at Door 204 

After traveling and driving to your first stop on your North Dakota itinerary we recommend stopping for a quick pick me up coffee drink at Door 204 in Watford City. This adorable cafe is also a full-on working mail center for the town’s citizens.

You can see in the decor of the cafe that there is a fully functioning antique mailbox center in use along the walls of the cafe. Take advantage of all the different unique flavors and combinations of drinks this place offers, our favorite was the Gingerbread Dirty Chai. 

The owners also feature local artists work hanging up around the cafe that are for sale. 

This is one of those unique small-town things to do in North Dakota you should add to your itinerary. If you’re still feeling like exploring a bit more of Watford City before moving on check out some of the local stores before heading on to our next thing to do in North Dakota on your North Dakota road trip itinerary.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit

Rock formations and views at Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit in North DakotaJust a short drive from Watford City is the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This park is one of the most popular places and things to do in North Dakota but most visitors actually go in through the South Unit near Medora.

Named to honor President Theodore Roosevelt who’s visit to the badlands inspired a policy that shaped conservation and National Parks as we know it in the United States today.

The entire park is actually compromised of 3 units, the North, South, and Elkhorn Ranch Units. Since you’re exploring the area of Watford City we are focusing solely on the North Unit. However, if you’d like to explore more of this park we recommend scheduling in an additional day on your North Dakota itinerary.

The national park’s rugged landscape protects herds of bison, wild horses, and bighorn sheep to name a few. 

Bison on the road at Theodore Roosevelt National Park North UnitEnjoy the 14-mile scenic drive through the North Unit through the badlands. There are two beautiful overlooks, River Bend Overlook and Oxbow Overlook to stop among other stops like the Cannonball Rock formations.

If you plan on doing just the drive and overlook stops then plan for at least 1.5-2 hours in the park. There are also hiking trails to enjoy and if you plan on doing them be sure to add time to your North Dakota itinerary to give yourself sufficient time.

We witnessed both wild horses off in the distance from the River Bend Overlook and large groups of bison during our drive. It’s important not to get out of the car or try to get close to the bison. These are wild animals and when provoked they have attacked and killed visitors.

Dinner at Stonehome Brewery

beer flight at Stonehome Brewery in Watford City North DakotaAfter enjoying the breathtaking views at Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit you’ll have worked up an appetite. We ate at Stonehome Brewery in Watford City which serves up their own craft beer and American fare and woodfire pizza. 

Overnight in Watford City

Scott looking at the view at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North DakotaRest up for the rest of your North Dakota road trip itinerary by staying overnight in Watford City. We recommend staying at the same hotel as we did on our North Dakota road trip at the Roosevelt Inn. You can’t miss this hotel as it has a giant bust of Theodore Roosevelt himself. 

The rooms are classic and comfortable. There’s also an indoor pool and spa on site.

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Day 2 North Dakota Itinerary

aerial view of lake sakakawea and the missouri river in North Dakota
Drive from Watford City to Tobacco Gardens to Minot (total 148 miles 2 hour 47-minute drive)

On your day 2 of your North Dakota road trip itinerary, we have you moving on to Tobacco Gardens Resort and Marina for some outdoor leisure activities before moving back to Minot for the afternoon of activities in the city to enjoy where you’ll spend the night.

Breakfast at Wild Cow Coffee & Cream

Before taking off for a fun morning at Tobacco Gardens we recommend stopping for a quick and light breakfast at Wild Cow Coffee & Cream in Watford City next to Stonehome Brewing where we recommended to go for dinner.

You can get all your morning coffee needs here and enjoy a light breakfast. Their menu is limited and mostly consists of a few bagel sandwiches and pastries to choose from, the perfect grab and go breakfast to head on to your next location.

Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina

view of the Little Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea at the Birnt Hills Trail in North DakotaOur next thing to do in North Dakota on your road trip itinerary is exploring the beautiful area of Tobacco Gardens on the shores of Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River where Lewis and Clark famously explored. As a matter of fact, it was here where Meriwether Lewis was shot in the leg by accident hunting.

Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina is a great starting point for exploring the activities in this area. This fully functioning campground is a great stop for anyone on a North Dakota road trip or campers. You can adjust your North Dakota road trip itinerary to spend the night here – be sure to book in advance if you want to camp instead of stay at a hotel.

Located along the Little Missouri National Grasslands this is the perfect place to enjoy kayaking along the bay and river or go for a leisurely hike on the Birnt Hills trail just 3 miles from Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina.

posing at Tobacco Gardens resort and marinaYou can get kayak rentals from Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina. This is also a great stop for a sandwich for lunch. Be sure to call in advance to make sure that they’re open. The entire place is run by the sweetest woman named Peggy who does everything herself. So it’s always good to call and be sure that they are open since this is a one-woman business.

701-842-4199 

Be aware that this western part of North Dakota does have rattlesnakes. Use precaution on the trail in the unlikely event that you encounter a rattlesnake. 

Explore Minot

Replica of the Gol Stave Church at the Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot North DakotaAfter a morning of exploring the Little Missouri National Grasslands, we have you heading back to Minot for more North Dakota attractions.

If you arrive back in the mid-afternoon we recommend checking out the Scandinavian Heritage Park. During the last half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, North Dakota received a huge influx of immigrants from Scandinavian countries like Norway, Iceland, and Sweden when land was taken away from Native Americans and up for grabs for white settlers.

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We were told the huge amount of Norwegians specifically flocked to this area because only the eldest men could be landowners in Norway, having land ‘up for grabs’ in the US was attractive to many Norwegians who might not be able to own land themselves in their home country.

The Scandinavian Heritage Park celebrates the Scandinavian culture and influences in the area. Two of the main highlights here are the Norweigan Gol Stave Church replica and the giant Swedish Dala Horse among other important statues and figures in Scandinavia’s history like Leif Erikson. 

Be aware that the museum itself and access to the interior of the buildings close at 4 pm. However, you can still walk through the grounds and admire the Scandinavian architecture and property on the exterior after hours.

Be sure to check it out even if you only get to visit after hours, the unique stave church alone is worth seeing as there are less than 30 left in Norway from the middle ages when there used to be over 1000. 

Dinner at 10 North Main 

Another North Dakota attraction is that Minot is proudly the hometown of actor Josh Duhamel, actor and ex-husband of Fergie. This city is particularly proud of this feat and you may even notice on billboards and online advertising that Mr. Duhamel is the spokesperson for all things travel related to North Dakota.

Locals are proud that he is so connected to his home state and his family members still live here to this day. In fact, his mother and sister run the finest dining establishment in Minot. 10 North Main is steakhouse and seafood eatery located in downtown Minot.

We recommend having a nice dinner here, their food was incredible. 

*You can interchange some of the activities in Minot with our day 4 North Dakota itinerary if your schedule doesn’t align since we have you coming back on the final day. 

Overnight in Minot

museum at sunset in downtown MinotWe recommend spending the night in Minot before heading on to the Turtle Mountains area the next day. There are plenty of hotels in Minot including the Grand Hotel near the Minot International Airport as well as Airbnb rentals. Here are our recommendations for where to stay in Minot.

Grand Hotel

The Grand Hotel has a convenient location right across the Minot International Airport and is a classic hotel and great for a one night stay. The hotel definitely has vibes of nostalgia as it still has an older style vibe. While there are no frills this hotel has anything you need to spend a night while on your North Dakota road trip.

Book Now on Booking.com | Compare Prices for later on Expedia.com | See Prices on Hotels.com

Try an Airbnb Home Rental

Take advantage of being in a small city and live like a local in a small apartment or cottage rental. The two we picked out are centrally located and make a night in a new town feel a little more like home.

One Bedroom at Oliver’s Landing and The Loft at Oliver’s Landing

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Day 3 North Dakota Itinerary

Megan posing for the view at Mystical Horizons in Bottineau North Dakota
Drive from Minot to International Peace Garden to Bottineau (total 140 miles 2 hour 26-minute drive)

On the 3rd day of our North Dakota itinerary, we cover some great North Dakota attractions right by the border of Canada’s Manitoba province in the Turtle Mountains. While you don’t need a passport to do these options we recommend bringing one just in case. You will have to go through the border security after coming back from the International Peace Garden so to make things easier you can just have your passport while you don’t absolutely need it.

We end this day by staying the night in the town of Bottineau.

Quick Breakfast at Classic Rock Cafe

Before leaving Minot you will want to make sure you stop for breakfast. We recommend a quick stop at Classic Rock Cafe where you can have a great cup of joe paired with one of the breakfast items. The entire cafe is Rock and Roll themed.

International Peace Garden

succulents on a chair at the international peace garden in north dakotaOne of the best things to do in North Dakota on our itinerary is visit the International Peace Garden sharing the border with Canada’s Manitoba province. This is one of the most symbolic monuments in North America paying tribute to the relationship between the countries of Canada and the United States of America. 

The garden was erected in 1932 and even gave inspiration to the slogan that’s featured on the North Dakota license plates “Peace Garden State” and the state’s nickname.

Ther are over 150,000 flowers planted here each year and some of the most notable features are the fountains and gardens, the peace chapel where famous quotes about peace in history are inscribed, building remains from the World Trade Center from 9/11 are here, and the incredible succulent and cactus garden are all worth visiting.

There’s a cafe here as well so you can enjoy a leisurely lunch before heading to Bottineau.

Leaving the International Peace Garden you will be forced to go through border patrol back in the US. The garden entrance is located directly between the Canadian border patrol and the US border patrol. There is a chance they could inspect you and your vehicle, make sure you have proper identification on you as they will request to see at minimum a driver’s license or valid identification for everyone in the car.

Afternoon Ice Cream treat at Pride Dairy

Next up on our North Dakota road trip itinerary is in the town of Bottineau. Check out Pride Dairy for North Dakota’s best ice cream. This creamery dates back to the 1930s where farmers would bring their excess cream and they’d ship it out regionally as butter. Eventually, they started carrying ice cream and its become famous in the state as being the best and even sold at regional grocery stores.

You can feel the antiquity of the building as it’s connected to an old feed grainery you feel like you’re in the center of America’s heartland. 

Don’t miss out on some of their signature flavors including the local specialty, chokecherry. 

Do be sure to check their hours, we noticed they don’t have typical ice cream parlor hours of operation and close at 5 pm and are surprisingly closed on Saturdays and Sundays. If you’re visiting over a weekend be sure to grab a local pint of ice cream from Pride Dairy at a grocery store or look for the Lulabelle’s Ice Cream truck at Lake Metigoshe.

Visit Tommy the Turtle

Megan jumping for joy at Tommy Turtle Park in BottineauOne of the best things to do in North Dakota and North Dakota attractions is Tommy the Turtle. Tommy the Turtle breaks not one but two world records! He’s the world’s tallest turtle at over 30 feet tall and Tommy’s riding the world’s largest snowmobile!

This kitschy find brought out a child-like delight in me, I was actually REALLY excited to see Tommy the Turtle and even climb him for a photo, yes that’s encouraged!

Even though Bottineau is a small town with alot to offer, Tommy the Turtle is the only thing that shows up when you do an internet search on the city. He’s the most famous thing to do and see and you definitely don’t want to miss it!

Explore Downtown and Grab an early Dinner

movie theater marquee in downtown BottineauBe sure to explore the small downtown of Bottineau, it won’t take long but there are a few cute shops and even a cool still running movie theater with a vintage marquee.

We recommend getting dinner at Marie’s in the heart of downtown Bottineau before catching an incredible sunset at Mystical Horizons.

Sunset at Mystical Horizons

Mystical Horizons Stonehenge in Bottineau North DakotaNext, on the North Dakota road trip itinerary, you don’t want to miss a sunset at Mystical Horizons, the 21st century Stonehenge located on a hill overlooking the prairies of North Dakota countryside. Designed by the late NASA engineer John “Jack” Olson who worked on the Apollo 11 mission, these granite wall structures represent a solar calendar.

Olson was from Bottineau and had an impressive career with NASA. Some of his work is even still on display to this day at the Smithsonian. Mystical Horizons wasn’t completed in his lifetime, but it was his design that inspired this incredible North Dakota attraction.

Just like the original Stonehenge, if you come on the equinoxes or solstices you will see the perfect alignment with the structure to the movements of the sun.

On a regular day though you can just admire the stunning and captivating view of the prairies below. 

Annie’s House

This next item on our North Dakota itinerary is a bit more difficult to plan a visit to unless you are coming midday but definitely worth mentioning is Annie’s House located on Bottineau Winterpark is an adaptive recreation park for those with intellectual and physical disabilities.

They have special mobility features to help make the trails and slopes accessible to everyone. And while that in itself is notable enough on its own it’s the story behind Annie’s House that left us speechless and is captivating.

Ann Nelson, a local woman from North Dakota who moved to New York City was the only person from North Dakota who died in the fatal and devastating attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. 

Ann was known for being a kind-hearted person who loved helping others who needed it and also kept a list every year from when she was a kid to an adult of things she’d like to accomplish.

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After 9/11 her personal computer was found with her last Annie’s List. On this list, she had all the things she wanted to accomplish but never had a chance to including owning a home in North Dakota. 

It was proposed that an adaptive recreation park at the Bottineau Winterpark to be constructed in her honor to help her accomplish some of the things on her list as well as all the volunteers from North Dakota who went and helped after the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

Inside Annie’s House, you can read about Annie’s story from a child until the moment Annie’s House was created. You can also read her list of 36 items that were on her list on the beams of the house with one last beam that has the number 37 with nothing on it, because she never got that far.

This entire visit was moving and honestly, you’ll want to come along with a few tissues. 

In the winter you can enjoy the Bottineau Winterpark or in the snowless months, you can arrange to access the trails, kayak, or even horseback riding. To do so off-season you have to arrange for your visit. You can do so by calling Rachael at 701-263-4556.

Overnight in Bottineau or Lake Metigoshe

Lake Metigoshe water skiiersEnd your night 3 on your North Dakota itinerary by spending the night either in a hotel in Bottineau or arranging for a house rental on Lake Metigoshe. If you choose the latter of the options you will need to book in advance to secure a spot at this popular summer destination. In the winter, Lake Metigoshe is also popular with ice fishing.

Cobblestone Inn & Suites in Bottineau

We visited during peak season in the summer and stayed in Bottineau at the Cobblestone Inn & Suites right next to my favorite roadside attraction, Tommy the Turtle! This hotel offers classic and comfortable rooms and includes breakfast.

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Try an Airbnb House Rental on Lake Metigoshe

Our next stop on our North Dakota itinerary starts at Lake Metigoshe just outside Bottineau. We recommend staying on this gorgeous scenic lake that shares the border with Canada. As mentioned, if you are visiting in the summer you will want to secure a house rental in advance as this is a very popular getaway for both Canadians and Americans nearby.

While the houses can hold bigger families and more guests, it’s still a unique experience to be right on the lake and maybe you’ll even wake up to a moose on your lawn.

Check out this Marina Del Finkus 4 bedroom house on the lake or Four Bedroom Cabin on the lake.

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Day 4 North Dakota Itinerary

white church on the prairie near Bottineau North Dakota
Drive from Bottineau to J Clark National Wildlife Refuge to Minot (total 81 miles 1 hour 32-minute drive)

Your final day on your North Dakota road trip itinerary you will enjoy the morning at Lake Metigoshe looking for wildlife and paddling along the water of the serene lake in the Lake Metigoshe State Park. After lunch, you’ll start making your way back to Minot stopping at the largest wildlife refuges in the state before spending your final night in Minot.

Breakfast

Before you embark on your last day of your North Dakota itinerary and the last of the best things to do in North Dakota you’ll want to grab a nice breakfast.

If you spent the night in Bottineau we recommend going to Family Bakery & Restaurant for one of their mouth-watering donuts. They also have a full breakfast menu if you fancy something other than sweets. Then head to Bottineau Pharmacy for a great cup of coffee at their cafe inside the gift shop. 

If you’re in Lake Metigoshe already or are ready to move on to our next North Dakota attraction for the day you can stop at Penelope’s for a great cup of coffee and a light breakfast pastry.

Lake Metigoshe State Park

aerial view of Lake Metigoshe in North DakotaEnjoy a morning on the water by renting kayaks or canoes from Lake Metigoshe State Park. The state park is made up of over 1,500 acres along the shores of Lake Metigoshe and the Turtle Mountains. We rented kayaks from the ranger station on the quiet and peaceful School Section Lake.

Spend an hour or two kayaking on this quiet body of water and look out for wildlife. There are moose in the area if you’re lucky you might see one although we were told the best chance to see them was early mornings or evenings. Scott and I saw mink along the shores of the lake as well as a beaver swimming while we were kayaking.

Be sure to bring bug spray!

Lunch on Lake Metigoshe

A Frame Bar and Grille on Lake MetigosheAfter your morning of quiet wildlife watching by boat, we recommend heading to the A Frame Bar & Grill on Lake Metigoshe for lunch.

It’s a bit difficult to enjoy all there is to do on Lake Metigoshe without doing a house rental or knowing a local, so you can enjoy the serenity of the lake while enjoying a meal overlooking the lake.

Visit the J Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge

Bird Watching at J Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in North DakotaAfter lunch, head on to your next stop on your North Dakota itinerary at J Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge, the largest refuge in the state. Located on the Souris River and made up of nearly 59,000 acres the flatland and wetlands of the J Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge is a space to help protect and conserve the local wildlife and ecosystem.

Be sure to stop at the visitors center to find out more information on where you can go bird watching, hike, fish, spot wildlife, photograph, and drive.

This is a great stop to see more of the beautiful landscape of the North Dakota northwestern countryside before heading back to Minot.

Evening Activities in Minot

Megan in front of the tetris mural in minot north dakotaFor your last night in Minot we recommend exploring more of what’s to offer downtown including the incredible street art and mural scene. Visit Minot’s tourism website to see the map of where you can walk to all the different murals. Our favorite were the Tetris and Aracade murals but there are so many other great ones to explore.

For any beer lovers like us then you have to check out Atypical Brewery & Barrelworks for some delicious craft brews. Located in an adorable English cottage-style building that looks straight out of the Hobbit, you can sample all their different beers in tasting size or commit to a large pour. This was our favorite brewery we visited during our trip to North Dakota.

If you’re into speakeasy-style establishments then check out Saul’s speakeasy. Don’t come expecting cocktails though, this speakeasy is unique in that they only serve wine and will give you the ultimate wine tasting experience through their different wine glasses. Did you know how you taste different types of wines can vary depending on the type of glass you use? At Saul’s you’ll learn all about it.

The only problem is you have to find it! Then once you find it you have to know the password, you can text 701 401-2105 with Hi to get a riddle you have to solve. Once you solve the riddle you get the password to enter!

If you haven’t found another downtown establishment to eat at already then we recommend checking out Badlands Bar & Grill.

*You can interchange some of the activities in Minot with our day 2 North Dakota itinerary if your schedule doesn’t align since we have you coming back on the final day. 

Overnight in Minot

historical downtown buildings in Minot North DakotaWe recommend spending the night of your North Dakota road trip in Minot before heading out via the Minot International Airport. We have recommended the same accommodation options as before, the Grand Hotel being extremely convenient for those flying out of the airport first thing in the morning because its located right across from the airport.

The other Airbnb options are great for anyone who’s looking to spend a fun night out in downtown Minot and be walking distance to most attractions.

Grand Hotel

The Grand Hotel has a convenient location right across the Minot International Airport and is a classic hotel and great for a one night stay. The hotel definitely has vibes of nostalgia as it still has an older style vibe. While there are no frills this hotel has anything you need to spend a night while on your North Dakota road trip.

Book Now on Booking.com | Compare Prices for later on Expedia.com | See Prices on Hotels.com

Try an Airbnb Home Rental

Take advantage of being in a small city and live like a local in a small apartment or cottage rental. The two we picked out are centrally located and make a night in a new town feel a little more like home.

One Bedroom at Oliver’s Landing and The Loft at Oliver’s Landing

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Disclaimer: We were invited as guests of North Dakota Tourism to experience this part of the state. However, all experiences and opinions are our own.

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