Across the Great Plains, on any given day, you’ll see trucks carrying loads of cargo to support the communities, livestock and grain in transit, and plenty of people driving from one city to another. Are you planning such a journey, perhaps between two iconic cities like Denver, Colorado, and Fargo, North Dakota?
This route is long – one of the longest I’ve shared a guide for – but is also one of the best for truly seeing and exploring the Great Plains. Unlike many other routes between major cities around the Plains, making the drive between Fargo and Denver (in either direction) requires getting off the interstates and taking a few smaller roads to pass through small towns and see attractions you won’t find on other routes.
Whether you’re planning to make the long drive between Denver and Fargo for business or pleasure, below you’ll find all the info you need to safely make the journey as a road trip across the beautiful Great Plains.
In this post, I promote travel along a route that crosses the traditional lands of the Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), Bdewakantuwan (Mdewakanton), Mnicoujou, Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache), Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Pâri (Pawnee), Páⁿka tóⁿde ukʰéthiⁿ (Ponca), Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), Yankton, and Yanktonai peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Fargo to Denver Distance
As the crow flies, the distance between Denver and Fargo is approximately 640 miles. Unlike birds (and planes), cars don’t usually follow a straight route to get to a destination, which increases the distance considerably.
The drive between Fargo and Denver is about 850-900 miles via I-29, I-90, I-80, I-76, and several state highways in between (depending on your route!). As I always say, the drive distance will vary depending on where your trip begins in Fargo, North Dakota, and ends in Denver, Colorado.
Also, the distance is subject to the detours you make to access and see interesting points along the journey.
Fargo to Denver Drive Time
At about 900 miles, the drive between Denver and Fargo is a long one; the drive from Fargo to Denver takes 13-14 hours. If you have multiple drivers, you might be able to do this drive in a single day – but I don’t recommend it even in that case, as it will be exhausting and you’ll miss a lot of cool sights and attractions along the way.
Considering this is such a long drive, I’m pretty sure you’ll consider breaking up the drive every 3 hours, which can extend it to 17 hours; in that case, you should absolutely split the drive between Fargo and Denver into two days.
Stops to Make on Your Drive from Between Fargo and Denver
Below you’ll find a list of cool places you can check out when the urge to shake those miles off your body comes in.
Visiting the Mellette House is a great way to experience South Dakota history. Located at 421 Fifth Avenue in Watertown, this historic home is the former residence of the first governor of South Dakota, Arthur C. Mellette, who built it in 1885 and lived there until 1895.
The interior is filled with antique furniture, family portraits, and heirlooms. The most imposing feature of the house is a massive circular staircase that ascends from the ground floor through the second story and into a small tower room located on the third floor.
It will take you about an hour to go through the house with a guided tour, so it’s a perfect alternative if you want a short stop along the drive between Denver and Fargo.
USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial
The USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial honors the most decorated battleship of World War II. It’s nothing short of impressive. The memorial is built to the true scale size of the ship and houses wonderful displays and artifacts from the ship. The displays are highly evocative, giving you the opportunity to experience what it must have been like for those who served and fought on her in WWII. Outside there are some of the guns and the anchor strategically placed to create the illusion of the ship being in the ground.
Porter Sculpture Park
A well-established “roadside oddity”, Porter Sculpture Park is a must-stop along the Denver to Fargo drive.
This quiet park houses an eclectic collection of unique sculptures made by artist Wayne Porter. Most road trippers can’t resist the urge to visit as soon they spot the giant longhorn cow protruding out of the ground while driving along I-90. The park has a trail that takes you through the different sculptures. While walking through the field, be sure to stop and read the poetry. Some of it explains a piece, some are just a peek into the artist’s creative mind.
Admission is $10 and there are golf carts available if you struggle with mobility or walking on uneven surfaces.
Mitchell Corn Palace
Mitchell Corn Palace is both a perfect place to stretch your legs and grab a snack on the Fargo to Denver drive – a real lifesaver when you’re tired from driving all day.
As the name suggests, it is the largest Corn Palace in the world and dates back to the 19 century, when towns on the Great Plains constructed “crop palaces” to promote their soil and encourage settlement in the area.
The exterior is by far the most fasting feature. It is covered in murals made out of different types of corn, which also every year according to the theme chosen. For 2022, the theme was based around the circus. Inside the building, there’s a cool gift shop selling quirky souvenirs.
Fort Niobrara & Valentine National Wildlife Refuges
If you love the Great Outdoors and want to experience some of the best of it in the Great Plains, northern Nebraska is the place to do it. Two lovely places to get out and stretch your legs are Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, which are relatively close to one another; you probably only want to stop at one or the other if you do make a stop here.
Fort Niobrara NWR is home to an incredible blending of different ecosystems on the plains and is great for both botanists and birders. Valentine NWR, on the other hand, preserves the Sandhills which are popular for waterfowl and other birds too.
The Ogallala Mansion on the Hill
Aside from being located in a town with a great name – just try saying it out loud: Ogallala! – the Mansion on the Hill is a good spot for those who love learning local history as part of their road trips. (It’s also conveniently located in a town with plenty of amenities and thus a good spot to stop anyway for gas and food.)
This particular home was built in 1887 when Ogallala was a much rougher town; it is now on the National Register of Historic Places and houses a small museum with a docent that will teach you about the mansion’s history and the pioneer history of Ogallala.
Sterling Overland Trail Museum
While this route you’re driving between Fargo and Denver doesn’t offer many opportunities to learn or engage with points of historic transport across the continent, the Sterling Overland Trail Museum is one of the few places where you can cross part of the Oregon Trail and learn more about that journey.
The Overland Trail followed the south bank of the South Platte River through northeastern Colorado. It is said that the Overland Trail was the heaviest traveled road in America – maybe even in the world – between 1862 to 1868. The museum itself was opened in 1936 which makes it historic in itself, never mind all the history you’ll learn within its walls.
Colorado State Capitol
The Colorado State Capitol is worth stopping by along the drive from Denver to Fargo. This capitol building is famous for its exquisite gold leaf dome, which pays tribute to the Colorado Gold Rush. You can choose to visit the grounds or book a guided tour to explore the interior and learn about its history. With the guided tours you can climb up to the balcony of the dome and witness beautiful views of the city and mountains.
Other Tips for Your Drive Between Denver and Fargo
Now that you know the basics of the drive and are inspired to make a few stops, here are some final tips to help you finish planning your road trip:
- The route between Fargo and Denver crosses in four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado.
- There is one larger city along the route, which is Sioux Falls in South Dakota.
- If you want to make an overnight stop along the way – which I strongly recommend – the best place would be in the small but charming town of Valentine, Nebraska. I’ve been there for the Nebraska Star Party and it has enough amenities for a nice overnight stop.
Finally, while on the major interstates of the route (I-29 to I-90 and I-80 to I-76), there are plenty of rest stops and gas stations; once you leave the main interstates (cutting down from I-90 to I-80 along various state highways), the options are more limited. Be sure to fill up before then to ensure you have enough gas, or stop and support a local gas station in one of the small towns along the way.
Should You Fly Between Fargo and Denver Instead?
It’s hard to say whether you should fly or drive between Denver and Fargo. Both means of transport offer advantages and disadvantages. However, there are two variables that will help you choose the best alternative for you: time and cost.
Time-wise, a nonstop drive between Fargo and Denver is 850-900 miles long depending on your route, and takes about 13-14 hours. As we saw before, it’s very unlikely to cover that distance in a single day. Consequently, it would be more of a two-day road trip. When flying, the distance between Denver and Fargo is about 640 miles. It would take five hours to fly between these cities if we take into account the time you need to get to the airport, do the check-in, and then drive to your destination in Denver.
Cost-wise, you can spend $300-$350 on a round-trip drive between Denver and Fargo, whereas flight tickets start at $70 for a round trip.
All in all, flying seems more convenient from a cost and time perspective. However, a road trip will give you the opportunity to explore unknown places and have more flexibility in your itinerary. In the end, it’s all up to you and what is inspiring your trip between Denver and Fargo!
Have any questions about making the drive between Fargo and Denver in either direction? Let me know in the comments!