Running over 1,500 miles from near Billings, Montana to Port Huron, Michigan, Interstate 94 (I-94) is one of the lesser-traveled east-west interstates that crosses the United States. I-94 is the northernmost major interstate that crosses the Great Plains, connecting some of the major cities in this region like Bismarck, Fargo, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit – of course, not all of which are on the Great Plains.
If you’re planning to make this journey, you might wonder if there are any roadside attractions along I-94 that are worth stopping for. After all, the 600-plus-mile distance of this interstate across the Great Plains means you will need to stop a few times for gas – and might as well make a few other stops to experience the unique culture in this part of the country.
Here are the best roadside attractions along I-94 to help you plan your trip, from a giant tee-pee to a Titanic house. Let’s roll!
In this post, I promote travel along a route that crosses the traditional lands of the Apsáalooke (Crow), Bdewakantuwan (Mdewakanton), Niitsítpiis-stahkoii ᖹᐟᒧᐧᐨᑯᐧ ᓴᐦᖾᐟ (Blackfoot / Niitsítapi ᖹᐟᒧᐧᒣᑯ), Hunkpapa, Itazipco, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Salish, Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), 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.
Located in West Fargo, Bonanzaville is a pioneer village and history museum. The property has 40 buildings historic; many are original from the region and have been relocated here. It is a fun way to get to know the past of the Red River Valley, especially if you’re traveling with kids. There are actors dressed in period clothes who bring history alive. They also have a fantastic antique car collection.
Barnes County Historical Society
Barnes County Historical Society is one of the must-see roadside attractions along I-94. History buffs will love it, but the truth is that this free museum has collections to entertain everyone.
Their collections are curated to reflect the history of Barnes County and surrounding communities. Spanning three floors, the collections feature everything, from fossils to historic cars. You’ll get to see “Gundy the Triceratops”, dated 65 million years old, and the shoes of Christian Paetow known as the Largest Man in the Dakota Territory.
World’s Largest Buffalo Monument
Located in Jamestown, the World’s Largest Buffalo Monument has grown to become one of the most popular tourist attractions along I-94. The sculpture is huge. It is 26 feet tall and 46 feet long and weighs 60 short tons.
You can easily see the Buffalo from I-94. However, you need to make a little detour off the interstate to access the statue, which is located inside Frontier Village. There’s plenty of space to park your car and even more to walk around and stretch your legs.
Photo credits: Haydn Blackey via Flickr (all)
If you stopped to see the Buffalo statue, there’s no reason not to stay a little longer and visit Frontier Village. There are a few small stores, but you probably won’t need to spend more than half an hour in this place. This museum recreates a North Dakota town. There are many original buildings from the frontier villages of North Dakota and the staff has filled them with artifacts and antiques to tell the story of what was prairie life-like.
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop and get a souvenir. It sells lovely handmade goods from local artisans.
Buckstop Junction is another good way to explore North Dakota’s history. This small, historical town features buildings dating from 1875 to 1935. It is a short distance out of the city of Bismarck, but it only helps to maintain its atmosphere.
You can take a tour and meander through the buildings while hearing about their stories and the functions they fulfilled back in the day. The property also hosts Applefest, a celebration of the autumn harvest and fundraiser for the Bismarck Cancer Center Foundation. (In 2022, they’ll be hosting it on September 24 and 25.)
Former Governor’s Mansion
Bismarck is also home to the former Governor’s Mansion. As the name suggests, this Victorian house served as the official residence of 20 chief executives and their families from 1893 to 1960.
The property also features a carriage house. Admission is free, and visitors are welcome to stroll through the mansion and the carriage house at their own pace. There’s an exhibition displaying the restoration process, architectural style changes, and furniture used by several governors. If you have one hour to spare, this mansion is one of the top roadside attractions along I-94 worth visiting.
North Dakota State Railroad
The ND Railroad Museum should be on everyone’s must-do list while in North Dakota. Railroad fans will love it. Those who aren’t railroad nuts would still find it an interesting place to spend an hour or two.
The museum has a former depot and a fair amount of rolling stock: flat cars, box cars, tankers, cabooses, and a couple of yard engines. It also houses smaller artifacts from days gone by associated with ND’s railway systems, like hand tools, uniforms, maps, signs, and hand telegraph kits. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
Salem Sue is another of the quirky roadside stops along I-94. Designed by Dave Oswald, this giant cow made of fiberglass was built in 1974 to honor the dairymen that live here. It sits on top of a hill, so you can get a good view of the surrounding area, and if you have kids, they can have fun playing around. There are also two great gas stations right before the sculpture in case you need gas.
North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame
As you may have noticed, there are tons of roadside attractions along I-94 devoted to the history of the region. But if you only get to pick one place, let it be the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.
The ND Cowboy Hall of Fame is a jewel of Western culture and times. Upon entering it seems like a place out of time. The exhibits show the history of the original men and women who, against all odds made North Dakota world famous for rodeo, agriculture, and ranching. Moreover, displays are constantly being updated, so if you’ve been here in the past, there will be new things to appreciate.
Powder River Bridge
The Powder River Bridge is a great place to get out and stretch your legs whether you’re traveling locally or passing through.
This bridge spans the Powder River just above its confluence with the Yellowstone River in Prairie County, Montana. This steel truss-style bridge was built in 1946 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 4, 2010. The structure is in perfect condition and there’s fishing and boat access on both sides of the bridge.
If you appreciate beautiful architecture, the Yucca Theater should be marked on your map. Located in Hysham, Montana, this theater was built and designed in 1931 by David Manning, a prominent Montana legislator, and his brother Jim.
The theater boasts a pompous Mission style and ornate Art Deco interiors that were typical of the flamboyance of the 1930s – this isn’t accidental as during the 30s began what was later known as the Golden Age of Hollywood.
But what’s even more interesting is the impact that the construction of the theater had on the locals. The grandiose Mission style captured looks day and night and the building quickly reached landmark status. What’s even more interesting is that the theater lifted the locals’ spirits and made the statement that Hysham would survive the Great Depression. Today, the Yucca Theater is a museum where you can explore Montana’s early developments and learn a bit about David Manning and his political career.
Have any questions about these roadside attractions along I-94, or know of others I should add to the list? Let me know in the comments below!