So you find yourself planning a trip to Bismarck, North Dakota? The Roughrider State’s capital city is smaller and less visited than Fargo, but don’t skip it on that account.
Bismarck is nestled on the banks of the Missouri River in the heart of North Dakota, and Lewis & Clark passed through here on their famous expedition. Maybe your travels bring you here too – perhaps by way of I-94, which cuts right through the city. But if you’re curious about things to do in Bismarck, don’t worry.
There are plenty of fascinating activities and experiences to have in this town that’s home to 72,000 Dakotans. This post will cover the best things to do in Bismarck so you can fill your time here with outdoor adventures, state, frontier, and indigenous history, and even a few local flavors and colors.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Cheyenne, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ 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.
This post was originally published in March 2021, and was updated most recently in July 2023.
1. The Dakota Zoo
Find your place of serenity amongst the animals in the Dakota Zoo! This North Dakota-based zoo houses animals from around the world including grizzly bears, bald eagles, and both blue and yellow Macaws. For anyone looking for additional educational experiences, the Dakota Zoo offers programs such as “art with the animals” and “animal close-ups.”
This makes the zoo a perfect activity for families, animal enthusiasts, and budding artists visiting Bismarck.
2. North Dakota State Capitol Building
As you may know, Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota – so it’s safe to assume the state capitol building is here. (Spoilers: it is!) The North Dakota capital building is a 21-story Art Deco tower that boasts itself as the “tallest habitable building in the state.”
Many travelers like to visit state capital buildings. If you’re one of those travelers, this one should definitely be on your list; you can schedule a tour of the interior, or take one of the pre-set walking tours on the grounds.
3. Former Governors’ Mansion State Historic Site
Originally constructed in 1884, the Former Governors’ Mansion is a Victorian estate that was originally built as a private residence. Years later it was sold to the state and used for official business. Specifically, it housed 20 North Dakota governors between 1893 to 1960.
Currently, the Former Governors’ Mansion operates as a historic house museum. It provides an exclusive look into what life was like for the former tenants, dating back to 1893.
Note that if you’re visiting during the winter months, hours are quite limited; be sure to check the hours online to see if it will be open or if you can make an appointment to visit.
4. North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum
Gain valuable historical knowledge at one of North Dakota’s biggest state museums, the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum. The museum houses geologic relics dating back to 600 million years ago, as well as plenty from the modern era. It also provides a look into North Dakota’s rich history and the state it has become today.
Special in its own right, visiting this museum is one of the top things to do in Bismarck, and is located near the State Capitol building.
5. Camp Hancock State Historic Park
Camp Hancock State Historic Park was originally built in 1872. It was established as Camp Greeley, a military installation. Later in its history, it was used as a refuge for railroad workers completing the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Though it only sits on one acre, this building packs a powerful punch providing historical artifacts and documents relating to North Dakota state history.
6. Keelboat Park
Most people agree that Keelboat Park is one of the most unique and best things to do in Bismarck.
Located on the banks of the Missouri River, this park has equal measures of historical replicas, sculptures, and scenic views. This site includes educational resources about Native Americans and American explorers. It’s perfect for families and curious adult history fans alike.
7. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Established in 1907, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park houses reconstructed buildings that allow you to explore the lives of frontier soldiers, as well as Mandan Native Americans and their first earth lodges. Visitors of this state park have the accessibility to hike, bike, camp, or just enjoy the views throughout the entire park.
As you can tell, it’s also a great spot for stargazing in Bismarck if you’re into that sort of thing!
8. Buckstop Junction Historic Town
What better way to learn history than straight from the source? Hear the stories of people who settled in North Dakota and established the original Bismarck from 1875 to 1935.
Preserved and moved to the Buckstop Junction Historic Site in modern times, these historic buildings give visitors a glimpse into the life of early settlers in the harsh Dakota territory. This is a truly special place to visit for everyone living in and outside of North Dakota who wants a better appreciation for life on the frontier.
9. Missouri River State Natural Area
The Missouri River State Natural Area is a popular spot for fishermen, mountain bikers, cross-country skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts like bird watchers and photographers – it all depends on what you like to do and which season you’re visiting!
The official area of the State Natural Reserve encompasses 157 acres in the area of Mandan, near Bismarck. Whichever activity you enjoy, exploring these woodlands is one of the best outdoor things to do in Bismarck. If you want even more fresh air than you’ve discovered so far while visiting Bismarck, this is the place.
10. Lewis & Clark Riverboat Cruises
Learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition on a riverboat; it’ll be much faster than the two explorers made their way across the frontier back in the early 1800s.
Lewis & Clark riverboat cruises allow you to take in the history and the views unique to the Bismarck area. If this one surprises you since you weren’t thinking of water activities in North Dakota, you’re not alone; that’s why it makes our list of the best things to do in Bismarck!
Don’t be surprised if you disembark with a different perspective of how beautiful these northern plains are. These cruises are offered from May to September each year.
11. Bismarck Art Alley
So far we’ve covered lots of outdoor and historic activities – but what about city culture in Bismarck? You might also be surprised to learn about Bismarck’s strong public art scene!
Bismarck Art Alley is a public art space that features modern mural art from local artists, showing how culturally rich Bismarck can be. As with many public art areas, this is also a great spot for photos during your Bismarck Trip.
12. Local Craft Beer
If you are a fan of beer, take the time to visit Bismarck for its well-known local craft beer scene. Unique to the area, the breweries of the Bismarck area offer a variety of beer styles and options. Here are the four breweries to put on your list:
13. Superslide Amusement Park
Do you remember these giant slides from fairs as a child? I do! The Superslide Amusement Park is home to a huge one and is the place to be in Bismarck if you are looking for family fun entertainment.
From May to mid-September, Superslide Amusement Park offers a mini-golf course, Ferris Wheel, go-karts, and a concession stand… Oh, and a giant slide, of course! It’s perfect for all ages during the summer months.
Where to Stay in Bismarck
If you need recommendations for where to stay in Bismarck during your trip to enjoy all these experiences and sights, I’ve got you covered:
- Radisson Hotel Bismarck – In the heart of town, and affordably priced. From $119/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Ramkota Hotel Bismarck – A funky little place that isn’t a national hotel chain. From $99/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Fairfield Inn & Suites Bismarck South – This is the south Fairfield Inn & Suites in Bismarck, and is closer to lots of the main attractions in town. From $124/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
And there you have it: a complete list of the best things to do in Bismarck, North Dakota. Which one of these activities tops your list? Let me know in the comments – and any questions too!