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Western North Dakota Adventures:

Family Day Trip Ideas for Summer Explorers

Looking to get out of the house and enjoy summer with the kids? Don’t have time for a full blown vacation, but want to take your family on an adventure? Or maybe you just want to learn more about your community, see the sites and soak in the history and summer sun. Why not load up the kids and the car with a cooler full of snacks and take a day trip adventure. There’s plenty to do, learn and explore in your own backyard!


 History comes alive in the areas’ many museum and historical sites. Make plans to spend an afternoon at your local museum, or get in the car and make it a museum road trip!

Dickinson Museum Center, Dickinson

Kids of all ages will find something of interest at the Dickinson Museum Center, featuring art, history exhibits and events. Summer tours of eleven historical buildings are available at the Prairie Outpost Park. The dinosaur area of the museum is a special treat, housing thousands of rock, mineral and fossil specimens including a real Triceratops skeleton and fourteen full-scale dinosaurs along with a florescent display of unique minerals.

Hours: Mon-Sat 9 am-5 pm, year round
Cost: Adults $6, Children $4
Location: 188 E Museum Dr., Dickinson, ND

Pioneer Museum of McKenzie County and McKenzie County Heritage Park, Watford City

The Pioneer Museum features a variety of exhibits that highlight the history and settlement of the area including exhibits of the pioneer and Native American woman, drilling rig model, a prehistoric petrified stump and the cowboy’s role in McKenzie County. Grab an ice cream cone from their gift shop and head down the road to the Heritage Park and take a stroll through their prairie village and farm machinery. Starting July 27th, the Heritage Park hosts a Farmer’s Market every Thursday from 5-7 pm.

Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-6pm Monday through Saturday and 1-5pm on Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Cost: Free will donation
Location: 100 N Main, Watford City

Three Tribes Museum, Earth Lodge Village & Tipi Encampments, New Town

The Three Tribes Museum is devoted to the history and culture of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, who were instrumental in the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Three Tribes Museum is located on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, where the Three Tribes currently reside. The museum features artwork, crafts, artifacts and other items relating to the three tribes. In addition to the culture and history of the people that the Museum and Earth Lodge Village provides, the area has access to Lake Sakakawea through the 4 Bears Marina.

The Earth Lodge Village and Tipi Encampment is located on the north shore of Lake Sakakawea. Not only can you tour the reconstructed earth lodges and tipi encampment– you can book an overnight stay in them! Kids will enjoy hearing the stories of the  people from cultural interpreters and seeing the traditional gardens. Plan a trip during the third weekend in July and catch the Mandaree Powwow. The Little Shell Powwow is held the second week in August in New Town.

Hours: Earth Lodge Village: Call ahead for hours and cost: Tribal Tourism: 701-627-2243
Three Tribes Museum:  Open daily 10 am – 6 pm April 15 – November 1
Location: Earth Lodge Village, Tribal Tourism: 404 Frontage Road, New Town
Three Tribes Museum: 302 Frontage Road, New Town
Cost: Varies

North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and other Medora Historical Sites and Activities, Medora
Bring your cowboy hat, or pick one up at The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, dedicated to preserving the history and promoting the culture of North Dakota’s Native American, ranching and rodeo communities. Kids will love the colorful and interactive displays. Medora is home to many other historical sites and museums as well, including the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site and Harold Schafer Heritage Center. While you’re there take an old time photo, play at the kids parks, grab some ice cream and souvenirs, sign up for a trail ride and make plans to attend the Medora Musical, the greatest show in the west. Visit for more information and ideas.

Hours: 7 days a week 9 am- 6 pm
Cost: $9 adults, $7 seniors, $6 students
Kids Day every Wed & Sun Kids 18 and under are free
Location: 250 Main St., Medora

Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center and Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel. Williston and Fairview, MT

The Confluence Center tells the story of the confluence of the mighty Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, and offers the same magnificent view the Lewis and Clark Expedition members enjoyed when they visited the area in 1804 and 1806.  Exhibits explore the geography and geology of the area, its prehistoric life, and the impact of people arriving by trail, tracks, rivers and roads.

The Fairview Lift Bridge and Tunnel are open for to the public for touring. The bridge was completed in 1914, the last train crossed the bridge in 1986 and the line was officially abandoned in 1992. In 1997 the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic places and you can take the kids to walk through the tunnel! Just remember a flashlight. Play in Sundheim Park nearby and then hit up the Powder Keg in Fairview for great pizza afterward.

Hours: Interpretive Center: Daily, Memorial Day – Labor Day 9 am-6 pm
Cost: Interpretive Center, $5 Adults, $2.50 Kids
Lift Bridge and Tunnel, Free
Location: Interpretive Center: 15349 39th Ln NW, Williston
Lift Bridge and Tunnel: 4 miles east of Fairview


Western North Dakota is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. There are plenty of ways to enjoy our scenery, especially during the summer.

Picnic, Hike and Stargaze in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit Watford City and South Unit, Medora

Fall in love with the unique sweeping vistas and rugged beauty of the badlands the way  Teddy Roosevelt did. This National Treasure is right in our backyard and the possibilities are endless when you point your car toward the beautiful buttes. Both the North and South unit of the park offer unique wildlife viewing opportunities, picnicking areas and groomed hiking trails. Pack your kids a camera and plan a photography scavenger hunt.

Be a bit more adventurous and plan to camp for the night! Both units feature primitive campsites, evening campfire presentations, nature walks and long hikes. Plan ahead and catch the Teddy Bear Picnic in the North Unit on July 25th. (email for more info) Visit for more information on events and opportunities.

Hours: 24 hours
Cost: Vehicle Entrance Fee-$25
Location: South Unit: 315 2nd Ave, Medora
North Unit: 15 miles south of Watford City on Hwy 85

Hike the Little Missouri State Park, Center

If you want to enjoy the badlands closer to the Dickinson area, this is the place for you. Pack a picnic lunch and head 35 miles south on Highway 22. This park is popular for hiking, nature watching and horseback riding and has plenty of trails marked based on level of difficulty. Electrical hookups are available to campers, but all other facilities are primitive

Hours: Open April 1- October 31
Cost: Free
Location: 17 miles North of Killdeer on Highway 22

Bird watch at Lake Ilo, Dunn Center
Lake Ilo National Wildlife Reserve encompasses 4,033 acres of wetlands, native prairie, and planted grasslands, making this a perfect home for wildlife, waterfowl and birds. Lake Ilo Park provides visitors with daytime facilities including tables, charcoal grills, litter receptacles, and a rest room. Visitors will find Refuge information and brochures such as wildlife lists, archaeological information, and visitor guides available at the park and Refuge Headquarter kiosks. Grab a bird book at the local library and see how many you can spot or pack a fishing pole to see what you can catch. Portions of the lake are open for fishing from the shorelines or from boats. More information at

Hours: Headquarters: 8-4:30 pm
Refuge: Sunrise to Sunset
Cost: Free
Location: 489 102 Avenue SW, Dunn Center

Join the world’s largest treasure hunt!
Take the kids Geocaching. Combine technology and outdoors with geocaching, the act of locating a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates posted online. It’s fun for elementary to high school age kids and adults will find it exciting as well.

To get started, visit, sign up for a free geocaching account, enter a zip code for the area you want to visit on the website or by using the official Geocaching apps and you are off on a treasure hunting adventure! Once you find your geocache, you and the kids can sign and date the logbook, re-hide it exactly how you found and share your experience online!

Cost: Free


What’s a summer without some beach or pool time? There are plenty of options, so slather on the sunscreen and dive in!

Visit the lake with more coastline than California!

Lake Sakakawea lies in parts of six counties in western North Dakota. It’s the largest man-made lake in the state and the third largest in the nation, so there are plenty of points of access for your swimmers, fisherpeople, kayakers or boaters. Make it a day trip and set up a beach picnic close to home or pick a new spot and camp a while!

Some suggestions:

Tobacco Gardens Resort and Marina, 26 miles North of Watford City on 1806. Full service marina, restaurant, facilities and hookups.

Lake Sakakawea State Park, Pick City. South Shore, adjacent to Garrison Dam. Full service marina, facilities and hookups.

Charging Eagle Bay, Halliday. Boat Ramp, facilities, hookups and picnic areas

Dakota Waters Resort, Beulah. Kayak, Canoe and Boat Rentals. Cabin rentals available. Full service marina, facilities and hookups.

Take a day outing to Patterson Lake, the lake in your backyard, Dickinson

Disc Golf, horseshoe pits, sand volleyball, swimming, picnicking, fishing, biking and even roasting marshmallows, it’s hard to name a summer activity you can’t accomplish at Patterson Lake Recreation Area. And the best part? It’s so close to home you can sleep in your own beds tonight.

Hours: Mon-Thurs 11 am-5 pm Fri 11 am-7pm Sat and Sun: 10 am -7 pm
Memorial Day through Labor Day
Cost: $2 daily fee per vehicle, $20 season pass
Location: 3753 114th Ave SW, Dickinson

Cool off at your community pool

It seems like a no-brainer, but if you’ve worn out the waterslide at your local water park, there are some other fun options in the region to help mix up your weekend pool time.


West River Community Center, Dickinson: Featuring indoor and outdoor waterparks for both hot and rainy days.

Killdeer Aquatics and Wellness Center, Killdeer: Indoor pool facility for all seasons.

Wild West Water Park and Roughrider Center, Watford City. Wild West Water Park is an outdoor waterpark, pool and splash pad. The Roughrider Center features indoor lap pool and water park.

Raging Rivers Waterpark, Bismarck: Make the trip for a bigger experience or to celebrate a birthday, featuring speed slides and a tube slide!

There’s plenty more to do in Western North Dakota, find out more with your local tourism bureaus and share your favorite day trip ideas with us on


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Written by Jessie Veeder

Jessie Veeder

Jessie is a singer/songwriter/writer and statewide columnist living on her family’s ranch near Watford City with her husband and daughter. She blogs at . Reach her at (


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