Famed for its extreme weather, North Dakota has thunderstorms and sweltering heat in summer and biting cold in winter – along with the odd blizzard. That didn’t deter its 19th-century settlers, who flooded in from Northern Europe to claim homesteads, forcing the Native American tribes into reservations.
In the north, the city of Minot plays host to both the North Dakota State Fair in July and the Norsk Hostfest in October, a lively celebration of the state’s Scandinavian immigrant heritage. Festival-goers munch on lefse and lutefisk as they listen to a somewhat less authentically Scandinavian musical line-up: this year’s acts range from the Beach Boys to Irish crooner Daniel O'Donnell.
Former frontier town Fargo, meanwhile, is best known for its cinematic links. Inextricably associated with the Coen brothers’ film Fargo (even though almost all of the action takes place in Minnesota), the city also holds an annual film festival in its lovely 1920s theatre.
North Dakota’s big tourist attraction, though, is Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Beloved of hikers, cyclists and horse riders, its panoply of wildlife includes elk, bison and wild horses.
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North Dakota has hot summers (the record high was 53 degrees Celsius) with little rainfall and periods of drought. The winters are cold, with the average temperature in the single digits in January. Bismarck gets around 111cm (44 inches) of snow. At the top of the tornado alley, North Dakota’s peak tornado season is June, July, and August.
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Summer is the peak tourist season in North Dakota, but so few people visit the state that crowds are not bad, even in the Badlands. Summer is also prime canoeing weather.
The North Dakota State Fair is an annual event in Minot in late July. The United Tribes International Powwow is an annual event in Bismarck the weekend after Labor Day and one of the largest powwows in the US.
Autumn and hunting season are popular, but the winters are so harsh that few people seek North Dakota flights during this time.
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The least-visited state in the country, North Dakota has more unexplored wilderness than any other state except Alaska. You need a car to see North Dakota. If you are heading for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, US 85 takes you through the North Unit and I-94 through the South Unit. For prairies and missile silos, try US 2 (although you cannot actually see the silos).
For outdoor enthusiasts, the popular modes of transport are hiking, biking, canoeing, boating, skiing, snowmobiling, and horseback riding.
There is very limited train service within the state and somewhat less limited bus service.
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- Theodore Roosevelt hunted in North Dakota in late-19th century and established two cattle ranches there. When he became president he said: "I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota." The United Tribes International Powwow named after Roosevelt covers 70,000 acres and is home to bison, prairie dogs, and elk.
- The Petrified Forest is one of the largest in the US and can be reached only on foot or by horseback.
- The International Peace Garden straddles North Dakota and Manitoba, Canada. More than 150,000 tourists visit each year and the only two floral designs that stay the same each year are the flags of America and Canada.
- North Dakota boasts the Little Missouri National Grasslands and Sheyenne National Grasslands as well as Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve and, it claims, more national wildlife refuges than any other state.
- The town of Rugby is the geographical centre of North America. A tall stone obelisk marks the spot.
- The Lewis and Clark trail: Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark set out from St. Louis, Missouri, in 1804 at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson to find a land route to the Pacific Ocean. They entered North Dakota in the winter of 1804 and stayed at Fort Mandan (near Washburn). They followed the Missouri river to the Yellowstone (near Williston). The State Historical Society of North Dakota has marked 28 locations of significance to the Corps of Discovery including Lewis & Clark State Park.
- The Enchanted Highway has huge "folk art” figures dotted along it. East of Dickinson, every few miles southbound from Interstate 94 brings you to metal sculptures, including a robot family, grasshoppers, pheasants and more. Watch for the giant geese flying over a setting sun on I-94 at the Gladstone exit.
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