Top 10 Scenic Drives in North Dakota

North Dakota doesn’t get a lot of attention as a vacation spot, which is a shame with as much as this state has to offer. While much of it consists of prairie expanses, rural ranches, and oil fields, there is far more to see that few people are even aware exists. The North Dakota badlands, for instance, rival those in Colorado with far less traffic and tourist traps on the way. There are also various wooded regions, mountains, lakes, and rivers to explore. Start to change the way you think about this northern state by adopting an open mind and taking one of our favorite North Dakota scenic drives:

No.10 – Chan SanSan Scenic Backway

Chan SanSan Scenic Backway North Dakota
Flickr user: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Starting Location: Adrian, ND
Ending Location: LaMoure, ND
Length: 38 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring and Summer
See this drive on Google Maps

The landscape along this route is characterized by tall grass prairies, which are covered in wildflowers in the spring and early summer. The region is particularly rich in Native American history, and travelers can stop at various markers to see what’s left of earthen mounds. Near LaMoure, consider renting a paddleboat to travel the James River and have a bit of whimsical fun before checking out the Toy Farmers Museum a bit further south.

No.9 – Rendezvous Region Backway

Rendezvous Region Backway North Dakota
Flickr user: Robert Linsdell

Starting Location: Walhalla, ND
Ending Location: Neche, ND
Length: 22 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

With the route largely following the flow of the Pembina River, there are ample opportunities for water recreation like canoeing or fishing this way. Those who want to hit the slopes can stop at Frost Fire Mountain Ski Lodge while budding paleontologists may have interest in the active fossil dig in Walhalla. In Neche by the Canadian border, explore the historic buildings downtown, such as the old O’Brien House, which operates today as the L&M Inn.

No.8 – Lake Metigoshe State Park

Lake Metigoshe State Park North Dakota
Flickr user: Roderick Eime

Starting Location: Bottineau, ND
Ending Location: Metigoshe, ND
Length: 17 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This drive may be ultrashort, but it explores one of the most popular vacation spots in North Dakota. The Lake Metigoshe State Park region is nestled in the Turtle Mountains and sits right by the Canadian border. Several smaller lakes dot the area and offer water recreation like boating and fishing. The aspen and oak woodlands, along with areas of wetlands, are home to a large array of wildlife and provide a nice contrast to the more open landscape in other areas of the state.

No.7 – Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge

Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge North Dakota
Flickr user: Andrew Filer

Starting Location: Carrington, ND
Ending Location: Buchanan, ND
Length: 28 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Browse the wares at the old-time Casey’s General Store in Carrington before taking off on this route that skirts the eastern edge of the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. Inside the refuge, there are tons of opportunities to watch birds and animals in the resident marshes and grasslands. Arrowwood Lake is known for its good fishing while Jim Lake, another good stop for anglers, sports plenty of scenic views and areas to stretch your legs.

No.6 – Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway

Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway North Dakota
Flickr user: Kat B.

Starting Location: Manning, ND
Ending Location: New Town, ND
Length: 71 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

In a state that is largely flat and treeless, this scenic byway is particularly entertaining for its array of terrain, as it winds up and down mountains, through the Badlands, and along the Missouri River. There are ample pull-offs to explore the landscape more closely and several campgrounds just off the road for travelers wanting to make this drive into a weekend getaway. In New Town, try your luck at the casino or take a peek at the new Indian earth lodge village.

No.5 – Old Red Highway 10

Old Red Highway 10 North Dakota
Flickr user: Portage the stream

Starting Location: Beach, ND
Ending Location: Medora, ND
Length: 25 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Old farms and grasslands dominate the scenes off this route along Old Highway 10, used chiefly by natives to the state. It also passes through the North Dakota badlands with an array of rock formations ideal for taking photos and igniting the imagination. The quaint town of Sentinel Butte provides the only opportunity to stop and shop for essentials; travelers should also check out the tiny post office which looks like a remnant from generations long ago.

No.4 – Route 1804

Route 1804 North Dakota
Flickr user: Gabriel Carlson

Starting Location: New Town, ND
Ending Location: Williston, ND
Length: 71 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Be sure to stock up on fuel and provisions before setting off on this drive through rural and largely unpopulated rolling hills and sweeping valleys, because there aren’t any opportunities to snatch necessities on the way. Travelers will, however, be rewarded with access to and views of several lakes and the Missouri River. In Williston, take time to browse the shops in the historic downtown or take a dip in Lake Sakakawea in the summer months.

No.3 – North Dakota 16

North Dakota 16
Flickr user: SnoShuu

Starting Location: Beach, ND
Ending Location: Cartwright, ND
Length: 63 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Travelers along this way can see for miles and miles thanks to the treeless landscape, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t treats to delight the eye. The badlands are particularly fascinating, and you won’t have to jockey for position with hordes of tourists or traffic around. As you drive, however, keep an eye out for free-range cattle and bison, which are common sights in the region.

No.2 – Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway

Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway North Dakota
Flickr user: J. Stephen Conn

Starting Location: Valley City, ND
Ending Location: Fort Ransom, ND
Length: 36 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Characterized by sweeping ranches and rolling hills, this drive winding along with the Sheyenne River has no shortage of natural beauty. Explore some of the sleepy towns along the way, such as Kathryn with good access to the river and Valley City with an array of antique shops, to prolong the drive a bit for a pleasant morning or afternoon. Where the route ends in Fort Ransom State Park is a good place to hike or have a picnic.

No.1 – Enchanted Highway

Enchanted Highway North Dakota
Flickr user: Carol Spencer

Starting Location: Gladstone, ND
Ending Location: Regent, ND
Length: 31 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Although this drive is relatively short and unknown to tourists, there’s a reason why this route is dubbed the Enchanted Highway. Before travelers even set out on this route, they are met by a giant sculpture of Geese in Flight just off Highway 94, which is just the beginning of a series of artwork by Gary Greff seen on this road through rolling hills and farmlands. There are ample places to pull over and enjoy the views, and don’t miss the Hettinger County Historical Society Museum with its collection of miniatures at the end of the line in Regent.

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