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Published June 1, 2022

Budget Wise: Travel North Dakota

Written by
Charlene Nelson
| The Dakotan
[Photo: Charlene Nelson]
[Photo: Charlene Nelson]

Memorial Day is the gateway to summer, a time for vacations and travel plans. Despite rising gas and food prices, your summer vacations don’t need to cost a lot, especially if you travel within the state.

Who needs to go to Disneyland?

There is so much to see and do in North Dakota, starting with 18 state parks, a national park, and national historic sites and trails. There are dozens and dozens of fascinating and unique sites, historic re-enactments, festivals, and fairs around the state. The Dakotan’s Tisa Peek just published an article on the most beautiful places to visit in North Dakota. Amy Allender writes regularly about the sites and activities in Minot that she’s fallen in love with.

Bagg Bonanza [Photo: Charlene Nelson]

Nearly every county has a museum, many of them have historical villages, where old buildings and memorabilia are moved to a site to create a one-stop overview of the county’s history. Even tiny Ayr (population: 11) had a pioneer village until a couple years ago. There are county fairs and local festivals in every corner of the state, each with their own fun and interesting take on what a community celebration is.

There’s no reason to spend thousands of dollars on a far-off destination when North Dakota offers such a treasure trove of fun places to see and things to do.

The books that got us started. [Photo: Charlene Nelson]

Roadside Oddities

About twenty years ago we bought two books, Dakota Day Trips and More Dakota Day Trips. Written by KFYR reporter Cliff Naylor, the books chronicle dozens of fascinating places to visit, sites that don’t make the National Register but are every bit as interesting. These books got us traveling North Dakota. We took our young boys to museums like the Paul Broste Rock Museum in Parshall (population 903) and Peggy Lee Museum in Wimbledon (population: 216). They loved the historical re-enactments at Fort Ransom’s Sodbuster Days and Fur Trading Rendezvous at Fort Union. We loved camping and hiking in state parks like Icelandic State Park and the Little Yellowstone in Fort Ransom State Park. It was these books that led us to the Round House outside of Fessendon (population: 462) and the Mighty Og, a 30-foot gorilla in a field outside of Harvey (population: 1,650). Sadly, a windstorm destroyed The Mighty Og in 2005.

These books are now out of print, but you might find them, or ones like them, at your local library. There are also lots of websites that will point you to some of the lesser known roadside attractions. Start with Only In Your State and Roadside America. And of course, North Dakota Tourism Bureau publishes a new guide each year that lists the must-see sites and events throughout the state. You can pick up a copy at any rest area stop in the state or contact ND Tourism, and they’ll gladly send you a free copy. I’ve also compiled my list of favorite places to see. See links below.

[Photo: Charlene Nelson]

Keep the cost down

Gas is expensive right now. No two ways about it, it’s a challenge to travel on a small budget. But if you’re up for a little challenge there are ways to keep costs down.

First, avoid the hotels. Plan to stop at a state or county park and camp overnight. You don’t need a bunch of camping gear. Just fold the seats down in the SUV and roll out the sleeping bags and pillows.

If that’s too much of a challenge for you and you really need a hot shower and a soft bed, you’ll pay less for a hotel stay if you choose an older small hotel in a small town. Bonus: these small hotels are like a step back in time, when America’s families first started road-tripping around the country.

Second, pack your own food. Fill an ice chest with fried chicken, hard boiled eggs, lunch meat, sliced cheese and pickles. Pack a loaf of bread, a bag of chips, some apples or oranges and (for breakfast) a box of donuts, and you have food for three or four day trip. You’ll also be glad if you bring a box of hand wipes.

A block of ice will melt slower and keep food cold longer than ice cubes. So start by freezing water in four or five cottage-cheese containers or a couple half-gallon milk cartons and pack them in the ice chest. Towards the end of day two you’ll probably need to buy a bag of ice to keep things cold the last day or two of your trip.

Third, avoid gas station food. If you need chips or pop to snack on, pick them up at the grocery store. While at the store, pick up a chicken (rotisserie or fried) and a tub of potato salad from the deli instead of eating out.

Frog Point Jewish graves [Photo: Charlene Nelson]

Don’t wait

Your children won’t stay little and some of these sites won’t be around forever. The bus stop ghost town at Crystal Springs is already rapidly fading. Like the Mighty Og, a storm destroyed the giant oil can pile in Casselton (population: 2,479). The old school in Clifford (population: 44) converted into a dinner theater is now closed. Moral to the story: Create fun, inexpensive travel memories today. These sites might not be around forever.

My list of favorite things to see and do in ND: http://www.providenthomecompanion.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/North-Dakota-for-Newcomers.pdf
North Dakota Tourism: https://www.ndtourism.com/
Interesting and often quirky roadside attractions: https://www.roadsideamerica.com/location/nd/all
Fun things to see and do in North Dakota, broken down into categories: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/states/north-dakota/

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