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Northern Celebrations: Exploring Byway Getaways

Patricia Stockdill
 July 23, 2022
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GARRISON -- Admittedly, gas prices continue providing a big impact on many people’s spending ability, perhaps putting a damper on big summer getaway plans. 

But, still, getaways from the daily grind are important. They recharge one’s mind. They connect moms and dads and their children. They connect friendships. 

They’re darn near a necessity and they’re still do-able even if it’s not trekking cross country to what was one’s Plan A Getaway. 

Plan B Getaways can still be fun and offer some unexpected surprises. 

Consider, for example, North Dakota’s Scenic Byways and Backways. 

True, as a prairie state on the northern end of the Northern Great Plains, North Dakota’s version of “scenic” doesn’t include grandiose mountains still snow-capped in mid-July. It won’t include fly-fishing mountain streams, (Henry’s Fork in eastern Idaho comes to mind) nor will it include endless miles of molten red desert rock (envision Utah’s Arches National Park). 

But North Dakota’s Scenic Byway and Backways still offer a getaway, something different, and – in its own way – something unique. 

Roads, highways, and trails must meet criteria to earn their official state or national Scenic Byway or Backway designation; it’s not just a moniker someone stuck on it for no reason. It has to qualify under at least one category of scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archaeological, or recreational. 

Routes earning North Dakota Scenic Byway or Backway designation are identified with a green sign and buffalo logo. 

Routes earning National Scenic Byway designation are identified by a white sign and blue flag logo with the words “America’s Byways”. Two North Dakota routes have that designation – Sheyenne River Valley and Standing Rock National Native American Scenic byways. The national signs replace state signs. 

While North Dakota’s Scenic Byways and Backways can provide a nice trek any time of year, some routes may provide seasonal highlights. Consider these for a mini summer getaway: 

*Sakakawea Scenic Byway (23 miles): N.D. Highway 200A at Washburn to Stanton features North Dakota’s history and early culture. Check out the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and nearby Fort Mandan, Washburn, Cross Ranch State Park near Hensler, Fort Clark State Historic State, and the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site near Stanton. 

*Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway (35 miles): N.D. Highways 1806 and 24 south of Mandan beginning at the Cannonball River (named for its round “cannonball” clay rocks) heads down to the North Dakota-South Dakota border. Check out Prairie Knights Marina along Lake Oahe, Lewis & Clark Legacy Nature Trail, burial site of Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, Standing Rock Monument, Fort Yates Stockade, Sitting Bull Visitor Center, and Medicine Wheel Park. It’s rich in culture, history, and follows the Missouri River, now part of Lake Oahe. 

*Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway (53 miles): The byway officially starts north of Rolla on N.D. Highway 30 going to St. John, then head west on Rolette County Road 43. Continue west until it ends at N.D. Highway 14. The county road becomes N.D. Highway 43 at the intersection of U.S. Highway 281. Travelers will find the Martineau House Byway Information Center, Wakopa Wildlife Management Area, International Peace Garden (and North American Game Warden Museum), Lake Metigoshe State Park, Lake Upsilon’s Lions Park, Mystical Horizons, and the Coghlan Castle. The Peace Garden and Lake Metigoshe State Park are each worth a day’s visit on its own. 

Each byway is more than a day trip getaway. It can be a weekend or a week but regardless of how much time travelers spend, it’s still that all-important, precious getaway. 

Plus it’s a chance to explore parts of North Dakota that residents, nonresidents, and newcomers alike may not have known existed. 

And it’s cheaper than getting to the Arches National Park, as amazing as that is. 

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