A friend of mine from the Philippines is visiting northwest North Dakota with her new boyfriend, and she asked me for suggestions on things to do. Although I grew up in northeast North Dakota and have been GTT (“gone to Texas”) for almost 30 years, I agreed to give it a try.
The couple are driving to Minot on Highway 83 from Canada. The highway goes directly past Minot Air Force Base (with bombers and missiles) a few miles north of town, and that might have been interesting to tour, but according to a base website, tours have been severely limited due to fiscal challenges and the infamous sequestration.
Day One – The city of Minot is unquestionably the crown jewel of northwest North Dakota and deserves as day of recreation. With more than 40,000 people, it far exceeds all surrounding cities in population and thereby is the retail center for the area. My friend likes to shop, so she will probably enjoy a few hours at the Dakota Square Mall, which is on the south edge of town, at the intersection of the city’s two major highways – north/south Highway 83 and east/west Highway 2.
The most beautiful feature of Minot is the Souris River, which flows through the middle of town. Since I left town, the city apparently developed a 2½ mile walk/bikeway along the river and that seems like a perfect activity in fall weather. There is also a Roosevelt Park and Zoo that deserves a look, plus a couple of museums – Taube Museum of Art and Dakota Territory Air Museum.
For Days Two and Three, I suggest a driving tour of the ranch & oil country west of Minot. Day Two would consist of a 1½ hour drive to the Four Bears Casino & Lodge (via Highway 83 south of town and then Highway 23 west into an Indian Reservation). The Lodge, which has received spotty on-line ratings, is on the mighty Missouri River about four miles east of New Town, and the scenery is as good as it gets for North Dakota. New Town was founded in 1953 to replace the cities of Sanish and Van Hook, which were inundated by the creation of Lake Sakakawea by damming the Missouri River.
Day Three would consist of continuing to drive west of New Town to Watford City and then Williston, before circling back on Highway 2 to Tioga. These three cities are in the heart of the Bakken Shale oil explosion, and I can only imagine how much they have changed since I was adjusting insurance claims in those towns in the 80s. (Bakken is the name of a Tioga farmer on whose land the shale was discovered.) Tioga and Watford City have only a couple of thousand people, while Williston has almost 20,000, so budget your time appropriately. Then, back home.
I used to drive the entire Minot, New Town, Watford City, Williston, and Tioga route every Tuesday while working for State Farm Auto Insurance, so you should be able to adjust this itinerary to match the time you have available. Maybe you want to start by driving directly to Four Bears and then stopping in Minot on the way back. That probably makes more sense.
Hope you have fun and I look forward to learning about your experiences.