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U.S. National Parks Across The Dakotas

I got a gal I love in North and South Dakota,
There ain’t no difference in my love, not one iota,
I guess that two gals puts me one above the quota,
Still, I get a gal in North and South Dakota.

Frank Sinatra, I Got A Gal I Love In North And South Dakota

From the badlands of South Dakota to the rolling hills and ridges in North Dakota, once roamed by native tribes for eons before European settlers and the first Americans first blazed trails west, this far-flung section of Americana is not one to be missed for outdoor enthusiasts of every skill or interest level.

Fans of the popular television drama The West Wing will surely remember the episode in which North Dakota holds a statewide forum about removing the word “North” from its official title, in an effort to encourage more tourism. Well, as one may or may not have learned from that episode, North Dakota and its sister to the south have a plethora of attractions to offer, most notably in their bountiful natural splendor.

Here are a few notable must-sees when visiting the United States’ northern sister states:


One of the most famous monuments in North America is the man-made sculptural attraction nestled into the Black Hills of South Dakota. The sculpture features the images of four Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and 

George Washington. Designed to encourage visitors to reflect on the founding of our nation, this monument provides a framework for that consideration.

Photo Courtesy Jéan Béller


Drawing from its ominous and foreboding name, Badlands National Park lives up to its billing. Ancient wild horses and rhinos once roamed the park’s 244,000 acres. A big draw for visitors is the geologic finds in what is considered one of the world’s richest fossil beds. 

Visitors also come from around the globe to experience the stark and rugged beauty of the terrain as well as view bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets. In addition to the wildlife, the park now protects an expanse of mixed-grass prairie — all of which is a haven for hikers and wildlife watchers. 

Photo Courtesy Antonio Sanchez


Owing to its geographical position in the great, rugged northern U.S., North Dakota was long a destination for hunting and trapping in the early 19th century. The park actually sits where Ft. Union once was and is a testament to a time long passed. Fort Union was one of the most important fur trading posts on the Upper Missouri River with trades including cloth, blankets, beads, and guns, as well as buffalo robes and smaller furs for goods. Between 1828 and 1867 this citadel traded over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 in merchandise annually.

Fort Union is a must-see for the historically minded adventure seeker.

Photo Courtesy NPS


For those who prefer to see the world aboard two-wheels, pedaling to their heart’s desire, North Dakota offers one of the most spectacular cycle routes in the country. Named for two of America’s most intrepid and famous explorers, The Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail was developed to celebrate Captains Meriweather Lewis and William Clark.

Cyclists have the opportunity to follow a part of Lewis and Clark’s path. The route includes paved roads, bike paths and unpaved rail-trails, with occasional short sections of gravel roads.  For the cross country biker or the day trip adventurer, this trail is a must-ride.

Photo Courtesy Jay Kudva


No conversation about the national parks system would be complete without an appearance by perhaps the man most responsible for its creation — President Theodore Roosevelt.

A national park stands in his honor almost 150 years after he first visited the (then) Dakota territory as a young man.

Hiking, historical exhibits, camping, and star-gazing are among the many activities provided at Teddy’s titular national park and this stop should rank near the top of the list for any who’d seek to soak up a little bit of the gift given to the country by its leading conservationist president, Mr. Roosevelt.

Photo Courtesy NPS

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