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Best things to do in Bismarck

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Where in the world: USA  /  North Dakota  /  Bismarck

Top 15 things to do in Bismarck

1. North Dakota State Capitol Building

The North Dakota State Capitol is the house of government of the U.S. state of North Dakota. The Capitol, a 21 story tower, is in Bismarck at 600 East Boulevard Avenue, on a 160acre campus that is the site of many other government buildings. The capitol building and the surrounding office buildings house the state's legislative and judicial branches, as well as many government agencies.
The State Capitol is largely surrounded by state government buildings. The parks, walking trails, and monuments on the grounds give visitors information about the state's history, making it one of the city's tourist attractions. Six buildings exist on the grounds; all built during various time periods as the government grew. Not all state agencies are housed on the grounds, however: a large number are spread throughout the city in various facilities. Plans for a massive expansion and improvement of the grounds were developed in 2000, but very little of the plan has been implemented as of 2012.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes
Learn more about North Dakota State Capitol Building
Tours including North Dakota State Capitol Building:

3. The Dakota Zoo

The Dakota Zoo was founded in 1961 by Marc & Betty Christianson with the help of a host of dedicated volunteers. The Dakota Zoo opened its gates on June 3, 1961 on 15 acres of developed land, with 75 mammals and 23 birds, and 40,000 visitors passed through the gates that first year. Today, thanks to the continued support of members, visitors, donors and volunteers, the Dakota Zoo has grown to a 90 acre facility housing 600 animals, birds, reptiles and fish representing 125 species and visited by more than 150,000 people each year.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
Learn more about The Dakota Zoo
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4. Laughing Sun Brewing Co.

Suggested duration: 2 hours
Learn more about Laughing Sun Brewing Co.

5. Missouri River

Suggested duration: 2 hours
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6. Keelboat Park

Suggested duration: 30 minutes
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7. Gateway to Science

Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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8. Scandinavian Heritage Park, Minot

Scandinavian Heritage Park is a park located in the Upper Brooklyn neighborhood of Minot, North Dakota. Scandinavian Heritage Park features remembrances and replicas from each of the Scandinavian countries: Norway, Sweden and Denmark, as well as Finland and Iceland.

The park was established during 1988 to celebrate and preserve Scandinavian heritage. The first building was dedicated October 9, 1990.
It is believed to be the only park in the world representing all five Nordic countries. The park is supported by the Scandinavian Heritage Association and Norsk Høstfest, both of which have offices at the park.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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9. General Sibley Park & Campground

General Sibley Park is located around 4mi south of North Dakota state capital Bismarck. Opened in 1967, it stands on a piece of land closely associated with North Dakota's history and settlement and is named after General Henry Sibley. It covers an area of 138acre and today the site is a popular recreation spot and campground.History of the siteOnce called Burnt Boat Island, the land where General Sibley Park stands was known for the steamboat The Assiniboine that grounded and was destroyed by fire in the early 1830s. While it is no longer an island due to changes in the course of the Missouri River, evidence of the river channel can still be found along the northern perimeter of the site. In 1862, broken treaties and fear of starvation led Dakotas to attack settlers and soldiers along the Minnesota River in southwestern Minnesota. In retaliation for the loss of life and property, General Sibley and General Alfred Sully were dispatched with U.S. troops to pursue the bands assumed responsible for the assaults. Sibley and Sully sought retribution by leading their troops to the present vicinity of General Sibley Park. On July 29, 1863, Dakotas and Lakotas encamped along bluffs of the Missouri River and Apple Creek engaged in a confrontation with Sibley’s troops, resulting in a loss of lives for both sides. Facing food shortages and exhaustion from their long journey, Sibley’s troops returned to Minnesota. Sully’s troops remained in the Dakota Territory for several months, and attacked guilty and innocent bands alike, killing women and children, and burning food, supplies and transportation.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
Learn more about General Sibley Park & Campground

10. McDowell Dam Nature Park

Suggested duration: 2 hours
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11. Hawktree Golf Club

Suggested duration: 2 hours
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12. Kirkwood Mall

Kirkwood Mall (originally known as Kirkwood Plaza) is an enclosed regional shopping mall in the city of Bismarck, North Dakota. At 850,000 square feet, Kirkwood Mall is the second largest mall in North Dakota, boasting over 90 shops. Opened in 1970, it is also the largest shopping center in the city. The mall's anchor stores are I. Keating Furniture & Flooring, Ashley HomeStore, Scheels All Sports, JCPenney, and Target. There is 1 vacant anchor store that was once Herberger's. The mall is located in the downtown district.

Named for Robert C. Kirkwood, then-chairman of the board of the F.W. Woolworth Company, one of the original anchor tenants: in his long career with the company (starting as a trainee in his native Provo, Utah in 1923), Kirkwood had served as a store manager in Bismarck from 1935-39 as he moved to whatever city the company needed; he became company president in 1958, and CEO & Chairman of the Board in 1964. At the time the mall was built, Woolworths was the largest variety store chain in the world with more than 4,250 stores; the Kirkwood Mall store was the largest at the time it was announced.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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14. Sakakawea Statue

Suggested duration: 2 hours
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15. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Mandan


Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in North Dakota is one of the outstanding historic areas within the state. The park is made historically important because within its boundaries are the ruins of On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village and the Fort Abraham Lincoln cavalry and infantry posts.

The land itself was deeded to the state in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Park development started in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), who built the visitor center, earthlodges, blockhouses, shelters and roads, and placed cornerstones to mark buildings at the infantry and cavalry posts.

Additional development took place in the late 1980s and 1990s, with the reconstruction of the commanding officer's house, commissary storehouse, enlisted men's barracks and granary, all on the cavalry post grounds; and the Council Lodge in the On-A-Slant Village.

On-A-Slant Village On-A-Slant Indian village at Forth Abraham Lincoln State Park.

The history of the Heart River Mandan teaches that not all Plains Indians lived a nomadic life. Since most people equate Indian life on the Great Plains with that of the culturally different hunting and gathering Sioux, it may surprise some to know that the Mandan lived a sedentary, agriculturally-based society.

Newly studied archeological data suggests the On-A-Slant Village was established about 1575. On-A-Slant was one of the southernmost of nine villages near the mouth of the Heart River, which they believed to be the center of the universe.

The village, named On-A-Slant because of its slope toward the river, contained about 75 earthlodges with a village population of around 1000.

The earthlodges were constructed and owned by the women. The frame was made of cottonwood logs, covered with a thick mat of willow, grass and earth. Typical earthlodges were between 20 and 40 feet in diameter and 15 to 20 feet high. In the center of the roof, a circular hole acted as a skylight and smokehole for the firepit.

Unlike most Plains Indian tribes, the Mandan lived in sedentary communities and relied upon a mixture of hunting and agriculture for subsistence. The men hunted while the women tended crops, prepared animal hides and meat, gathered wild berries, wove baskets and made pottery. The Mandan were noted for their skill in processing animal skins and manufacturing pottery, and their villages became trading centers where nomadic tribes came to exchange animal skins for agricultural products.

After prospering on this site for two centuries, a smallpox epidemic hit in 1781 and virtually eliminated the Heart River-region Mandan. The survivors moved north along the Missouri River, eventually joining the Hidatsa near the Knife River.

When Lewis and Clark discovered the deserted On-A-Slant Village in late 1804, it was already in an advanced state of decay, for they reported that the remains included fallen heaps of earth which had covered the houses.

Today, descendants of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes live on the Fort Berthold Reservation surrounding Lake Sakakawea.

Seven of the estimated nine Mandan village sites on the Heart and Missouri rivers have been identified. Most of the village sites were destroyed or seriously disturbed due to urban and industrial development along the rivers. These villages represent the middle period of Mandan culture, during which they achieved their highest civilization. On-A-Slant has probably had less disturbance and pilferage than the others and offers future archeologists considerable opportunity to expand the knowledge of Mandan society.

The Military Years Cavalry

Nearly a century later, the military established an infantry post on a bluff above the On-A-Slant ruins.

In preparation for the Northern Pacific Railroad to lay its track to the Missouri River and beyond, the military was dispatched to the area. In June 1872, an infantry post, called Fort McKeen, was built by Companies B and C of the 6th Infantry. The name Fort McKeen was short-lived; the designation was changed to Fort Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1872. In 1873 Congress authorized the addition of a cavalry post and its construction was mostly completed the same year.

The Seventh United States Cavalry, which had been scattered throughout the south and west, proceeded north to Fort Abraham Lincoln. By 1874, Fort Abraham Lincoln housed three companies of the 6th and 17th Infantries and six companies of the 7th Cavalry, making the fort a nine-company command. With a total complement of about 650 men, the fort was among the largest and most important on the Northern Plains.

Lt. Colonel (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer was the first commander of the enlarged fort and served here from 1873 until the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Fort Abraham Lincoln was the headquarters of the 7th Cavalry until June of 1882, when the 7th Cavalry and its headquarters were transferred to Fort Meade in present-day South Dakota. Upon completion of the railroad to Montana, Fort Abraham Lincoln had fulfilled its primary purpose. Consequently, the fort gradually declined in importance and was finally abandoned in 1891.

In its heyday, the fort encompassed 78 separate buildings. Many of the original buildings were dismantled by area settlers and the materials used in the construction of area homes and farms.

Today, the Victorian-style home of George and Libbie Custer has been reconstructed and is open for living history tours. Also reconstructed are the commissary storehouse, which houses a gift shop, the enlisted men's barracks, granary and stable.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
Learn more about Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park