4 Serene Scenic Drives in North Dakota

North Dakota may be one of the lesser travelled states in America, but that might be just the reason why you should think about including it in your next road trip! The natural beauty and rugged landscape will make a trip through North Dakota feel like a wild west adventure. 

Whether you’re heading to Montana to visit Glacier National Park or planning a visit to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, including some of the best scenic drives in North Dakota is well worth it. 

Unlike other areas where you’ll need to contend with crowds of tourists, North Dakota scenic byways offer a chance to feel like you’re escaping back to times before technology and big cities changed the landscape.

Read on to learn about what routes are worth including in a North Dakota road trip as well as tips for planning a successful drive! 

1. North Dakota Scenic Drives: Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway 

  • Distance: 53 miles 
  • Time needed: 1 to 4 hours, depending on stops

If you want to feel like you’re driving away from civilization and into the wilderness, then Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway should be top of the list for excellent scenic drives in North Dakota. 

USA Scenic Drives in North Dakota - Willow Lake National Wildlife Refuge

For 53 miles, County Highway 43 runs parallel to the Canadian Border and crosses through some of the state’s most beautiful areas. You’ll get to cross through some of the prairie landscape, as well as the forested regions in the Turtle Mountains, while traveling one of the most scenic North Dakota backroads. 

Many travelers describe the drive as taking a step back in time to when pioneers were first traveling west, and the Great Plains were practically untouched by humans. It’s very likely that you’ll have the chance to spot some wild animals along the way, especially around Willow Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which is known for its migratory birds and prairie animals.  

There are several interesting side-stops you can make, including Lake Metigishoe State Park, which has excellent trails surrounding a pristine lake. 

When to go: Spring through fall are the best times of the year since, in the winter, driving conditions can be difficult on this rural road. 

2. North Dakota Scenic Drives: Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway 

  • Distance: 63 miles 
  • Time needed: 1.5 to 4 hours, depending on stops 

Much of North Dakota is covered in wide open prairies, but in the Sheyenne River Valley, you’ll get a change in scenery thanks to the gently rolling, tree-lined river. 

USA Scenic Drives in North Dakota - Sheyenne River

This beautiful route is one of the top scenic drives in North Dakota, thanks to its combination of natural areas and charming local towns. Starting out in Valley City, be sure to check out the 11 historic bridges dating from the 1890s that this town is known for. 

Heading south, you’ll come across other little towns like Kathryn, which is home to the Stoney Slough National Wildlife Preserve and the Wadeson Cabin Historic Site. The town of Fort Ransom is another good stopping point where you can visit Standing Rock State Historic Site and Fort Ransom State Park, which has great hiking trails and spots to rent kayaks or canoes to paddle on the Sheyenne River. 

When to go: Summer is best for outdoor activities on the river, and autumn is also beautiful when the drive is lined with colorful foliage. 

3. North Dakota Scenic Drives: Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway 

  • Distance: 64 miles 
  • Time needed: 1.5 to 4 hours 

Mountains might not be the first thing that comes to mind when picturing North Dakota, but this byway will show you otherwise! 

USA Scenic Drives in North Dakota - Badlands

Located on the far western side of the state, this drive combines some of the best elements of North Dakota scenery, including the Little Missouri River, portions of the Badlands, and craggy buttes in the Killdeer Mountains. 

There are a couple of interesting historical sites, like the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield State Historic Site, which commemorates a battle fought in 1864 in the mountains. To learn about the Native American tribes who live in the area, you can visit the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum, which has interesting artifacts and amazing artwork. 

If you’re hoping to explore the wild side of North Dakota, then be sure to stop in Little Missouri State Park. The park has nearly 50 miles of trails good for hiking or horseback riding through the stunning rocky outcroppings of the park. 

Be sure to plan for a stop at Crow Flies High Butte on your North Dakota road trip. This scenic vista is just outside of New Town and provides a stunning view of Lake Sakakawea.  

When to go: Spring through autumn are the best times of year for this drive. 

4. North Dakota Scenic Drives: Chan SanSan Scenic Backway

  • Distance: 35 miles
  • Time needed: 1 to 4 hours, depending on stops 

Following the James River Valley, this is one of the best North Dakota backroads to get a sense of appreciation for the peace and serenity of the landscape. 

USA Scenic Drives in North Dakota - James River

Particularly during the spring, the valley is known for its abundance of wildflowers, but you’ll still get the chance to see some prairie flowers during summer and fall as well. 

If you’re hoping to get out of the car and explore, the James River is a great place for kayaking and canoeing, thanks to the slow, gentle flow of the water. Some places, like the Cottonwood Creek Recreation Area and the Lifesand-Seefeldt Dam Recreation Area, have spots where you can rent boats for the day. 

It’s also worth stopping to visit the LaMoure County Courthouse which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The courthouse is still in use today and is open to the public during normal hours of operation, which can be found on their website. 

When to go: Spring through autumn are the best seasons for this drive in North Dakota.

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