A Perfect Day Trip From Dickinson, North Dakota
I know. I know. Dickinson. Why am I writing about a day trip from Dickinson?! That’s exactly what I thought too. Well, before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this one: I was a reserve pilot in Denver walking laps around the B terminal for days. Then all of the sudden crew scheduling gave me a three-day trip. I was excited to see flying on my schedule but then I saw what it was. The first day was a single flight to Dickinson with a 36-hour layover, and the third day was one flight back to Denver.
I made the best of this time and found the Dickinson area to be very beautiful. I learned an interesting bit of history that had a significant impact in shaping modern America too. This is the story of how I fell in love with Dickinson and a little piece of not-so-well-known American history.
Dickinson is a midwest town of slightly more than 25,000 residents in Western North Dakota, not far from the border of Montana. While it is probably most famous today for its location in the Bakken Oil Field, the area first caught the attention of Theodore Roosevelt over a century earlier.
To be precise, Theodore Roosevelt first visited Medora, a tourist town just several miles west of Dickinson. In 1883, not-yet-president Roosevelt went for a buffalo hunt and fell in love with the wild landscapes and beautiful colors of the area. Hunting this native giant during a time when it’s population had been decimated by hunters shaped his thinking on conservation and his legacy has had a lasting effect on America today. Not only did he found the United States Forest Service, he established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves and more; protecting about 230 million acres of public land in all.
Flying By All The Time
I have flown between Denver and Williston several dozen times now. We tend to fly over Scotts Bluff, Nebraska and Rapid City, South Dakota. Bringing our flight path over the beautiful black hills, Rapid City, and Sturgis. The Rocky Mountains are off to the west most of the trip and we pass right by the badlands to the East. Just further north, we cross northwestern South Dakota and the western edge of North Dakota.
About a month ago, I commented to the rest of the flight crew about how pretty the valley is south of Williston. I shoveled the memory in the back of my brain as a place to visit someday when I got to do another road trip. Little did I know I was about to see it just a few weeks later during this Dickinson layover. As it turns out, that valley is part of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands. Inside that grassland is Theodore Roosevelt National Park; just minutes west of Dickinson. Here’s my day visiting this gorgeous valley:
A Short Stop in Medora
Before entering the park, your day trip from Dickinson should stop at the Painted Canyon Visitors Center before arriving in Medora. I write more about the Painted Canyon below because it is part of the park. This rest stop is free, just off the highway, and is chronologically the first thing you pass. That’s why I mention it here. More details are below. Medora is a cute tourist city just west of Dickinson. Grab a bite or take a stop here before entering the Theodore National Park. Home to the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, it has many cute shops, plenty of entertainment, and is a great size to spend an hour walking through. This cute town also marks the entry point into the park.
The Bully Pulpit Golf Course
South of town there is a gorgeous golf course, ranked as one of America’s 100 greatest golf courses. Other pilots have said they have had buffalo wander around them while playing here. I didn’t have time to play this day, but I did get to stop by and enjoy a nice view for a while. Learn more about it here.
The Best Pizza in the Country?
The perfect day trip from Dickinson needs to have some great food. For a great pizza, make sure to grab a bite at Badlands Pizza and Saloon. The front desk lady at our hotel says it is the best Pizza in the country. She also claims to be from Chicago so she should know. I wouldn’t go that far, but the pizza was pretty good.
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Certainly, the core of your day trip from Dickinson will be the national park. After driving through the town of Medora, you will see a sign for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the Western edge. After a small entry fee, you will drive north and cross over the freeway entering the park. It’s an interesting entrance. Almost immediately, we saw wild horses and lots of little prairie dogs. We explored the park from the comfort of our car. The beautiful road weaved through the park as scattered rain showers blew over us for the whole day.
Painted Canyon Visitors Center
The first part of the park is actually accessed prior to getting to Medora. Take exit 32 to the Painted Canyon Visitors Center. On the eastern edge of the valley heading toward Medora to the west, there is a little turn off with a fantastic view. This is worth a stop and is a great way to see the park without having to spend a lot of time.
The park has a lot of trails for both hiking and horses. We saw a few people getting their horses ready for a trail ride here.
Besides the trail riding, we also saw quite a few wild horses. Originally from around the turn of the century, these feral horses are not protected and considered a “national heritage species”
As you drive through the park, you will stumble upon a whole field full of prairie dogs. They are super cute and you can nearly reach out to them. Many have burrows next to and under the road you drive on.
Buffalo roam this beautiful valley and are easily spotted throughout the park. We saw three during our short visit.
I’m almost positive this one was trying to hide behind the grass…
Everywhere you go in the park there are new views and landscapes to enjoy. This is an incoming rain shower and below is a picture with some of the plants you will see traveling through the park.
Coal Vein Nature Trail
I took advantage of one break in the rain to walk the Coal Vein Nature Trail. It’s a short walk, about a mile long and has several points of interest to read about. This was the location of an underground fire that lasted for decades. Hills here are made of bentonite clay and as the coal beneath them burned, it fired the clay into porcelanite. As the ground has eroded away, it has left porcelain chimneys scattered through the hike.
Things to do in Dickinson.
There are a few things to do on your day trip from Dickinson as well. Make sure you spend part of your perfect day trip from Dickinson in the town too. Our layover hotel is the Astoria on the northwest corner of the intersection of Interstate 94 and 22. A lot of what exists in Dickinson is within walking distance of this area. The Dickinson CVB, Museum Center, Dinosaur Museum, Pioneer Machinery Hill, and Prarie Outpost Park are kitty corner from our hotel. Other places nearby include:
Sanford’s Grub and Pub
Sanfords is a crew favorite restaurant just a few minutes walk from our layover hotel; the Astoria. Known for its big menu’s, this restaurant is open late and is a good place to get a cheap bite to eat. On an earlier trip (actually my birthday) three of us split an order of nacho’s and I think there was some left over too.
The Wurst Shop
The name is a lie. Enjoy excellent fresh meats and German fare. They don’t have a website, but you can see their facebook page for current information.
The Brew is a coffee house in the heart of downtown Dickinson. You will need to have a car or get an Uber, but this is a cute little coffee shop. A bright spot of hipster in this otherwise wide-open, oil-rich city. The Brew renovated an old church (I think Episcopalian) and turned it into a hipster coffee house. I know, right? It doesn’t get much more hipster than that.
Looking for other ideas?
- Dickinson Museum Center
- Dickinson Visitors Bureau
- Southwest Speedway
Need a car? – Hertz is the only car rental company on the airport property. It’s a small operation but they are very friendly. Call them direct at 701-483-1495.
I hope you enjoyed this article on the perfect day trip from Dickinson! If you want to read more like it, check out our day trip page.
If you liked the national park here, you may also want to read about our perfect day in Grand Junction, Colorado too.