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- Play at the Dakota Zoo
- Visit the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum
- Cool Off at Raging Rivers WaterPark
- Cruise on the Lewis and Clark Riverboat
- Explore the Gateway Science Center
- Learn about Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
- Soak up History at Buckstop Junction
- Visit Keelboat Park, Steamboat Park, and Steamboat Plaza
- Tour the North Dakota State Capitol
- Walk through the Former Governor's Mansion
- See Camp Hancock State Historic Site - Downtown Bismarck
- Explore the Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site
- Enjoy Views at Chief Looking's Village Historic Site
- Play at Pioneer Park
- See Exhibits at Bismarck Arts & Galleries Association
Things to do in Bismarck include tracing its history back to Lewis and Clark and its Native American heritage. From museums and galleries to cool outdoor adventures, Bismarck offers many family-friendly activities. Follow along and learn about things to do in this budget-friendly Midwest city.
Since 1804, when Lewis and Clark rowed up the Missouri, the metro area of Bismarck-Mandan has welcomed visitors to its state. Bismarck – North Dakota’s capital – is located in the south-central part of the state on the banks of the Missouri River.
There’s a nice mix of attractions so you’ll find many fun things to do in Bismarck. For example, start with popular family-friendly attractions like the Dakota Zoo. Next, explore cool historic state capitol buildings. For a relaxing outing, take a cruise on a riverboat. And to escape the heat, take the plunge at Raging Rivers Waterpark. In addition to these attractions, you’ll find some free things to do!
Read More: Check Out Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota
Play at the Dakota Zoo
Located on the banks of the Missouri River, the Dakota Zoo is the state’s third zoo. Founded in 1961, the zoo is among North Dakota’s best attractions. Although it’s not the largest zoo, it’s home to many animals, shows and events.
The zoo welcomes over 150,000 visitors each year to view 125 species of birds, reptiles, insects, and mammals. See animals like the Bobcat, Bengal tiger, Grizzly Bear, and the North American river otter. More animals include the American Alligator, Bald Eagle, Black Swan, and many others.
In addition, the Bismarck Tribune Discovery Center has many opportunities for hands-on learning. For instance, experiences include live animal and educational displays, aquariums, a play area, and more.
In addition to many special events, family activities include the Family Zoo Snooze Campover.
TravelingMom Tip: Bring your tent (or rent one) for animal-themed activities and a sleepover.
Visit the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum
For a fun and educational outing, visit the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. Located on the North Dakota State Capitol grounds, the museum has three permanent exhibits that depict the state’s history.
For example, follow the floor prints and tracks to wind your way through history. Start by walking with dinosaurs at the Adaption Gallery: Geological Time.
Next, visit the Innovation Gallery: Early People, which tells the story of the migration and constant movements of tribes some 13,000 years ago. It’s a good place to learn more stories of Native American history and culture.
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The Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today depicts stories of the bison herds and horses. The latter arrived in 1750, during the booming settlement of Dakota Territory.
One of the newer historical society exhibits features the fascinating story of The Prairie Post Office. So you’ll learn about the central role post offices play on main street across North Dakota.
Cool Off at Raging Rivers WaterPark
At the mention of waterpark, your kids are probably ready to cool down. But Raging Rivers WaterPark is not just any waterpark! It’s a superslide amusement park with water features!
This all-day, water-themed adventure for kids of all ages is also the perfect reprieve from the heat of Midwest summers. Raging Rivers WaterPark features a lazy river, tube and speed slides, a kiddie pool play area, and more.
Cruise on the Lewis and Clark Riverboat
Enjoy a cruise along the Missouri River on the Lewis and Clark Riverboat at Port Bismarck. During the late 1800s, riverboats were the American West connection to the eastern and southern part of the ever-growing Americas. In fact, the riverboats transported both people and goods.
The seasonal Lewis & Clark Riverboat is one of the many fun things to do in Bismarck, ND. Choose from a simple cruise (with food and drinks available for purchase) or themed cruises ranging from sunset to BBQ to pizza. Advance reservations recommended.
Explore the Gateway Science Center
Got restless kids? Take them to Gateway to Science Center, the state’s ONLY hands-on science center! This children’s museum features interactive exhibits on electricity, robotics & other scientific topics.
Learn about Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Established in 1907, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is the oldest state park in North Dakota. Located seven miles south of Mandan, it features several historical replicas. For example, learn about the lives of the Mandan Native Americans who once lived at On-a-Slant Village. Take a peek by venturing into the replica earthlodges.
Curious about the life of a frontier soldier? Take a journey through the reconstructed military buildings including the Custer house. Be sure to add the living history tour of the commanding officer’s quarters, as one of the things to do in Bismarck with your family.
Don’t miss the views of the Heart and Missouri river valley and bottoms. Budget-friendly admission for families costs $7 per carload.
TravelingMom Tip: Make it more fun for the kids with an overnight in a tipi tent, cabin, or one of the campsites along the rivers.
Soak up History at Buckstop Junction
If your kiddos are still up for more historic adventures, head to Buckstop Junction.
Step inside actual historic buildings, dating from 1875-1935. Hear the stories of the people who moved to North Dakota, built towns, and homesteaded the prairies.
Admission: Adults $6, students $3, children under 6 free with family.
Shop at the Native Artists United Guild (NAU)
Read to shop local? Visit the historic Burlington Northern Railroad Depot on Main Street in Mandan. Shop at the Native-owned co-operative that features local handmade arts and gifts. Proceeds support more than 200 North Dakota American Indian artists.
Free Things to do in Bismarck
Visit Keelboat Park, Steamboat Park, and Steamboat Plaza
Located on River Road on the banks of the Missouri, these three state parks are one of those unique, Midwest attractions. And admission to all three parks is free! Kids will love the riverside trail, boat ramp, replica Keelboat, and sculptures.
The walking trails meander alongside the river where families can explore the parks and learn about the history of steamboat and keelboats transportation.
Keelboat Park features a 55-foot, full-scale keelboat. It’s a replica of the one Lewis and Clark used when exploring this area.
Along with the boat and trails, the park also has unusual and interesting sculptures. These statues depict everything from the famous explorers themselves, to eagles, and to a four-headed thunderbird statue. The statues are the work of local artists, students at United Tribes Technical College.
Tour the North Dakota State Capitol
Situated in Downtown Bismarck, the 132-acre North Dakota State Capitol grounds feature art deco buildings. The area is pretty cool, especially the 242-foot “Skyscraper on the Prairie” monument. In fact, it’s the tallest building in the state. From there, you get a bird’s eye view of the city.
Climb the observation deck to the 19th floor. On a clear day, you can reportedly see 30-35 miles of North Dakota landscape. All those trees cover the Capitol Grounds just as they do the land on both sides of the river.
Free tours are available daily. No off-season weekend tours Labor Day – Memorial Day.
Walk through the Former Governor’s Mansion
Nearby, the restored Former Governor’s Mansion dates back to the late 19th century. Glimpse into the private lives of public people at the Former Governor’s Mansion, where 20 chief executives and their families lived from 1893 to 1960.
See Camp Hancock State Historic Site – Downtown Bismarck
History buff? If you have time, visit the Camp Hancock State Historic Site. Located on East Main Street, it preserves part of a Camp Greeley military installation. It was established in 1872 to provide protection for work crews building the Northern Pacific Railroad. Admission is free.
Explore the Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site
Want to learn more about North Dakota’s Native American history and culture? Add Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site to your list of things to do in Bismarck-Mandan.
This site contains ruins of a large Mandan Indian village and earthlodges inhabited for nearly 300 years until 1781. This is yet one of many free things to do in Bismarck!
Enjoy Views at Chief Looking’s Village Historic Site
For the best view in Bismarck, take the family to Chief Looking’s Village. Also known known as Ward Earth Lodge Village, the Mandan Indian village historic site is impressive. It has an interpretive trail that tells the story of the state’s first citizens.
Plus, there’s an overlook that offers a scenic view of the Missouri River, natural grass landscape and the surrounding area. Tired? Visit Sonali’s Garden and rest on one of the memory benches.
Play at Pioneer Park
Located just below Chief Looking’s Village, Pioneer Park features walking trails along the banks of the Missouri River. In addition, there are challenging mountain bike trails nearby. The nearby wooded areas are also fun to explore. In addition, Pioneer Park has a sandy volleyball court, and a children’s playground.
See Exhibits at Bismarck Arts & Galleries Association
Also known as BAGA, this art gallery hosts monthly exhibits by local, regional and national artists. Stop by to peruse the artwork. Admission is free.