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Cross Ranch State Park - Best State Parks in North Dakota

5 Best State Parks and Forests to Explore in North Dakota (2022)

North Dakota is much more than the city of Fargo and oil fields. There is so much in the state that still remains unexplored and untouched. From the rolling golden prairies to the mesmerizing Missouri River, this beautiful state has some of the most stunning outdoor spaces in the United States. Fondly known as the Peace Garden State, the state parks and forests of North Dakota is a must-see. The beauty of these parks and forests far surpass the others across the country. In fact, for nature lovers, North Dakota remains a hidden gem to explore.

5 Best State Parks and Forests to Explore in North Dakota

Let’s check out some of the best state parks and forests that you must explore when in North Dakota.

1. Lake Sakakawea State Park

Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota is one of the US’ three biggest manmade reservoirs. The lake was created after the completion of the Garrison Dam, which is one of the six main dams that has been built for the development of the Missouri River Basin.

Located on the southern shore of this stunning lake is Lake Sakakawea, State Park. Sprawled over 1293 acres, this North Dakota state park is home to the best salmon fishing spots in the state. The park is the culmination of the stunning North Country National Scenic Trail, which stretches across the entire northern part of the country to upstate New York.

There are many campgrounds inside the state park, including sleeping cabins, a full-service marina, a swimming beach, a fully functional RV dump station, and many picnic shelters.

A visit to Lake Sakakawea State Park is a complete family-friendly holiday.

2. Cross Ranch State Park

The Cross Ranch State Park is located along the beautiful Missouri River. Visitors to this state park are left in awe by the over 16 miles of trails that wind through ravines, willows up above the prairie bluffs, and along the waters of the Missouri River. You can also rent a canoe in the summer and snowshoes and skis in the winter months.

The best activities to do here would be to spend an entire day simply fishing in the peace and quiet of the place for walleye while keeping an eye open for catching sight of the migrating whooping cranes and burrowing owls. You can also watch herds of bison grazing in the grassland landscape just next to the Cross Ranch Nature Preserve.

For those who want to spend the night camping out here, you can choose between cabin, yurt, and cute tipi rentals. Or you can even hike to a more isolated backcountry spot to pitch your own tent. A visit to the Cross Ranch State Park will genuinely let you know just how untouched and pristine North Dakota still is.

3. Beaver Lake State Park

The best part of visiting the Beaver Lake State Park is the rolling walking and biking trails alongside the beaver Lake that lets you follow the prairie landscape as it rolls above the stunning lake surroundings. You can choose to take a dip in the water or search for chokecherries and juneberries that grow along the banks of the lake (a favorite activity for children).

The Beaver Lake State Park is an excellent spot for birding, as it is home to many whistling swans, grebes, bitterns, and cormorants, amongst many others. Enjoy yourself as you take in a rainbow of wildflowers in the summer months. If you love flowers, then this state park in North Dakota is the first place you should visit. From Silverleaf scurf pea to scarlet gaura, there are more flowers than you can count at the Beaver Lake State Park.

The campsite loop here used to function as a horse race track in the olden days. There are many cabins available for rent, or you can decide to pitch your own tent.

4. Turtle Mountain State Forest

As mentioned above, North Dakota is a heavenly place for all nature lovers. With miles and miles of state parks and state forests, you can just sit back and enjoy yourself surrounded by nature in North Dakota.

The Turtle Mountain State Forest is located in the western part of the Turtle Mountain region in the Bottineau County. This dense forest is sprawled over 7500 acres of lush green trees, grasslands, and wetlands. There are recreation areas located inside, including the Hahn’s Bay Recreation Area, the Twisted Oaks Equestrian Campground, Strawberry Lake Recreation Area, and the Mystical Horizons Scenic Overlook. The forest is also home to over 18 miles of multi-use, non-motorized trails. There are also 10 miles of ATV trails that pass through the forest.

5. Sheyenne River State Forest

This is a smaller forest as compared to the others in North Dakota. Sprawled over 509+ acres, the Sheyenne River State Forest is located just one mile southeast of the famous monument of Fort Ransom. It lies along the Sheyenne River National Scenic Byway.

This state forest is segmented by four miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail. This forest offers some of the most magnificent views of the entire Sheyenne River Valley. The Sheyenne River State Forest is also home to North Dakota’s only waterfall.

Some of the commonly found trees in this forest include quaking aspen, ironwood, basswood, bur oak, and green ash.

While visiting the Sheyenne River State Forest, make it a point to also check out the Fort Ransom State Park. The Fort Ransom State Park sits at the very intersection of this hardwood forest and the prairies. This entire area has been home to many Native American tribes over hundreds of years, and the region is rich in culture and history.

You can rent a kayak at the Sheyenne River during the summer months, and you can also get hold of snowmobiles during the winters to take part in the snowmobiles race that takes place along the forest tracks. If you want to check the stunning range of fall colors in the park and the forest, visit during late July to August. There are many great options here for overnight treks.

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