What’s your pleasure?
Bask in nature?
Dive into deep history?
What to do in Watford City for fun will fill your half-day.
It’s like this:
#1 Bask in nature
Take 20 minutes and $20, head south on Highway 85. It’s only 15 miles or so, and there’s no mistaking when you reach the Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Including the entire round trip through the park and back to Watford City, it’s about 50 miles.
That scenic pull off on the right hand (south) side of the road is a worthy stop. It gives you a sense of perspective because way down in the bottom of that valley is where you’re headed. That’s the Little Missouri River down there. Cattle drivers bringing cattle up from the south liked this river bed to get to the north and stay in green grass.
The National Park
It’s one of the least visited, least known national parks, and maybe that’s okay because you don’t have to stand in line to get in.
Pay your fee, and drive the scenic road through the park to the very end. Undoubtedly you’ll spot bison. They may be far off, or they may be on the road, blocking traffic. They are the stars of the park.
When you’re down in the flatland, near Juniper Campground, look closely to the Little Missouri River. Starting near Devils Tower, Wyoming and slicing through the bedrock of western North Dakota, the river empties nearby into the big Missouri River. The Little Missouri River helped change America in the late 1800’s after the Civil War.
A herd of Long Horns hang out there. They represent quite a story of America in the late 1800s. It’s like this, click here.
Along the way you could spot deer, snakes and maybe even big horn sheep.
Now comes the fun part with your half day, your four hours of basking in nature.
Get out of your car, and take a hike. The trails are well marked and in many cases where they are extra steep, stairs are built into the hillside.
The higher up you go, the better the view. When you get to the top, you may be inspired to keep hiking along a ridge.
Colors change at the end of the day
If you are fortunate enough to get your four hours to bask in nature at the end of the day, you’re in for a treat. A color change. As the sun sets, pick a point up high, take a seat and watch the green turn gold and then magenta.
Here’s my promise. If you take this four hour excursion from Watford City, when you return, you’ll be mentally, and physically, recharged. The fresh air, outstanding scenery and a bit of physical exercise will boost your well being.
#2 Dive into History
This different four hour trip takes you into the bowels of the Badlands — and into the settlement of the North American continent. This round trip is about 80 miles –40 each direction– or about 45 minutes to slow down for the towns and stop lights.
Head west out of Watford City on Highway 85/200. The two highways split about 15miles west of Watford City. Stay on Highway 200.
Your first dive into history is right at the Yellowstone River.
When you cross over the bridge, immediately turn into Sundheim Park on the south side of the road.
Park in the parking lot or in the park. Head on up to the walkway. There, you can walk across the Fairview Lift Bridge and continue on into the deep dark tunnel. It’s where your phone light or a flashlight will be handy. The bridge was built 100 years ago as a dual purpose bridge for both cars and trains to get across the Yellowstone River.
The middle section was built to lift over steamboats, but it was never used that way. The lift section was lifted only once to test it. That’s all. Steamboat traffic ended b the time the bridge was built. Read more here.
The Cartwright Railroad Tunnel, hand built 100 years ago, is a testimony to local labor and skilled engineering. It’s a quarter mile, slightly bent tunnel through a badlands hill. Read more here.
The tunnel and the bridge mark your first plunge in your dive into history.
By the time you get back to your car, you ‘ll have spent about an hour and a half. That leaves two and a half hours to dive into two forts.
The first is a military fort with major significance, the other a trading post — an early shopping mall for at least five Indian tribes, and explorers from at least 3 nations.
Head west on Highway 200 until you reach the Montana border. It’s just a mile or so.
Then turn north on Highway 58. Signs will direct you. At highway 1804, go east a couple miles, then turn south in to Fort Buford and the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Center.
Fort Buford and the Confluence Interpretive Center
This is what interstate travel looked like in the 1800’s. Travelers could come up the Yellowstone River from the Rocky Mountains.
Then they’d hook up with the Missouri River and float all the way to Saint Louis. At the confluence their float would change from south to north, and then go north to south toward St.Louis.
Take a walk into the Center. The historic display and the well-stocked book store will give you a chance to take then home some early U.S. History. Click here for more information
The Fort was the early National Weather Service station, keeping travelers alert to weather to the west that was influenced by the mountains. Travelers headed east could be alerted to potential storms out on the prairie.
The Fort is also where Sitting Bull decided to lay down his arms and surrender to the U.S. government.
One hour here, and it’s time to move on to the next fort — a totally different kind of fort.
Fort Union Trading Post — Free
Go back west on Highway 58, then turn west onto Highway 1804 and you will drive right past Fort Union. You will actually dip into Montana to enter the post, and curve or walk back into North Dakota.
Imagine an 1830 Shopping Mall. That’s Fort Union Trading Post. It wasn’t a government operation, but instead owned and operated by the American Fur Trading Company. The official website for the Trading Post says “the post annually traded over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 in merchandise.”
We like to go to the Post when they are hosting a rendezvous or a tribal encampment. The post figured heavily in the survival of at least six 1800 tribes that still exist today.
Even if there is no rendezvous, the post offers a well stocked book store, a walking path with peace to center yourself in the quiet.
When your half day dive into history draws to a close, you’ll head east on Highway 200 back to Watford City, the hub of the north Badlands. A great meal, cold drinks and a hospitable overnight stay are possible there.
End of the Day
Head back to Watford City the little town with a big city feel. You may think we push Watford City a lot, but there’s a lot there to push. I’ve been staying and doing business in Watford City for 40 years, and it continues to impress me. Hundreds of rooms at all price levels. Many eateries, from Chinese to burgers to steaks, to a brew pub called Stonehome.
It’s a Staycation when you know what to do in Watford City
You don’t have to go far to get into a whole new environment. Recharge and replenish on a Staycation when you know what to do in Watford City.
A person can drive to Watford City one day and then spend the rest of the day exploring, or hang out overnight and hit the attractions the next day.
There are several half-day adventures in the Beautiful Badlands. Both Williston and Dickinson promote those opportunities on their websites.
#what is there to do in Watford City?