Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links at no cost to you. Read my disclaimer for more information.
Interstate I-94 is the primary route that takes you east-west across North Dakota and provides a northeast-southwest route across Minnesota. We've got some unique roadside attractions that you should consider to break up your 4-5 day road trip across the miles of farm fields and rolling hills.
We will start this adventure in St. Paul, head across Minnesota, drive to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the western part of North Dakota, and make the return trip back to St. Paul. Hopefully, you find some great stops to add to your trip!
This roadtrip guide assumes you will spend the previous evening in the Twin Cities Area or have an early morning flight into the Twin Cities.
Start in the Twin City Area
Plan to get on the road early to avoid rush hour in St. Paul and to be able to make it to the North Dakota State Capitol Building in time to take the guided tour. The guided tour is the only way to see the “Monkey Room”!
North Dakota State Capitol Building (Bismarck, ND)
We managed to be on the road around 6:15 am, which gave us plenty of time to make it to the North Dakota State Capitol building tour, which is every hour on the hour, between 9 am-11 am and 1 pm-3 pm weekdays year-round. Summer hours include weekends – check the State Capitol Website for details.
Taking the 1-hour guided tour is the only way to check out the Monkey Room! It's called the Monkey Room because, during construction, unique wood paneling appeared on the site that people perceive to have monkey faces engrained – using a little creativity, you will likely see many other fun faces.
Here is another fun fact about the capitol building – it is the tallest building in North Dakota. If interested in more fun facts and info about capitols check out my post about it here!
Dakota Thunder the World's Largest Buffalo / Frontier Village / National Buffalo Museum (Jamestown, ND)
Before arriving in Bismarck, we made a pit stop for lunch at the “World's Largest Buffalo” monument in Jamestown, ND. The record-breaking buffalo stands at a whopping 26 feet tall and weighs in at 60 tons! There are picnic tables and bathrooms available at this site.
The buffalo, named Dakota Thunder, is adjacent to Frontier Village (which was not open during our visit – hours are Memorial Day thru Mid-September 10 am-6 pm).
Frontier Village has original buildings found on the North Dakota Frontier. The facilities now have antiques, artifacts, handmade goods, and treasures from local artisans!
Also nearby is the National Buffalo Museum. The Buffalo Museum is open, in general, from 10 am-5 pm throughout the week with 10 am-6 pm weekend hours June 1-Labor Day. There is a fee for the National Buffalo Museum.
Salem Sue the World's Largest Holstein Cow (Salem, ND)
A bit further west on I-94, we stopped at Salem, ND, home to Salem Sue, the “World's Largest Holstein Cow.” You will likely see her towering in the distance as you approach during daylight hours (she doesn't have lighting).
The fairground property is the home of Sue. It's a narrow, steep, twisty drive to the top of the hill where Salem Sue sits. Salem Sue, made of 6 tons of reinforced fiberglass, stands 38 feet high and 50 feet long.
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (Stanton, ND)
We didn't sneak this in on this trip, but I wanted you to be aware that it is only about 4o minutes north of the previous stop. This stop takes an hour or two to make a basic visit and you probably wouldn't make it to any of the Theodore Roosevelt Sites on this travel day.
The park is located along the Missouri River and was once a major Native American trade center before coming an essential market place for fur traders.
The site features a reconstructed earthlodge and some villages. There is also a video and hiking available at the park. You could spend a full day at the park if you wanted to hike all the trails.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Painted Canyon (I-94,exit 32, ND)
If the visitor center is closed, the restrooms will still be open. The park provides view of the “Painted Canyon”. The area is also know to have many bison roaming. There is a 4.2-mile out-and-back hike and also a 0.9-mile long nature hike available.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park – South Unit (Medora, ND)
The visitor center was closed when we arrived at the NP, but we could still drive in. Note that a 4-mile section of the road was closed due to erosion during our visit (May 2022).
During our visit, we saw buffalo, prairie dogs, a wolf (or a coyote), wild horses, and a porcupine. Like our prior visit to this site, animals are more active in the early morning or evening hours.
We only spent a few hours at the park since we had previously visited, but you could easily spend a full day exploring the South Unit. Add an extra day in your trip to explore this site fully.
If you enjoy photography and wild horses you may enjoy this tour that will have you spending four hours chasing horses and snapping photos!
Where to stay near Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There are a few hotel options and many camping options in the Town of Medora, but nearby Dickinson is the largest city with many lodging options. You will also find many more dining options in Dickinson.
Day 2 is all about collecting some National Park Passport Stamps! As long as you are on the road early there should be time to get to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) and Fort Union Trading Post.
TRNP North Unit is just over an hour away from the South Unit, or just under an hour from I-94. The North Unit is less visited than the South Unit and is also more rugged. The Trading Post is just over an hour northwest of the TRNP North Unit.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Unit (Watford City, ND)
Venture further off I-94 with a visit to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The visitor center was not open for the season, but the road was. There were very few people at the park, which was nice. There were lots of bison roaming the area.
There had been some heavy rain leading up to our visit, and we attempted to hike the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail, but the banks at the stream were slippery, and we turned back. There were Bison hanging out near the stream bed, so if you want a close up photo this might prove to be a great option.
The 14 mile long Scenic Drive has terrific views once you get to the end of the road – the Oxbow Overlook. Plan at least an hour and 15 minutes to drive out and back if you want to do the entire scenic drive – which in my option, was worth it! There are many hiking options available.
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site (Williston, ND)
Continuing northwest, we reached the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. Fun fact about this site: the driveway to the site is in Montana, but the park unit is in North Dakota. So, when I mentioned that we dipped into Montana, it was to get to the site!
The Fort Unit Trading Post was the most important fur trade post along the Upper Missouri River between 1828 and 1867. The center had $100,000 in merchandise sales annually and over 25,000 buffalo robes trading hands.
Some events take place through the peak summer months (Memorial Day thru Labor Day) – Indian Arts Festival and the Fort Union Rendezvous being the largest.
There isn't a lot to do at this site, but there is a trading house to visit and a video orientation. Besides just becoming a Jr. Ranger, you can also become a Jr. Trader at this site! There is also a 0.9-mile dirt trail available at this historical site that takes you to the Bodmer Overlook.
After getting in our National Park Site fix we ventured back east towards St. Paul, Minnesota. Of course we had to make a few more I-94 roadside attractions!
Enchanted Highway (Gladstone, ND to Regent, ND)
The Enchanted Highway, which runs 32 miles between Gladstone and Regent near Dickinson, ND (exit 72 – Gladstone) is home to the world's largest metal sculptures.
“Geese in Flight” is visible from I-94 and set a record in the Guinness World Book of Records as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world. It's made of used oil well pipe and oil tanks.
Fargo-Moorhead Visitor Center (Fargo, ND)
Stop by the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor Center, near the North Dakota and Minnesota state line, to see the woodchipper used in the classic film Fargo. There is also a replica outside the visitor center and a bison sculpture. Of course you can also snag a bunch of travel information.
World's Largest blooming Prairie Chicken (Rothsay, MN)
In Rothsay, MN, we stopped by the World's Largest “blooming” Prairie Chicken. There is a small park there, but otherwise, not much to do or see.
Otto the Big Otter (Fergus Falls, MN)
Otto lives in Adams Parks, is 40 feet long, and was constructed by high school students in the 70s. The park features standard park amenities set on a lake.
Big Ole: America's Biggest Viking (Alexandria, MN)
Big Ole, is a great roadside attraction if you need to stretch your legs. There is a bike trail at the sculpture. There are also some local history plaques to read under the shelter building.
Having returned back to St. Paul consider tacking a day or to more onto your trip by exploring attractions around St. Paul. For a 2 day Twin Cities Itinerary check out this post!
End in the Twin City Area
The Twin City area could keep you busy for days! From art museums, the state capitol, local brewery's, and the Mall of America! Read more about things to do in the Twin Cities area here.
Final Thoughts: I-94 Road trip in MN & ND
A road trip from St. Paul to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an unforgettable experience that takes visitors through the heart of the Midwest and into the rugged beauty of the North Dakota badlands.
Along the way, there are many hidden gems waiting to be explored and some stunning natural beauty. Whether you're a nature lover, a history buff, or simply looking for a memorable adventure, this road trip has something for everyone.
From the rolling hills of Minnesota to the wide-open spaces of North Dakota, the journey is as much a part of the experience as the destination. So, pack your bags, hit the road, and discover the wonders of the Midwest!