When our family needs a big outdoor adventure that’s close to home, we head a short hour south to the Sheyenne National Grassland.
With over 70,000 acres of public land, there’s no shortage of areas to explore.
Sheyenne National Grassland
The grassland is at the delta of an ancient river that emptied into Glacial Lake Agassiz millions of years ago. You’ll find sandy hills, sprawling plains, and beautiful river valleys in this one-of-a-kind nature sanctuary.
What you won’t find is a barrage of activities. Instead, it’s a place to truly disconnect and spend hours immersed in nature.
Embrace the Solitude
The Sheyenne National Grassland (also called Dakota Prairie Grassland) is still quite a wild plains territory. So, be prepared as you venture out, you won’t find many modern amenities.
While vault toilets and sometimes a water spigot can be found at campgrounds, there isn’t much else for creature comforts.
Lean into roughing it. Pack some toilet paper, snacks, and plenty of water, carry a backpack with supplies (including a first aid kit), and leave your cellphone in the car.
We don’t get many opportunities to truly disconnect, so take advantage.
Helpful hint: fill up with gas before you leave. Most rural communities nearby really aren’t that nearby. So you won’t have much of an opportunity to fill up or stop close to the grassland for lunch.
Top 3 Experiences to Enjoy
1. Hike the trails.
The North Country Trail runs through the grassland and it’s fun to say you hiked even just a piece of this 4,800-mile trail that runs from New York to North Dakota.
If you’d prefer a shorter journey, find one of the two campground trailheads for some nice loop trails.
Hankinson Hills Campground & Trail is the start of a few marked, graveled trails including a long 8-mile loop through a large oak forest.
In the winter, you can also snowshoe and cross-country ski these trails.
What you’ll find on your hike:
I remember laughing until I cried when my little four-year-old was trying to describe something to me one day that he didn’t know the name for.
“It’s like slanty. And sideways. And you can ride your bike down it?” After many attempts decipher what my kiddo was trying to tell my, it dawned on me.
My poor Fargo-raised child didn’t know what a hill was called. So, getting to walk some hilly paths is quite the novelty for my kids.
The hills are very mild (we are still in the Red River Valley flatland) and often the trails are well-groomed and many even are graveled making it very jogging stroller friendly.
The grassland is not just flat plains with tall grasses, you’ll actually find countless species of trees.
We like to have our kids collect as many kinds of different leaves as they can and then figure out what they are on the drive home.
2. Find wildflowers.
The Sheyenne National Grassland is a wildflower lover’s dream!
Their website lists some of the common flowers you can find and when each are in bloom.
May-June: Beardstongue, puccoons, western wallflower, prairie smoke, anemones, spiderwort, and columbine.
July: Brown-eyed Susans, wood lily, western prairie fringed orchid, lady-slippers, prairie rose, blazing stars, leadplant, and purple coneflowers.
August-September: Goldenrods, sunflowers, gentians, and asters.
The western prairie fringed orchid is a federally listed threatened plant and is one of several orchids that can be found on the Grassland.
You’re most likely to find it in the a swale land – a shady area with somewhat wet or marshy conditions.
It usually blooms around the Fourth of July. And the population found in our local grassland is one of the largest in the United States.
Rather than picking the flowers, visitors are instead encouraged to snap a photo. Leaving the rare blooms for others to enjoy and allowing nature to continue to spread them throughout the prairie.
3. View endless wildlife (and horses)!
The grasslands boasts an incredible variety of birds to view. Over 300 species of birds have been found in the area. Some you may not find in your backyard include the pileated woodpecker, barred owl, whip-poor-will, yellow rail, and scarlet tanager.
You can pick up Sheyenne Grassland’s bird publication at the Sheyenne Ranger District Office (in Lisbon, ND) if you’d like to do some scouting and identifying.
If you’re lucky you might also come across badgers, coyote, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and skunks (well, hopefully not that last one). And if you are really lucky, on a rare occasion you might even see a moose, elk, or wolf.
If it’s a nice day on one of the more popular trails, you are almost sure to see horses. Although not wild animals, your kids will love the opportunity to spot the horses and their riders.
Download this plant and wildlife checklist to take with you!
More fun things to do at Sheyenne National Grassland:
- ATV Riding
- Horseback Riding
- Hunting & Fishing
- Kayaking & Canoeing
- Mountain Biking
- Target Shooting
Enjoy the Escape
You can find some serenity with a day spent in the Sheyenne National Grassland.
Remind your kids (and yourself!) that there won’t be much provided entertainment. But this will allow your family to take the time to make up games and get creative. To touch and collect bits of nature, and embrace the back to nature spirit.
Love finding off the beaten path outdoor adventures?
Read these Fargo Mom articles featuring more nearby nature escapes like the Sheyenne National Grassland: including Best Spots for Family Hiking Near Fargo; Camping Spots Near Fargo; and, 10 Summer Day Trips from Fargo with Kids.