When you ask people to name a river in North Dakota, most say the Missouri, of Lewis and Clark fame. Yet the Sheyenne River is just as worthy historically and surrounded by natural beauty. Starting about 160 miles north of Valley City, the river begins as a tributary of the Red (of Red River Valley musical fame), rejoining the river near Fargo. On its way south, the Sheyenne makes its way through the Sheyenne River Valley. Here you can follow it, meandering through tree-lined rolling hills, dotted with quaint towns and farmsteads on the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway to discover the story of the region on 41 award-winning interpretive panels along the way.
Held back by Baldhill Dam, the Sheyenne forms 27-mile Lake Ashtabula, a “perch river” with natural levees created by flooding centuries ago that are higher than the surrounding ground. Over 30 miles of the 4,200-mile North Country National Scenic Trail follows the lake. After the sweeping vistas of the grasslands at Baldhill Dam Overlook and the spectacular sunset views at the Mel Rieman Recreation Area, the natural areas just keep coming. Hobart Lake National Wildlife Refuge is just west of Valley City. The Valley City National Fish Hatchery is near Medicine Wheel Park, where you can take a walking tour of the solar system. Just outside of Kathryn, the Walker Dam and Wadeson Cabin State Historic Site are just a short distance from Clausen Springs Recreational Area, a 545-acre open space with a peaceful lake. Just a few more miles down the road, the Standing Rock State Historic Site features a series of Native American burial mounds perched high atop a grassy hill overlooking the picturesque Sheyenne River.
At Fort Ransom, archeologists believe they have identified large glacial “ancient runestones” with markings typical of the ancient runic writing of Scandinavia. Other boulders in the Fort Ransom area have large cylindrical shaped holes, suggesting they were “mooring stones” holding Viking ships sailing up the Sheyenne River. From there, it’s on to the Sheyenne River State Forest Overlook and the Sheyenne National Grassland. Every location along the route provides the ability to get out in nature, enjoy the beauty of the river, the Byway and relax in the outdoors.
Touring the Byway
63 Miles | 4 Days/3 Nights Optional Days 5 and 6 | Gateway City: Bismarck, North Dakota
Recreational attractions abound in the many spots along the Byway which begins at Getchell Township Hall and heads down Barnes County Highway 21, along Highways 17 and 19, through Valley City, proceeding on Highway 21 to Ransom County Highway 13, ultimately ending Lisbon.
We recommend starting your journey in Grand Forks, considered one of the best birding cities in the country, with plenty of outdoor opportunities as well. Enjoy the Butterfly Garden, National Prairie Grassland, and Sertoma Park’s Japanese Garden before hitting the road toward Valley City, the northern start of Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway.
In Valley City, stop at the Rosebud Visitor Center to learn more about the region’s early pioneers. Medicine Wheel Park features nature trails, a walking tour of the solar system, two large solar calendars, Native American burial mounds, and a medicine wheel that measures 213 feet in diameter.
Hobart Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Riparian Restoration are great spots to educate visitors about the river and provide a chance to see a variety of wildlife!
Just west of Kathryn, the 545-acre Clausen Springs Recreation Area is home to a large lake. Just a few miles down the road, the Wadeson Cabin State Historic Site showcases Norwegian innovation in a cabin that served as a store, home, and community center.
Make a stop at Little Yellowstone Park and then venture to Standing Rock State Historic Site to see the four interconnected Native American burial mounds dating from 100 B.C. to 600 A.D.
From there, you’ll be headed to the village of Fort Ransom, where a short segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail winds through Fort Ransom State Park.
Beginning the next day, take a look at Writing Rock with cupped-out depressions formed when rocks being carried by the glacier rubbed across the surface of rocks underlying the flowing ice. From there head to the Sheyenne River State Forest Overlook for the state’s only waterfall!
The Scenic Byway ends in Lisbon, yet for more outdoor marvels head to the Sheyenne National Grasslands. After that, it’s on to Fargo and one or two optional additional days to explore the largest city in North Dakota. From there, we wish you a safe and pleasant journey home.
Download the detailed itinerary for the full tour of the Byway which includes the highlighted attractions below and much more!
As the glaciers moved south thousands of years ago, the debris they were pushing carved out lakes in the “prairie pothole” region in North Dakota including Lake Ashtabula (Native American for fish river) which today attracts large flocks of migrating birds to the lakeshore. Look out for the unique white pelicans, plus prairie creatures such as white-tailed deer, sharptail grouse, wild turkeys and gray partridge. For those interested, there are 27 campsites, 15 with electric hookups, coupled with drinking water, showers and flush toilets. Nearly 3,000 acres open to wildlife viewing, birding and hiking, around the lake is managed by the Corps of Engineers.
Valley City developed a tour to showcase its beautiful historic bridges, that begins at the Rosebud Visitor Center. The most famous is the 3860-foot Hi-Line Bridge which soars 162 feet overhead, as it traverses the riverbed. It was the longest and highest single-track rail bridge in the country at the time of construction in 1908.
Located on the campus of Valley City State University, Medicine Wheel Park’s 30 acres encompasses a unique mix of nature, science, and history including two solar calendar replicas, 12 Native American Burial Mounds, scenic overlooks, woodland nature trails, an astronomy observation site, solar system model, and a perennial flower garden.
The Valley City National Fish Hatchery and a smaller unit at Baldhill Dam raise fish to stock local lakes with northern pike, walleye, and sturgeon. They are also working on a native mussel program to bring in black sandshell, pink heelsplitter, Wabash pigtoe, threeridge and maple leaf varieties. The hatchery, designed with the visitor experience in mind, includes a pollinator garden, primitive nature trail, covered picnic areas, and a fire ring, plus a primitive canoe launch, picnic shelter, and charcoal grills. Graveled pathways take you to the hatchery production ponds.
Nestled in the picturesque and heavily wooded Sheyenne River Valley, Fort Ransom State Park illustrates the lives of the area’s 19th-century homesteading sodbusters and the Mound Builders who lived here 5000 to 8000 years ago. The 950-acre site encompasses the Bjone House homestead and the Andrew Sunne Farm. The annual Sodbuster Days celebration with demonstrations and exhibits of early homesteading life is held here. A short segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail winds through the park, along with about 20 miles of additional trails.