Quick Facts about North Dakota
In the far northern reaches of the country, where the Central Lowlands meet the Great Plains, lies one of the best hidden treasures of the U.S.: North Dakota. This cold state with a warm heart is one of the least populous in the nation but has some of the greatest natural resources on Earth.
North Dakota’s extreme terrain also yields extreme beauty, from the rugged badlands of the arid west near Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the richness of the Red River Valley in the east. And fertile soils, mineral deposits, oil and gas reserves have long made the Peace Garden State a vital agricultural and energy resource for the nation.
But North Dakota is also thinking ahead, investing in renewables like wind, solar and hydroelectric. Over the past 20 years, it’s also made a strong name for itself in the Silicon Prairie as a major base of operations for Microsoft.
It might surprise you to learn that the state with one of the longest winters regularly ranks as one of the happiest in the nation. It’s hard to put a price on your quality of life, but you won’t have to in North Dakota — the cost of living here is still below the national average.
So, if you’re looking for snowy adventures, close-knit communities and abundant natural beauty, North Dakota may be the state for you!
Living in North Dakota
North Dakota is one of the nation’s energy giants, ranking as the country’s second-largest energy-producing state, the third-largest producer of oil and gas and the fifth-largest in wind-generated energy.
In October 2022, the state produced over 1.1 million barrels of oil a day and 3.1 MCF of gas. Not surprisingly, the state offers significant tax incentives to support this sector. Oil and gas production is concentrated in the western half of the state, most heavily in Williams, McKenzie, Dunn and Mountrail counties. But renewable energy sites are scattered all over — including wind farms, solar farms, hydro power plants and recovered energy production facilities — and renewables offer the most long-term room for growth.
Outside of the energy sector, one industry that’s already expanding beyond the national rate is advanced manufacturing, which comprises 7.3% of North Dakota’s GSP and has seen 71% growth since 2011. Service areas include cybersecurity, automation and food safety, among others. To support its exports, the state has two foreign trade zones and five international airports, in addition to its major interstates and railroad lines.
One of the more unusual sectors North Dakota has emerged in is autonomous systems, earning it the moniker the Silicon Valley of Drones. The state has one of the country’s seven FAA test sites for research into the technology of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
Of course, agriculture still dominates the state economy, providing nearly 25% of the jobs in North Dakota. Cattle production accounts for 15% of this sector, but the state is the leading producer of dry beans, flax, sunflower, honey and canola.
One of the state’s top employers isn’t a for-profit business at all, the University of North Dakota (UND). This tier-one research university is the state’s 4th-largest employer, coming in just behind Doosan Bobcat, Walmart and Sanford Health. UND is home to the Research Institute for Autonomous Systems, Energy & Environmental Research Center, Center for Biomedical Research and the Center for Rural Health, demonstrating that the university leans into areas where the state already has a strong base, but it’s also forward-thinking.
The other major public university is North Dakota State University, a leader in agribusiness research, and also a dominant member of the NCAA Missouri Valley Football Conference (go, Bisons!).
It seems North Dakota’s investment in both existing powerhouses and future industries is paying off. The state’s unemployment rate as of November 2022 stood at 2.3%, a point-and-a-half below the national average. And the state’s cost of living index in 2022 came in at 97.4, just under the national average, though higher than in neighboring South Dakota and Minnesota.
Weather in North Dakota
No matter where you’re moving to in North Dakota, you’ll need to be prepared for the cold. The average annual temperature is only between 37 F and 43 F, and the state sees around 50 days below zero each year.
These extreme temperatures don’t seem to dampen North Dakotans’ enthusiasm for the great outdoors, though. You’ll find that even in the bitterly cold winter, residents are out in ice skates, snowshoes, cross-country skis or tucked into ice fishing huts.
Summers in North Dakota can see the opposite extreme, with temperatures often climbing above the 90 F mark. In general, though, summers are cool, with the average statewide high falling between 67 F and 73 F.
Thanks to the Rocky Mountains, which block moist air from the Pacific Ocean, North Dakota remains one of the drier states in the country, potentially seeing only 13 inches of rain in the western Great Plains region and up to just 20 inches in the Central Lowlands of the east, with higher elevations throughout the state receiving more precipitation.
North Dakota sees all sorts of extreme weather — floods, droughts, blizzards and tornadoes. So, no matter what season it is, you need to be prepared. Springtime’s shifting temps often spawn severe thunderstorms, twisters and hail. In fact, since 2007, every county in the state has suffered at least one tornadic event, and the state has recorded hail five inches wide on more than one occasion.
Autumn is one of the best times to experience North Dakota. It arrives earlier than most states — the air starts to feel crisp by the beginning of September — and this brings with it a dramatic show of fall foliage. From August through October, you’ll find that temperatures are mild and storms are few, so these are some of the best months to move to North Dakota.
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Top Growing Cities in North Dakota
The largest city in the state, Fargo’s population of 126,748 has grown rapidly over the last 10 years, gaining over 20,000 new residents. But the greater Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan population tops 238,000.
The cost of living in this area is higher than the state average but lower than the national one: the median home value in Fargo is $232,900 and rent averages only $841 a month.
ZipRecruiter named Fargo the #3 hottest job market, citing a 55% increase in job postings. As part of the Silicon Prairie, one of the most important businesses in Fargo is Microsoft, which established a base in the city over 20 years ago.
In West Fargo, which adjoins Fargo on its western side, the population has increased by almost 14,000 since 2010, despite the higher housing costs. The median home value in West Fargo is $255,300 and the median gross rent is $963.
Fargo is home to three colleges and universities, including North Dakota State University, which offers nine different agricultural-related degree programs. Education is highly valued in this small Midwestern city — nearly 95% of the population has graduated from high school, and over 40% has earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Adding to the appeal, the area has lots of family-friendly attractions. The Plains Art Museum has a distinctive permanent collection and mounts a dozen exhibitions each year of 20th– and 21st-century art.
The Fargo Air Museum has two hangars’ full of aviation excitement, from the earliest days of flight to the latest unmanned aircraft. One of the favorites is the Douglas DC-3, a cheery, mustard-yellow plane best known as “Duggy,” who sports a painted smiley face across his nose.
If you haven’t gotten to see enough wildlife on your travels across the state, the Red River Zoo will be a treat for everyone.
Just east of the Missouri River in central North Dakota is the capital city of Bismarck. With a population of 74,138, Bismarck is the second-largest city in the state, having grown by nearly 13,000 people since 2010.
The greater Bismarck-Mandan area, which Lewis & Clark passed through on their journey west, is a lively historic area with modern amenities. Residents can really appreciate the surrounding scenery from the 100-plus miles of riverside trails.
You can also take a tour of Native American sites to learn about the Plains tribes that have resided in the area for millennia.
Bismarck is a major business and trade hub for the state, in no small part thanks to the refinery in Mandan, and the railway, which is essential for transporting goods.
An hour-and-a-half north of Fargo lies Grand Forks (pop. 58,781), the third-largest city in North Dakota. This university town’s population has grown modestly over the past ten years, gaining roughly 6,000 new residents.
As the home of the University of North Dakota, the economic base here is led by government, trade/transportation/utilities and education/health services, a sector which has been on a steady incline for the past year.
Grand Forks has a strong educational and research base. It also offers the only graduate medical program in the state. For the past 40 years, they have led the Center for Rural Health, contributing important innovations to an often overlooked and much-needed area of focus.
Additionally, the city is home to the Grand Forks Air Force Base, where the 319th RW is headquartered. The airmen of the unit provide rapid combat support and continuous security to the immediate area, as well as to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Fun Things to Do in North Dakota
If you’ve never been to North Dakota before, one of the best places to get acquainted is at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. The museum starts at the beginning of the state’s history — 600 million years ago — and guides you through its remarkable evolution to contemporary times. You’ll see prehistoric animal skeletons like the Archaeotherium, familiarly known as “The Giant Pig from Hell,” other important specimens and fossils in the Early Peoples gallery and a third gallery showcasing innovations in agricultural and energy development following European settlement but also the consequences of their arrival.
If you feel most comfortable in a saddle, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame will treat you to an exciting journey through the state’s adventuresome history of horseback riding, ranching and rodeos. Located within the Center of Western Heritage & Cultures, you’ll also learn important information about the region’s Native American populations and cultures.
In the southeastern corner of the state lies Jamestown, the self-proclaimed Buffalo City, home to the world’s largest buffalo monument, a 26-foot-tall giant named Dakota Thunder and the National Buffalo Museum, which is dedicated to restoring the American bison population. With honey-colored timber walls and ceilings, the museum’s elegant exhibition spaces delve into the science, history and culture of the buffalo.
Along the Canadian border within the Turtle Mountains, you can catch a spectacular sunset at Mystic Horizons, the so-called Stonehenge of the Prairie. The structure is specially designed to capture the moments of the summer and winter solstices.
Looking for a perfect Sunday drive? Head out on the Enchanted Highway (also peculiarly known as 100 ½ Ave.), where you can see seven larger-than-life roadside sculptures between Dickinson and Gladstone, 32 miles south. The journey begins with “Geese in Flight,” purportedly the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture and concludes with the 45-foot-tall “Tin Family.”
Outdoor Things to Do in North Dakota
Often unfairly overshadowed by its neighbors to the south and west, North Dakota has so much to see and do outdoors throughout the year.
Animals like bighorn sheep, swift fox, elk and black bears are all resident ground-dwellers, while the skies are filled with white pelicans, scarlet tanagers and even pileated woodpeckers — a delight for birdwatchers.
Residents of the state face winter unafraid, so know that when you move here, you can enjoy the landscape year-round with the right gear … you can’t go wrong with wool long underwear and a hand-knit balaclava!
North Dakota is home to several national parks and historic sites, including the Fort Union Trading Post, an important site for international trade, where Northern Plains Tribes exchanged their buffalo robes and furs for cloth, guns, beads and other goods brought from other areas of the world.
In the southwestern part of the state, you’ll be treated to the otherworldly landscape of the badlands, where the grasslands give way to scrubby canyons and colorful hillsides, and where strange pillars called hoodoos rise out of the rocky slopes. It’s in this region that you’ll find Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Explore more about the region’s outdoor wonders in our National Parks of the Midwest guide.
The Sheyenne National Grassland is another remarkable expanse to explore. The only nationally managed region of tallgrass prairie in the country, the site supports important and rare species of flora and fauna. Here you can look for threatened species and dozens of others such as the greater prairie chickens, the Dakota Skipper and the Regal Fritillary butterfiles or the fringed orchid while biking, hiking and snowshoeing on the tens of thousands of acres at Sheyenne.
If you’re moving to the Peace Garden State, you’d be remiss without visiting the actual International Peace Garden. The brainchild of Ontarian Henry J. Moore, this extraordinary garden was established in 1932 on the border of Manitoba and North Dakota to promote harmony between nations. In addition to touring the formal gardens, guests can picnic, kayak and even cross-country ski throughout the site.
At the Scandinavian Heritage Center in Minot, observe a 30-foot tall Dala (the famed red horse of Sweden), a magnificent replica of the Gol Stave Church and a classic “stabbur” — a storehouse which, according to folklore, has a mercurial, resident Christmas gnome who brings gifts to the well-behaved and plays tricks on the naughty. Don’t forget to leave your gnome a warm bowl of sweet porridge and not tempt the fates!
Not unlike its southern neighbor, Nebraska, North Dakota is famous for its annual spring bird migration. But theirs is a rarer species — the whooping crane. These tall white birds migrate in small groups of two or three, rather than en masse; only when their wings are outstretched can you see their elegant black tips. The cranes’ journey is long — they travel over 2,500 miles from their winter home in Texas to their summer nesting grounds in Canada.
Fishing is popular year-round in North Dakota, including spear fishing and ice fishing. There is even a “Take Someone New Ice Fishing Challenge” for 2023. Misery loves company, you know. But if you really get into it, you can compete in the annual Devil’s Lake Ice Fishing Tournament, a multi-day, frozen bonanza that includes a soup/chili feed and a Fisherman’s Dance.
Throughout the year, you can expect to catch a variety of species, including perch, pike, white bass, trout and salmon. The Turtle Lake area is a popular one for fishing and hunting for upland birds, like grouse and partridge. But what you and your crew of Bugs Bunnies will love to see are the USA & World Championship Turtle Races.
During the annual Turtle Days, humans can compete in the soap box derby, perform in the talent show and watch the parade, while the reptiles duke it out in a shell-shocking battle to determine — once and for all — if slow and steady wins the race.
Eat Local North Dakota Cuisine
Heavily influenced by early German and Norwegian settlers, North Dakota is known for its hearty, stick-to-your-ribs, how-is-it-still-winter cuisine. Think meat, cheese! and pastry on rotation and in combination. Remember what your Oma would say—c’mon, you look too thin!
One of the adorable culinary treats of North Dakota are its “cheese buttons.” Like pierogi, cheese buttons are tender dumplings with a sweet or savory cheese filling, that are boiled and then browned in butter. Other varieties are stuffed with mashed potatoes or sauerkraut. You can find these treats, along with another German favorite, kuchen, at LaVonne’s Cheese Button Factory in Bismarck.
Of course, nobody’s cookin’ beats Grandma’s, which is why you should head straight to the source: Grandma’s Kuchen in Ashley. This homey bakery makes this traditional German cake entirely from scratch, from the yeasted sweet dough to the fruit fillings and custard. And with 19 flavors to choose from, you’ll have a hard time naming your favorite for every season.
Knoepfla soup is a popular dumpling-based dish that’s served in a creamy, chowder-like broth. One of the best-tasting bowls of this German comfort food is at Kroll’s Diner, which also prepares excellent sauerkraut fleischkuechle, a savory pastry that we’ll give you bonus points for being able to pronounce and spell with authority. Whatever you do, don’t leave Kroll’s without one of its rhubarb caramel rolls.
On the Norwegian side of things, you’ll want to try the impossibly delicious lefse, which are like crepes, but on the thicker side. They can be made with a variety of flours, including potato, which is popular in northern climates. You can prepare your lefse the simple way, brushed with butter and topped with a little cinnamon sugar, or get more creative with your fillings.
One of the oldest lefse bakeries in the U.S. is Fargo-based Freddy’s Lefse, which supplies local grocers and also ships Scandinavian baking mixes through its Nordic Kitchen division. Everything is lovingly hand-crafted.
With locations in Fargo, Grand Forks and even Crookston, Minnesota, Carol Widman’s Candy Company has made its name in chocolate with its bi-state famous “chippers.” These chocolate-covered potato chips are salty-sweet bites of cocoa heaven. The shop also has other mouth-watering confections, so rest assured, these are just the, um, chip of the iceberg.
If there’s a destination diner in North Dakota, it’s Charlie’s Main Street Café. This is the oldest restaurant in Minot and is famous for its hot beef sandwiches. But unlike the French Dip or the Italian Beef, Charlie’s tops theirs with house-made mashed potatoes, beef gravy, melted Swiss cheese, mushrooms and onions. You will need both hands — and cutlery — to get into it.
Prepare for Your Move to North Dakota
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