North Dakota residents and visitors may need to look further than billboards and travel brochures to find many of the state's hidden surprises.
Summer hotspots like Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Medora and the International Peace Garden have taught and entertained vacationers for decades, but there's other attractions that often go unnoticed.
From wagon trains and wineries to wildlife refuges and dinosaur museums, the possibilities continue to multiply.
"I think people need to consider North Dakota for their summer vacation because of the diversity we offer," said Sara Otte Coleman with North Dakota Tourism. "Whether they're an outdoor enthusiast or they want a more relaxing vacation, there's opportunities for either."
North Dakota Tourism went through a long list of the state's best-kept secrets, and came up with a few examples of what it has to offer. A more complete list of North Dakota summer vacation destinations and events can be found at its Web site - http://ndtourism.com.
"It (North Dakota) is an awesome place to visit when you combine all of the rich history and culture, along with the beautiful scenery and the wide variety of events," Coleman said. "There's just a lot of different opportunities."
Cross Ranch State Park
This 589-acre state park along the largest remaining tract of publicly owned, undeveloped Missouri River floodplain offers a variety of accommodations for overnight visitors.
"People come here largely to get away from it all. To go where it's quiet, to enjoy nature and to develop family experiences that don't hinge on having any sort of an electrical device for entertainment," said Cross Ranch seasonal interpreter Chip Cartwright. "The park was left primitive to preserve the natural beauty of the Missouri River."
The year-round campground offers dozens of primitive campsites and a few with electricity. RV campsites, shower and toilet facilities, and three log cabins also are available. Two of the log cabins are open throughout the year, while the third is available September through May. Rental costs are $60 per night, and guests are advised to make reservations at least a year in advance.
The state park also offers its guests access to the adjacent 5,000-acre Cross Ranch Nature Preserve. All the heavily wooded land was once part of a vast cattle ranch that was donated to the state in 1989 to celebrate the North Dakota centennial. The ranch operated with Theodore Roosevelt's "Maltese Cross" brand, which is now displayed in various spots throughout the park, Cartwright said.
Nearby attractions include Fort Mandan, the Knife River Indian Villages, power plant tours and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn. Famous explorers Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped across the river from the ranch during their expedition.
Sharp-tail grouse blinds are available by reservation for a chance to observe the birds' annual mating ritual. A nearby boat ramp offers anglers access to the river's walleye, northern pike and bass. Canoe and kayak rentals also are available.
An extensive trail system allows visitors to explore the nature preserve on their own or on guided tours. Nature and living history activities are held most summer weekends, and hourlong performances are showcased at the local amphitheater on Friday and Saturday nights.
The park also hosts the Missouri River Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival. The 18th annual festival scheduled for July 9-11 will feature national headliners, as well as local talent.
"This is a fun place to be if you're looking to relax and get away from the 9 to 5," Cartwright said.
Cross Ranch State Park, 1403 River Road, is located between Washburn and Center, about 12 miles southeast of Hensler. Brown signs mark the way to the park along highways 200 and 25.
Missouri River Lodge
The bed and breakfast is located on a 2,000-acre working ranch on the Missouri River in the heart of Lewis and Clark country.
"It's a quiet, rustic experience," said advertising manager Linda Wrangham. "Lots of history. Lewis and Clark did go through here; there's documented proof of that."
The house near Stanton was converted into a bed and breakfast in 1998. Seven bedrooms are available, each with its own private bathroom, television, telephone, Internet and radio alarm clock. Parties of one to 20 are welcome, and room prices range from $65 to $90, depending on room size.
"The lodge offers a comfortable night's rest, peace and quiet, and good food," Wrangham said.
Three nearby trails are available for hiking, biking or horseback riding. Golf carts also are available. The trails lead to an ancient Indian village site and "High Butte Effigy Turf Cut Turtle Effigy," an American Indian ceremonial site.
Also found along the 10-mile stretch of river-bottom trail is a woodland view made famous by a 1831 George Catlin painting, and a buffalo jump site. A "buffalo jump" was a hunting technique used by American Indians, in which they would herd buffalo over the edge of a cliff.
The ranch also includes more than 200 head of cattle and acres of peas, oats, corn and alfalfa. It spans about two and a half miles of the Missouri River.
A private dock is available for guests to tie up their boats. Watercraft must be launched at a public dock, about three miles upriver, near the Garrison Dam Tailrace. State record chinook salmon and brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout were caught within 20 miles of the lodge.
Bird watchers can expect to find several bald and golden eagle nesting sites. Other local bird varieties include mourning doves, western and eastern kingbird, lazuli bunting, indigo bunting, Swainson's hawk, red-tailed hawk, red-headed woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, gold finch, yellow-throated warbler, cedar wax wings, sand piper, American kestrel and great crested flycatcher.
"It's a little piece of heaven that's tucked away along the river, that you can't see until you get here," Wrangham said.
Missouri River Lodge, 140 42nd Ave. N.W., is located about nine miles north of Stanton on County Road 37.
Pointe of View Winery
The owners of Pointe of View Winery near Minot took 16 years of hobby winemaking and created the first North Dakota winery.
The business made national news with its 2002 grand opening. Not only was it the first winery in the state, but North Dakota was the last of the 50 states to open a winery. There are now about a half-dozen wineries in the state.
Pointe of View currently offers 18 different wines, with several new varieties on the way. About 90 percent of the wines' ingredients are North Dakota products, a majority from growers 10 to 20 miles from the winery.
"The whole idea of people visiting the winery is they want to try North Dakota," said Jeff Peterson. He and his wife, Diana, own the winery along with friends Cindy and Ken Enggleston. "So we don't use fruit that isn't native to North Dakota."
The fruit used in the wine-making process includes chokecherries, rhubarb, juneberries and apples. Local honey also is used, and the winery has about an acre of vineyard where it grows grapes.
The two-story winery is located on a hill overlooking the Souris River Valley. Peterson converted his detached, four-stall garage into a production area, tasting room and storage.
"We have about 1,200 square feet, and we're using every bit of it, and then some," he said. "It's plain Jane outside, but inside it's a warm, relaxed atmosphere."
Visitors are welcome to watch the steps involved in wine making. The wine is usually in various tanks and stages of completion, depending on the time of year. Different fruits are processed at different times, starting with rhubarb and honey in early summer and apples in the fall.
The winery's guided tours feature a look at the equipment used and explanations by the owners of fruit collection, processing and bottling. The winery has produced about 30,000 bottles of wine in the last five years.
"We try to make it fun," Peterson said. "A lot of people are pleasantly surprised."
Pointe of View markets its products at various wine festivals, Pride of Dakota shows and craft shows. It sells some of its wine to distributors, but a majority of its sales are to winery visitors.
This year, Pointe of View Winery joined with Dakota Hills Winery in Knox and Bear Creek Winery in Fargo to make up the "North Dakota Winery Trail." The three-stop journey offers travelers a taste of what the state has to offer.
"We're set up as such that we're easy to find. A lot of folks come off the beaten trail to visit us," Peterson said. "We see people from about every state and some from other countries."
Pointe of View Winery, 8413 19th Ave. NW., is located about four miles west of Minot.
Fort Seward Inc. Annual Wagon Train
Fort Seward Inc. will offer people a chance to travel back in time and experience a pioneer adventure next month in its 38th annual wagon train.
"What people enjoy is the openness," said registrar Mary Ann Kaiser. "You can see a long distance off through the hills and prairies. You can see people farming and the storms coming."
Each June since 1969, the nonprofit organization - created to preserve, protect and promote the history of North Dakota - hosts a wagon train. This year's event, "Rivertrail to Ellendale," will start at Fort Seward Park, overlooking Jamestown, and end at Ellendale. Ellendale will celebrate its 125th anniversary this year.
The covered wagon train family adventure will be held June 24-30. The six-day journey covers about 15 miles a day for a total of 75 to 80 miles.
The wagon train consists primarily of canvas-topped, flare-boxed, wooden-wheeled wagons, similar to those used by the pioneer families who came to the Dakotas in the 1800s.
Experienced "teamsters" drive each horse- or mule-powered contraption at speeds of 3 to 4 mph. The wagon train also includes a chuck wagon.
There are noon stops for lunch, and the wagons are circled at night to form a campsite. During the day trips, stops are made at marked and unmarked historical sites. Camp activities include caring for horses and mules, preparing supper, arts and crafts, singing, skits, history talks and campfire stories.
"While you're out on the trail, everyone gets KP duty, either cooking or serving," Kaiser said. "It's kinda like you really do get to experience what our forefathers went through as they settled the land."
During the journey, participants can meet other pioneers, walk the trail, play and sing songs in their wagon or help their teamster drive the horses. Nights are spent in tents.
Men, women and children are required to dress in period clothing to maintain the historic atmosphere. Clothing can be homemade or rented, and must include long dresses and bonnets for females and vests and suspenders for males.
"We dress up for all the evening meals," Kaiser said. "We try to be as authentic as we can be."
For prices or to register, contact registrar@;covered-wagon-train.com or write Fort Seward Inc., P.O. Box 244, Jamestown, N.D. 58402-0244. Single-day visitors also are welcome.
The wagon train was nearly booked last week, but they are still taking registration for daily visitors and next year.
Registration and orientation is scheduled for June 24 at Fort Seward Park. The park, once the site of a U.S. Infantry post, is located on a hill overlooking Jamestown.
"We start the week out as strangers, and by the end we're one big, happy, wagon family," Kaiser said.