North Dakota Scenic Drive: Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway

Highlights of the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway

Panoramic pastoral scenery abounds in the Sheyenne River Valley. The outstanding views are endless here.
Panoramic pastoral scenery abounds in the Sheyenne River Valley. The outstanding views are endless here.

Viewing the fall colors of native prairie and hardwood forests in the Sheyenne River Valley is one of the most popular attractions for travelers. Seasonal changes provide for a pleasant drive at any time of the year. This beautifully forested river valley with its associated panoramic views; tumbling, spring-fed creeks; and resident wildlife make this a truly scenic byway. The river is lined by riparian forests of basswood, American elm, green ash, and bur oak, which are home to several rare species of plants and animals.

In addition to remarkable natural features, human activities are important components of the scenery of the Sheyenne River Valley. Picturesque farmsteads nestle in the valley, while historic churches, one-room schoolhouses, and pioneer cemeteries dot the countryside. The Highline Bridge is 3,860 feet long and hangs 162 feet above the riverbed. It is one of the highest and longest single-track railroad bridges in the nation -- not something you would expect to see on the plains of North Dakota.

One of the fascinating things about the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway is the array of attractions that offer a glimpse into how various groups have interacted with the land over the years. The following itinerary suggests highlights of those attractions.

: Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Ashtabula includes eight recreational areas with ample year-round opportunities. Stop by the Corps of Engineers office on the west side of the dam for maps and information.

Valley City National Fish Hatchery: Ashtabula means "fish river" in Native American dialect, and in keeping with that, eggs are harvested from the lake for use in the fish hatchery operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with a subunit just south of the dam and the main hatchery a bit farther south at Valley City. The Valley City National Fish Hatchery is a popular area for hiking, fishing, and picnicking. The goose pond is a fishing pond for kids and an exclusive area attraction.

Historic Bridges Tour: As you continue your journey south along the byway, Valley City is your next stop. One of the interesting highlights of the city is the Historic Bridges Tour, featuring eight bridges with a variety of architectural styles, history, and interpretive signage.

Rosebud Visitor Center: For maps, information, and a bit of railroad history, stop at the Rosebud Visitor Center, located on the I-94 business loop between exits 290 and 294. The building houses an 1881 railcar that is one of only eight of its type that were built. The railcar, known as "Rosebud," is the only one known to have its artifacts still intact. The Rosebud Visitor Center provides information about the entire Sheyenne River Valley.

Medicine Wheel Park: Another point of interest in Valley City and certainly not to be missed is the distinctive Medicine Wheel Park. The wheel, 68 feet in diameter with 28 spokes radiating from the middle, is on the campus of Valley City State University and is intended to pay homage to the spirit and purpose of the original Indian Medicine Wheels used for centuries by Native Americans of the Great Plains. 

Indian Burial Mounds: Just to the east of the Medicine Wheel are the Plains Woodland Indian Burial Mounds. These Sheyenne River mounds were used for centuries but were first charted in 1883.

Fort Ransom State Park: Continuing south 34 miles along the path traveled for centuries first by Native Americans and then by fur traders and pioneers, your next stop will be Fort Ransom State Park. Though the fort itself was abandoned in 1872, Fort Ransom State Park offers ample recreational opportunities for history lovers as well as outdoor sports enthusiasts of all kinds.

Bjone Home and Sunne Farm: Fort Ransom State Park features two historic homesteads that reflect the life and times of the Norwegian homesteaders who settled this area. The Bjone Home is used as the visitor center and has exhibits highlighting local tradition and Norwegian legends. The Sunne Farm is a living history farm used each year the second full weekend in July and the weekend after Labor Day for Sodbuster Days to demonstrate homesteading and ethnic heritage.

Fort Ransom: Fort Ransom is specifically known for having some of the best bird-watching in the state. Canoeing on the Sheyenne River is popular, and canoe and kayak rentals are available at the park. Also offered are hiking and snowmobile trails and horse trails and corrals, as well as some excellent fishing.

Whether you're into bird-watching, Native American history, or picturesque landscapes, the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway won't disappoint.

Find more useful information related to North Dakota's Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway:

  • Valley City: Find out what there is to do in this city along the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond North Dakota? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.