After four days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, it was time to head back eastward on my North Dakota road trip. The first stop was Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. I was excited to learn I would be staying in a tepee. Other than that, I did not know much about this destination, but I ended up really enjoying all that the park has to offer.
Fort Abraham Lincoln’s historical claim to fame is that it was the fort were the ill fated military campaign began for General George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry that ended in colossal defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Custer was assigned to this Fort and lived here for three years before moving west to do battle with the Sioux and Cheyenne in Montana.
The current state park is about 13 miles from the capital of Bismarck and a fifteen minute detour off of I-94 and it is on the shores of the Missouri River. I snaked around rural roads for five miles or so off the interstate before arriving and checking in at the entrance. I was given a map and told where to find my tepee.
I was happy to see that my tepee was right on the shores of the Missouri River. As soon as I arrived I went straight to the shoreline and looked up to see a bald eagle soaring overhead. Something about a bald eagle flying over my tepee was just kind of cool. There was a sand bar right in front of me, and I could see the Capitol Building in the distance in Bismarck. Being post Labor Day on a weekday, the park was quiet and no one was in the tepee next door and there were not too many visitors.
I spent the rest of the day and part of the next morning enjoying the park, hiking the trails, and just relaxing next to my tepee. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with a bright sun, but perfect temperature in the mid 70s. It got cold at night, so I was glad to have a stocking hat and a fire. It was also kind of cool roasting hot dogs in front of the tepee.
I had a great time here and here are five reasons I think you will enjoy your stay if you decide to venture off I-94 and pay a visit.
Five reasons to visit Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
I thought after Theodore Roosevelt that my wildlife viewing would be limited to a few deer and pheasants for the rest of the trip, but I saw quite a bit of interesting mammals and birds in just a couple of hours at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. First of all, I saw a ton of pheasant and white-tailed deer. The deer were everywhere and I even saw multiple fawns. I also saw deer coming to the water and getting a drink while relaxing on my chair and watching the Missouri River. I already mentioned that I had seen a bald eagle.
When I went hiking, I saw a bunch of pheasant. I must have flushed a half dozen, which definitely got my heart a pumping a couple of times. I can definitely see why North Dakota is an outstanding ground bird hunting destination.
The wildlife highlight was seeing an up close red fox. I heard a ruckus from a tree and thought a bird was warning the rest of the woods about my arrival. I then saw something move at the edge of a yard. This was near the Visitor’s Center and there was a home I was walking by on the way back to my tepee. I turned and saw the movement was a beautiful red fox and this was the source of the bird discomfort coming from the trees. Before I could take a picture, he took off into the woods.
I continued back to my campsite via a road. There was a railroad track right next to the road, and it was sunken below the road. I looked down to see the red fox walking on the railroad track almost directly below me. I got my camera out and was just about to click when he jumped and sensed my nearness. He turned to see me and then ran up the incline into the woods. I got one mediocre picture of him running up the incline, and I thought I would never see him again.
A rabbit bound out of the woods just about where the fox had entered. I had never seen a rabbit fly in the air as it came hurling out of the woods. I stayed right where I was hoping that the red fox might emerge, but I did not think he would. Suddenly though he came out of the woods and paused at the edge of the trees on the incline on the other side of the tracks. I was able to get several good pictures as he was standing in low grass. I can thank the rabbit for these pictures as I am pretty sure the only reason the fox came out was to investigate the fleeing rabbit.
After this experience, I went into the Visitor’s Center to say hello, and I mentioned that I just saw a red fox. I thought that this fox must be familiar with the rangers, but they were surprised by my story and by my pictures. Red fox are shy secretive animals that are also mainly nocturnal, so this sighting was quite exciting. It is not something you see everyday much less get quality pictures from.
There are several trails that explore the fields and hills that overlook the Missouri River. I spent a couple of hours and enjoyed some great views of the river and the distant capital as well as explored some of the buildings and lookouts. There are also some pretty impressive Native American dwellings to check out. There are over ten miles of trails in the park, and you can also walk through the grass through all the military buildings near the entrance.
Staying in a tepee
It was definitely a unique experience staying in a tepee. Inside the tepee the accommodation was rather spartan although there was a couple of comfortable cots. Outside there was a picnic table and a campfire grill. If you would prefer to camp in a regular campsite, the park has a nice campground as well.
The next day I took a tour of the General Custer house after grabbing a fresh cup of gourmet coffee at the general store. Having a coffee spot onsite was key as it would be a ten minute drive into town. The coffee store should almost get its own shout out and have six reasons to visit.
The tour was nicely done, and I was the only one taking it. The tour was run by a young lady who dressed as the laundress and acted the part. When you walked into the house it was 1875 and the tour was done as if you were a guest. The tour leader was knowledgeable about the Custer’s daily routine, the fort, and the history of the expedition that led to defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The house interior was perfectly recreated with authentic furniture and belongings from the Custer family.
There is also an area dedicated to Native America history. North Dakota was a hot bed for Native American life and the On-a-Slant Village is an interesting reminder of the life and people that lived here before the settlers arrived. This dwelling represents a Heart River Mandan village. They were a sedentary tribe that were virtually wiped out from a smallpox epidemic.
The views and scenery
Thanks to being a hilly prairie area, there are some tremendous views found in the park. If you climb the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River you can see Bismarck and the river bend in the distance. You can also look down on the rest of the park and the golden prairie. Many people do not find the prairie to be that beautiful, but I disagree. It may not be as outstanding as canyons, mountains, and colored buttes, but a nice view of a prairie is quite comforting.
I knew that Theodore Roosevelt National Park would be outstanding, and I knew I would enjoy fishing for walleyes in Devil’s Lake, but the rest of my road trip I was a little unsure about. My stay at Fort Abraham Lincoln was the pleasant surprise of the trip, and I really enjoyed my stay here thanks to the reasons above and a beautiful red fox sighting.
My trip was in part sponsored by the North Dakota Tourism Office and the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. The views, pictures, opinions are my own. I definitely would recommend a stop at this state park.
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