Northern Plains National Heritage Area

Visitor Center on the banks of the Missouri River with historic bridge
Visit the heritage area Orientation Headquarters overlooking the Missouri River and rail bridge

Photo Courtesy of Northern Plains National Heritage Area

Quick Facts
Central North Dakota; Burleigh, Mclean, Mercer, Oliver, and Morton Counties along the Missouri River
The Northern Plains National Heritage Area amplifies the nationally important heritage that flows from the Missouri River in central North Dakota. This includes the interconnected stories of explorers and settlers, tribal citizens, origins of various agrarian lifeways, and the expansion of the United States reflected within this lived-in landscape.
National Heritage Area

On March 30, 2009, the United States Congress designated the Northern Plains National Heritage Area (NOPL NHA) into existence. The Northern Plains Heritage Foundation is the coordinating entity for the heritage area who celebrates traditional and modern native cultures, farming and ranching heritage, and its infinite legacies. 

The Northern Plains National Heritage Area is rooted in the historical significance of the Missouri River. The first peoples traversed this landscape in the Paleo and Archaic eras. Settlements of the region trace back to the ancestral homelands of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people who utilized the fertile Missouri River bottomlands for agrarian purposes. The Oceti Sakowin ( known as “The Great Sioux Nation” in the 19th century) have ancestral ties to this nationally important lived-in landscape.  

Lewis and Clark spent 1803-1804 wintering here and the Mandan and Hidatsa people helped them during their long journey. This is also where Lewis & Clark met Sakakawea (or "Sacagawea"). Indigenous communities formed relationships with the early European fur traders from the 1730s to the 1860s. Numerous European artists, such as George Catlin and Karl Bodmer, dedicated time visiting the area to paint portraits of the Mandan people and the landscapes they inhabited. Through this, the Mandan are one of the most documented indigenous groups in all of North America.  

With westward expansion and the tension created by encroaching Euro-American settlements, the area became the battleground for the U.S. Dakota Wars of 1862-1865. The arrival of Jay Cooke’s Northern Pacific Railroad to the area in 1872 brought a new wave of European immigration to the region. With the establishment of the railroads, global immigration descended into the area. In 1883, the Northern Pacific Railroad completed construction of a permanent bridge that spanned the Missouri River at Bismarck. Completion of the bridge in 1883 coincided with the first agricultural economic “boom” in Dakota Territory. Immigrant farmers established cooperative and social activities that influenced local politics to push for their own economic agency. In 1919, a North Dakota state-owned Mill, a state Elevator, and the Bank of North Dakota were established to allow farmers and ranchers better local market control. 

The Northern Plains National Heritage Area invites you to central North Dakota to learn about and explore their heritage resources first-hand.  

Historic Sites and Points of Interest: 

  1. Northern Plains National Heritage Area Orientation Headquarters: NPS Passport Stamp available 

  1. North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum 

  1. Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site 

  1. Fort Mandan Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center 

  1. Camp Hancock State Historic Site  

  1. Cross Ranch State Park 

  1. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park 

  1. Lake Sakakawea State Park  

  1. Fort Stevenson State Park  

  1. Fort Rice State Historic Site  

Notable People:  

  1. Sakakawea 

  1. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark 

  1. The People of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation 

  1. Sitting Bull 

  1. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer 

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail

Last updated: March 10, 2023