Why Does No One Want to Visit North Dakota?

Highway I-94 snakes through Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Supposedly there's no reason to visit North Dakota, but this view begs to differ. Nic McPhee/flickr

North Dakota's northern latitude means that it is very much out of the way for most tourists. Unless you are driving between Minnesota and Montana, you will never have the chance to stop off in North Dakota "along the way." Most people don't ever consider a vacation here. Yes, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Badlands are attractive to a few adventure-seeking nature lovers, but there is little beyond that to draw attention to this oft-forgotten state.

PHOTO BREAK: 10 less-touristy European getaways

For the most part, North Dakota has slipped under the media's radar as well. The discovery of oil and nature gas fields has led to an employment boom, with people traveling from all over the region in order to apply for lucrative oil patch jobs. The ABC prime-time soap opera "Blood and Oil" is set in a fictional North Dakota town. However, the show was mainly filmed in Utah, not in North Dakota at all. This is a piece of irony that sums up the state's tourism situation: Even film crews shooting stories set in North Dakota don't come to North Dakota.

It should be noted that parts of the 1996 cult film "Fargo" were actually filmed in and around Fargo, North Dakota’s largest town. The movie was made by the Coen brothers, who grew up in neighboring Minnesota.

The Best for Last Club

Fargo, the city, is a regional hub for its state and for northwestern Minnesota. The city's Convention and Visitors Bureau has decided to embrace its state's image (or lack thereof) with a rather humorous marketing effort.

The bureau recently launched a promotional campaign called "The Best for Last Club." Many people have a lifelong quest to visit all 50 states, and a significant number leave North Dakota for 50th. The Best for Last Club is for anyone who has already visited the other 49. Those travelers who "saved the best for last" get a T-shirt and a certificate if they stop by the visitors center in Fargo.

Why Is North Dakota Left for Last?

Why do people save North Dakota for 50th place? Most travelers simply don't have a reason to come here. The state lacks a big attraction (like Mount Rushmore in neighboring South Dakota). Fargo is only a few hours' drive from the regional hub of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, but unless you are a serious hockey fan or a Coen brothers buff, that trip may not seem worth it. Fargo is the only North Dakota city with more than 100,000 residents, and there are only eight other towns in the whole state with populations of more than 10,000. And, as we have already pointed out, North Dakota is not really on the way to anywhere.

The hard truth behind the Best for Last Club is that the only reason most people come here is to cross No. 50 off their list.

Reasons North Dakota Shouldn't Be Left for Last

A barn surrounded by a field of sunflowers in North Dakota
Farming of all kinds, including sunflowers, is still popular in North Dakota, and the state is working to turn its emphasis on farming into an agritourism business. Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Large parts of North Dakota are unpopulated prairie or farmland. However, there are a few attractions that could make this state worthwhile for travelers. The aforementioned Theodore Roosevelt National Park is what draws a majority of tourists. Annually, around 500,000 people visit this park, known for its badlands.

If the price of the Canadian dollar is favorable, North Dakota may get shoppers visiting from Canada. The state's northern neighbor is the province of Manitoba. Agritourism is also on the agenda in parts of North Dakota. This is one of the most rural areas in the country, and despite the oil boom, farming plays a major role in the economy. In some areas, family farms still thrive. These places often host tourists who are interested in the farming lifestyle or in having a close-up look at how food is grown and produced.

North Dakota is also a center for paleontology. People can see this natural history in museums or even at dig sites themselves.

A Surprisingly High Quality of Life

North Dakota is not without its attractions. It also has another reason to brag: In terms of economics and quality of life, it is one of the best places in the U.S. to live.

After oil was discovered, North Dakota's unemployment rate dropped drastically; it is now the lowest in the U.S. Housing prices remained steady during the market chaos that affect most American homeowners. Crime rates are also quite low. The government has even set up a fund to help the state develop new industries for when the oil reserves dry up or when people start switching over to other sources of energy.

North Dakota is certainly out of the way, but it's worth visiting. The most charming thing about this state might be the easy-going, self-deprecating sense of humor that allows residents to come up with things like the Best for Last Club.