Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Williston, ND

  • Published 2023/03/11

Experience the energy and thrill in Williston, North Dakota!

Williston was established in 1887, named by railroad tycoon James J. Hill in honor of his friend, capitalist, and merchant, Daniel Willis James.

This area in Williams County, where the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers converge, has been a thriving commercial hub for ages.

Today, the Williston area serves as the center for economy, history, recreation, and development in the region.

Discover spectacular outdoor pursuits, explore the grandeur of adjacent state and national parks, and participate in living history.

Take advantage of brand-new lodging options, dining establishments, retail outlets, and the state’s biggest indoor aquatics and leisure facility.

Here are the best things to do in Williston, North Dakota!

Look Back in History at the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

The grounds of Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Traveller70 /

The Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Sitewas Upper Missouri’s most significant fur trading post from 1828 through 1867, where several tribes traded with one another.

Tribes such as the Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Cree, Crow, Hidatsa, and Ojibway exchanged buffalo robes and many other fur coats for commodities like beads, blankets, cloth, cookware, guns, and knives.

This historical site shows how some of the areas may have looked in 1851, according to archaeological discoveries and modern drawings.

Interior of a house at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Traveller70 /

This site was one of the first US National Historic Landmarks proclaimed by the Department of Interior in 1961.

It was formally given the name Fort Union Trading Post by the National Park Service to distinguish it from Fort Union National Monument, a historic frontier military post in New Mexico.

Kitchen at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Zack Frank /

Tour the Fort Buford State Historic Site

The Fort Buford State Historic Site protects the remains of a historic military outpost built in 1866 near the Missouri and Yellowstone river confluence.

The fort was named in honor of Major General John Buford, a cavalry general of the Union Army during the Civil War.

For 29 years, it played a crucial part in keeping watch over the northern plains and protecting the routes from settlers migrating to the West.

Despite this, the Fort Buford State Historic Site is best associated with the place where Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota leader, surrendered in 1881.

It became a significant armory for military field operations featuring original elements that still exist at the site/

These artifacts include a gunpowder magazine, a post cemetery, the guardhouse’s office, and the field officers’ quarters (now a museum).

Interpreters offer visitors tours of the reconstructed barracks and quarters.

Travel along the Missouri River

Boating in the Missouri River is one of the best ways to experience the solitude and scenery of the North Dakota Badlands.

The country’s longest river flows from its source in the Rocky Mountains confluence of the Gallatin, Jefferson, and Madison Rivers at Three Forks, Montana.

It runs 2,341 miles to St. Louis, Missouri, in its confluence with the Mississippi River.

Top activities for water enthusiasts visiting Williams County are boating, canoeing, and kayaking, but so are fishing and swimming.

Access points to the Missouri River with boat ramps near Williston are the Little Muddy River, Lewis and Clark State Park, and Lund’s Landing.

Note that boating is subject to regulations and watercraft registration from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Spend an Active Day at Williston Area Recreation Center

If you have a day to spare, check out the Williston Area Recreation Center!

The Williston Area Recreation Center (ARC), situated on the Williston State College (WSC) campus, opened in 2014.

It is a world-class community recreation center spanning over 250,000 square feet.

ARC has the amenities you’ll need, including indoor walking or running tracks, multi-sport courts, and racquetball and tennis courts.

It also has a golf simulator, batting cages, turf fields, a lazy river, a water park, a 50-meter Olympic-size swimming pool, and FlowRider, an indoor wave machine for wakeboarding and surfing!

WSC students are offered ARC memberships, but daily admission and other membership options are also provided to the public.

Other amenities include cardio and weight lifting areas, a free-weight room, spinning and group fitness classrooms, an indoor kids’ playground, party rooms, meeting rooms, and a patio area.

Additionally, ARC has a Senior Room, free for people 60 years old and above.

It also offers free coffee daily where they can enjoy a cup and socialize with old and new friends.

Attend Free Concerts at Harmon Park

Williston boasts beautiful parks, and one of them is Harmon Park!

This easily-accessible park near downtown Williston is home to free summer concerts and the North Dakota Chokecherry Festival.

Bands enjoy performing in this park with its open green spaces, picnic shelters, modern restrooms, and the Virgil Syverson Performance Center.

Harmon Park is a recreational space built for all ages with other amenities such as modern playgrounds, a skate park, and basketball and tennis courts.

Additionally, enjoy strolls around the park and see the fantastic animal wood carvings, as well as exciting carvings of an old man, a dwarf, and more.

Explore the Frontier Museum

The Frontier Museum provides unique and interactive learning opportunities unmatched by any other.

Visitors can connect with various historical eras by walking through houses, a school, a general store, and a church in a friendly and informative setting.

Some exhibits display local artifacts dating from the 1800s through the 1950s.

The Frontier Museum also invites you to join their fun events or plan your event!

The lovely church, built in 1909, is an ideal location for intimate weddings, and the courtyard is perfect for outdoor gatherings.

The Frontier Museum also offers private tours and photography excursions.

Spend the Night or Weekend at the Buffalo Trails Campground

Spend an overnight or weekend camping getaway with your family or friends at Buffalo Trails Campground!

Buffalo Trails Campground is five miles north of downtown and one of the best places to bond with your people.

The campground has 79 sites (typically 30 feet in width), 40 pull-through sites, 59 full hookups (20, 30, and 50 amp systems), and RV supplies.

They even have a phone and internet access, laundry, showers, limited groceries, and ice!

Let Buffalo Trails Campground be your home for the weekend or a place to stay the night while traveling through Williston.

Visit the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center

Exterior of the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center

Joseph Sohm /

The Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center is half a mile from Fort Buford on the eastern side.

It is a museum that tells the history of the confluence of the two majestic rivers: the Missouri River and the Yellowstone River.

The Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center also offers the same breathtaking vistas that the Lewis and Clark Expedition crew had seen during their visit from 1805 to 1806.

The center features a 2,000-square-foot gallery illustrating the confluence’s history and exhibits on the region’s geology, geography, and history.

Among the featured exhibits are Fort Union, the fur trade business, the growth of transportation in the rivers, and the Corps of Discovery and their adventures in the area.

Join an Event at the James Memorial Art Center

A group of concerned citizens founded the James Memorial Preservation Society in 1993.

The society aimed to preserve a historic library and transform it into the James Memorial Art Center.

The building housed the city library, a grand ball, and a banquet from 1911 until 1983 when a new public library opened.

The city of Williston started addressing the issue of the building’s potential demolition in the early 1990s.

The James Memorial Preservation Society leased the building from the City.

Their efforts saved the building since they assumed full responsibility for its repair, maintenance, activities, and exhibits.

Besides preserving history, the James Memorial Art Center promotes art through exhibits, classes, an annual art fest, and other fun events.

They also hold game nights, art workshops, auctions, and more.

Watch the Cars Go at the Williston Basin Speedway

Car racing is thrilling and fun at theWilliston Basin Speedway, a quarter-mile dirt track situated on Williston’s Upper Missouri Valley Fairgrounds.

Check out the Marquee Races, including the Fall Round-Up, Can-Am Shootout, Dakota Modified Tour, Tougher Than Dirt Tour, and other races throughout the season.

Williston Basin Speedway offers weekly car classes if you want to try something new!

You can choose IMCA Modifieds, Stock Cars, Sport Mods, Hobby Stocks, and Junior Slingshots!

Since North Dakota is home to several dirt track racing facilities, check Dakota Dirt, the State’s one-stop dirt track racing website, for all locations and schedules.

See the Outdoors at Lewis & Clark Cut Bluff Overlook

The Lewis & Clark Cut Bluff Overlook, called the Cut Bluff Overlook, is a historic landmark about four miles from the city center and accessible through Highway 1804.

This location commemorates the camp of Lewis and Clark close to Cut Bluff on the southern banks of the Missouri River.

It’s a fantastic place to spend time outdoors, breathe fresh air, and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Bird watching is one of the popular activities here.

You can spot the ring-billed gull, great blue heron, American white pelican, red-winged blackbird, American avocet, California gull, ring-necked duck, common redpoll, and many others.

With helpful information about its local history and amenities like picnic tables, restrooms, garbage bins, and water access, Lewis & Clark Cut Bluff Overlook makes the ideal location for a day excursion.

Book a Sound Bath at Good Vibes Crystal Sounds

Enter the world of sound and experience the healing and restorative power of vibration on your mind and body with Good Vibes Crystal Sounds.

Good Vibes Crystal Sounds is a metaphysical store in Williston that sells avast selection of crystals and Crystal Tones crystal singing bowls.

It also has a Crystal Shop that is only available by appointment and does pop-ups occasionally.

Additionally, they offer monthly sound baths and even host private sound baths at the studio.

A sound bath is a healing technique in which a person or group sits or lays down and listens to resonating sounds.

The therapy often uses singing bowls to produce an echoing sound that fills the entire space.

If you’re new to sound baths, book an appointment with Good Vibes Crystal Sounds!

Test Your Aim at Painted Woods Sporting Range

The Painted Woods Sporting Range is the biggest facility in the Bakken region, providing locals in the Williston area and beyond with a distinctive and enjoyable experience.

It’s a family-friendly sporting range and is one of the best locations in the Upper Midwest for shooting sporting clays.

The facility has a sporting clay course, a five-stand clay shooting field, various gun ranges, archery targets, shooting leagues and lessons, and so much more!

For everybody’s enjoyment, motorized carts and a pro shop are also available.

Whether you’re looking for a day of family fun or a good time with friends, Painted Woods Sporting Range provides suitable entertainment for any occasion.

Play Golf at Blacktail Dam

Blacktail Dam is approximately 25 miles north of downtown Williston.

It offers a variety of amenities and fun activities for everyone.

Blacktail Dam’s park has areas for camping and picnics, playgrounds, a golf course, a boat ramp, beach access, showers, and potable and non-potable water.

Visitors must bring their golf clubs, tees, and balls to play on the park’s northern side at the nine-hole, par-3 golf course.

The lake allows for swimming (at your own risk), boating for any motorized and non-motorized boats, and fishing, which requires an ND fishing license.

Blacktail Dam offers nightly camping with a tent, primitive and electric campsites available, group and overflow camping, and seasonal camps, which allow campers to stay longer.

See a Performance at the Old Armory

Exterior of the Old Armory

Farragutful, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Old Armory has played a significant role in the evolution of local history.

Inaugurated in 1916, this distinct and remarkable building was home to performers and soldiers, a venue for life and death tributes, among other significant events.

In 1985, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places because of its historical value and architecture.

The Old Armory is Williston’s top performing arts and events venue.

This historic building can also be rented out for weddings, art exhibits, graduation ceremonies, meetings, and business conferences.

Final Thoughts

Williston welcomes visitors to experience one of America’s best cities for outdoor living.

Venture outside your comfort zones through camping, boating, hiking, shooting, car racing, or learning local history.

Check out the best things to do in Williston, North Dakota!

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