Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway

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It began as a Native American footpath, widened by the wagon tracks of pioneers heading west, and prairie farmers bringing crops to market. Today, the beautiful 63-mile route winding along the Sheyenne River in the southeastern corner of North Dakota, is the Sheyenne River National Scenic Byway. Passing through rolling hills, charming towns, notable historic sites and quaint farms, the route reveals the story of the hardy people who settled and tamed the land. There’s a sense of timelessness in this valley, revealed in a story intertwined with Native Americans, homesteading, sodbuster pioneers, the railroad, and agriculture, once the frontier and now on farms that feed the nation and the world. Over 40 award-winning interpretive panels and 10 kiosks revealing the heritage, span the Byway from end to end

The first farmers who worked land where herds of bison, elk, antelope, and deer roamed, tried to farm like their European ancestors. The land had other ideas. New methods specifically suited to the northern Great Plains produced great bounty from the rich glacial soil. Today, if you use honey or canola oil, it probably came from North Dakota. Amazingly the state produces more than half of all the spring wheat grown in the United States for flour. Ranchers are re-discovering the bison’s supreme ability to withstand any weather, as farms once again grow to the size they were during bonanza days.    

When you meet the hardy descendants of the Native Americans, Scottish tenant farmers who immigrated from Canada, Norwegians, Dutch (or Hollanders as they were called), Swedes, Finnish, Danes and more, you’ll experience genuine Midwestern hospitality. If you hear a bit of a brogue, that’s the Scandinavian coming through. Summers are the best time to enjoy the Byway, generally temperate with a gentle breeze, allowing you to take time to savor this beautiful land. Take your time to stop at each of the interpretive panels to learn the full story and savor the slower pace of life in towns that have not changed much in over a century. Over the next hill, there’s another story to be told.

When you ask people to name a river in North Dakota, most say the Missouri, of Lewis and Clark fame.  Yet the Sheyenne River is just as worthy historically and surrounded by natural beauty.  Starting about 160 miles north of Valley City, the river begins as a tributary of the Red (of Red River Valley musical fame), rejoining the river near Fargo.  On its way south, the Sheyenne makes its way through the Sheyenne River Valley. Here you can follow it,  meandering through tree-lined rolling hills, dotted with quaint towns and farmsteads on the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway to discover the story of the region on 41 award-winning interpretive panels along the way.   

Held back by Baldhill Dam, the Sheyenne forms 27-mile Lake Ashtabula, a “perch river” with natural levees created by flooding centuries ago that are higher than the surrounding ground. Over 30 miles of the 4,200-mile North Country National Scenic Trail follows the lake. After the sweeping vistas of the grasslands at Baldhill Dam Overlook and the spectacular sunset views at the Mel Rieman Recreation Area, the natural areas just keep coming. Hobart Lake National Wildlife Refuge is just west of Valley City. The Valley City National Fish Hatchery is near Medicine Wheel Park, where you can take a walking tour of the solar system. Just outside of Kathryn, the Walker Dam and Wadeson Cabin State Historic Site are just a short distance from Clausen Springs Recreational Area, a 545-acre open space with a peaceful lake. Just a few more miles down the road, the Standing Rock State Historic Site features a series of Native American burial mounds perched high atop a grassy hill overlooking the picturesque Sheyenne River.

At Fort Ransom, archeologists believe they have identified large glacial “ancient runestones” with markings typical of the ancient runic writing of Scandinavia. Other boulders in the Fort Ransom area have large cylindrical shaped holes, suggesting they were “mooring stones” holding Viking ships sailing up the Sheyenne River. From there, it’s on to the Sheyenne River State Forest Overlook and the Sheyenne National Grassland.  Every location along the route provides the ability to get out in nature, enjoy the beauty of the river, the Byway and relax in the outdoors.