In a half hour, rider and passenger will pull the bike into Bismarck. Before that, they will admire blue skies, fields of grain and grass, wildlife, the Missouri River and wooded river bottoms. It is a smorgasbord for the senses of all that gives North Dakota motorcycle and classic car enthusiasts unquenchable wanderlust.
In North Dakota, bikers, motorheads, gear junkies, whatever they choose to be called, share a common passion, and that is the open road. And in North Dakota, there are thousands of miles of open roads and trails.
Lee Klapprodt of Bismarck has been riding motorcycles in North Dakota for 60 years. Dick Hedahl has been on the back of a bike for 45 years. They have seen most of the state, on and off road, from the seat of a bike.
“North Dakota is a fantastic place to joyride because of its diversity,” says Klapprodt, a road biking and off-road motorcyclist. “From the unexpected deep valley at the Pembina Gorge in the northeast to the sprawling North Dakota Badlands along the Little Missouri River in the southwest, there are interesting places to see everywhere. There are great historic sites and natural areas to explore with many you just happen upon while riding the network of back roads. And when you get lost, there’s always the friendly North Dakota people that will help you find your way.”
Hedahl is a veteran of many “Iron Butt” runs, which are 1,000-mile trips within 24 hours. Like Klapprodt, he has always been attracted to wide-open spaces, which is why one of his favorite rides is Highway 16 north of Beach. “Sixty miles of prairie and two-lane highway – wide, smooth and gently curvy,” he says.
Another of his favorite joyrides is Highway 6 south of Mandan to Selfridge. “As it turns toward the Cannonball River, the terrain changes dramatically. It’s unusual and beautiful.”
Those two key elements are taken into consideration when planning joyrides in North Dakota.
“I really like riding in North Dakota with the fantastic prairie scenery and just my thoughts to relax my mind,” Hedahl says. “I often do not even turn on the radio on my bike. Western North Dakota offers some of the best wide-open scenery riding in the country – great roads, few other vehicles, amazing prairie scenery and pleasant summer weather for riding.”
Hedal and his wife, Gloria, had their first date in 1972 on his 1969 Kawasaki 500. The couple can often be seen on “Old Yeller,” their Harley-Davidson bagger, riding the highways or leading the run he has sponsored every year since 2007 through his business. The Hedahls Fun Run for bikes and cars each July heads to surrounding towns where it stops for food and fun before winding up back in Bismarck.
Hedahl’s enjoyment of all things automotive has led him to a number of car runs, as well. His assortment of autos has included a 427 Corvette and a Hemi Road Runner, Barracuda and Magnum.
Klapprodt, meanwhile, enjoys cruising with his wife, Adeline, on their Honda Goldwing and running off into the country with friends on his KTM 690 Enduro dual sport. He also takes pleasure in his 2007 Mustang GT.
“Riding a dual sport bike is my favorite because it is so flexible,” Klapprodt said. “You can ride everything from interstate to cow trails and everything in between. The best part is being able to ride down the road, see a smaller road or trail that runs over the hill and just jump off and explore what’s there. It’s amazing how many beautiful places you’ll find in North Dakota off the beaten path.”
While joyrides are left up to the individual, several routes stand out for their scenic beauty:
• River Road (Highway 1804): Beginning at Riverside Park in Bismarck and following roughly along the Missouri River north almost to Washburn, River Road is one of the more scenic drives in the state. Riders pass tree-lined river bottoms, bluffs above the river, farm fields and historic sites. It is a favorite for dinner cruises by Bismarck-Mandan areas riders running to Washburn for dinner. While in Washburn, visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan.
• Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway (Highway 22): The official byway begins at Killdeer and runs north to New Town. But the “mini-Badlands” a few miles north of Dickinson is where it gets scenic. There is oil traffic, but the scenery as riders drive into the Badlands from the Killdeer Mountains before stopping for photos and a snack at Lost Bridge and the Little Missouri River is inspiring.
• Mobridge Loop (Highways 1804 and 1806): Riders get a bird’s-eye view of the Missouri River and its varied terrain from both sides of the river. Leaving Bismarck on 1804, glide over rolling hills and sweeping turns before climbing high over the river on the treeless prairie near the South Dakota state line. After crossing the border, riders fill up in Mobridge before heading back toward North Dakota on 1806. The route becomes the National Native American Scenic Byway at the North Dakota state line, and a few miles later, Prairie Knights Casino offers food and a brief respite from the road. Eventually, the highway winds past Fort Abraham Lincoln. “The best local ride, I would say, is the Mobridge (South Dakota) loop and getting to see the scenery,” Central Dakota HOG (Harley Owners Group) Director LaNita Wald says.
• Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway (south of Valley City): The byway takes riders through the tree-lined river valley that seems oddly out of place in the flat Red River Valley. Quaint farms and small towns line the route that ends at Fort Ransom. This small town at the bottom of a twisting approach has a classic feel and a place to grab a quick bite and drink. Fort Ransom State Park is nearby.
• Turtle Mountains: From Mystical Horizons on the west edge of the Turtle Mountains, one gets the feel of what sets the area apart from typical North Dakota. To the west and south is the prairie; to the north and east, the tree-covered Turtle Mountains. The scenic byway through the mountains leads to the International Peace Garden on the border with Canada and past Lake Metigoshe, a four-season park with great camping and recreational offerings.
• Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: Perhaps the most scenic 36 miles in North Dakota is the loop ride through Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit, located on Interstate 94 at Medora. The loop within the park takes riders on twists and turns, over hills, through pine tree growths, through herds of buffalo and past unique and amazing landscapes. Other wildlife abounds. Riders can gas up in Medora, eat, see a play and get some bunk time before taking off on their next adventure. The benefit of this ride is that off-roaders can get a view of the Badlands that others can’t. “East River Road and West River Road are good jumping off points,” Klapprodt says. “I sometimes camp at Medora and spend a couple days exploring trails in the area. You can get really lost so a GPS is recommended to complement the U.S. Forest Service maps and county maps.”
• Pembina Gorge: This one isn’t for cruisers or classic cars. Instead, the Pembina Gorge is a playground for off-roaders. A gravel scenic byway leads through the gorge and trails are cut into the wooded gorge that resembles more of a mountainous forest than a gorge. Deep cuts, switchbacks and steep climbs make the trails exciting for off-road riders.
Solo riding is one way to experience these routes, but another way is as part of a group that shares your same likes and riding styles.
Sometimes, when groups of bikers get together, they have a rally. The largest rally in North Dakota is the ABATE of North Dakota State Rally in June in Menoken, just east of Bismarck. This rally is where old friends reunite for a weekend of concerts, biker games and, well, everything else associated with a bike rally. Most camp and the revelry goes on deep into the morning hours.
Other large rallies in the state include the Bottom’s Up Run in Marmarth in the far southwest corner of the state, the Rally in the Valley in Valley City, and the Cavalier Ride-in, in the far northeast corner of North Dakota. Cavalier will host the 19th annual ride-in in June. Hundreds of bikes flock to the town for a weekend of fun runs, food and music.
Everyone has their own idea about the best rides. The website www.motorcyclerides.com/Routes/North-Dakota_110.html has a tool where riders can add their favorites to the site, and visitors can look at what others have posted.
Car enthusiasts have two large spring events to show off their wheels: the Devils Run Car Show in May in Devils Lake and Buggies and Blues in Mandan in June. Both feature hundreds of cars, street fair, parades, music and food.