Like the surrounding plains of wheat, Bismarck, North Dakota's capital, has a quick and bountiful summer. Otherwise, it's a compact place that hunkers down for the long winters, where temperature lows average -4°F (-20°C). In Bismarck, chain motels congregate around I-94 exit 159. Get info at the Bismarck-Mandan Visitor Center.
Along US 2
US 2 is the more interesting alternative to I-94. The endless sky vistas stretch even further than the seas of golden grain. Grand Forks is a stolid city, while Devils Lake is one of the top waterfowl hunting destinations in the country. The entire area is subject to the flood-prone Red River.
Named for the Fargo of Wells Fargo Bank, North Dakota's biggest city has been a fur-trading post, a frontier town, a quick-divorce capital and a haven for folks in the Federal Witness Protection Program; not to mention the namesake of the Coen Brothers' film Fargo – though the movie was set across the Red River in Minnesota.
West to Montana
Minot is nearly as bleak as the landscape. West, the land is dotted with forlorn little settlements slipping back into the prairie soil. However, the skyline is enlivened by the flames and bright lights of hundreds of oil rigs. While the peak of the boom seems past, it's still an area that's been radically changed by the need for oil.
Medora (www.medora.com) is a somewhat re-created and restored pioneer town that is quite appealing and relatively uncommercialized. Accommodations include motels and B&Bs. The most atmospheric choice is the Rough Riders Hotel, which dates back to 1885. Renovations made the eight original rooms dude-worthy and added 68 new ones.
North Dakota's fourth-largest city is home to military bases and not much else of note. But it does celebrate its Scandinavian roots during Norsk Høstfest, which is promoted as the world's largest Scandinavian festival. Minot has a full range of modest chain motels along US 2, 52 and 83.