Montana Trip 2021 | Driving from Omaha to Bismarck, ND | September 2021
In late September, Curtis was assigned to another work trip. After all our summer travels, we were feeling worn out and thought maybe we would pass on the “free vacation” this time and just have Curtis fly out and back. But then, a different trip that he thought he’d be taking later this fall got cancelled, and so we turned around and decided to just go on this one anyway. We’ll have plenty of time to rest over the winter, right?
As we started planning, we realized, who were we kidding thinking we didn’t want another trip?! It’s September – the best time of year to travel, when the weather is temperate, the leaves are starting to change, and most places are less crowded! It was just over a year ago that we were stuck on an island, longing to be able to take long road trips together, and I remind myself over and over again how blessed we are to be where we are now, and be given so many opportunities to see the country together.
We began our drive on a Friday afternoon after Curtis got off work. A cold front was passing through Omaha with scattered showers, but thankfully as we started heading North the skies cleared and it warmed up just a little. We took NE-92 out of Omaha, then went North on NE-14, entering Nance county for the first time. After driving past the courthouse in Fullerton, we went West on NE-22 and North on US-281. We stopped at the Greeley courthouse, then entered Wheeler county for the first time and saw that courthouse in Bartlett. We took US-281 all the way North to South Dakota, detouring a bit to the West to see the Boyd county courthouse in Butte. Thanks to this route, we now only have 2 counties left in Northern/Eastern Nebraska (which we planned to get on our return trip).
That night, we camped in a quiet campground next to the Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota. We made it just in time to watch the sunset over the Missouri River. We had originally picked this spot hoping to kayak, but the wind was making the waves of the river/reservoir especially strong and we definitely didn’t feel comfortable kayaking in these conditions. Being here gave us happy memories of our camping trip along the Missouri last fall. Thankfully this night didn’t end up with Charlotte getting sick, or noisy fishermen showing up at 3AM!
The next morning, we broke camp and drove across the dam to grab the next county over and enjoy the views. Then we turned around and continued our journey Northwest. We took US-18 West to US-183 North, stopping for a few courthouses, then hopped on I-90 briefly before exiting on US-83.
Our first attraction for the day was in Pierre to walk around the South Dakota state capitol building. I had visited here back in 2015 when Curtis was in OCS, and now after hearing me brag about it for 6 years he finally got to see it for himself. I have fond memories of visiting Pierre with my family, walking around the capitol grounds and watching the 4th of July fireworks beside the Missouri River. I enjoyed the capitol building just as much as my first visit, and Curtis agreed this one is a good one. We walked around the monuments and saw the lake — unfortunately much of the sidewalk was under construction so we couldn’t walk around the whole thing, but we enjoyed our time here nonetheless. It took some convincing to get Charlotte back in the car afterwards. We couldn’t blame her, today was going to have lots of driving and not be that exciting…at least for her. Curtis and I get pretty excited about long drives on new roads through new counties, and we were about to cover a lot of new territory!
We took US-83 North, all the way into North Dakota and to I-94. We stopped for as many courthouses as we could along this route. We enjoyed wide open skies, vast land, and an empty highway the whole way up. It took us about 3 hours to go from Pierre to Bismark.
After arriving in Bismarck, we had several stops we had to make. First up, we stopped to see North Dakota’s capitol building. It’s more of a business type building and not as visually appealing as South Dakota’s, but it sort of grew on us as we were there. It’s not our favorite, but not terrible. The real exciting part was that we saw two other basset hounds and a basset mix while walking around. This made us quite excited — though there was no denying that Charlotte was the most beautiful basset of them all. 😉
Our next stop was a drive-by of the Burleigh county courthouse, then we crossed over the Missouri into Mandan which happens to be the county seat of Morton county, so we sort of got a 2 for one on courthouses for our time in the greater Bismarck area. We grabbed Culvers for lunch, then drove to a park that was near North Dakota’s Whispering Giant statue. Clearly this was a productive late lunch for us — a capitol, two courthouses, and a giant! Unfortunately, the giant isn’t in the best location here — it’s right on a busy street corner, so we didn’t get the best pictures. The park also turned out to be a church playground, and the letterbox associated with the giant was missing. We hurried to eat our lunch and then get back on the road.
From here, we continued West on I-94 for two more hours, and finally arrived in Theodore Roosevelt National Park just after 5. We were happy to find there were still campsites available — we had back up options South of the park, but had hoped we could secure one inside the park so that we could spend a little more time here. Read more about our first visit to this national park in our next post!