You may be familiar with big urban cities like Paris, London, Rome, New York City and Los Angeles, but do you know Williston, N.D.? Maybe not. North Dakota is the third-least populated state in the nation, and if you weren’t born here, chances are, you don’t know a lot about our beautiful city. Yet.
This scenic rural state is a rewarding place to live. People here are friendly and make visitors and newcomers feel welcome. North Dakotans work hard, but we also play hard. There’s plenty to do and see in this rugged land. It’s more than just sun dogs and shelter belts.
Nature at its best
Situated near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers at the upper end of Lake Sakakawea, a man made reservoir offering numerous recreational activities, Williston provides a convenient base for people who love the outdoors – and water-based activities in particular.
Lake Sakakawea is the state’s largest reservoir, stretching 180 miles through central and western North Dakota and serving up more than 1,500 miles of shoreline – more than the Pacific coastline – with numerous points of easy access for boaters, swimmers and fishermen. Canoeing and kayaking are popular pastimes in our part of the world. Fishing for trout, bass, walleye, pike and perch is plentiful.
On Lake Sakakawea’s north shore, Lewis and Clark State Park – named for explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark because their expedition camped nearby in 1805 – provides stunning views of the rugged buttes of North Dakota’s Badlands. Whether you prefer tent camping or the relative luxury of an RV, it’s a picturesque place to stay, with several access points for boating and a well-maintained trail system.
Hiking, biking, camping and bird watching are typical activities. With 300 bird species in the grasslands, parks and protected wildlife areas around Williston, you’re sure to spot some spectacular wings. Be sure to look for our yellow-breasted state bird, the Western Meadowlark.
If you like other kinds of wildlife, you’re likely to view bison, big-horn sheep, turkeys, pheasants, deer and prairie dogs (we are, after all, the Flickertail State!) in nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The Little Missouri River meanders through the rolling hills of this national park, which is part of the Badlands of western N.D., where there are hiking trails and camping sites galore – such as Maah Daah Hey Trail, considered one of the state’s best-kept secrets for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Spanning more than 140 miles of North Dakota landscapes, including the Badlands, the Little Missouri River Valley and part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, it offers opportunities to embrace North Dakota’s bounty at close range. But if you prefer to see nature in comfort, the park also features several designated scenic drives.
Take a short drive to Medora, part of the Badlands and gateway to the southern part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to view bison, deer, prairie dogs, wild horses, eagles and spectacular sunsets.
Just as our landscape shapes who we are, so, too, does our history. A mere 80 miles south of the Canadian border and 15 miles east of the state line we share with Montana, Williston is an historic town that was founded in 1887 and named for Daniel Willis James, a merchant.
Even before Williston was formally a town, this region was an important outpost for fur traders, explorers and the military. You can take a step back into history by visiting preserved and reconstructed historical sites, such as:
- Fort Buford Historic Site, a frontier plains military post built in 1866 near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers that served as a major supply depot for military field operations. It was established to protect overland and river routes used by immigrants settling the West. Some original features remain, such as a stone powder magazine, the officers’ quarters and a cemetery. It may be best remembered as the site of the surrender of the Hunkpapa Sioux leader Sitting Bull in 1881.
- Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, a reconstructed fort from the fur trade era. Between 1828 and 1867, Fort Union was the most important fur trading post on the Upper Missouri River, where Assiniboine and other Northern Plains tribes exchanged buffalo robes and other furs for goods such as cloth, guns, blankets and beads. The post reportedly traded over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 in merchandise annually.
- Cut Bluff Overlook, two miles east of town, was the site of Lewis and Clark’s campsite on the south bank of the Missouri River.
A bit farther afield are the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site and Bison Monument and Frontier Village.
Williston retains much of its nineteenth-century charm and pristine natural beauty. But don’t mistake us for some back-woods town. We are the state’s sixth-largest town with a population approaching 30,000. Our recent growth spurt is largely due to the shale oil boom.
Known for our agricultural heritage as the state leading the country in production of wheat, dry peas and beans, flaxseed, canola and honey, North Dakota – and specifically Williston – is seeing its economy driven by the oil industry in recent years. Today, we’re considered a hub city, thanks to the Bakken Formation within the Williston Basin that produces as much as 1 million barrels a day.
In 2014, North Dakota experienced the fastest-growing economy in the nation because fracking increased oil production dramatically. Since Williston is in the middle of the Bakken oil patch, our city grew 67% between 2010 and 2014, according to the US Census.
Get to know us
Rapid growth has resulted in low unemployment and the highest average wage in the country, as well as a housing shortage that is quickly being addressed – as is transportation. In 2019 we built a brand-new airport. The Williston Basin International Airport has customs service. As we grow in size, we also grow culturally, proudly embracing diversity.
We’re adding more than just airports and housing. We have many new amenities, such as retail stores, movie theaters and parks. Try North Dakota favorites like barbecue and puppy chow, or take advantage of the new restaurantsWilliston has added.
Other fun destinations in town or close by include an escape room, a safari trampoline park, a go-kart track, golf courses and a target shooting range.
And then there’s the ARC: the Williston Area Recreation Center – a $70 million, 245,000 square-foot facility for indoor recreation. It features a huge pool and splash park with a water slide, lazy river and wave machine that simulates surfing and wakeboarding. There’s a fitness zone with cardio machines and free weights. There are tennis and basketball courts, a golf simulator, an indoor playground, batting cages and a running track.
Wherever you’re from or whatever you like to do, Williston is ready to welcome you with opportunity and options.
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