Off to North Dakota you go, huh? Or maybe you’ve been thinking long and hard about it, but you’re just not quite sold yet. Either way, you’ve stumbled into the right place.
We grabbed our good shovels and dug up a ton of dirt on North Dakota, including stats, facts, history, trivia and even a few strange surprises to help you prep for your big move. So put your feet up and relax, this is gonna be fun.
Meet North Dakota
The Dakota Native American tribe inhabited this land long before its European settlement, which gave both North and South Dakota their names. But North Dakota has a handful of nicknames, too. It’s been called The Peace Garden State, after the state’s large botanical garden, which symbolizes the friendship between the US and Canada.
Another is The Roughrider State after former president Theodore Roosevelt's brief go at cattle ranching in the state. Finally, it's also referred to as The Flickertail State, after the large number of squirrel residents in the state (and their adorable twitchy tails). But locals, and other Midwesterners, really just call it NoDak.
According to worldpopulationreview.com, 755,238 people currently call North Dakota their home, which is after losing 155 people in 2017. There’s a ton of room here, though. It's just shy of 69,000 square miles, which puts it well into the upper half of states by land area.
And the low number of residents and the high number of square miles makes North Dakota a very spread-out state. It’s actually fourth in the country for population density. Your personal space bubble will never pop here, that’s for sure.
But how does all that wide open space translate into other aspects of NoDak life, like jobs and all? Let’s find out.
Now if you’re moving to North Dakota FOR a job, you’re already set. But it’s good to know what’s happening right now in the state, regardless. If you’re looking to start a new career, however, we’ve got a few things we think you should know. First, North Dakota rocks a ridiculously low unemployment rate at just 2.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—the lowest in the country.
However, according to minimum-wage.org, the state’s current minimum wage is $7.25/hour, the same as the federal minimum. The really good news, though, is that the state’s got a really low average cost of living. A dollar here goes much, much further than a dollar in, say, Hawaii—that’s for sure.
As far as specific jobs are concerned, zippia.com says the fastest-growing jobs around here include: home health aid, EMT, software developer, registered nurse practitioner, medical records clerk, loan officer and medical director. But if you’re looking to stretch those dollars even further, zippia.com says the highest-paying jobs are: anesthesiologist, surgeon, dentist, psychiatrist, CEO and petroleum engineer.
We’d say the job scene’s looking pretty optimistic out here, with plenty of opportunities across the board for you.
With such a wide open floor plan throughout the state when it comes to all the action, how does that affect housing? And what does having a nice place to hang your hat set you back each month? Well, let's see.
According to zillow.com, the current median home value in the state is $202,300, which has actually declined 0.5% over the past year—great for buyers! And homes that are currently listed on the market average about $230,000. But if you’d rather rent than deal with owning a house outright, you'll pay around $1,295/month.
Now, if you've got your heart set on a brand-new place with that fresh-paint smell, you’ll find new homes scattered around the state. There’s some new construction in central/southern-ish North Dakota, in and around Bismarck, with more around Fargo and Grand Forks as well.
But hey, you can pretty much build a new home anywhere, as long as you’ve got the money. Otherwise, the majority of the homes you’ll come across here in North Dakota were built around the ‘70s, so they’ll probably need some new (less-shaggy) carpet, at least.
If apartments are more your speed, though, you’ve still got pleny of options. In the state's capital of Bismarck, zillow.com shows that you can find one-bedrooms going for about $530/month. Even in Grand Forks, Fargo and Minot, you’ll still only be paying between $475/month and $795/month.
Culture and Natives
North Dakotans describe their fellow residents as down-to-earth, friendly, helpful neighbors, hardy and robust. Residents here will make you feel right at home, despite the fact that everyone pretty much knows everyone else.
Fargo is the biggest city North Dakota’s got, and its population is only around the 120,000 mark. A resident mentioned that much of the state is made up of "rugged, sprawling and unforgiving country land," and that it isn't for the faint of heart.
Locals enjoy quality over quantity, and really love their state's scenic nature and picturesque views. And though they're said to mainly enjoy a slower pace of life, North Dakotans work just as hard as they play. And keeping that blood moving is key to push through even the coldest NoDak winters.
And speaking of winter, one huge sporting event during the season here is the Biathlon, a combo of two of North Dakota favorite activities, skiing and shooting. National Guard members are said to usually win state competitions. Residents also love hockey, hunting and ice fishing to help them get through the harsh winters.
People here stay active at all times of year, though—hiking and biking are huge here. And the Maah Daah Hey Trail is a local favorite that’s actually the longest continuous single track for mountain bikes in America, at 96 miles long.
But after all that exercise, a good and hearty meal is a must. And much of the North Dakota diet comes from German and Scandinavian descent with some Americanized comfort. A couple of German dishes loved by the locals are fleischkuekle, a savory meat-filled pastry, and knoephla, a potato dumpling soup.
But the go-to supper staple of North Dakota is "hotdish," a beefy casserole topped with tater tots—perfect for warmin’ the whole family up on a super-cold night.
The Flickertail State Trivia
We found so many incredible facts about North Dakota that we just didn’t want to waste a single one of ‘em. So let’s just buzz through some more state info super-fast, ‘cuz we’ve got some hotdish waiting for us.
North Dakota has been named THE most rural in the country, with 90% of its land dedicated to farming. Interestingly, the small town of Rugby is often called the geographical center of North America.
The oil boom in the Bakken fields in 2012 caused the state to become the fastest growing in the country that year, as many flocked to the land to capitalize on new job opportunities. Today, North Dakota remains the nation's second-highest producer of oil, behind only Texas. The state's also the largest producer of honey in the nation, and the leader in the number of sunflowers.
The Peace Garden State is the least-visited state in the country, due to the land being mostly rural, with few attractions. But maybe that’s by design. It’s pretty hard to be all laid-back and happy with a ton of tourists floating around and slowing down your traffic. However, the state has several national parks, including the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Mr. Rough Rider himself.
And it’s home to all sorts of different terrain to explore, not just the Great Plains. There’s a pretty incredible part of the state that’s referred to as "the Badlands," which is part desert, and part mountainous land that houses bison, elk and the cutest little prairie dogs you’ll ever see.
While most of the state is thought to be all rural, small towns, there are several bigger cities that are actually leaders in the agricultural industry for the country. It's important to note that many areas in the state are not accessible directly from the interstate, and you'll have to factor a bit of extra time into your trip to tackle those back roads.
Locals also point out that there are several old pioneer towns with some historical chic charm still intact for all the history buffs out there. But all that explorin’ can really leave you thirsty. Luckily North Dakota has the highest number of bars per capita in the nation. So, bottoms up.
Can't-Miss North Dakota Fun + Activities
So what is it that the people of North Dakota do when they're not out exploring the Badlands or wolfin’ down fleischkuekle? Well, plenty of stuff, actually.
Here are just a few of the state's don’t-you-dare-miss activities:
- Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival: This annual event in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is three days and nights of star-gazing in a land where there is, like, next to no light pollution to get in the way of you scopin’ out Orion’s Belt. Events feature star viewing, presentations, and rocket building/launching.
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park: It's the meeting point of the Great Plains and the Badlands. Here you'll find wild horses, bison, elk and a ton more wildlife. A couple of the park's main attractions are Theodore Roosevelt's old home, the Maltese Cross Cabin, and the Painted Canyon—which is a spectacle worthy of being called the Grand Canyon of the Midwest.
- Enchanted Highway Sculptures: Located in the town of Regent, this art project was an attempt by a local, Gary Greff, to restore progress and life to his hometown. He built record-breaking metal sculptures to decorate Highway 21, aka the "Enchanted Highway."
All of the sculptures are related to North Dakota history and culture, including a grasshopper, a school of giant fish, a deer crossing and a farmer's family. There are seven sculptures in total, spanning 32 miles of road. The formation named "Geese in Flight" won the title of "World's Largest Scrap Metal Sculpture" in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2002.
- The Pyramid of North Dakota: In Nekoma, you'll see the nation's attempt at missile defense against Russia in the '60s. The Stanley R. Mickelson Safeguard Program's intent was to shoot down Russia's missiles over Canada after tracking them, using "backscatter radar." The program only operated for three days before it was shut down due to costs and danger concerns. The lone pyramid now sits among a number of huge missile silos and serves as a "monument to man's fear and ignorance."
- Plains Art Museum: In Fargo, you'll find artwork from both regional and national artists on display, and exhibits featuring both contemporary and traditional art. American Indian art as well as folk art is also on display. The museum also decorates the town publicly, through various gardens and exhibits scattered all around.
Pros and Cons of Living in NoDak
Like every other state in the country, there are pros and cons of living here. We've compiled a brief list of both, straight from the mouths of real-life North Dakotans.
Pros (as told by authentic NoDakkers):
- No tourists: Having won the title of America's "least visited state," North Dakota experiences virtually no traffic or irritation due to tourists at any time of year. Though this doesn't do much for their tourism industry, locals love the fact that they don't have to deal with tourists crowding their favorite spots or asking them for directions.
- Among the best states to live: The Peace Garden State ranked #4 on usnews.com's list of the "Best States to Live in 2018." The state ranked first in the quality of life category for its social and natural environments, second in the fiscal stability and infrastructure categories, tenth in education and fourteenth in healthcare.
- Fargo is super-safe: Fargo ranked as #6 on the Grand Forks Herald’s 2017 list of “Safest Cities in the U.S.” The town's ranking was based on factors such as the feeling of safety, fewest traffic fatalities per capita, road quality, and police officers per capita.
- Small towns, big spaces: North Dakotans love the layout of their land—spread-out towns with miles of wide-open land in between. Much of the state's natural environment remain untouched by human development, and residents here wouldn't have it any other way.
Cons (as told by authentic NoDakkers):
- Harsh, long winters: Temperatures well below zero are common here. And snowstorms aren't shy about striking here, either. This plays into the fact that North Dakotans say you have to be able to work hard here to survive.
- Agriculture or nothing: Despite the impressive low unemployment rate The Flickertail State boasts, there still isn't a great variety of job opportunities for the younger population. Many jobs in the state are related to the agricultural industry or oil rigging, according to locals. Depending on your area of study, there might not be much of a demand for your expertise here. This slight lack in job opportunity diversity is one major cause of the outward-going migration the state has experienced in recent years.
- It's quiet: Now sure there’s a ton of nature to see, but in terms of everyday fun, there’s not a lot going on. Out-of-staters might find themselves a bit hard-pressed to find a lot to do. However, residents know that lots of attractions aren't the point of their home state. This place is all about relaxin’.
For giggles, we've looked into some of the North Dakota’s goofiest, most-outdated and shrug-worthy laws still in existence. You’re gonna love these.
Here are a few from onlyinyourstate.com:
- It's illegal to keep an elk in a sandbox in your backyard. Aww, but we really wanted to.
- Horses can't sleep in bathtubs in Waverly. They’re very strict about where people can keep their animals here, huh?
- Beer and pretzels can't be served together in any bar/restaurant. Um, what? Those two were made for each other.
- It's illegal to shoot a Native American on horseback if you're in a covered wagon. This is, perhaps, the most prime example of an outdated law ever in existence.
Off to NoDak
And there it is, our guide to North Dakota life. Though there’s just no way we could have answered all your questions about moving to North Dakota, we hope to have started you down the right path.
Now it's up to you to decide if you'd like to become a North Dakotan—exploring painted canyons, peepin’ at the starriest nights around, admiring giant metal sculptures along the highway, and biking along the nation's longest trail.
Good luck, and watch out for bison crossings.
NOTE: if you decide North Dakota isn't right for you, we've covered all the other states, too, to help you find YOUR spot. Have you thought about South Dakota?