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Follow the trail to Jamestown, Valley City

by Luann Dart

Valley City footbridge
A footbridge links Valley City State University to the city. The three-span, 150-foot suspension bridge is the only one of its kind in North Dakota and is part of the tour of bridges in Valley City.

Chase the wind on a gear-grinding mountain bike trail. Or whisper the thrill of hearing the trill of a rare Sprague’s pipit songbird. Listen to voices recount the vivid history of the region. Or share the delight of a gooey, smokey s’more at a campfire in the scenic Sheyenne River Valley or by the waters of the Jamestown Reservoir. The neighboring communities of Jamestown and Valley City offer a wealth of outdoor recreation, heritage and family fun for those visiting the area.

And it might not be the Jamestown or Valley City you remember from your childhood. There’s much more to see and do these days.

“Visitors have been here once or were here when they were a kid or have driven through here and they think they’ve seen everything. The truth of the matter is that things have changed and there are new things to interact with,” says Searle Swedlund, executive director for Jamestown Tourism.

Follow the trail

Cruise a scenic byway through the Sheyenne River Valley or listen to voices from the past along the Jamestown Talking Trail. Visitors can get off the beaten path, but still follow a trail.

The Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway stretches 63 miles, following ancient Native American footpaths and pioneer wagon trails from Lake Ashtabula north of Valley City to Lisbon. Along the route, 40 interpretive panels and 10 informational kiosks are posted at scenic views and share a glimpse into local history.

“A 300-foot-deep, mile-wide glacial meltwater channel – that’s the Sheyenne River Valley, a beautiful vale with a meandering river running through it.  Nestled along the river is Valley City. Take time to explore the city of bridges and don’t forget to stop at the medicine wheel on your trip down the award-winning scenic byway,” says Mary Lee Nielson, marketing coordinator for the byway and the Valley City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Begin a tour of Valley City by first stopping at the Rosebud Visitor Center, which houses the luxurious railroad car named “Rosebud.” The renovated 1881 Northern Pacific superintendent’s car is the only one known in existence with original features. The center also houses the N.D. Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Then follow another trail – the self-guided historic and scenic bridges tour highlights eight of Valley City’s 13 bridges. The Rainbow Bridge is the only one of its kind in North Dakota, and the High Line Bridge is one of the longest and highest single-track railroad bridges in the nation.

Medicine Wheel Park, a replica of a Native American solar calendar with five interpretive panels and hiking, is another “must-see” in Valley City, Nielson says.

Then, discover the legends and lore of Jamestown along the Jamestown Talking Trail, an interactive self-guided audio tour of 70 historic sites and attractions throughout the city.

At each stop, visitors dial 701-712-9329, then a stop number, followed by the # key. An online brochure listing all the stops and corresponding numbers is available at

“This community has really shepherded these historic places,” Swedlund says. “We wanted the stories to be told. ... We found this technology and decided this was a way to build out a really sophisticated way for visitors to interact with a number of places. Now, people can dial a phone number and hear the stories for themselves. You can envision and imagine that story coming to life in the space in front of you.”

Baseball legends Travis Hafner and Darin Erstad share memories of shagging balls at the historic Jack Brown Stadium. Hear little-known tales about storyteller Louis L’Amour. Or listen to Elmer Petersen describe building the world’s largest buffalo monument. Meet the rare albino bison, Dakota Miracle, at the National Buffalo Museum. Learn about the sacred nature of the confluence of the James River and Pipestem River in Native American lore.

Launched in late 2016, the Jamestown Talking Trail also takes visitors to the 1883 Stutsman County courthouse, an architectural gem which will have a grand opening May 27 as a state historic site after being refurbished to its old glory. The building is significant because this is where conversations were held regarding statehood for North and South Dakota.

“Inside, it’s gorgeous. It’s the largest collection of tinned walls in the 10-state region,” Swedlund says.

Travel recreational paths

Outdoor recreation enthusiasts will find trails to follow in Valley City and Jamestown, too.

Jamestown includes 30 miles of mountain bike trails. The five trails, built by volunteers, tour both the Jamestown Reservoir and Pipestem River. Another trail starts at McElroy Park and ends at the National Buffalo Museum.

Outdoor enthusiasts can then venture to Valley City to hike a portion of a national trail that meanders through the Valley City area, says Bobby Koepplin, manager of rural development for Cass County Electric Cooperative, who was instrumental in developing the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway and the North Country National Scenic Trail. Koepplin was recently awarded the Governor’s Legend Award for Travel and Tourism Industry Leadership.

Stroll the rolling prairie of the Sheyenne National Grasslands, where the rare Dakota Skipper butterfly flutters as part of the North Country National Scenic Trail. The unique hiking path crosses seven states and 4,600 miles, including 475 miles in North Dakota. The trail follows the Sheyenne River, then meanders toward the Sheyenne State Forest and Fort Ransom State Park. It goes north through Valley City and then along the west shore of Lake Ashtabula.

The area is rich in wildlife and forested scenic view, Koepplin says.

“Visitors can stroll through downtown and take their time and then enjoy nature throughout the area,” Nielson says.

Visiting the Sheyenne River Valley and Prairie Pothole Region is all about exploring. Birding Drives Dakota has established 300 miles of birding trails between Jamestown and Carrington, with a map of stop-by-stop locations of birding opportunities along the route.

“It gives amateur and experienced birders an understanding of what you’re looking for,” Swedlund says.

Abundant rivers and lakes in the neighboring communities offer opportunities for everything from kayaking to camping to fishing.

And visitors can put the paddle or fishing rod down and go into town in just minutes.

From antique stores in Valley City to the Arts Center in Jamestown, new experiences abound.

“Our arts scene downtown is remarkable,” Swedlund says. The Arts Center offers programs as well as art exhibits. Nearby is the new Hansen Arts Park, a green space with a 20-foot Prairie Grass Ballet sculpture. Twenty mosaic benches represent cultural significance of the area and this summer a pavilion resembling a boulder will be completed.

Just follow the path.

To learn more: Jamestown: Visit or call 800-222-4766. | Valley City: Visit or call 701-845-1891.

Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.