Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in Mandan, North Dakota, was a stop on our Legendary North Dakota road trip this past summer. Just south of I-94 and 13 miles outside of the capital of Bismarck, it was an ideal one-night stop for us as we headed back east towards home from Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Soon after arriving, we realized our “ideal one-night stop” was deserving of a longer visit. With an impressive number of both educational and recreational opportunities, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park should be on your list of must-visit North Dakota destinations.
History of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Mandan Indians established villages circa 1575 on the land that makes up the present-day park. Near the confluence of the Heart and the Missouri Rivers, it was quite an advantageous location. At its largest, the village consisted of approximately 75 earth lodges and its population reached 1,000. But in 1781, a smallpox outbreak reduced the population to about 200, and the survivors moved further north along the Missouri River.
In 1872, the former Mandan land became Fort McKeen, a military post built in preparation for the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Later that year, the name of the infantry post was changed to Fort Abraham Lincoln and by 1874, the fort was a nine-company command with 78 buildings and a complement of 650 men. Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer was the first commander of the enlarged fort, serving from 1873 until he departed for the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. Over the next 15 years, the fort’s relevance declined and ultimately it was abandoned in 1891.
Today, reconstructions of some of the buildings remain, including the home occupied by General Custer and his wife, the commissary, the granary, and the stables.
What to see and do at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village: Walk around the recreated Mandan settlement and have a look inside the rebuilt earth lodges. Timed guided tours are available at an additional cost. (Check website for dates and times.)
Custer House: Take a guided, living history tour of the home General Custer and his wife, Libbie, occupied at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park before the good general departed for the fateful Battle of Little Big Horn. A sign welcomes visitors to the home and advises that the year is 1875. The tour guide, a cavalry member in period attire, greets visitors on the grand porch of the home. While outside the home, it’s present day. But once the guide and visitors pass through the doorway of the Custer House, it is instantly 1875 – and that is taken seriously. The tour guide’s vernacular changes and any mention of General Custer’s demise at Little Big Horn is met with disbelief and even slight condescension. The tour is exceptionally well done and is enjoyable for visitors of all ages. (Additional cost. Check website for dates and times.)
Activities and amenities: There are 6.75 miles of non-motorized, multi-use trails within the park. The Little Soldier Loop Trail is a popular choice, as there are three replica blockhouses standing along the trail. Visitors may climb to the top of the blockhouses for incredible views of the Heart and Missouri Rivers, On-A-Slant Village, and downtown Bismarck. Additional activities include horseback riding, biking, fishing, and boating. (Check park’s website and trail map for specific requirements and allowances.)
We spent the night in our pop-up camper at one of the park’s 95 campsites. RV sites have electric and water hook-ups, and there are also tent sites, two rental cabins, and two rental tipis. Showers and bathrooms are available for all campers.
Once we set up our camper and settled in, I looked at my husband and said, “I’m mad.” He asked why, to which I replied, “Because we’re spending only one night here! That’s not enough time to see and do everything.” I could not get over the number of attractions and activities available at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the likes of which I have not seen at any other park in any state. A national park, yes, but not a state park. Our family hopes to be able to return to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park for a longer visit, as it is truly a legendary North Dakota destination.
If you go…
- Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is open year-round; however, certain buildings and attractions are open only seasonally. Be sure to check the park’s website for dates and hours of operation.
- While my family didn’t take part, there is an historic trolley that runs between the town of Mandan and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. It looks to be a lot of fun and I’m sorry we missed out on it!
My family ‘s stay was graciously hosted by North Dakota Tourism and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. All opinions contained herein, as always, are 100% my own.