By Paula Redmann, Bismarck Parks and Recreation District
Hidden gardens. Secret places. Amazing views. Never heard of spaces.
All right here in Bismarck, courtesy of your Bismarck Parks and Recreation District.
It’s true. There are secluded, undercover, concealed public parks and places. Right under your nose.
So, if you’re up for a summertime adventure, print this article, grab a pencil (so you can cross them off as you go along, because we all love to cross things off), a neighbor, your true love, a kid or two and head out the door, because you’re about to go out and find Bismarck’s Top Ten Hidden Gems.
- Bismarck Rotary Arboretum This plantation of trees is located smack dab in the middle of Tom O’Leary Golf Course, smack dab in the middle of Bismarck. And you will think you are smack dab in the middle of a forest. Because, well, you are. The entrance is off Ward Road, a short distance south of Divide Ave. The arboretum has 10 acres of peace and solitude. You’ll find 29 varieties of trees, natural grasses and gently sloping walkways. Yes, it’s natural, quiet AND educational. Click here for a map to this hidden gem.
- River Bluffs Mountain Bike Trails Meaning, of course, that this is an unpaved biking trail. However, hikers and runners are also welcome. Just keep a lookout for other users when you use this trail. You can get on this trail at Chief Lookings’ Village/Pioneer Overlook Park, or head up the trail from Keelboat Park. There are some nice hills and valleys, and be sure to take a break now and then and enjoy the vast river view.
- Optimist Family ParkHave you ever seen a sundial? This park, located at 2098 N 16th St., is tucked away off busy State Street (think west of Taco John’s) and is the only park with a working sundial. Feel like some activity? Bring a basketball to shoot some hoops. Or pack a lunch to have a picnic in the shelter. Note for your calendar: The Optimist Club holds a very nice flag rising and flag retirement program here every Flag Day.
- Pioneer Overlook Park and Sonali’s Garden Some folks think this is the best view of the Missouri River. The easiest description of this location is that these places are “on top” of Pioneer Park, right off of Burnt Boat Road. You’ll go past Chief Lookings’ Village and an interpretive trail. (Yes, please stop here.) Then head to the overlook, which, it’s been said, has been the site of many marriage proposals. Sigh. Yes, it’s THAT good. You’ll want to sit a bit at one of the benches there or at Sonali’s Garden, a memory garden, to enjoy it all. This is a three-for-one bonus gem; historical, beautiful, peaceful.
- McDowell Dam Recreation Area This is one ton of fun. Pack up the vehicle with all the necessary supplies because you’re going to want to go for the day. You’ll head five miles east of Bismarck on Old Highway 10 to find this gem (click here to see a map). You can play on the sandy beach, have a picnic, rent a paddleboat or canoe, catch a fish and scope out the playground. There is a paved trail on the grounds and a nature trail that encircles the banks of McDowell Dam. Bring sunscreen and beach toys and a book. Yes, your family Christmas card photo will be taken here.
- Bill Mills Nature Trail What? Where’s THAT? That’s why it’s a gem. You have to find it. Park near Shelter 10 in Sertoma Park and get on the trail, heading south. Just past the sand volleyball courts, you will see a sign that takes you off the trail and – boom – you have found a non-paved nature trail that takes you through loop of about 1.5 miles. The first .8 mile is gravel and the next .7 mile is paved including a trip through the underpass below the Bismarck Expressway.
- East Sibley Nature Park Yes, a nature park. You never knew, did you? Head south on S. Washington St., toward another gem, General Sibley Park and Campground. Easy Sibley Nature Park is located on Sibley Drive. Turn right at the Camp Neche sign on Dogwood Drive. This park is located in a Cottonwood forest along a bend of the Missouri River. This is a great place to go birding and also a nice walk for you and your four legged family members (on a leash, please). You will be immersed in the dense woods with a scenic view of the Missouri River. You will find yourself whispering, and even that will sound loud.
- Johnny Gisi Memorial Park Explore one of Bismarck’s newest parks. Find this play and discovery space at 2601 E. Calgary Avenue. (How do you get there? Drive east on Century Ave. to Nebraska Dr. Turn left. Turn left again on Calgary Ave. The park is at the end of the street.) This park has two playgrounds, two youth tennis/pickleball courts, community gardens, a 12-acre overlook area with historical/interpretive signs and one of the area’s first pollinator gardens. What are those? A sign at the park will tell you. Play space plus natural area plus learning equals gem.
- Fox Island Boat Ramp Fishing, anyone? Looking for a place to put in your boat, or just fish from shore? Get to Fox Island by heading south on S. Washington St., west on Riverwood Drive and meander another two miles all the way toward the river to Fox Island. If you have any luck fishing, you can clean your catch at the cleaning station there. Check out the new accessible pier and just watch the river go by. Want some adventure? Some folks put in a canoe or kayak further north along the river, and make Fox Island their destination.
- Missouri Valley Millennium Legacy Trail This final, hidden gem is not only in Bismarck, but also in Mandan. Bismarck and Mandan share the honor of being named one of 52 national Millennium Legacy Trail designations for the Missouri Valley Millennium Trail. You’ve not heard of this trail system, you say? This trail connects all things historical, recreational and cultural along the Missouri River. The trail starts at Chief Lookings’ Village, continues along the riverfront trail, past the Dakota Zoo, crossing over the Missouri River at either Memorial Bridge or the Expressway Bridge to Mandan, where the trail travels through some amazing historical scenery all (yes, all) the way to Fort Lincoln State Park. This gem is not for the faint of heart because it involves nearly 25 miles of trail, but feel free to start and stop at several trailheads along the way, or split it up into segments and make it a goal to complete it by the end of the summer.