Whether you are a history buff, a dedicated outdoors person, or just want to pile the family into the RV and get away from it all, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in North Dakota has something for you.
During warm weather months, many guests enjoy hiking, fishing, picnicking, and more on the banks of the Missouri River. Equestrian trails are available as well.
When the weather cools down, things heat up at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. See a reproduction of Custer’s last house before he left on his ill-fated expedition to punish the Sioux. Other historical reproductions from both white settlement and the older Indian settlements are here as well.
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is just across the Missouri River from Bismarck, so it’s easily accessible by RV. The nearly 100 parking sites are almost literally on the water’s edge and in the middle of the park, so almost everything you want to do is within easy walking distance.
Mandan is just over the Interstate 94 bridge on the other side of Bismarck, and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is just a short drive south of Mandan. There are some fairly sharp curves on Highway 1806, which is the main drag between the town and the park. But watch your speed and you should be fine.
Visitors come into Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park at the south entrance. Inside the park, there is lots of large vehicle parking near the Missouri River, the campsites, and the park’s major attractions. The park roads are mostly surrounded by trees, so visibility is a bit limited. However, the park roads are also wide and paved, for the most part.
Yes, they’re called North and South, but they are only about 1,000 feet apart. There are 95 mostly pull-through RV sites in these two campgrounds. Each site has either a 30 or 50 amp electrical hookup and a water line. Most sites have both fire rings and picnic tables, and there’s nothing like cooking over an open fire in the shadow of the 7th Cavalry’s headquarters. Several restroom and shower areas are in this campground. Other amenities include an amphitheater, children’s play area, trolley stop, picnic areas, and RV dump station. The campground has lots of trees, but also lots of grassy, open space.
Most of the park’s nearly seven miles of mixed-use hiking, biking, equestrian, and snowshoeing (in the winter) trails run over gentle slopes. There are a few steep parts, but not very many. There’s a reason they call this area the Great Plains. The one and three quarter-mile Little Soldier Loop Trail begins and ends about halfway between the reconstructed Infantry Post and the On-A-Slant Indian Village. The trail has some very nice views of the park, Bismarck, and the Missouri River. The Young Hawk Interpretive Trail is pretty cool too. It starts in the same place but goes in the opposite direction. Numerous signs help visitors understand the historical and natural elements of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.
The Missouri/Heart River shoreline is a mostly rocky shoreline that’s ideal for anglers of all ages, so find a good spot and stay a while. Walleye and pike are plentiful here. In May 2018, a local man caught a 15-pound walleye near Bismarck, and that’s no fish story. Trout, salmon, and lots of other species are in this part of the Missouri River as well. Watch for rapidly-changing water levels, especially in the summer. Use the paved Mato-Tope Trail to access the shoreline. This one-time Mandan Indian chief grew up in the On-A-Slant village.
Long before Custer was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye, as many as 1,500 Mandan Indians lived on these shores in approximately 90 earth mounds. The mounds themselves were not slanted, but the ground sloped down to the river. Mandan women built and maintained the well-insulated earth domes, which were cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The village thrived for about two hundred years. Then, a 1781 smallpox epidemic killed most of the villagers, and the survivors merged with Hidatsa Indians along the Knife River. Today’s rebuilt village is largely based on the observations of Lewis and Clark. They came through this area in 1806.
Lt.Colonel (Civil War General) George Custer was stationed here in the 1870s. He and his wife Libbie lived in a Victorian-style home not far from the cavalry barracks. Their home was surprisingly large and comfortable, given the fact that Fort Abraham Lincoln was basically in the middle of nowhere in 1875. Both guided and self-guided tours are available. Take the trolley (yes, we said the trolley) from the RV campground to the Custer House/Cavalry Post area in the southern part of the park.
If you ever wondered what it was like to live on the frontier back when it was really a frontier, take a stroll around the rebuilt cavalry fort. At its height, the Fort had over 60 buildings. Civilian Conservation Corps workers preserved as much of the Fort as possible, and they laid the groundwork for future efforts. Today, the barracks, commissary, granary, and horse stable have all been accurately reproduced. The commissary has snacks, books about Custer and the fort, a nice coffee bar, and free Wi-Fi. Ask a park ranger about a melodrama performance. The troopers in the 7th Cavalry might have seen the exact same show just before they saddled up and headed to the Little Bighorn.
A paved road runs from the On-A-Slant village to the infantry post, which was built on a bluff overlooking the ruins of the village. By 1874, three companies of infantry were here to protect Northern Pacific Railroad property and workers. Together with the six companies of the 7th Cavalry, almost 700 men were stationed here in the early 1870s. So, Fort Abraham Lincoln was one of the largest frontier forts. Once the railroad was finished, the fort had basically no military significance, so it was decommissioned in 1891. CCC workers and other laborers rebuilt three infantry blockhouses and a few other structures.