Situated at the heart of the scenic, wooded Sheyenne River Valley, Fort Ransom State Park offers ample opportunities for visitors to explore a beautiful, but often overlooked, corner of North Dakota. A meandering river, rolling hills, patches of tallgrass prairie and a forest of stately elms, ash, oaks and boxelder await visitors to Fort Ransom. The park has an extensive trail network, with many miles open to hikers, bikers, riders, and cross-country skiers alike.
Fort Ransom is also steeped in history. The park’s name is derived from a 19th century fort in the area, and although the fort no longer stands, the park does preserve two historic farm homesteads. The Nils Olson Cabin and the Andre Sunne Farm give visitors a glimpse into the life of North Dakotans at the turn of the century. Sodbusters Days, put on by the park in mid-July, is a festival which includes demonstrations of the homemaking and farming technology of the time. Some of the historic buildings are even available to rent for overnight stays.
The park has one campground for standard RVs and two equestrian campgrounds; in total, there are 29 RV sites and 33 equestrian sites. Visitors can explore the park in all seasons, as it is open year-round. If you’re planning on traveling through during the busy summer season, take advantage of the park’s reservation website - reservations for all three campsites can be made 95 days in advance.
Drivers won’t have to worry about any steep hills or sharp turns on their way to Fort Ransom; the park is surrounded by very flat country, and a grid of state and county roads offer several different routes to the park, depending on where you’re coming from. Mill Road and West Hjelle Parkway are the two main roads that cut through the the park, and drivers can reach the campground and main recreation area from either. The two closest interstates are I-94 and I-29, about 30 miles north and 40 miles east of the park, respectively.
Most RV camping sites are back-in, though a few of the larger sites are pull-through. None of the campground loops or spurs has any particularly tricky sections, so parking is relatively easy. The amphitheater, boat launch and playground are all within walking distance of the West and East Side Campgrounds. Most of the trailheads branch off of Mill Rd., which cuts north-south through much of the park - parking is available at all of these trailheads.
Towards the park’s northern end, visitors will find the Sunne Horse Campground. This small, quiet campground has just five equestrian sites, but if offers great access to the Sodbuster building (and Sodbuster Days celebration, if you’re in town for it) located just to the south. The tree-lined Sheyenne River also flows just a few hundred feet to the east of the campground, providing a great spot to relax and cool off after a long day of riding.
Sites are grassy and surrounded by ash, oak and other stately hardwood trees. Corral access and a picnic table are included with every site. All sites at Sunne are primitive, with no water, electric or sewer hookups available, and the maximum site length is 70 feet. There is one vault toilet at Sunne - if you need a shower, you can head to the park’s modern restroom at the nearby West Side Campground.
Reservations are taken up to 95 days in advance.
The larger of the two equestrian campgrounds, Riverside is aptly named - the site sits right on a large bend of the beautiful Cheyenne river. Riverside’s sites are spacious and grass-covered, for the most part, with sites being lined by trees like boxelder and green ash. 24 modern equestrian sites, which have 50-amp electric hookups, water hookups and corral access, are available. Plus, there’s an additional four primitive equestrian sites on a separate spur. These have corral access but no hookups. All sites have picnic tables and fire rings, and there’s two vault toilets for campers.
The turnoff to Riverside can be found on Mill Rd. and is just to the north of the turnoff for the visitor center and West/East Side Campgrounds. A short connector trail leaving from the campground’s primitive spur links up with several other major trailheads, meaning riders can access most of the park via Riverside.
Reservations are taken 95 days in advance.
Straddling the meandering Sheyenne, this bucolic campground (split into east and west sides by the river) offers well shaded spots and easy access to the park’s amphitheatre, visitor center, playground, boat launch, picnic area and historic Nils Olson homestead cabin. The West and East Side Campgrounds have 29 RV-suitable campsites. 14 are modern individual sites with water and electric hookups, ten are primitive sites with no hookups, and five are group sites, which can accommodate multiple rigs and also have electric and water hookups. No sewer hookups are available, though a dump station is located in the western side, just south of the Nils Olson cabin.
Electric sites are on the west side of the river, while primitive sites are on the east side. Most of the electric sites are pull-through and gravelled, though their lengths are shorter than the equestrian sites, topping out at about 50 ft. Primitive sites are all back-in, with similar site lengths. Vault toilets are available on both sides, and a modern restroom with showers is on the west side.
Reservations are taken up to 95 days in advanced.
Trail riding is quite popular at Fort Ransom, no doubt helped by the fact that the park boasts two lovely equestrian campgrounds. Almost all of the park’s hiking trails are also open to riders, which means that visitors can explore scenic valleys, vibrant meadows and quiet woodlands all from horseback. Equestrians should note that there are special day use fees that apply to riders. Riders should also check with park staff to see if any trails are temporarily closed to equestrians (due to muddy conditions, etc.).
Fort Ransom hosts a series of fun and educational events for peak-season visitors. Sodbuster Days, which takes place in mid-July, celebrates the culture and history of the area’s early settlers. Hosted at the Andre Sunne farm, an original, turn-of-the-century homestead, the festival features historical demonstrations, music, food and drinks. The park also hosts a Christmas in July celebration, complete with Santa and a Christmas parade, as well as a Halloween in June day, where participating kids can dress up and trick-or-treat under a warm summer sun.
The Sheyenne River, a long, slowly meandering tributary of the Red River of the North, makes its way through the heart of Fort Ransom. A launch for non-motorized watercraft is located right by the main camping area, allowing easy river access to kayakers and canoers who want to explore the park from the water. Anglers may want to take their rods aboard, as the Sheyenne is host to smallmouth bass, yellow perch, walleye and northern pike, among other species.
Most of Fort Ransom’s hiking trails can be used in the winter as cross-country ski trails. The park rarely is short on powder; Fort Ransom gets about 40 inches of snow every year. Visitors can work up a sweat skiing over gentle hills, through wintry patches of prairie, and underneath the leafless boughs of oaks and elms. And, if you forgot your skis, worry not - the park provides daily cross country ski rentals. And, if skiing isn’t your thing, but you’d still like to explore the park while it’s blanketed in snow, snowshoeing is allowed on most of the trails as well.
Forest and prairie intermingle at Fort Ransom, providing a home for a diverse array of fauna. Deer, rabbit, wild turkeys, black-capped chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches are among the many permanent residents, while seasonal visitors include scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, black-billed cuckoos and bobolinks. The Little Twig Nature Trail is a great starting point for aspiring naturalists; in addition to crossing through several different habitats, the trail has excellent interpretive signs on the park’s fauna, flora and geologic history.
A trail network consisting of fifteen trails (and totaling just as many miles) lets hikers explore nearly every corner of the park. Walk underneath thick canopies of oak, elm, ash and aspen or hike through patches of tallgrass prairie, humming with the activity of birds and insects. Each season brings something new to see; forest and prairie wildflowers bloom in spring and early summer, mid-summer brings lush greenery, and in autumn the park’s hardwoods flush with color.