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10 Free Things To Do in Valley City

Because we all like the word, "FREE."

Home to many FREE attractions, Valley City is the perfect place to plan a visit. From a dinosaur at the museum to a brand new Center for the Arts on VCSU's campus, it's no wonder visitors and residents alike can't stop raving about this town. Dive into 10 free things to do with us!

"What the people of Valley City have is very special. Everyone across America wishes we could have the old America back with the small town shops and friendly people and faces." - Matt O. | Wisconsin

1. Medicine Wheel Park

A unique and scenic landmark on VCSU’s campus, Medicine Wheel Park began in 1992 as a class project by Professor Joe Stickler and his students. Since then, it has evolved into one of North Dakota’s major tourist attractions, encompassing 30 acres, and providing an educational and recreational destination for visitors of all ages.

The Medicine Wheel’s large circle measures 213 feet around. The 28 spokes radiating from its center represent the number of days in the lunar cycle. Six spokes extending well beyond the Wheel are aligned to the horizon positions of sunrises and sunsets on the first days of the four seasons. The design of this rock sculpture was inspired by the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming and reflects the magnificence of the Earth’s journey around the Sun and the grand cycle of the seasons.

Be sure to explore the other attractions in Medicine Wheel Park — you’ll experience a unique mix of nature, science, and history.

  • Native American Burial Grounds: There are twelve burial mounds within the borders of the Park. These mounds are the same type of cemeteries used by Plains Woodlands Indians from 500 to 2,000 years ago.

  • Walking Tour of the Solar System: A model of the solar system stretches from the Sun (the center of the Medicine Wheel) to one third of a mile away, with boulders representing the planets. These boulders are placed in proportion to the planets’ average distances from the Sun on a scale where one foot equals three million miles.

  • Meridian Calendar: The meridian calendar uses the length of a shadow cast by a utility pole to mark the beginning of each season at local apparent noon.

  • North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT): The NCT is a 4,600-mile trail running west to east across seven northern states, linking North Dakota to New York. A segment of this trail winds through Medicine Wheel Park for visitors to walk along.

2. Lake Ashtabula

Find this view at Mel Reiman Recreation Area

Just North of Valley City, Lake Ashtabula is a serene and relaxing lake with over 73 miles of shoreline and covering 5,174 acres. This lake is situated in one of the most scenic river valleys in the region, offering visitors a wide range of recreation opportunities. The lake offers activities for every season of the year. Fishing and snowmobiling are available in the winter. The spring and fall bring a beautiful view of the migrating waterfowl. There are plenty of activities available in the summer, such as fishing, boating, camping, swimming and picnicking.

There are three designated swimming areas around the lake. Seven boat launching ramps are maintained to provide boaters and fisherman access to all areas of the lake. Picnic facilities and playgrounds are located at most sites.

Not only does Lake Ashtabula bring recreational activities, but the lake also features a handful of restaurants right on the lake including the Hungry Pelican at the Dam, the Hungry Pelican at the Crossing, and Bayshore Resort. Sit on the deck of Bayshore Resort and enjoy a fresh cup of coffee or cool off with ice cream and a summer cocktail at the Hungry Pelican at the Dam.

3. Party on Central Avenue during Summer Nights on Central

Did someone say late night shopping, food vendors, live music, games, and giveaways all for FREE? Summer Nights on Central are a series of fun family-friendly events that encourages Valley City to get out, enjoy the summer nights, and have a good time! Enjoy delicious food truck meals, dance the night away with a live band, and see why Valley City is the place to be. Dates for 2023 are July 13th and 20th and September 7th (Summer Vikes on Central - partnering with Valley City State University).

Come join Valley City's biggest series of parties!

4. Barnes County Museum

Founded in 1930, the museum is open year-round with many events, lectures, and frequently changing exhibits. It has resources for local geneology research and a gift shop to commemorate your trip. Featured exhibits at the Barnes County Museum include Gundy the Triceratops, a scale model of the Hi-Line Bridge, and artifacts from pioneer, military, and agricultural life.

Staffed with the most knowledgeable residents in Valley City, your experience will be nothing short of scholarly!

"This FREE museum is a must see. Fossils, cars, local and world history, and three floors. The history is PACKED into this place and the staff are very helpful and friendly. There are even a couple interactive exhibits including old crank phones and a pedal piano. Well worth the visit for anyone at any age." - Ian S

5. Hike the North Country Trail

The North Country Trail (NCT) is the longest National Scenic Trail in the national trails system. With over 4,800 miles through different landscapes including grasslands, farms, forests, and communities, the trail runs through eight states including Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. The NCT runs right through the heart of Valley City and goes north to Lake Ashtabula and south to Kathryn.

Not looking for an extensive hike? No problem! Since the NCT runs straight through Valley City, you can start at Medicine Wheel Park and follow the blue markings down the hill, up Central Avenue, and stop at Dairy Queen for a quick treat!

See a full map of the NCT here.

6. Drive the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway

What's better than a relaxing drive through the rolling hills of the Sheyenne River Valley? We can't think of anything either!

The Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway stretches 63 miles along the breathtaking Sheyenne River Valley, from Baldhill Dam to Lisbon, following ancient Native American foot paths and pioneer wagon trails. Along the way you will find Little Yellowstone Park, two log cabins, 27 award winning interpretive panels, many unique bird species and 6 dams.

Midwest Living magazine suggests this roadway as a "Fall Color Drive" and the route was also listed in National Geographic's Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways.

7. Float Down the Sheyenne River

Certain stunning views can only be seen from the comfort of a watercraft on the Sheyenne River. The Sheyenne River Valley countryside is some of the most gorgeous lands in North Dakota. The Sheyenne River is in the development stages of becoming the state's first National Water Trail which would span 199 river miles from Lake Ashtabula to the Sheyenne National Grasslands. At the completion of the water trail construction, there will be primitive, modern, and ADA landings along the river ranging from 1 - 8 hour paddle times. Amenities along the water trail include camping, dining, hiking, hotels, parks, restrooms, and more.

Take the serene float for yourself and launch from several accessible docking systems located from Lake Ashtabula all the way to Lisbon. Want a short but stunning route? Drop in at the National Fish Hatchery north of Valley City using their ADA landing and float down the river, under the Hi-Line bridge, and end at Chautauqua Park! This is also the route for the annual Sheyenne RiverFest event happening August 5, 2023!

See more here.

8. Go To the Farmers Market

Yes, technically you do have to pay for this one, but its FREE to see all the delicious and freshly-grown produce from local farmers! Buy canned goods, pumpkins, squash, beans, corn, and so much more!

See for the farmers market schedule.

9. Hunting & Fishing

Valley City truly is the outdoorsman's paradise. With some of the state's best hunting and fishing, you can't help but try for yourself.

Valley City sits on the east edge of the Prairie Pothole Region and the Central Flyway. This makes it perfect for duck and goose hunting with wildlife protection areas at Eckleson Lake, South Island Lake, Lake Ashtabula, and Ray Holland Marsh.

The area is also a gold mine for fishing. The area is full of perch, bass, walleye, crappie, and northern pike. Look out for fishing and ice fishing tournaments held during the year including the Walleye Derby at Lake Ashtabula in June. The Sheyenne River also boasts catfish, walleye, small-mouth bass, and muskie.

10.1. Visit Valley City State University's Campus

Arguably the most beautiful campus across all of North Dakota, Valley City State University has been recognized as one of the top public regional colleges in the Midwest and one of America’s “Best Colleges” for 25 consecutive years by U.S. News.

Valley City State’s 55-acre campus is bordered on the south by a forested hillside and on the north by the Sheyenne River. The campus architecture marries historic and modern buildings to create one of the most beautiful campuses in North Dakota. The central campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District, cementing VCSU’s place in North Dakota history.

Enjoy a stroll through the stunning walking paths of campus or have a picnic in the gazebo! Go Vikings!

10.2. Center for the Arts - VCSU (Bonus location!)

With construction being completed in 2022, this brand new Center for the Arts is a stunning new building for music and art students. Catch a choir or band concert or take a stroll through the art gallery located in the front entryway.

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