This post was most recently updated on September 23rd, 2019
Sometimes we take America’s small towns for granted. Maybe we think larger, popular cities will provide more excitement and variety. But that could be at the expense of a personal hometown encounter. I’d like to convince you to experience Valley City, North Dakota — one of those smaller towns you shouldn’t miss.
When I think of Valley City, visions of beautiful scenery unfold before me. The Sheyenne River winds itself through that vision with its scenic byway, bike trails, and bridges, And then there’s the culture, history, and warmth of the people who live here. It’s the perfect formula for an unforgettable getaway. Let me share some favorite reasons why you should experience Valley City!
1. Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway
The Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway is a 63-mile drive through some of the best landscapes you will ever see. The route takes you over bridges, through rolling hills lined with trees (especially gorgeous fall foliage), and includes interpretive signs to teach about the area’s history, geology, wildlife, and more. Along the way, you’ll drive through quaint towns with fun little shops and hospitality in abundance.
There’s no charge to drive on the byway, and it’s open year-round. The byway begins in Valley City and heads south towards Kathryn, Fort Ransom, and Lisbon. It’s very do-able in a day. Plan for lots of stops to see the views, read the signs, enjoy a picnic, visit Mom-and-Pop stores or even do some hiking. This is Americana at its best!
2. It’s a ‘City of Bridges’
I guess it just goes to say that if a river winds through a town, there’s going to be some bridges. Valley City is no exception. In fact, it has been called the ‘City of Bridges’ because of its many beautiful and historic bridges. There’s a bridge tour you can follow to see eight of them. These bridges have interpretive panels explaining their history and architectural details.
The most famous of Valley City’s bridges would have to be the High Line bridge — the longest and highest single-track railroad bridge in the United States.
3. Experience Valley City on a Bicycle
There are many cycling trails in and around Valley City with stunning views and valley history to explore. You can even cycle over some of Valley City’s popular bridges!
Bike trails cater to all cycling abilities – gentle and flat paved trails for beginners (or those seeking a relaxing ride), as well as cross-country trails that offer challenge and adventure.
4. Experience Valley City’s History
You can start by visiting the Rosebud Visitor Center to learn about valley history through interesting exhibits, including an 1881 Superintendent’s railcar with original furnishings.
A visit to the Barnes County Historical Society is also in order if you’d like to see a dinosaur, military uniforms, train exhibits, and even a little live music on Saturdays. It’s hometown history at its best!
The downtown area of Valley City is a walk through history on its own, with pretty little churches, the Valley City post office, and a Carnegie library, established in 1903. Antique stores are also popular here!
5. Valley City’s Parks and Recreation
A number of parks in Valley City add opportunities to learn and play on a grander scale. The Medicine Wheel Park includes a large medicine wheel (patterned after the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming), a solar system model, and 12 Native American burial mounds.
Chautauqua Park, nestled into a bend of the Sheyenne River, offers picnic tables and shelters, a large playground, riverside paths and docks, a sand volleyball court, and even horseshoe pits with lights.
Other parks in Valley City include an outdoor ice skating rink, community swimming pool, tennis courts, disc golf, a municipal golf course, and a skate park. Ashtabula Lake, only 12 miles north of Valley City, is a great place to go birding (especially to see the white pelican). Boating, hiking, and fishing are also popular here.
How else can you experience Valley City?
- Go see the fall foliage! Valley City and the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway are top locations for viewing gorgeous fall colors.
- The North Dakota Winter Show is held every year in Valley City. It was founded to provide education for youth in agri-business and to honor pioneer heritage. But it has become much more than that. The Winter Show attracts attendees from all over and includes a tractor pull, Hall of Fame induction ceremony, country hoedown, classes like ‘How Horses Heal’ and ‘Farmer Figg’s Barnyard Science’, concerts, a ‘Cowboy Church’ Service, and market steer and hog shows. There are also antique shows, home exhibits and a queen coronation.
- Visit Valley City State University, rated one of America’s “Best Colleges” for 21 consecutive years. Founded in 1890, the central campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Buzzfeed named VCSU the most beautiful college campus in North Dakota.
- The Vault is an unmanned self-serve coffee shop, bakery, book store and center for the arts located in Valley City and has received international attention for its unique business model, based on the honor system.
- Stay in Valley City; there are many accommodating hotels and B & B’s in Valley City, as well as campgrounds.
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I could really use me some of that fall foliage!
Looks like quite the hidden gem!
The town sounds so charming. I’d love to experience the winter show with the hoedown and cowboy church!
Looks like such a great place to visit. Idaho is #1 on my USA bucket list but mostly for the food. Super cute bride and the bike riding looks so fun (is that you on the bike?). Thanks for sharing a hidden gem!
What a special place! While I’m currently on vacation internationally, I always forget that there are amazing towns to explore right here in my own country.
There’s something special about a city with lots of bridges. I’d love to hop on a bike and check them all out. What a sweet city to spend a few days in.
THe High Line bridge is beautiful. I love the fall colors in your photo. My parents are thinking of moving to ND so it was interesting to see such a beautiful city.
Valley City sounds like a great place for people who are trying to visit every state in the US. A bridge tour sounds unique and browsing the antique stores for souvenirs would be a lot of fun.
The Sheyenne River Valley is really famous and I always wanted to see it, but didn’t make it to North Dakota yet. I’m glad I found out about Valley City. It’s indeed a really charming town with lots of attractions.
Sometimes the smaller little known places offer more experience and satisfaction. The Sheyenne River Valley looks fabulous, I hope to visit. And the bridges look really cute.
We really have never spent time in North Dakota. But Valley City would be a great spot to see if we visit. The Cheyenne River Valley looks like a great way to see the countryside. But the civil engineer in me would want to do the bridge tour. Too bad we already have plans for the fall. Or this would be the perfect spot to visit.
I gotta admit, North Dakota isn’t anywhere on my radar. But, seeing all that fall foliage photos. Man, it looks like an awesome place to take my cameras! I’m down to drive in Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway for the autumn colors!
I totally agree that we sometimes overlook the beauty of small cities or rather a countryside! Valley city must be included in one of the places to visit in America. The Chautauqua Park looks like a good spot for anyone on a day trip and you might as well enjoy a picnic too!
The smaller towns are sometimes really amazing and have plenty of things to admire. During the fall, this place would absolutely look out of the world. We would love to see City of Bridges on a cycle tour.
I know nothing about North Dakota. Seriously. and by the looks of it, its defo a place I should stop off and check out if the scenery is like this in the fall. Reminds me of New England in some of the shots and love the photography of those long trains. Valley City looks like a small and quaint town but with plenty to do (and I have to admit, I just had to google where the town was as I never heard of it before). Would love to stay here.
I would love those fall colors!
Valley City looks so inviting — and I’m not just saying that because it looks cool and fall-like while it is 90 degrees here in Los Angeles (although it might be part of it). What a delight! I can tell right away that we would look forward to the drive along Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway. I’m a disaster on a bike, but a car trip would be perfect. Plus, it would give us enough time to enjoy learning (and seeing) more of the historical side of the town.
I think it’s the same ‘problem’ everywhere in the world: Travellers are far too much focused on the big ‘famous’ cities and oversee that the smaller ones are often far more authentic and therefore interesting. Great read and a valid inspiration!
I haven’t been to many small towns in the US, but Valley City sounds like a really beautiful and fun place to explore! Driving along the byway and stopping at interesting mom and pop shops and tiny towns sounds like a perfect way to spend a day. Checking out the bridges by bike also looks like a lot of fun. Fall seems like the perfect time to visit with the beautiful foliage, but I’d love to check out the North Dakota Winter Show too. Everything you’ve described about Valley City makes me want to go!
We were just near ND and didn’t visit (too busy in Montana and SD), but now I wish we had visited Valley City! The Sheyenne River Valley looks so beautiful, and I’d love to picnic in Chautauqua Park.
Good article. Foliage for the win
Thanks, Dave! I’m totally a fall foliage fan!
Now that is a place that has just been introduced to me with this post. I love the vibes here. The refreshing greenery and those fall colors – bewitching. And the variety of bridges. Now that is something totally unexpected. Thanks for getting this on my radar.
I agree with you that small towns are often overlooked in favour of large cities. There is a perception that small towns are quiet and have nothing to do, but your post on Valley City shows very clearly that small towns often have a lot to offer! I love exploring small town museums. They often offer a very personal history, and I expect that is the case with Valley City’s museum. Cycling around the town sounds like an ideal way to see everything it has to offer. Cycling is my preferred mode of transportation, and I can only imagine how beautiful the cycling is in Valley City. I will definitely keep it on my radar if I ever make it to ND.
I would love to cycle here in the fall! Looks like a wonderful place to explore and those colours <3 Also I have never heard of the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway before. Sounds like a great road trip to add to the bucket list 😀
Valley City looks like a fun spot to see fall foliage. That train track is amazing – I’ve never seen one so high up that looks like that. How cool to explore the city on a bike as well. College towns bring all sorts of fun things to do.
Loved this post! I recently wrote about Valley City so it was fun reading about it from a different perspective. I really wish I was up there these past few weeks to take in all the fall foliage.
I should totally visit Valley City. It has so many things to do and places to see. The park, the downtown area, the bridge – they all look so fascinating. The most interesting thing is to see the fall foliage.
I absolutely loved the stunning bridges in Valley city. The rail road bridge is spectacular. A bicycle ride across the city sounds exciting too. I second you on exploring the smaller towns around bigger cities.
I love exploring small towns. I always make sure to explore the less mainstream places and attractions whenever I travel to a new place. My favorite part is exploring their hidden gems
North Dakota is for sure on our road trip schedule. And it’s good to get some ideas from your post. Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway looks excellent. Those bridges are lovely, and I would like to take some pictures. Small cities are charming, so Valley City is as well.
I agree that sometimes people miss small towns for more exciting holidays in big cities. But visiting small towns would be great to admire nature. Valley City in North Dakota — one of those smaller towns really looks unmissable. Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway has stunning fall foliage. Thanks for sharing a hidden gem. “
As much as I love big cities, I agree that there are some great small towns in the USA. I’ve never heard of Valley City before, but it seems like a place I would enjoy visiting. It looks like the perfect fall destination. It would be fun to discover all the bridges. Very cool that the the longest and highest single-track railroad bridge in the US is in Valley City.
I have never thought of ND as a travel destination, however it looks like a cute town to stroll through. All those bridges must be beautiful. I would definitely go on the bridge tour. Picnic in the park also sounds like a great idea!
Totally agree with you that it is indeed the perfect getaway. The scenery is beautiful. It is very relaxing and a perfect way to see the fall foliage.
Thank you for sharing bits of information about Valley City.
I learned something new today and I look forward to watching the North Dakota Winter Show in the future.
Frankly, I had not reven heard about thsi city until I read your post. I totally agree with you that sometimes we tend to take small towns for granted in favour of bigger and more popular cities. But with age and experience I have realised that small cities have a unique soul that’s so difficult to match by the big cities. BTW i love a city where there are a lot of bridges and cyclepaths. I think I’ll definitely love the Valley City.
I’ve never been to North Dakota when in the US, so I read this post with great interest. Valley City looks very pretty, and with clearly many attractions. I especially like the bridges and the colours of fall too. One to add to the US list!
It’s a really pretty town. Aspen used to be pretty like that before it got commercialized by the tourist trade brought on by the Cannes film Festival…My point, sometimes places stay beautiful because no one knows about them. Just a thought.
I love visiting smaller towns like this one. And I must agree this seems like a perfect getaway. With beautiful scenery. A Perfect place to practice photography as well, with all those bridges its just perfect. Would love to bike here during the fall and see the beautiful changing colors in the foliage.
I’ve never been to North Dakota and before this post had never really thought about it before as somewhere to visit. This town looks so charming! I love all the bridges and the fall foliage.
I would love to make it all the way to North Dakota one day! It looks like such a beautiful state! All those beautiful colors and charming downtown areas!
I’ve never been to North Dakota at all and never heard of Valley City – it’s such a great name. It looks very pretty, particularly with that lovely fall foliage. Definitely adding this to the list.
THANK YOU for putting Valley City, ND on my radar. I’ve added it to our upcoming itinerary!
I hope you enjoy it — expecting to see a photo of one of those beautiful bridges or cute boutique stores!