Most Americans know the story of Sacajawea (also spelled Sakakawea or Sacajawea) who was a Shoshone woman helped Lewis and Clark on their expedition.
What many may not know is that she is from area in the present state of North Dakota close to the area where Lewis and Clark camped at Fort Mandan.
The Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site protects these villages and the history of the area where her people lived as well as what is believed to be her birthplace as well.
About Knife River Indian Villages NHS
Knife River Indian Villages NHS protects several local Hidatsa Village Sites in present day North Dakota. It protects quite a few sites of high archaeological value (which explains a lot of work being done there). As well as an important moment in US history as well with the connection of Sacajawea to Lewis and Clark (although that was at nearby Fort Mandan).
This area was a confluence of cultures from Hidatsa, Mandan, Lakota, English, French, and Germans. There were known mixes of cultures and people as quite a few interracial marriages and births happened between the populations in the land.
Should you Visit the National Historic Site
Yes, very much so. I love these smaller sites in many ways and I think it was a fascinating stop along my travels through North Dakota. Getting to visit here, Fort Mandan and then later other sites to the west. It really connects you to the land and the people of the time period and the history of the expedition as well.
The excavations being done at the site were worthwhile to explore as well. It was excellent that the folks there were so forthcoming with information and also allowed us to walk up and see what they were doing. This may have been due to how few tourists actually visit the site. But the lack of visitors made it more intimate.
Things to Do at Knife River
Definitely worth the stop to visit, as its located just outside the visitor center. The Earthlodge give you the ability to look inside a traditional Hidatsa earth lodge. A typical earth lodge generally held about 15 – 20 people within its walls and was constructed with a mix of logs, prairie grass, branches, and thick sod. The lodges include a variety of different bedding, prizes of war, household items around a central firepit. Since earthlodges were typically rebuilt every 10 years, this one is itself a reconstruction of what one would have looked like.
If you are going to do one of the trails, this is definitely the one to do. It takes you on a short 1.3 mile tour to various sites of where villages existed within the Knife River Villages. In this case the Awatixa Xi’e Village and the Awatixa Village. The latter being the place where Sacajawea was believed to have been born.
Two Rivers Trail
The two rivers trail is a longer 6.2 mile trail that gives you views of both Knife River as well as the larger Missouri River. It’s much more scenic than historic. You can if you have a local North Dakota fishing license also fish in certain areas along the trail. You can also do some great bird watching in this area as well. Great to get out to nature but I definitely recommend you make the time to do some of the historic trails as well.
North Forest Trail
The north forest trail (2.2 miles) goes along the northern part of Knife Rivers Village National Historic Site. It takes you through some of the prairie lands and also has a small shoot-off to visit the Big Hidatsa Site which is also worth a visit as well. They were doing some excavations there when I visited and the archaeologists are more than happy to chat, answer questions, and demonstrate the work.
There is parking near the trail loop (and close to the Big Hidatsa Site) or you can also walk from the Visitor’s Center as well.
Address: 564 County Road 37 Stanton, ND 58571
The visitor center is definitely the first and best place to stop on a visit to Knife River Indian Villages NHS and has a great set of displays as well as a nice movie you can watch as well. The rangers were super excited to chat about the site and it was from them that made me decide to go out big Hidatsa to see the excavation.
The site operates daily:
Memorial Day-Labor Day: 9am – 5pm Central Time
Labor Day – Memorial Day: 8am – 4:30pm Central Time
Visitor Center and Earthlodge are closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. However, the trails do remain open and accessible these days.
National Park Stamp
There is a National Park Passport Stamp located in the Visitor Center at Knife River Villages NHS
Website: Official NPS Website
Knife River Indian Villages NHS is located in central North Dakota outside the town of Stanton, ND.
The Site is located 60 miles (1 hr) north of Bismarck North Dakota. From Bismarck take I-94 W to ND-25N to Hensler ND. Follow ND-200W for about 16 miles and then turn onto ND-31N towards Stanton. Continue through Stanton and follow signs for Knife River Indian Villages NHS.
The closest airport to Knife River Indian Villages NHS is located is Bismarck Municipal Airport (BIS) in Bismarck ND about 60miles (1 hr) from the site. BIS is serviced by several major airlines including United, Allegiant, Frontier, Delta, and American.
By Public Transportation
Unfortunately public transportation is few and far between in this area and does not connect between these sites.