North Dakota : Safety by City
- Devils Lake
- Fort Ransom
- Grand Forks
- Valley City
- West Fargo
Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, splits the metro area with the city of Mandan, and the Missouri River cuts right through.
That’s the same river that explorers Lewis & Clark paddled in 1804.
You can still paddle it or take a ride on a riverboat.
The outdoor adventures are still attractive in Bismarck, but there’s a lot more to this town of 76,000 than you might realize.
As a capital city, it will have more historic stops and museums than some other North Dakota towns.
The food scene ranges from traditional stops like Big Boy, which will give those of a certain era a sense of nostalgia.
You trendy people will love it too for its unique burger you can only get here–more on that to come.
The international flavors that round out the food options are quite impressive for a remote Dakota city.
Bismarck has enough things to do indoors that the cold (read=brutal) winters can still make a good time to visit.
Honestly, this isn’t a place many people seek out on a map to visit.
However, if you need to come here for friends, family, or work, you can stay busy and, most importantly, safe.
Warnings & Dangers in Bismarck
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low risk in Bismarck, though it's not one of those cities with hardly any crime. Common street smarts go a long way, and, again, plenty of things to do.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Bisman Transit (for Bismarck-Mandan) is the public bus system that goes between both cities. The fixed route system is known as CAT (Capital Area Transit). Taxis and rideshares are easy to find. You can also choose a rental car option. All possibilities are low risk.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
The theft rate here is 80% higher than the national average, fueled by 40% of that being shoplifting. While pickpockets and purse snatching are rare, it's wise to remember there are people capable of theft around you. The risk is low, but keep it low by limiting what you carry with you.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Winters are tough if you aren't used to cold weather, snow, sleet, and more cold weather, snow and sleet. Temperatures rarely get above freezing from December to February, and wind chills can plummet below 0°F. That's in addition to blizzards and ice storms. Warm weather brings severe weather season, with the risk of damaging wind, hail, lightning, and tornadoes. The city is also prone to flash and ongoing flooding. Yeah, it's a medium risk.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
This is a low risk, and just five highway robberies happened in 2022. While you should still use all the standard safety precautions, Bismarck is one of the safer places if you're going to be out at night.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
This is a low risk. Even as a state capital, there's still not a risk that would make us elevate this category. Of course, any suspicious activity should be reported immediately.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Scams here are largely against residents, with a special target against the elderly and gullible. You can read the latest scams on the police department's social media sites and website.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's no reason women would have a higher risk here, and you should feel safe even if you're a solo traveler. Just be sure to keep your personal safety standards high.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
Tap water has a low risk. After reading the Water Quality Report for 2022, there was one issue with multiple coliform samples, but you can read how the issue was resolved on the city's website. There was never a threat to the water quality because of that.
Safest Places to Visit in Bismarck
Sometimes the tourism websites for cities are pretty obvious, like VisitCity-dot-com.
This is why I like to detail these things because the tourism site here is NoBoundariesND.com.
That will cover Bismark and Manden.
The North Dakota tourism site has a section on Bismarck as well.
Begin your journey through history at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum.
This remarkable institution showcases the state’s heritage, spanning from prehistoric times to contemporary achievements.
Interactive exhibits and intriguing artifacts make it a must-visit.
For a deeper dive into history, explore the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.
Here, you can wander through meticulously reconstructed military buildings from the late 1800s, including the former residence of General Custer.
Other historical sites include:
- Camp Hancock Historic Site
- Chief Looking’s Village Historic Site
- Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site
- Former Governor’s Mansion State Historic Site
These sites are mostly done by self-guided tours, which helps plan flexibility into your Bismarck itinerary.
The city also boasts vibrant outdoor opportunities.
Head to the Missouri River for water-based adventures like kayaking and fishing.
Sertoma Park offers a beautiful natural escape with its walking trails and scenic picnic spots.
Visitors from May through September simply must take a ride on the Lewis & Clark Riverboat.
Public cruises run daily with snacks and drinks onboard.
You can also book this for a private event if you’d like.
The Dakota Zoo isn’t the biggest zoo by any means at just 90 acres, but it’s still a lot of fun to see the animals.
Visitors can observe red pandas, tigers, camels, and (my favorite) reindeer.
There’s also a zoo train and a rose garden.
When the sun sets, make your way to the Bismarck Downtown Historic District.
This area comes alive with a variety of dining options, local boutiques, and a welcoming atmosphere.
It’s a great place to soak up the city’s modern charm while still feeling its historical roots.
Be sure to drive through Big Boy restaurant here.
Yes, it’s a global brand.
However, several things are unique here.
First, you can get fried chicken. Second, burgers come “flying style.”
I’ll let you be surprised on that one.
Coke can come with a hint of cinnamon oil.
Fries come with gravy.
Now I’m hungry.
The city is also home to French bakeries and coffeehouses, some Italian options, and as authentic of an Irish pub as you’ll find in North Dakota.
Places to Avoid in Bismarck
In Bismarck, there aren’t “dangerous” parts of town.
Also, most of the hotels are in the lower crime areas.
Downtown has higher crime rates, but that’s to be expected in any city.
One thing I find particularly cool about how to find places to avoid in Bismarck is the crime map the police department offers.
It’s unlike one I’ve seen before.
You get real-time crime tracking with “hot zones” on the map.
You can select or de-select types of crime, traffic accidents, or reports to 911.
Options include the past 24 hours to the past four weeks.
You have to avoid being unprepared for winter here.
This isn’t a place where just a coat and gloves will suffice if you’re sledding or spending time outdoors.
You need layers of clothing, covering as much skin as possible with the best-insulated material as possible.
People have died from exposure to this type of cold, and wind chills can drop to -40°.
Function over fashion is how I plan for winter.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Bismarck
- Bismarck has its own police department. You can follow them on Facebook @bismarckpolice. The phone number is (701) 223-1212.
- I’m shocked that I can’t find an emergency alert system in the city or the county for severe weather. If you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, you’ll need a NOAA weather radio. Most modern mobile devices have WEA-enabled weather alerts as long as you allow location tracking. You can’t afford to miss weather alerts here.
- The city and Burleigh County Emergency Management websites do have many great resources for severe or disruptive weather in each season. I can’t emphasize enough how much you need to prepare for winter here.
- Check the streets section of the city’s website before your visit, especially if it’s in spring or summer. That’s when the most road work will be done. Knowing the work that is underway will help you get better GPS directions.
- More than four inches of snow must fall before all streets will be cleared. Emergency routes will be plowed with just two inches of snow. That map is also on the city’s website.
- If you’re there during a storm, never drive through a flooded roadway. You can see the areas most vulnerable to flooding on the city’s website under “Flood Resources.” This could be a good tool to help you pick a hotel far away from a flood zone.
- Anglers need a fishing license through the North Dakota Department of Fish & Game. Hunting licenses are also available, but that’s a long list you can review on the website.
- It’s now the law that drivers can be pulled over if they or someone in the car isn’t wearing a seatbelt. That includes the backseat passengers as well.
- Most of downtown Bismarck street parking has a 90-minute limit, but that’s only applicable Monday through Friday until 5:00 p.m.
- Use the city website “Notify Me” for updates. You can select from dozens of categories, but I’d make sure to have police department, emergency management, public notices, and Bismarck streets on the list. This will be helpful for road closures, weather-related hyper-local information, and ongoing police situations.
So... How Safe Is Bismarck Really?
If you’re off the “You think Bismarck is dangerous?
It’s nothing compared to Chicago/Detroit/St. Louis” variety, I hear ya.
I’m from St. Louis, but I can still tell you that a criminal’s gun in Bismarck does the same damage anywhere else.
You can have a safe experience in Bismarck with an underlying notion of “avoid anything that seems sketchy.”
For example, Zonta Park looks like a nice place, but there have reportedly been some issues with sketchy people there.
It won’t bother you if you’re from a city like Chicago.
About 20% of thefts here, and remember, that theft rate is very high, come from car break-ins or accessory thefts.
Don’t leave personal items in your car, park in a well-lit or secure area, and lock your doors.
Never leave a car running to warm up unless you are with the car.
Just 16% of the violent crimes here happen against strangers, so keep that risk low by just minding your own business.
If you see a fight brewing, leave.
If you notice a crime happening, don’t intervene–call 911.
Keep an eye on the weather and overpack for winter.
That’s really all it takes to stay safe in Bismarck.
How Does Bismarck Compare?
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|La Paz (Bolivia)||52|
You'll need a visa or visa waiver to get through Customs and Border Patrol when you enter the country. A passport must be valid and not within six months of expiring.
Only the U.S. Dollar can be used here. While there's not a currency exchange vendor at the airport, you can use the ATMs there. You'll face lower fees at your home bank, so it's a good idea to take care of that ahead of time.
Have I beaten this frozen, dead horse enough? Winter is brutally cold. Even the hottest days of summer rarely get above 80°. Expect freezing or near-freezing temperatures from October through May. Wear comfortable shoes and pack casual clothing.
Given the remote location, I can't recommend anything but using the Bismarck Airport. They do have flights through Allegiant, American, Delta, and United. If you'd pressure me to find you a bigger airport, I'd have to say drive nearly 450 miles to Minneapolis. You could fly there faster.
Travel insurance just makes sense when flying into a smaller airport and a more rural city. You also want to get rental car insurance in case of a weather-related accident, crash, or roadside assistance needs.
Bismarck Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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North Dakota - Safety by City