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Day Trips

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Day Trips

Fort Union Trading Post, Fort Buford and the Confluence

From Watford City, take Highway 85 and travel west to Highway 200 (just north of Alexander).  Take Highway 200 west to Highway 58, at Highway 58 you will travel north, going over the Missouri River, to Highway 1804.  At Highway 1804 you can go left to Fort Union Trading Post or go right to Fort Buford and the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center. 

As you travel down Highway 200 you will past the remnants of the old rail town of Charbonneau with its rustic red grain elevators – a nice picture stop of years gone by. En-route, you may want to stop by the Lewis & Clark Museum in Alexander and have an Espresso at James Gang Coffee.  If time permits, stop in at Fairview, Montana for lunch or dinner at The Double Barrel Saloon or The Hotel Albert.

The Long X Trading Post

Start your trip at The Long X Trading Post Visitor Center and Pioneer Museum – your destination for information on McKenzie County’s past and present.  Check out North Dakota’s Largest Petrified Tree Stump and pick up brochures on Western North Dakota’s vacation attractions.  

The Pioneer Museum lays a great foundation to any touring in the area. Offering two levels, the Museum presents the pioneering spirit of McKenzie County residents of the past and present. Visit the pioneer parlor and experience all the comforts of home. Check out the Prairie School and the sewing and quilting of the early prairie homestead women and Native American women of McKenzie County.  Learn about the last lynching in North Dakota taking place in 1931.  See a presentation on what it takes to drill for oil in McKenzie County and view the “to scale” Drilling Rig and Work Over Rig on display in the Oil and Gas Exploration exhibit.

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

The fur trade post Fort Union was established in 1828 at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers by the Upper Missouri Outfit (U.M.O.) of the American Fur Co. For almost 40 years, Fort Union served as the headquarters of the U.M.O. As the center of an immense American economic empire, Fort Union controlled the bison robe and fur trade over a huge area encompassing what are now North and South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.

Fort Union Rendezvous – The trading post comes alive during 4 days in June with an encampment of traders, craftsmen and Native Americans to relive its heyday and allow visitors a glimpse of history. It is not uncommon to see mountain men tanning hides, a blacksmith at work, artisans crafting jewelry and teepees with Native American artifacts. In the evening, you may hear a fiddler and voices singing around the campfire. A new experience each year with demonstrations, speakers and storytellers.

The visitor center in the Bourgeois House has information, exhibits, a bookstore, and restrooms.  You may purchase an authentic buffalo robe and reproduction trade goods – blankets and cloth, tools and cutlery, jewelry, tin ware, and more.  The visitor center is open daily, except winter holidays: Thanksgiving, December 25, January 1, and Martin Luther King and Presidents’ days.  Seasonal hours vary. See for more detail.

Fort Buford State Historic Site

Fort Buford State Historic Site preserves remnants of a vital frontier plains military post. Fort Buford was built in 1866 near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, and became a major supply depot for military field operations. Original features still existing on the site include a stone powder magazine, the post cemetery site, and large officers' quarters building which now houses a museum.

Fort Buford was one of a number of military posts established to protect overland and river routes used by immigrants settling the West. While it served an essential role as the sentinel on the northern plains for twenty-nine years, it is probably best remembered as the place where the famous Hunkpapa Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, surrendered in 1881.Seasonal hours vary. Contact: 701-572-9034.

Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center

Located one-half mile east of Fort Buford, the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center tells the story of the confluence of these two mighty rivers, as well as provides the same magnificent view that Lewis and Clark Expedition members enjoyed when they visited in 1805 and 1806. The rotunda area includes three large murals featuring quotes from the Lewis and Clark Journals, and paintings of the Missouri River landscape by Colonel Philippe Régis de Trobriand, commanding officer of Fort Stevenson near present-day Garrison, N.D. in the late 1860s.

Part of Fort Buford State Historic Site, the center provides information, exhibits, a film, museum store, trails, and views of the rivers.  Summer hours daily; seasonal hours vary; closed holidays.  Contact: 701-572-9034.

Fairview Lift Bridge & Cartwright Tunnel

The Fairview Lift Bridge is located 3.5 miles east of Fairview and two miles west of Cartwright, ND – just off of Highway 200 at Sundheim Park. This bridge was constructed as part of an ambitious plan by Great Northern Railroad for its never-completed Montana Eastern Railway. According to Richard E. Johnson in a 1994 article published in "Hoofprints," (the publication of the Yellowstone Corral of the Westerners) the railway was designed as a second mainline for the northern plains, connecting the vast open spaces between New Rockford, ND, and Lewistown, MT. About the time World War I began, an economic downturn of the Montana Eastern Railway brought construction to a halt. According to Mark Hufstetler, a historian with Renewable Technologies Inc., of Butte, MT, the Fairview Lift Bridge served as a little-used branchline. He stated "At its peak, the line probably saw no more than one passenger and one freight train each way per day."

The Fairview Lift Bridge constructed by Gerrick & Gerrick stretches 1,320 feet across the Yellowstone River. In its earlier days, the Fairview Lift Bridge not only accommodated rail traffic, but also vehicular traffic. Planking was placed between and outside the rails to accommodate automobiles. According to Hufstetler, a watchman was stationed at the bridge to prevent trains and automobiles from colliding. He wrote that Great Northern charged a toll for cars using the bridge until the state highway department assumed responsibility in 1937. Don Tank, Minot, worked on the bridge as a "leverman" in the 1950s. "Levermen controlled the highway traffic," said Tank. "I worked just one summer for a couple of months. It was the lowest paid job in the division. Levermen were supposed to control the highway gates on the bridge so cars wouldn't run into the trains, but most of the time they were just left open. The locals knew the timing of the trains anyway." According to Tank, passenger trains crossed the bridge once each day and freight trains once every other day. Other than at those times, automobiles could cross the bridge on planks laid near the ties. There was a hand-cranked telephone in the leverman's hut that was wired to the depot at Cartwright about 1 1/2 miles east of the tunnel and also Fairview to the west. The phone was used to alert the leverman when a train was approaching from either direction. A second phone was placed at the west end of the bridge. That phone was to be used by motorists to alert the leverman that they wished to cross the bridge. "I remember one time, it was a Sunday, and dad and I were going hunting. I was maybe six or seven years old," recalled Tank. "The gate was locked and nobody was working so dad got some wrenches out and removed the bolts on the gate and we went across anyway." Tank said working and waiting for a train or motorcar was lonely and boring work. "I remember one old guy who did that. He spent the daytime sharpening saws and made good money. It worked out pretty good for him," said Tank. Automobile traffic ceased and the planking was removed once construction of the Hjalmer Nelson Memorial Highway Bridge was completed in 1956. Passenger rail service on the line ended in the late 1950s and the last freight rail service to cross the bridge was on June 5, 1986.

While now closed to both rail and vehicular traffic, the Fairview Lift Bridge adjoins the only tunnel in North Dakota. The 1,458-foot long tunnel was built in 1912 and 1913. Most of the digging was done by hand, although horse and mule-drawn scrapers and blasting powder were used in building the approaches.

In 1991, the state began a survey of historic bridges. The Fairview Lift Bridge was on the list of 127 found eligible for the National Register. It was among 30 chosen for nomination. According to Hufstetler, who submitted the nomination, the bridge qualifies both for its historical significance and its unique engineering. In 1997, the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Being that both the Cartwright Tunnel and Fairview Lift Bridge remain structurally sound, the Fairview Chamber of Commerce has developed them into a walking trail. Shortly after work was completed, a test was conducted on the apparatus used to raise the 1.14 million pound lift section of the bridge. It worked perfectly. That was the one and only time the remarkable marvel of engineering was used.

Fairview Bridge & Cartwright Tunnel Trail

The Old Fairview Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel Trail is open to pedestrians and cyclists to cross the Yellowstone. An unusual feature of this 1 mile trail is the Cartwright Tunnel. The tunnel is 1,458 feet long and was built in 1912 and 1913. A flash light is a must.

History of the Bridges Construction and Components

At the time construction of the Fairview and Snowden Lift Bridges began in 1912, federal law required an 80-ft. height clearance from the average water level on navigable waters. Being that both the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers were navigable, both bridges were designed to accommodate the law. The best option the railroad had to accommodate the 80-ft requirement was to install a 'lift' section in each bridge allowing one of its sections to be raised to allow the passage of oversize river traffic. The design of this style of drawbridge is distinct from others in that an entire section is uniformly lifted from each end. The nearly 300-ft. 'lift' section of each bridge weighs 1.4 million lbs. The 'lift' section consists of two 108-ft. towers that house the counterweights. Each counterweight connects to the section using 16 two-inch cables (eight cables per corner). Because the weight of the section was so well counterbalanced, a 3-cylinder kerosene engine is all that was required to raise and lower the section. Being that all river traffic ceased on both the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers in 1913, the only time the 'lift' section on the Fairview Lift Bridge was raised was at the completion of construction in 1913 to test the lift mechanism's functionality. The last time the Snowden Lift Bridge's 'lift' section was raised was in 1935 to allow the passage of a freight boat carrying materials for the Fort Peck Dam. After nearly a century, (although no longer operational on either bridge) the equipment required to lift the bridge sections remain fully intact minus the 3-cylinder kerosene engine from the Fairview Lift Bridge, which was removed several years ago. Unlike the Fairview Lift Bridge, the Snowden Lift Bridge is uniquely designed in a fashion that the counterweights and accompanying lift mechanisms can be moved to another section of the bridge should the navigation channel of the river shift. The cost to build each bridge was $500,000.


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