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Spring 2001: The Turtle Mountains: Scenic, Serene, Secluded

Posted by Kris Fehr 10/20/2016 10:54:08 AM

The best example of North Dakota's lush lakes and gardens reveals itself in the Turtle Mountains, where a state-designated scenic byway begins at the intersection of N.D. Highway 30 and Rolette County Road 4006 south of St. John.

Buffalo-silhouetted road signs mark the trail and periodically reappear to guide byway explorers. In St. John travelers may fuel or buy at the small store. The Rolette County historical buildings downtown deserve a look, too.

Beginning west of the Metis historic settlement, along the gently winding, paved highway, the drive features an abundance of birch trees and grass fields grown for hay. Among the handful of ponds, the road passes through the Wakopa Wildlife Management Area, a state Game and Fish Department project, where greenery nestles the road's shoulder. Small, secluded camping and boat launching areas off the main thoroughfare and along Hooker Lake offer a glimpse into the tranquility of a solitary - and primitive - camping or fishing expedition. The 6,740 acres includes rutted gravel roads leading outdoor enthusiasts to spots where boating, camping and fishing is allowed. Depending on the season, one may view deer, elk, moose, ruffed grouse, turkey, snowshoe hare, tree squirrels and waterfowl in their natural surroundings.

At the Sandy-Pelican Lakes Primitive Recreation Area, part of the Turtle Mountain State Recreation Area managed by the state Forest Service, a winding dirt road leads through a wildlife viewing area to picnicking and boating areas. It's well-maintained, quiet and a lovely area for impromptu family stops or weekendcamping getaways that revolve around the outdoors.

A short, three-mile drive north on Highway 3 takes you to the International Peace Garden, a 2,339-acre garden with more than 150,000 flowers situated along the U.S.-Canadian border. An entrance fee is required. 

It's a clear-cut family outing, so plan to spend several hours exploring on foot the well-marked floral plantings that line paved paths on each side of the border. One of the most photographed features of the garden, the 18-foot floral clock, takes on a new design each year and is situated alongside the road just inside the American side of the garden. A 1.5-mile hiking trail offers the chance to stretch while leisurely viewing flowers, trees, grasses, butterflies or colorful birds.

A first-rate picnicking environment, the garden offers limited concessions, so pack your own lunch, snacks and beverages. 

The botanical garden commemorates peace between the two nations and features the world's longest unfortified border. An interpretive center on the American side of the park near the terrace area provides park history and lists daily activities. A gift shop is on the Canadian side.

Dedicated in 1932, much of the park was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), whose members spent parts of six years helping to build many of the bridges, picnic shelters, roads and buildings.

Before leaving the garden, home of the International Music Camp and free professional-quality Saturday afternoon concerts in the summer, meander along the scenic drive that loops around lakes, picnic areas and the in-garden campground. 

After passing through U.S. customs at the border, drive south three miles on Highway 3, then turn west on Highway 43 for 24 miles of slightly hilly driving as the byway continues. Past this junction, the scenery is void of evergreens; a variety of deciduous trees stretch less than 25 feet into the air.

The treat along this section of roadway is Lake Metigoshe, nestled in its own 1,551-acre state park. The Chippewa called the lake "Metigoshe Washegum," or "clear water lake surrounded by oaks." Resorts, lake cabins, a hotel and amenities line the three-mile drive off Highway 43 to the park's entrance. A project of the 1930s Works Progress Administration (WPA), it's a popular year-round vacation spot where visitors enjoy summer water sports like boating, fishing, water skiing, swimming, camping, bicycling and hiking. In winter, it's snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, skating, sledding and ice fishing.

The rolling hills, aspen forests and small lakes deliver a paradise for nature and photography lovers as well as those who simply love gorgeous outdoor scenery. The Old Oak Trail, a national recreation trail, yields yet another among many opportunities to exercise with the natural world. 

Throughout the well-maintained and family-friendly park, topography changes offer a variety rarely seen in such a small area: from sandy beaches and marshlands to heavily wooded hills rising above the many lakes. The park is also a sanctuary for wildlife. Small mammals such as squirrels, porcupines, wood chucks, mink, coyote and weasels co-exist with many songbirds and water birds. In the spring and late fall, thousands of migratory birds pass over the park. A variety of wetland plants thrive in the marshes where patches of moss, lichen and wildflowers provide delightful color extremes that add to the area's beauty.

Continuing west on Highway 43, the byway ends at state Highway 14. It's a remote, sparsely populated area with few towns, other than Bottineau 10 miles away. This drive offers pastoral views of pastures and a few active farmsteads.

(For information on this and other scenic byways and backways, log on to

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