Heading south along Hwy-1806 from Mandan along the west bank of the Missouri River, the first place you’ll reach is sprawling Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park (701/667-6340, daily, $5 per car), which was originally established as Fort McKeen in advance of the Northern Pacific Railroad expansion. It eventually fell into the hands of the U.S. Army, which in 1872 changed the fort’s name to the present one. Soon afterward, General Custer arrived to take over the reins of command, and in 1876 the fort was placed squarely on the map and in the national press as the departure point for the doomed general and his 262 men, who met their demise at Little Big Horn. Abandoned in 1891, the fort was dismantled by settlers who salvaged the wood and bricks to build their own homes, and most everything here today is a reconstruction.
The modern park covers slightly more than 1,000 acres and contains a number of barracks, stables, and stores, plus a replica of Custer’s House (daily summer, $6), where paid sycophants will lead you around, calling you “General” while conducting guided tours. Best of all is the On-A-Slant Indian Village, an excavated Mandan village established about 1575 where you can explore six full-scale recreated earth lodges.
If you like the idea of not driving for a change, the Fort Lincoln Trolley (depot at 2000 SE 3rd St., daily 1pm-4pm summer, $7 one-way, $9 round-trip) runs along the river between Mandan and Fort Abraham Lincoln, departing every hour or so for the 4.5-mile trip. You can also stay at the park overnight, either in a small sleeping cabin (summer only, $55) or in the adjacent campground (800/807-4723 or 701/667-6340), with cabins and campsites. Make reservations for these well ahead so you don’t miss out on the Missouri River sunrise views. Another popular place to stay among these wide-open Great Plains spaces is the glitzy Prairie Knights Casino and Resort (800/425-8277), on the Standing Rock Reservation between Mandan and Fort Yates.