In North Dakota, the past whispers from the abandoned buildings and ghost towns that punctuate the landscape. Once bustling with life, these deserted locations now provide a glimpse into the state’s history, offering insight into the ebbs and flows of population and industry that have shaped the Peace Garden State. From abandoned military installations to deserted agricultural communities, the abandoned places in North Dakota serve as poignant reminders of times past and offer a treasure trove of exploration for the keen urban explorer.
Note: Many of these locations are in an extremely delicate state. Specifics on locations, such as coordinates or maps, are not given. This is done so purposefully as a barrier to entry to those who may mean harm to these spots. I want to ensure that these abandoned places in North Dakota are known about, but stay as vandalism and destruction free as possible. Remember: Take only photos, leave only footprints.
Breakdown: The Top 10 and More
If you have a specific location from the list below that you would like to immediately get more information about, click the links in the list to snap straight to that abandoned places in North Dakota location.
- Nekoma Pyramid (Nekoma)
- Alkabo (Divide County)
- San Haven Sanatorium (Dunseith)
- Lincoln Valley (Sheridan County)
- Sims Scandinavian Lutheran Church (Sims)
- Thelen Ghost Town (Billings County)
- Verendrye Site (Pierce County)
- Fortuna Air Force Station (Divide County)
- Marmarth (Slope County)
- Little Missouri National Grassland Ghost Towns (Western North Dakota)
Broaden Your Horizons Beyond North Dakota
Are you interested in venturing outside the state of North Dakota? Maybe you live close to the state line, or maybe you’re just looking for adventures outside your home state. Whatever the case may be, here are some guides to bordering states that may be helpful in effective urban exploration:
Don’t Forget About Trespassing Laws
It is important when considering abandoned places in North Dakota to know the basics of North Dakota trespassing laws. Luckily, we have developed a massive guide to trespassing laws in all 50 states. For laws that specifically relate to North Dakota, please click here.
Without any further ado, let’s hop into the list of abandoned places!
The Best Abandoned Places in North Dakota
Nekoma Pyramid (Nekoma)
On the isolated plains of North Dakota, the Nekoma Pyramid, formally known as the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex, stands as a stark reminder of the Cold War era. This massive structure, also often referred to as the “Pyramid of North Dakota,” is a piece of military history that encapsulates the tension and fear of nuclear warfare that permeated the mid-20th century.
Commissioned in the 1970s as part of the United States’ anti-ballistic missile efforts, the Nekoma Pyramid was one of the most technologically advanced facilities of its time.
The pyramid, with its four large faces, was essentially a giant radar system, designed to detect incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). The pyramid was accompanied by missile silos scattered around the site, housing defensive missiles that could be deployed to intercept any detected threats.
Despite its technological prowess and strategic importance, the site was operational for less than a year. The enormous cost of the operation, coupled with the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union, led to the decommissioning of the Nekoma Pyramid and the entire Safeguard Complex.
How Things Look Today
Now abandoned, the Nekoma Pyramid stands as a surreal monument in the landscape, its futuristic, almost alien presence contrasting starkly with the rural plains that surround it. Its surface, adorned with hundreds of dark, vacant eyes, once state-of-the-art radar components, lends an eerie quality to the pyramid.
The site has since been repurposed to a limited extent – part of the surrounding complex is now used for data storage – but the pyramid itself stands as it did when it was abandoned, a haunting relic of a tension-filled era.
For those brave enough to venture to this remote location, the Nekoma Pyramid offers a unique glimpse into the past, its hulking form a testament to the lengths nations will go to in the name of defense and survival.
Alkabo (Divide County)
Nestled in the northwest corner of North Dakota, within the rugged expanse of Divide County, lies the ghost town of Alkabo. Once a thriving agricultural hub at the turn of the 20th century, Alkabo has since been largely abandoned, its buildings standing as somber markers of a more prosperous time.
The town of Alkabo was originally settled in the early 1900s, its economy buoyed by the rich farming lands that surrounded it. For a time, Alkabo thrived. It was home to a variety of businesses including a grocery store, a blacksmith, and a school. However, as with many rural towns of the period, Alkabo began to decline with the advent of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, which significantly impacted farming communities across the Midwest.
How Things Look Today
Today, Alkabo stands as a poignant testament to North Dakota’s agrarian past. A handful of its original structures still stand, weather-beaten by the passage of time yet maintaining a certain stoic dignity.
Among these is the Alkabo School, a two-story brick building that, despite its state of disrepair, remains one of the most enduring symbols of the town. The school’s empty classrooms and vacant corridors echo with the sounds of laughter and learning that once filled them.
Further into the town, one can find a few remaining houses, their paint chipped and faded, some with windows broken or entirely missing. Each building tells a story of a time when Alkabo was filled with life and activity. A few pieces of farming equipment lay scattered around the town, slowly succumbing to rust and decay, an enduring testament to the hard work of the farmers who once inhabited this place.
Visiting Alkabo today offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and glimpse the stark realities of life in rural America during the early 20th century. Its abandoned buildings, their silent facades belying the hustle and bustle they once knew, serve as a poignant reminder of the ebb and flow of human communities and the indomitable spirit of those who carve a life from the land.
San Haven Sanatorium (Dunseith)
San Haven Sanatorium, located near the small town of Dunseith, North Dakota, was once a bustling medical facility that specialized in treating tuberculosis patients.
Built in the early 1900s, the hospital was constructed in response to the tuberculosis epidemic that was sweeping across the nation at the time. At its peak, it housed over 1,000 patients and was a key provider of medical services and employment in the region.
The sanatorium is situated on the picturesque Turtle Mountains, chosen for its clean air and scenic surroundings, elements thought to assist in the recovery of tuberculosis patients. The campus is expansive, consisting of multiple buildings that once served various functions such as patient wards, nurses’ residences, a laundry facility, a power plant, and more.
As advancements in antibiotics emerged, the need for tuberculosis sanatoriums greatly diminished, leading to a decline in San Haven’s patient population. The facility was repurposed as a home for the developmentally disabled in the 1970s, but was ultimately closed in the 1980s due to allegations of patient mistreatment and changes in state health policies.
How Things Look Today
Today, the San Haven Sanatorium stands largely abandoned. Nature has begun to reclaim the area, with vines creeping up the sides of the buildings and wildlife populating the grounds. The buildings, though showing signs of decay and vandalism, are stark reminders of a past era of medical history.
Windows stand empty, peering out over the surrounding landscape, while long corridors and vacant rooms echo with the stories of those who lived and worked here.
Despite the derelict state, the San Haven Sanatorium still attracts curious visitors, urban explorers, and paranormal enthusiasts who report of eerie occurrences. The sprawling, ghostly remains serve as a haunting monument to North Dakota’s past, its battle with a once-deadly disease, and the evolution of medical science.
Visitors are urged to exercise caution when exploring the area due to the deteriorating state of the buildings, and to respect the site due to its historical significance. The San Haven Sanatorium is a place of poignant history, its echoes of the past still palpable in its silent, decaying walls.
Lincoln Valley (Sheridan County)
Lincoln Valley, situated in Sheridan County, North Dakota, is a silent testament to the shifting sands of time and change. Once a thriving community, this small agricultural town, founded by German-Russian immigrants around 1900, today stands largely deserted, its once bustling streets replaced by a haunting quiet.
At its peak, Lincoln Valley was home to a variety of businesses, including a butcher shop, a school, a bank, several grocery stores, and a blacksmith’s workshop. The townsfolk, primarily engaged in farming, lent the community a distinct rural character that was emblematic of the American Midwest in the early 20th century.
However, Lincoln Valley couldn’t escape the socio-economic changes that affected many small rural towns during the mid to late 20th century. With advancements in farming technology and shifts in population towards urban areas, the town’s population began to dwindle. The younger generations moved out in search of better opportunities, and the once vibrant town started to decline.
How Things Look Today
Today, only a handful of residents remain in Lincoln Valley. Many of the town’s buildings stand abandoned, succumbing slowly to the elements. The houses, empty and weather-worn, their windows blank and staring, offer a poignant sight, while the old school and church stand as silent monuments to a bygone era. Each building, in its own way, tells a story of community, struggle, and inevitable change.
Nature has started to reclaim the area, with tall grass growing in the streets and vines covering the dilapidated buildings. Yet, there’s a unique beauty in the decay, a sense of resilience that clings to the abandoned structures. The town, though largely forgotten, resonates with the echoes of its past.
For those interested in history, or those simply seeking the quiet solitude of an abandoned place, Lincoln Valley offers a profound journey into the past. Visitors should exercise caution and respect for private property, but the exploration of this ghost town promises a surreal experience, a chance to step back in time and contemplate the ebb and flow of human civilization.
Sims Scandinavian Lutheran Church (Sims)
Nestled in the heart of North Dakota, not far from the now nearly deserted town of Sims, stands the stoic and enduring Sims Scandinavian Lutheran Church. An emblem of the area’s early Scandinavian settlers, the church was built in 1884 and is the only remaining structure that attests to the once thriving town of Sims.
Sims Scandinavian Lutheran Church is a splendid example of the Gothic Revival architectural style that was popular among American churches in the late 19th century.
Its tall spire punctuates the North Dakota landscape, and its stark white facade contrasts beautifully with the expansive blue skies. The church’s interior showcases stunning craftsmanship, with an altar and pulpit hewn from the local woods and a bell that still chimes from the belfry.
In its prime, the church was the spiritual and social hub of Sims, a town established during the coal boom in the 1880s. Sims was home to a growing community of Scandinavian immigrants, and the church served as a beacon for these settlers, its services held in the Norwegian language.
However, as the coal reserves depleted and the railroad moved away, the town of Sims began to dwindle. By the mid-20th century, most residents had moved on, leaving only the church and the parsonage behind. Despite the decline, the church continued to hold services until 2004.
How Things Look Today
Today, the Sims Scandinavian Lutheran Church stands abandoned yet resilient against the relentless prairie winds. The parsonage, a two-story wooden building, leans precariously due to the shifting soils but refuses to fall. Despite the ravages of time and weather, the church maintains its dignified aura.
The church’s enduring presence has attracted interest from historians and photographers alike. It serves as a silent testament to the pioneers of North Dakota, offering a window into the past and a poignant reminder of the transient nature of human endeavors.
Visitors to the area are welcome to explore the exterior of the church and its surroundings, but should respect the site’s history and privacy. The Sims Scandinavian Lutheran Church is not just a relic of the past, but a symbol of the cultural heritage and indomitable spirit of the North Dakota settlers.
Thelen Ghost Town (Billings County)
Secluded in the rugged badlands of Billings County, North Dakota, the ghost town of Thelen, also known as Eastedge, is a symbol of a bygone era. Founded in the early 20th century, the town sprouted up with the promise of the railroad industry, which never came to fruition, leading to its eventual abandonment.
Thelen was established in 1914 with high hopes of flourishing into a bustling settlement, as it was believed to be in the path of the expanding Milwaukee Road railroad line. The early settlers, drawn by this prospect, began constructing homes, shops, and other establishments necessary for a thriving community. However, their aspirations were never met, and the town began to decline almost as quickly as it had grown.
How Things Look Today
Today, Thelen lies desolate and largely forgotten, swallowed by the harsh North Dakota landscape. The town’s remnants consist of only a few dilapidated buildings and the crumbling foundations of homes and establishments. Despite the town’s desolation, these remnants stand as poignant reminders of the hopes and dreams of the early pioneers, their resilience, and the harsh reality of life on the frontier.
The weather-beaten structures in Thelen project an eerie beauty, making the area a compelling subject for photographers and explorers interested in ghost towns and American history. Visitors can glimpse into the past and imagine the life of early settlers who tried to carve out a living in this challenging landscape.
Given the private ownership of some parts of the land on which Thelen is located, visitors should seek permission before exploring certain areas. Its isolated location also demands preparedness for remote travel, and it’s important to leave the site undisturbed to respect its historical value.
Even in its state of abandonment, Thelen holds a certain allure, showcasing the transient nature of human endeavor and the indomitable force of nature. This ghost town is a haunting yet fascinating relic of North Dakota’s past, offering visitors a unique glimpse into the region’s history.
Verendrye Site (Pierce County)
The Verendrye Site, situated in Pierce County, North Dakota, is steeped in centuries of exploration and history, its serenity belying a past that has shaped the course of American exploration. It bears the name of the French-Canadian explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, and his sons who journeyed through the area in the mid-18th century.
In the 1730s, La Vérendrye and his sons set out to find a route to the western sea and establish a fur trade. Their explorations marked one of the earliest European incursions into the North Dakota region. In 1738, the La Vérendryes left an inscribed lead plate near a hill close to the present-day city of Rugby, asserting French claim to the territory.
The lead plate was not discovered until nearly 200 years later in 1913, and the site has since been named after La Vérendrye. The exact spot, now referred to as the Verendrye Site, has been marked with a stone cairn commemorating the historical event.
Though not abandoned in the conventional sense of dilapidated buildings or ghost towns, the Verendrye Site’s quiet prairie landscape belies the depth of its historic significance. The site itself offers a serene vista of the surrounding countryside, a peaceful homage to the exploratory journeys that helped map the North American continent.
How Things Look Today
Visitors to the Verendrye Site can immerse themselves in this rich history, taking in the calm prairie air while contemplating the journeys of early explorers who once traversed these same landscapes. It’s a testament to the endurance and ambition of those early explorers, their impact still felt centuries later in the naming and remembering of this site.
Whether you’re a history buff, a lover of nature, or someone who appreciates the quiet beauty of North Dakota’s landscape, the Verendrye Site offers a unique and contemplative visit that ties together the past and the present in one panoramic view.
Fortuna Air Force Station (Divide County)
Tucked away in the far reaches of North Dakota’s Divide County, the desolate remains of Fortuna Air Force Station (AFS) stand as an imposing testament to the tension of the Cold War era.
Erected during the height of the Cold War in 1952, the Fortuna AFS played a vital role in the United States’ early warning radar network, providing crucial surveillance and airspace control to detect and intercept potential Soviet threats.
Perched on a remote stretch of high terrain, the station was optimally placed for long-range radar operations. The station was part of the wider Air Defense Command network and provided data to the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system, a sophisticated air defense system that coordinated radar stations and airbases throughout the country.
The facility was a hive of activity, accommodating around 200 personnel at its peak, including military and civilian employees. The station was a self-contained community, boasting an array of amenities including barracks, an operations building, power plant, family housing, and even a bowling alley.
However, with the advancement in satellite technology and the relaxation of Cold War tensions, the station was deemed surplus to requirements. In 1984, the Fortuna AFS was decommissioned and largely abandoned.
How Things Look Today
Today, the skeletal remains of the station offer an eerie, yet captivating sight. While many of the buildings have been razed, some still stand in varying stages of decay, their once vital functions now a distant memory. The looming radar towers, now silent, pierce the skyline, a stark reminder of the station’s essential role during a crucial period in world history.
The Fortuna Air Force Station offers a glimpse into the past, its abandoned structures a powerful symbol of the transience of technology and the shifting sands of global politics.
For the intrepid explorers who make the journey, the site provides a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the echo of a world once balanced on the brink of nuclear conflict. Its desolation and abandonment underscore the site’s historical significance, making it an essential visit for those drawn to the relics of the past.
Marmarth (Slope County)
Marmarth, located in Slope County, North Dakota, offers a hauntingly beautiful picture of abandonment and historical significance. Once a bustling and vibrant city during the early 20th century, Marmarth now has a population that barely exceeds a hundred, giving it the status of a near ghost town.
Marmarth’s heyday came during the 1910s and 1920s, with the completion of the railroad system. The town rapidly grew, becoming a bustling trade center with hotels, stores, and saloons. At its peak, the population soared to over 1,300 residents, but as the decades rolled by, the once-busy railroad fell into decline, and so did Marmarth.
How Things Look Today
Today, many of Marmarth’s historic buildings stand abandoned, silently narrating tales of a forgotten era. The old Mystic Theatre, one of the few remnants of the once thriving community, stands as a poignant symbol of the town’s former glory. Its worn-out facade, peeling paint, and crumbling infrastructure offer a striking contrast to the lively entertainment venue it once was.
Equally intriguing is the Barber Auditorium, an imposing structure that hosted community events and meetings. Today, its large, empty halls echo with a silence that speaks volumes about the town’s history.
Another notable site is the Old First National Bank building. Once a bustling center of commerce, it stands desolate and forsaken, its interior succumbing to the forces of nature. Yet, despite its dilapidated state, the structure possesses a stark beauty, reflecting the unique aesthetic that only time and neglect can bestow.
Notably, Marmarth is also known for its significant dinosaur fossil findings, including the Dakota fossil, a fossilized dinosaur skin imprint that provides rare insights into the appearance and preservation of dinosaur skin.
For those seeking a journey into the past, Marmarth provides a rich, though somewhat melancholic, exploration of a bygone era. Its deserted streets, abandoned structures, and quiet ambiance provide an experience that is as educational as it is evocative, capturing the stark reality of the rise and fall of communities during America’s expansive railway age.
Little Missouri National Grassland Ghost Towns (Western North Dakota)
Little Missouri National Grassland, the largest grassland in the United States, encompasses a significant area of western North Dakota. Known for its expansive landscapes and natural beauty, the region also holds remnants of the past in the form of ghost towns that dot the sprawling grassland. These ghost towns, once teeming with life and activity, are now silent witnesses to a bygone era.
Several small towns emerged within the boundaries of what is now the Little Missouri National Grassland during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly because of the homesteading boom and the expansion of the railroads. However, as the railroad’s influence waned and agricultural hardships set in, these communities started to dwindle, gradually transforming into the ghost towns we see today.
One such town is Schafer, which was once a bustling settlement with a bank, school, post office, and several businesses. Today, all that remains are a few dilapidated structures, including the iconic Schafer Jail, a small log cabin that served as the town’s jailhouse, giving a stark reminder of the once thriving community.
Elbowoods is another notable ghost town located within the grassland. The town thrived in the early 20th century due to its location along the Missouri River, but was ultimately flooded and abandoned in the 1950s with the construction of the Garrison Dam. Although much of the original town is submerged, occasionally, when the water levels are low, remnants of old buildings become visible.
How Things Look Today
Perhaps the most haunting is the town of Gascoyne, once a major lignite coal producer in the state. Today, it lies in ruins, with only a handful of crumbling buildings, including the remnants of the old coal mine, hinting at its industrious past.
Visiting these ghost towns provides a stark and poignant experience, offering a window into the struggles and resilience of the early settlers in the harsh environment of the North Dakota plains. Amid the sprawling grasslands and beneath the wide, open skies, these abandoned settlements paint a powerful portrait of the relentless passage of time and the transient nature of human endeavor.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in North Dakota
Those who are into urban exploration in the North Dakota area should get comfortable with North Dakota trespassing laws. Luckily, we have developed a massive guide to trespassing laws in all 50 states. For laws that specifically relate to North Dakota, please click here.
For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission. Finally, if you are wanting to find more abandoned places in North Dakota, check out my resource How To Find Abandoned Places With Google Maps.
- John Bourscheid, Killer Urbex