Highway 281 Corridor North– Drifting across the drift prairies of North America

Riding the Drift Prairie region of ND takes you past wetlands and waterholes.

U.S. Highway 281 carries you safely and smoothly across North Dakota with pleasant stops along the way.  It’s one of the routes recommended by Kickstands Up Motorcycle Touring.  It’s a good mellow ride with a few rolling hills on a highway that skirts ponds, sloughs, lakes and wetlands – all features of what is called “drift prairie,” a region left by glaciers eons ago.

This part of the state gets good moisture, so keep your eyes to the skies. You will get plenty of warning if rain is coming because you can see forever — or so it seems — lotsa sky to keep you informed of potential weather.

Keep the thunderheads east of you to stay dry — and get an impressive view of prairie weather

If you’re fortunate, any thunderstorms will miss you and you can watch them from the back side of the storm as the tall clouds rise above you to the east. It’s a massively beautiful natural formation, one that must have surely entertained wagon trains crossing the Drift Prairie.

For motorcyclists, the gentle landscape provides easy riding and open vistas through some of the most fertile farm country in the world. Agriculture is the lifeblood, the backbone and the heart of this country.  There’s a chance that if you eat pasta, you’ve undoubtedly been fed from some of the durum fields you’re riding through.  Barley, sunflower and spring wheat abound in this region.

You’ll see plenty of waterfowl on this ride. Many riders headed to or from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally follow Highway 281.   It’s a quick ride with few interruptions and little traffic.  The few miles where Highways 281 and 52 are co-joined you’ll encounter more truck traffic, but most of the time, anywhere on 281, you’ll share the road with tractors and farm equipment.

Starting at Jamestown, let’s look at this ride, first to the north and then in the next post in this blog https://2wheels2lanes1camera.wordpress.com we’ll look at 281 to the south.

Jamestown – Buffalo City

Jamestown hosts several charity rides every summer including Christmas in July to raise money for the kids at the Anne Carlsen School

Stutsman H-D is visible from Interstate 94.

Jamestown is the linchpin on Highway 281, connecting the northern and southern rides on this border-to-border highway. Jamestown is very motorcycle friendly and you’ll see plenty of fellow riders in and around town.  Dealers and shops are there if you need service.  The Stutsman Harley-Davidson Dealership is a huge supporter of the community and motorcycle events.  It’s been out on the Interstate for a half-dozen years, but old-time riders will remember the days when they took their shovelhead engines in to the shop down town.

If you need something more as a visitor or tourist, ride over to the World’s Largest Buffalo where the visitor center is run by people who love bikers and love to help them have a good time.   The whole area around the giant buffalo, the buffalo herd and famous albino buffalo White Cloud is a great attraction.  Drop your kickstand and walk around, visit the shops.  It’s a surprise find on the prairies.

Just before the Buffalo Museum is the visitor center. Ask them the questions. They have the answers.  You’ll find a range of motel accommodations here from cheap bed and hot showers to more elegant motels; the folks at the visitor center can hook you up with what you want.

Kickstands Up recommends Babb’s Dancing Goat coffee and Vesuvian coffee

Downtown offers some of the best coffee in the state, and across the street fine dining, while just a block down is one of the most popular biker bars in the region.

281 North Jamestown to Carrington – Well-traveled

Here’s what you can expect if you ride north.

Highway 281 north of Jamestown is a good highway, and well-traveled north all the way to the town of Devils Lake.  Since it shares Highway 52, it’s four-lane for nearly 20 miles.  Even when it jumps down to two-lanes, it’s still a good highway.

However, some of Western North Dakota oil production sends trucks down this stretch of highway.  Compared to other highways you may ride, it’s much less traffic than around major metropolitan areas, but more trucks than on other North Dakota roads.  The further north you ride, the less traffic you’ll encounter, especially north of Carrington.  It’s at Carrington you’ll decide whether to go west to Minot, or north to the pretty country and good riding of the Turtle Mountains.

Before you get to Carrington, you’ll find very few places to stop.  One that is recommended, along the route is a convenient watering hole for riders at Pingree. 

Once you get to Carrington you’ll find what you need such as ice cream, home cooking, good fuel and even a biker-themed bar downtown.

Option #1: West of Highway 281 on 52 at Carrington

   A highly recommended ride is highway 52 that leaves 281 at Carrington and angles northwest. It’s easy and scenic. You’ll ride through farms and rural towns such as Harvey where good food, good coffee, good wine and a good time are downtown.  Another hidden gem is Rue 54 downtown Harvey.  Bikers own and operate this unique coffee shop/wine shop/home decor store.

   Beyond Harvey is Velva. Local bikers make Velva a destination for gas and downtown for good food.

The Foster County Courthouse at Carrington is a reminder of the state’s history when the town was a major railroad settlement. Downtown many buildings and homes are reminders of an age of grand architecture.

281 North Carrington to Highway 2 and Devils Lake — Peaceful

Riding north of Carrington on 281 takes you in to regions of rolling hills and wetlands, lakes and ultimately forests.

A wet spring and high water means wet boots

The North Dakota Department of Transportation advises there may be a little intermittent construction on 281 for about 10 miles south of Highway 2 — nothing serious, just a couple of bumps in the ride — nothing to worry about.

The heavy construction to avoid is on Highways 19, 20 and 57 directly south of the city of Devils Lake. Don’t even think of riding them.  More and more water pours in to the body of water called Devils Lake, and it has gobbled up homes, roads, fields, farms for decades.  The ND DOT is rebuilding the roads taller, higher and wider than the water, but it won’t be good riding there in 2012 until the road work is complete.

Just before you reach Devils Lake, if the road is open and not under construction, take Highway 57 to the east to get to Fort Totten. There, you’ll visit the reminder of life 150 years ago when Christianity came face to face with Native American spirituality.  The last time I rode Highway 57 to Fort Totten, the road was clear. The construction started just past Fort Totten. Once construction is done,Highway 57 in to Devils Lake, through Fort Totten will be a good ride.  Just not now.

Option #2 Highway 2

   Take Highway 2 east in to Devils Lake, you’ll find good accommodations, gas and food.  If you are overnighting, this could be an option.  Bikers like to stop at the Cedar Inn family restaurant along the highway for huge portions of homemade cooking.  Downhome cooking, homemade pies and oh! The homemade sausage!  Well recommended.

  Downtown has more than one watering hole to welcome you. They love bikers.  Out on the highway you’ll find motels, but you may need to call ahead because all that highway work around the flooded lake has brought in hordes of workers who are staying in many of the motels.

281 North of Devils Lake – Relax

North of Devils Lake the highway is yours.  This is peaceful riding at its best!  The road is in great shape and there is very little traffic.  It’s an easy road to follow to the northern edge of the state. At Cando, the Tesoro station along the highway is a biker-owned business with off-sale liquor.  You can spend the night in town, head down the road and pull over at a city park to enjoy a cooling break on a warm summer day.

Kick back and enjoy the ride on US 281 in northern North Dakota. It’s easy, peaceful and safe.

From Cando, north and west is where you’ll find several places to unwind. Take a jaunt to the east to visit Bottineau, the Turtle Mountains and the Peace Garden.  Relax. This is your time to escape and this is the place to do it.  At Bottineau you’ll find yourself in the region of the state that offers good riding, and good hiding. That’s right, you can find camping areas, hotels, resorts where you can put down your kickstand and stay a while.  You are out of the hustle and bustle of the city, and of main thoroughfares. Here, the quiet may take a bit to get used to.  The birds, the winds in the trees, the forested hills are a stark contrast to the open vistas on Highway 281 that you’ve just traveled from Jamestown.

If you are looking for biker-friendly businesses along the way, The Kickstands Up Motorcycle Touring map lists routes and stops  along Highway 281 where bikers are welcome, even encouraged to visit.

Now let’s look the other direction, south of Jamestown. It’s the next short little post in this blog 2Wheels2Lanes1Camera.wp.com. It’s called Ride, Ride, Ride 281!

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