Highway 83 – the Midway Highway

Evening along Highway 83 and a nearby maturing wheat field

You’ll feel undecided if you ride Highway 83. That’s because on the one hand you’ll have rolling ranch country, and on the other hand, you’ll have fertile farmland.  Highway 83 divides the state east-west.   It’s a superior ride from border to border, West Hope to Strasburg.

Maintained by the ND DOT, a major part of this route is 4-lane for easy cruising between Minot and Bismarck. The entire length is in top condition and lets you sample a variety of landscape and cultural heritage – Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Ukrainians and Germans left their marks in towns along 83 at Kenmare, Minot, Washburn, Wilton, Bismarck, Linton and Strasburg (home of Lawrence Welk). Wildlife is abundant with pheasants and deer along the highway, so watch out.  Watch above for waterfowl; Highway 83 follows the Central Flyway or Midway Flyway for migrating birds.

Between Bismarck and Coleharbor, riders on Highway 83 flirt with the Missouri River

Bismarck is the linchpin for Highway 83.  Just as the route follows the Missouri River and so forms the division between east and west Dakota, I-94 and Bismarck divides this north-south route in to North 83 and South 83.

Let’s ride north from Bismarck.

North Bismarck offers riders much for their ride including fuel and food.  Traffic can be a challenge as drivers turn on to the highway and off to restaurants and stores.  Once you pass Walmart, you’re nearly on your way. Only one more stop light at Highway 1804 near the Burnt Creek Bar.

You’ll ride through a region of the Missouri Breaks, soft and deep hills on this four-lane road.  If the wind is strong you’ll feel the push from your side, so be ready.

A few miles later, south of Wilton, the wind gives you another feature to observe. More than 100 wind turbines turn in the wind to create electricity for points east, including Minnesota.

Headed to Wilton Cenex

Wilton –Many riders buzz right out of Bismarck to get away from traffic and congestion; they make their gas stop at the Wilton Farmers Union Cenex gas station and convenience store.  Premium fuel is available at the pump furthest out from the store.  The station is managed by a fellow biker and mechanics in the shop ride, too.

Bikes cluster at the Sportsmen’s Bar in Wilton

Area riders often make the jaunt to Wilton and head downtown to the Sportsmen’s Saloon.  Good parking on the street for you to back, up your bike.  Inside is a full menu with steak at the top of the offerings.

South end of Washburn, east side of highway Sinclair Station is best place for hi-octane gas and coffee.

Washburn — Back on the highway headed north, you’ll dip down in to the Missouri Breaks.  There are a couple of valleys and curves as you will flirt with the Missouri River just to the west of you. High octane fuel is available at the Sinclair station.  Kickstands Up Motorcycle Touring recommends the Highway 83 Express for a gas stop because of the high octane fuel, but also because of the coffee shop. It’s the only gas station in town without a curb-jump to get to the pumps.

Captain’s Cabin in Washburn is a stopping point for hungry or thirsty riders.

On the east side of 83 is the famous Captain’s Cabin. For decades, bikers have pulled in here for their steak specials.  Ron and Marge own the place. They are riders and they host the annual Cystic Fibrosis charity ride in August.  Captain’s Cabin is highly recommended by Kickstands Up.

Washburn’s unique place in United States History is on the north side of town.  Nowhere else in the U.S. can boast of the extensive Lewis and Clark history found here. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is only one feature of the historic landmark.  It’s a rest stop, museum and art display.  The artwork goes back as much as 200 years telling the story of the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians who befriended the Corps of Discovery in 1804.

Pull off the highway, park your bike and check out the authentic replicas of boats and other items used by the Corps of Discovery.  It’s worth the small admission fee.

Lewis and Clark Interp Center, Washburn

Ride to the north from the Interpretive Center on the blacktop to the rebuilt Fort Mandan.  The actual site is under water just a few yards out, but this replica marks not only where Lewis and Clark wintered as guests of the Mandan and Hidatsa nations, but also where fur traders and the U.S. Army provided security and shelter for early white settlers.  Put down your kickstand and check out the fort and the accompanying visitor center.  It’s a good place to take photos of you, your ride and or your riding buddies.

Oh, one more thing about Washburn – McLean County Sheriff and Highway Patrol rigidly enforce the 45 mph speed limit.

Underwood – Your first encounter with the Missouri River at Washburn will be repeated in just a few miles. First is Underwood. How’s your fuel?  If you skipped Wilton and Washburn for high octane fuel, pull in to the Sinclair Station on the highway at Underwood, Grimsley’s Sinclair. It’s a fast and easy in and out.

Coleharbor – Now you’re getting close to the Missouri River again. It’s been just a couple miles west of you. At Coleharbor you’re encouraged to stop at the Harbor Bar.

Harbor Bar, Coleharbor

“What harbor?!” You ask.  Once upon a time it was planned that a nearby harbor on the Missouri, just to the west of you would be a place where steamboats could take on a load of coal and carry it down stream.  The plan proved to be greater than the actual workings of a coal harbor. Even so, the town kept its name (misspelled) and the Harbor Bar thus got its name.

Nancy at the Harbor Bar is well-acquainted with the biker culture and she loves to host rides, groups and individuals at her bar.  The ribeye and prime rib steaks are surprisingly good for this roadside grill and bar.  It’s an easy in and easy out place to stop with plenty of good safe parking.

Just north of Coleharbor you’ll ride over plenty of water and your last encounter with the Missouri River as you ride Highway 83.  You’ll ride above the water table on a built up grade that carries a rail line, power lines and the highway. West of you is the backup waters of the Missouri River that forms part of Lake Sakakawea. On the east is Lake Audubon. This is one of the most prolific fisheries and waterfowl breeding grounds in America.  The Lake Audubon visitor center just to the east of the highway is a good place for nature buffs to park their bikes and expand their natural knowledge base.

Max – Your next chance for food and drink is at Max.  The slower speed limit here is necessitated by the oil field traffic that likes to speed through town. For you, the rider, it means slow down. The ND Highway Patrol sits there to catch speeders. The Max Café is just west of the highway, around the curve at the entrance to town.  It’s good home cooking and the bar is a small but pleasant dark place where bikers like to cool off.  Easy on-street curbside parking makes this a good stop.

Once you leave Max and ride north, you’ll ride through a section of the state’s prairie pothole region. Lots of waterholes attract waterfowl of all kinds. Other wildlife such as deer, skunks, raccoons and pheasants can be on the road, so pay attention.

Minot — You will know you’re getting close to Minot when the prairie dips in to the valleys that feed the Souris or Mouse River that runs through Minot.  If you are intending to continue to head north, take the Highway 83 bypass to get you safely around the city.

This is biker country.  It’s a military town, railroad town, oil field town and those demographics like bikes. You’ll find a large number of sport bikes ridden by young men and women.  A fair number of the old crowd rides cruisers and touring bikes.  Both the Honda shop and the Harley shop do a fair trade and are good places for service.

If Minot is a destination point, you’ll have plenty of reasons to stop.  The usual national franchises are all here for food and refreshments.  However, the best place for bikers to stop is on the north side of town, The Landing.  It is a biker bar and Chuck loves to host bikes. Here too, you will find adult music that’s a step above loud drunk bar bands, or a bunch of kids screaming in to microphones.  Every Sunday night, one of the state’s favorite biker bands, Fuzz and the Guns takes the stage.  Something good to do if in town on Sunday.

North of Minot – you “head for the border.”  It’s a four lane highway to almost the Minot Air Force base.  Beyond that on the way to the Port of Entry, you’ll ride past more wetlands and prairies that are easy.  If you don’t plan to ride in to Canada, you’ll either have to turn around or turn west or east. Kickstands Up recommends heading east to Bottineau.  More about that in another blog.

Next up here on http://www.2wheels2lanes1camera, read about Highway 83 south of Bismarck.

To find out more about this route, check out the photo blog


One Response to “Highway 83 – the Midway Highway”

  1. Great info here that is new to me. I’ll be seeing lots more the next time I ride stretches of this road. Thanks!

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