States – North Dakota

north dakota

North Dakota may conjure images of subfreezing temperatures and bone-chilling winds. Yet, states in the Midwest regularly appear on lists of the best places to retire, because they offer many benefits that are important to seniors. These include availability of healthcare, low cost of living, taxes, and crime, and general satisfaction and sense of well-being among the residents. recently ranked all 50 states according to these criteria, and both North and South Dakota were in the top ten.

If you’re big into outdoor recreation, especially hunting and fishing, and don’t want to spend a lot of money, then North Dakota is a place to consider. The cost of living is over 7% below the national average, the median home price of around $100,000 is about two-thirds of the U.S. median, and income and sales taxes are also lower than average.

The recent development of the Bakken oil field has contributed to a thriving economy. The unemployment  rate is 3%, lowest in the nation, and workers in the state report the best employment situation in the country, with 42% of companies expanding their workforces and just 8% contracting.

The weather does get extreme: temperatures can get down to two degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the state. Also, there aren’t a lot of large urban areas; the entire state has less than 700,000 people, and many towns have just 100 people.

That leaves wide areas of the Peace Garden State that are largely unpopulated. There are many favorite fishing spots, including Devil’s Lake, the Red River, and Lake Sakakawea, which has more coastline than all of California. North Dakota is also the home to large populations of pheasant, partridge, ducks, and mule deer, and many residents are very avid hunters.

Here are some places worth looking into.


With a population of just over 100,000 Fargo is the largest city in North Dakota. The Fargo area has consistently had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Combined with a low crime rate, good air quality, and affordable housing and living cost, this has led Fargo to be rated one of the best places to retire by Money magazine in the 2000s. It was also listed among the best places to retire by Forbes in 2013.

There are three universities in the area, which sponsor many theatrical productions and annual events. There are also many private theater companies, the Fargo-Moorhead Opera, a symphony orchestra and youth symphony, and the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet. The Fargo Theatre is a 1920s-era cinema that shows first-run movies and sponsors community events. The Fargodome is a venue for concerts, Broadway shows, and sporting events.

Among several museums in town is the Plains Art Museum, the largest art museum in the state, with regional and national exhibits. For outdoor recreation, the city operates many neighborhood parks, six golf courses, and a skate park. It also holds summer ferry rides along the Red River. The city’s active residents sponsor regular festivals and annual events.

Fargo is known for its high levels of volunteerism. The many churches and art organizations in the area provide many opportunities to get involved.


A smaller town is Jamestown (population 15,000), located in the southeastern part of the state. For a small town, Jamestown has a lot of amenities. The town is known for a massive buffalo statue that’s called the World’s Largest Buffalo. The statue is outside the National Buffalo Museum, and Jamestown is sometimes called the Buffalo City because of it. Other attractions include nearby Frontier Village, a collection of buildings arranged to resemble an old west town, with antiques inside.

The town also has two large disc golf courses, two 18-hole golf courses, and the Jamestown Civic Center that hosts special events and concerts regularly. The Jamestown Arts Center, located in the heart of downtown, has an exhibition gallery, community theater stage, art workshops and classes, a ceramics studio, and an outdoor art space known as The Art Park.


Although smaller than Fargo, Bismarck has many amenities. These include museums, many shops, a symphony orchestra, and a zoo. The state capital also offers many dining options, ranging from the true Neapolitan style pizzas at Fireflour Pizza to local specialties like the bison dishes at Pirogue Grille. To work off a meal, Bismarck has a large park system and an extensive network of exercise trails. The Bismarck Parks and Recreation District operates 2,300 acres of public parks, as well as swimming pools, and several golf courses.

The Belle Mehus Auditorium is a historic building and center for the arts in the area. The Northern Plains Dance and the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra perform there. The Missouri Valley Chamber Orchestra is the newest musical performance group and performs a variety of musical genres. There are several theater companies, including several associated with local colleges and high schools.

Bismarck is a regional center for health care. The city has two hospitals, including the oldest healthcare facility in the state and the Bismarck Cancer Center.


This town of 20,000 is one of the fastest growing in the U.S. It’s a desirable place to live because the many amenities contribute to a high quality of life. For those looking to work part-time, the residents have relatively high incomes (median income $50,022), low unemployment, and short commute times.

Activities include exploring dinosaur replicas at the Dakota Dinosaur Museum and local history at the Joachim Regional Museum, Prairie Outpost Park, and Pioneer Machinery Museum. For more cultural activities, there’s the Dickinson State University Art Gallery and the Ukrainian Cultural Institute with its collection of Pysanky eggs.

People wanting to be physically active can try the Heart River Golf Course, work out at the West River Community Center, or hike in the Patterson Lake Recreational Area.

For more information about retirement in North Dakota:

State overview in facts and figures

State taxes

State services for senior residents

Profiles of major cities

Retirement communities