Admittedly, we didn’t expect we’d find many things to do in Wahpeton, North Dakota. It’s a small town in the southeast part of the state with a population of 8,000. It is perhaps best known as home to the World’s Largest (fiber glass) Catfish called “Wahpper.”
But like a lot of places we’ve been in Legendary North Dakota, Wahpeton was full of wonderful surprises.
Note: North Dakota Tourism sponsored our visit to Wahpeton and this blog post. The opinions expressed are our own.
Historic City Brew Hall
Let’s start with what I now refer to as one of my favorite restaurants in all of the Midwest – City Brew Hall. Located in the historic “Old City Hall” and built in 1910, this place calls itself a “mash up of pub food meets supper club.” The venue itself is a sight to see.
Beautifully renovated and restored, City Brew Hall features original wood floors, a commanding staircase, and lots of exposed brick and beams.
It’s not only a bar and restaurant, but also serves as a popular venue for weddings and special events.
Now for the food at City Brew Hall
It was a nice summer day when we visited, so we had lunch outside on the patio. The menu included typical brew pub favorites like nachos and beer battered cheese curds. But we were intrigued by the sweet potato waffle fries served with brown butter and salted marshmallow dipping sauce. We never have seen that on a menu, so we gave it a try.
After one taste, I immediately decided this wasn’t going to be the day I’d stress about counting calories. Instead, I indulged in the most satisfying sweet and savory treat I’d found anywhere in the Midwest. Seriously, if you’re within 100 mile of Wahpeton, go get these waffle fries!
For our entrees, Steve chose the chicken cordon brew sandwich: baked chicken and ham topped with beer cheese sauce and served with house made spiral cut potato chips.
I was thrilled to discover a sweet potato and quinoa salad on the menu. Loaded with mixed greens, roasted sweet potatoes, golden quinoa, feta cheese, dried cranberries, and candied pecans, the salad had a honey vinaigrette dressing. Salad entree perfection, it cost only $12.
Experience the Chahinkapa Zoo
Since 1933, the Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton has been welcoming visitors to its sprawling grounds near the Red River of the North. It’s definitely one of our top things to do in Wahpeton! Note: Chahinkapa was the original name of the town and is a Lakota Sioux word that means “the end of the woods.”
Home to more than 200 animals representing 70 species and six continents, we found the Chahinkapa Zoo to be affordable, highly educational, experiential, and fun! When we visited in the summer of 2021, longtime Zoo Director Kathy Diekman graciously treated us to a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo.
Our three-hour tour began in the Roger Ehnstrom Nature Center where one of the zoo keepers gave us an up-close-and-personal visit with very large boa constrictor. Part of the mission at Chahinkapa Zoo is to promote animal welfare and conservation through educational programs. So, there are opportunities to learn about the animals around every corner and plenty of zoo staff to answer questions.
We really enjoyed watching the various animal trainings that happen daily at the zoo. Zoo keepers explain what they’re doing and why they do it. We learned they train animals to perform certain behaviors so they can be examined. For instance, they’ve taught a snow leopard to open its mouth on cue so its teeth and gums and can checked for disease or decay.
Creating memories at the Zoo
As part of our close encounter and behind the scenes tour, we also got to pet one of the two white rhinos at the zoo and learned about their conservation. In addition, one of Steve’s favorite things to do in Wahpeton was a close encounter with Red Australian kangaroo. He was carefully led into to a fenced area with a zoo keeper and hand-fed a kangaroo some frozen grapes. What an experience and memory!
The zoo also has bison, alpacas, grizzly bears, cheetahs, and even an orangutan. There is also a fantastic collection of birds (we especially enjoyed the rescued bald eagles) and reptiles from around the world. We couldn’t have been more surprised about how amazing this zoo was, and then, there was more.
Be sure to ride the Prairie Rose Carousel
Located right on the zoo property, is the beautifully restored Prairie Rose Carousel.
Purchase a $2 ticket at the door and ride on one of only three antique Spillman Carousels still operating in the United States. The fully restored 1926 antique carousel will be a highlight of your trip to the zoo. It has 22 horses, two chariots, and mechanisms all meticulously restored over a four-year period.
Caffeinate at Dakota Coffee Company
Be sure to include a stop at Dakota Coffee Company when making your list of things to do in Wahpeton. Located in the heart of downtown, Dakota Coffee Company is a cozy, local place to enjoy a cup of coffee and a light breakfast or lunch.
We met longtime friend, Tana, there and enjoyed relaxing in the comfy seating as well as browsing the home goods there. Tip: Order the Dakota Sunrise breakfast sandwich. It’s egg, sausage, bacon and cheese on a buttery croissant or pretzel bun.
Visit the Red Door Art Gallery in Wahpeton
The bright red door drew our attention to this small-town art gallery in downtown Wahpeton and we’re so glad we stopped. Open every day except Sundays and Mondays, this free art gallery features a variety of art mainly from local artists.
The Red Door Art Gallery displays and sells unique cards, books by local authors, antler gift items, carvings, and metal sculptures. You’ll also find handmade jewelry, photography, and paintings by local and area artists. This is definitely worth a stop when you’re in or near Wahpeton. We couldn’t resist purchasing a framed photography piece for our home by North Dakota photographer Meg Spielman of Fargo.
More art just around the corner
Just around the corner from the Red Door Art Gallery in downtown Wahpeton is one of four murals painted by Wahpeton native Shawn McCann. You can also see his work at the entrance to the Chahinkapa Zoo.
Take a photo with “Wahpper” and one by the sign
Is it really a trip to Wahpeton if you don’t take a photo with the World’s Largest Catfish? We think not. Wahpper can be found at the north end of town, on the banks of the Red River within the Kidder Dam Recreation Area. The sculpture is 40 feet long, 12 feet tall (including its pedestal) and weighs more than 5,000 pounds. Fun fact: the artist was Dave Oswold, the sculptor of another famous fiberglass creation: Salem Sue in New Salem, North Dakota.
While you’re in the area, be sure to walk a short distance to the Welcome to Whapeton, N.D. sign for a vacation photo there, as well.
Visit nearby Fort Abercrombie while you’re in Wahpeton
Your inner history buff will be fascinated by a visit to Fort Abercrombie. Established in 1858 and called “the Gateway to the Dakotas,” Fort Abercrombie was the first US military fort established in what would be North Dakota. A major transportation hub, it guarded trails used in the fur trade, stagecoach routes and steamboat traffic on the Red River. It also provided security for military supply wagon trains. The fort remained in operation until 1877.
More things to do in Wahpeton, North Dakota
- Meet some locals at The Boiler Room in downtown Wahpeton. They serve the North Dakota favorite fried pickles there as well as a yummy brisket sandwich and even salad entrees.
- Take a stroll around the campus of North Dakota State College of Science.
- Play a round of golf at Bois De Sioux golf course. The front nine is in Wahpeton, ND, and the back nine is in Breckenridge, Minn. It is the only 18-hole golf course in the U.S. to have holes in two different states.
Special thanks to local Wahpeton and friend, Tana Erbes, for welcoming us to your wonderful town and showing us around. We’d also like to thank North Dakota Tourism for hosting our visit. While we did receive compensation for this blog post, the opinions expressed are our own and we promise – the smiles are REAL!
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