Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today

Chill out with the localsChill out with the locals

Grand Forks, North Dakota

Sure, North Dakota is cold in winter. But for fans of winter sports like cross-country skiing, sledding, hockey, and even curling, winter is the best time of year. Pilots can enjoy touring the University of North Dakota (UND), one of the premier collegiate aviation complexes in the world, as well as the Cirrus Aircraft plant. This college town offers good times for everyone, even kids: How about a hotel with a fun indoor water park?

  • A University of North Dakota (UND) student trains in the left seat of a simulator. Visitors can get free tours of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace, one of the world’s top collegiate aviation complexes, to see where and how students prepare for careers as airline pilots, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, aeronautical engineers, UAS operators, and much more. Photo courtesy UND.
  • A UND Piper Seminole flies over Grand Forks, North Dakota. Photo courtesy UND Aerospace.
  • UND students train in a simulated air traffic control tower. Photo courtesy UND Aerospace.
  • UND students train in a simulated Approach control center. Photo courtesy UND Aerospace.
  • UND students experience hypoxia in an altitude chamber. Students are given math and other problems to solve, in order to learn how their cognitive skills decrease as their blood oxygen levels decrease. Photo courtesy UND.
  • The UND training fleet includes some 150 aircraft, from helicopters to singles, twins, King Airs, and even a taildragger and a float plane. Photo courtesy UND.
  • Any doubts you may have as to how seriously Grand Forks Curling Club members take their sport can be erased by looking at this player’s face. In this centuries-old European game, players slide heavy stones down 146-foot long ice sheets toward a target, bumping opponent’s stones out of the way if necessary. Photo courtesy Dan Lindgren, Grand Forks Curling Club.
  • As the stone glides across the ice, team members with brooms sweep in front of the stone with a frenzy, altering the ice and thus the stone’s path. In the end, the stones closest to the target receive points. Photo courtesy Dan Lindgren, Grand Forks Curling Club.
  • Day or night, you can glide across the Greenway’s groomed paths on cross-country skis. Photo courtesy City of Grand Forks.
  • There’s a popular sledding hill at Lincoln Drive Park, one of at least a dozen parks in the Greenway that runs alongside the Red River. Photo courtesy City of Grand Forks.
  • Cabela’s, across the Red River in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, is a sort of Valhalla for sportsmen, with endless arrays of fishing, hunting, hiking, and camping gear. Photo courtesy Cabela’s.
  • The “Japanese Room,” one of several themed rooms at the Canad Inn in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Photo courtesy Canad Inn.
  • Kids of all ages and sizes have fun at Splasher’s of the South Seas, a 40,000-square foot water park and arcade that is part of the Canad Inn Destination Centre. Photo courtesy Visit Grand Forks.
  • Rhombus Pizza serves its pies on two floors, plus a rooftop in warmer weather. They offer over 30 different pizzas and 20 beers on tap. Photo courtesy Rhombus Pizza.
  • Dakota Harvest prides itself on its handcrafted artisan breads and hearty soups. Photo courtesy Dakota Harvest.

When flying near Grand Forks, be aware of the UND aviation program’s heavy training traffic, from helicopters and small Cessnas to King Airs. Contact Grand Forks Approach when flying within 40 miles of the airport. The FBO can arrange car rentals, and they’ll be happy to start the car up when you’re 15 minutes out, so it will be warm and waiting for you rampside.

Start by touring UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, which offers aviation, space, unmanned aircraft systems, and atmospheric sciences studies. Call 701/777-3715 to arrange a free aerospace program tour; complete tours, held indoors, last about half a day. You’ll see students utilizing advanced flight training devices, air traffic control facilities, and weather forecasting laboratories, or experiencing the effects of hypoxia in an altitude chamber. A shuttle will bring you to the airport, home to some 150 training aircraft. As noted in an AOPA news article, enrollment in 2017 was up 15 percent to 20 percent, as airlines have begun hiring more pilots at higher starting salaries.

A Cirrus flies over the Red River and adjacent Greenway. The Red River flows north and separates Grand Forks, North Dakota, from East Grand Forks, Minnesota. You can tour the Cirrus facility in Grand Forks if you call ahead. Photo courtesy Cirrus Aircraft.

Call 218/788-3939 in advance to arrange a complimentary one-hour tour of the Grand Forks Cirrus Aircraft facility. The facility manufactures a variety of parts for Cirrus piston airplanes and the Vision Jet, and then ships them to the corporate office in Duluth, Minnesota, for final assembly.

Life in Grand Forks revolves around UND, which also boasts one of the most successful Division I hockey programs in the nation. So, get into the spirit by joining students and fans as they cheer on the Fighting Hawks hockey team. It’s an exceptionally modern arena with comfortable green leather seats, a gigantic overhead television screen, and concessions on every level. Speaking of sports, you may have seen that other great Canadian ice sport, curling, on television during the Winter Olympic Games. See it in person for free inside a heated clubhouse as you watch Grand Forks Curling Club members play. The game features moments of calm focus that alternate with coordinated frenzy, along with lots of strategy and boisterous camaraderie.

A male snowy owl is perched on a rooftop in Grand Forks. These large owls, active in the daytime, often spend winters in the Grand Forks area. Look for them on rooftops, fenceposts (particularly around the airport), and power poles, where they perch, scanning the ground for rodents. Photo by David Lambeth.

Now that you’ve watched the locals having fun and discovered the weather won’t kill you, it’s time to get outside. The Red River flows north and divides Grand Forks, North Dakota, from East Grand Forks, Minnesota. The river is prone to spring flooding, so a 2,200-acre Greenway was created along the riverbanks. Numerous parks have paved trails, groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter, and decorated with lights during the holidays. A dog park, ice skating rink, and popular sledding hill (lit at night, bring your own sled) are at Lincoln Drive Park. Pick up complimentary ice skates, snowshoes, or ski equipment at the Warming House, 120 Euclid Ave., Monday through Friday, 3:30 to 8:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 8:30 p.m., weather permitting. Warm-weather activities include golf, hiking, biking, fishing, disc golf, and camping; ski and bike rentals are also available.

The area is a magnet for wintertime birders, who "flock" here in winter in hopes of seeing a snowy owl or snow bunting. The owls nest in summer on Canadian Arctic tundra, but often migrate into the U.S. for winter. Springtime migration brings bald eagles and a variety of shorebirds to the Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Hunters and fishermen will not want to miss Cabela’s, across the river in East Grand Forks, to buy the latest gear or just look at the exceptional mounted specimens.

Plenty of lodging is available, but the Canad Inns Destination Centre offers several rooms decorated in a variety of themes like Ancient Rome, the Titanic, or a game room for kids, plus Splasher’s of the South Seas, a lavish water park and arcade. Do as the UND students do and nosh at the ever-popular Rhombus Guys Pizza. For fine dining, choose Sky’s and its Cloud 9 Lounge, where you'll have views of downtown if you sit by the window. Sky’s serves hand-cut steaks, and you can count on wild-caught Alaskan salmon and sea bass when available, along with weekly Chef’s specialties. So join in the spirit of the Fighting Hawks and point your plane to Grand Forks this winter!

Grand Forks is crazy about its Division I hockey team, the Fighting Hawks, one of the oldest and most successful college hockey teams in the country. UND has appeared in the Frozen Four 22 times and won 8 NCAA Division I Championships. Photo courtesy UND.

Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!

Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

Related Articles