Geography of Burleigh County, North Dakota

Burleigh County, located in the central part of North Dakota, is a region characterized by its diverse geography, unique climate, and abundant natural resources. From its rolling prairies and meandering rivers to its rugged badlands and expansive lakes, Burleigh County offers a captivating blend of landscapes and ecosystems. In this comprehensive exploration, we will delve into the geography, climate, rivers, lakes, and other notable features that define Burleigh County.


According to Relationshipsplus, Burleigh County spans an area of approximately 1,668 square miles (4,320 square kilometers) and is situated in the central part of North Dakota. It is bordered by several other counties, including Morton County to the south, Kidder County to the east, and Sheridan County to the west. The county is characterized by its diverse topography, which includes rolling plains, river valleys, and the rugged badlands of the Missouri Plateau.

The geography of Burleigh County is shaped by the Missouri River, which flows through the county from west to east. The river and its tributaries, including the Heart River and Apple Creek, have carved out deep valleys and gorges, creating stunning scenery and providing habitat for diverse wildlife.

The county seat of Burleigh County is the city of Bismarck, while other notable communities include Lincoln, Regan, and Wilton. These towns and villages are situated along the county’s network of roads and highways, which provide access to the surrounding countryside and neighboring counties.


Burleigh County experiences a continental climate, characterized by four distinct seasons with relatively cold winters and warm summers. The region’s climate is influenced by its location in the northern Great Plains, with weather patterns shaped by the polar jet stream and continental air masses.

Summers in Burleigh County are typically warm and dry, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to low 80s Fahrenheit (around 18 to 28 degrees Celsius). Heatwaves are common during the summer months, with temperatures occasionally exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). Thunderstorms are also frequent, bringing heavy rainfall, lightning, and gusty winds to the area.

Winters in Burleigh County are generally cold and snowy, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-10s to low 20s Fahrenheit (around -9 to -6 degrees Celsius). Snowfall is common, particularly in the northern part of the county, where several inches of snow can accumulate throughout the winter months. Blizzards and cold snaps can also occur, leading to hazardous driving conditions and school closures.

Spring and fall are transitional seasons in Burleigh County, characterized by mild temperatures and changing foliage. Spring brings the blooming of flowers and the greening of the landscape, while fall showcases the vibrant colors of changing leaves and the harvest of agricultural crops.

Rivers and Lakes:

Burleigh County is home to several rivers, streams, and lakes, which provide valuable water resources and support diverse ecosystems. The Missouri River is the largest river in the county and serves as a vital transportation route and source of water for irrigation, fishing, and recreation.

Several tributaries of the Missouri River also traverse Burleigh County, including the Heart River, Apple Creek, and Burnt Creek, which flow into the river from the surrounding plains and badlands. These waterways provide habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife, as well as opportunities for fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing.

In addition to rivers and streams, Burleigh County is also home to several lakes and reservoirs, which offer recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. These include Harmon Lake, located north of Bismarck, which is a popular spot for fishing, boating, and picnicking in a scenic prairie setting.

Parks and Recreation:

Burleigh County is home to several parks, wildlife refuges, and outdoor recreation areas that showcase the natural beauty and diversity of the region. These include:

  • Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, located south of Mandan, which preserves the site of a historic military fort and offers hiking trails, camping facilities, and interpretive exhibits that explore the history of the region.
  • Cross Ranch State Park, located along the Missouri River, which protects a scenic stretch of river bottomland and offers hiking, canoeing, and wildlife viewing opportunities in a peaceful natural setting.
  • Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, located near the town of Coleharbor, which spans several counties in central North Dakota, including Burleigh County. The refuge protects over 14,000 acres of wetlands and grasslands along the Missouri River, providing habitat for migratory birds, waterfowl, and other wildlife.

These parks and recreation areas serve as valuable natural resources for residents and visitors to enjoy, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, education, and conservation in a protected setting.

Historic Landmarks:

Burleigh County is rich in history and is home to several historic landmarks and sites that showcase its cultural heritage and significance. These include:

  • The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, located in Bismarck, which features exhibits and artifacts that trace the history of North Dakota from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum offers interactive exhibits, educational programs, and special events that highlight the cultural heritage of the region.
  • The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, located near Fort Mandan, which commemorates the historic expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in the early 19th century. The center offers exhibits, interpretive programs, and guided tours that explore the journey of the Corps of Discovery and its impact on the region.
  • The On-a-Slant Village, located within Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, which preserves the remains of a Mandan Indian village that was inhabited from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The village offers interpretive exhibits, reconstructed earthlodges, and guided tours that showcase the culture and history of the Mandan

These historic landmarks and sites provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the rich history and cultural heritage of Burleigh County and its role in shaping the history of North Dakota and the United States.


In conclusion, Burleigh County, North Dakota, offers a wealth of natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and cultural heritage for residents and visitors to enjoy. From its scenic rivers and prairies to its historic landmarks and museums, the county’s geography reflects the diverse landscapes and rich history of the region. Whether exploring Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, birdwatching in Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, or touring the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, Burleigh County has something to offer for everyone. With its stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and rich cultural heritage, Burleigh County is truly a gem of central North Dakota.