Study: Best Cities to Live in North Dakota

Current residents know what makes North Dakota an excellent place to live but deciding which city is the best fit can be tough for newcomers. To give you a little insight when planning your move, the CreditDonkey experts have ranked the 10 best cities in the Peace Garden State.

There are many ways to describe what living in North Dakota is like but the state slogan sums it up in a single word: legendary. To the east lies the Red River Valley, where you'll find some of the most fertile farmland in the world. To the west is the Great Plains region, filled with scenic buttes, rolling prairies and herds of roaming bison. From tiny out-of-the-way hamlets to sprawling urban centers like Fargo, there's no shortage of great places to call home sweet home.

Over the last decade, North Dakota's economic output has doubled thanks to the booming oil trade. Since 1998, the state has added more than 132,000 jobs in the energy, retail, hospitality, education, healthcare and manufacturing industries. Unemployment is rare and many of North Dakota's cities boast a cost of living that's well below the national average. Home prices are on the rise in certain areas but wages are also climbing at a steady pace.

10 Best Cities to Live in North Dakota

Study Methodology

We measured how each city compares based on these five factors:

  1. Crime Rate
  2. Commute Time
  3. Income
  4. Education
  5. Restaurants Per Capita

North Dakota has a reputation for safety but we know that individual crime rates can vary widely. To help pinpoint the safest places to live, we looked at the odds of being the victim of a violent crime for each city.

If you're tired of dealing with bumper-to-bumper traffic, a change of address may be just what the doctor ordered. We looked at the average commute for each city on our list to make sure the daily drive isn't a major time crunch.

One of the biggest boons associated with North Dakota's expanding economy is an increase in pay. Salaries in the oil towns can start at six figures and we found a healthy range of median incomes for the cities in our study. Education tends to influence wages so our rankings also accounted for the percentage of residents who hold a bachelor's degree or higher.

North Dakota cuisine is heavily influenced by German and Scandinavian flavors and it's not uncommon to see dishes like borscht and fleischuekle on the menus of local restaurants. While the old traditions are still going strong, there are plenty of places that offer more modern tastes. The cities we profiled are the best overall when it comes to the number of restaurants per capita.

10. Fargo

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 278.7
  • Commute Time: 15.1 minutes
  • Income: $44,304
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 39%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 441 inhabitants

Despite experiencing some of the coldest winter weather in the country, Fargo offers a warm welcome to newcomers. North Dakota's largest city sits along the Red River, adjacent to the Minnesota border. Fargo's status as a rapidly expanding commercial and industrial hub has made it particularly attractive to up-and-coming professionals. Families and retirees also appreciate the city's lower cost of living and its affordably priced housing.

Did You Know: None of the scenes from the 1996 film "Fargo" were actually filmed in the city.

9. Wahpeton

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 988.5
  • Commute Time: 12 minutes
  • Income: $44,659
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 22.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 390 inhabitants

Wahpeton is also found along the Red River, less than 50 miles south of Fargo. Approximately 7,800 people call this quaint little town home and several thousand students arrive each year to take classes at the North Dakota State College of Science. Wahpeton gets the best marks for safety, with a violent crime rate of 1 in nearly 1,000. It also beats out the other cities on our list for the shortest average commute.

Did You Know: The Prairie Rose Carousel in Wahpeton is one of only three fully restored Spillman Carousels in the country.

8. Mandan

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 378.6
  • Commute Time: 17.7 minutes
  • Income: $56,813
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 24.8%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 558 inhabitants

Mandan is located just west of Bismarck, on the banks of the Missouri River. Originally founded as part of the westward expansion of the railroad, the city has become one of the metro area's most sought-after places to live. Mandan is also very business-friendly, attracting companies like National Information Solutions Cooperative, and the unemployment rate is one of the lowest nationwide.

Did You Know: The Fort Lincoln State Park features the reconstructed ruins of the On-A-Slant Indian Village and the Custer House, where Lt. Col. Custer stayed prior to the infamous battle at Little Bighorn.

7. Grand Forks

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 368.8
  • Commute Time: 12.3 minutes
  • Income: $42,411
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 35.5%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 421 inhabitants

Grand Forks is North Dakota's third largest city, with a population of just over 53,000. The University of North Dakota brings thousands of young adults to the area but families, professionals and retirees also feel at home here. Both the university and the Grand Forks Air Force Base are top employers and there's also a strong small business community. Residents enjoy the active nightlife scene and The Toasted Frog is one of the city's trendiest restaurants.

Did You Know: In 1997, Grand Forks experienced devastating flooding which resulted in the largest single-city evacuation in the U.S. since the Civil War.

6. Bismarck

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 294.1
  • Commute Time: 17.4 minutes
  • Income: $53,186
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 33.5%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 459 inhabitants

If you're a college grad who's looking to land your first job or you're considering a career change, Bismarck is the place to be. The capital city features an extremely diverse economy, with manufacturing, healthcare, professional services, retail and agriculture representing the largest industries. The state government offices are also located here, accounting for roughly 4,000 jobs. Median incomes surpass the $50,000 mark and home prices tend to be cheaper than surrounding suburbs.

Did You Know: Bismarck's state capitol building is one of only four tower-style capitols in the U.S.

5. Minot

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 430.3
  • Commute Time: 14.8 minutes
  • Income: $49,018
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 27.4%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 401 inhabitants

Minot is one of North Dakota's most affordable cities, with a cost of living that's roughly 16% lower than the national average. Safe neighborhoods, an average commute of under 15 minutes and a higher median income round out the list of things that make it such a desirable place to call home. Minot Air Force Base and Minot State University draw in many new residents but the city is also a prime location for visitors interested in birding, hunting and fishing.

Did You Know: The North Dakota State Fair is held in Minot each year.

4. Valley City

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 673
  • Commute Time: 12.2 minutes
  • Income: $43,533
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 29.5%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 347 inhabitants

With less than 7,000 residents, Valley City is the smallest spot in our study but it manages to outrank larger cities based on its overall safety, median pay and short average commute. Close to Lake Ashtabula and the Sheyenne River Valley, this quaint little spot offers some of the best outdoor recreation in the state. If you don't feel like getting your feet wet you can always tour one of the city's 11 historic bridges.

Did You Know: Valley City's Medicine Wheel Park features Native American burial mounds, a large-scale model of the solar system and access to the North Country National Scenic Trail.

3. West Fargo

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 433.8
  • Commute Time: 17.7 minutes
  • Income: $64,150
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 32.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 981 inhabitants

West Fargo is one of the state's fastest-growing communities, with safe neighborhoods and low housing costs making it particularly popular for families. Median incomes are some of the highest in the state, topping $64,000 annually. The daily commute takes less than 18 minutes on average but it may be a longer trip if you work in the Fargo metro area. Whether it's shopping, entertainment or dining, West Fargo has everything you're looking for. Maxwells Restaurant & Bar is a top local pick for brunch, lunch and dinner.

Did You Know: The Pioneer Days at Bonanzaville is one of West Fargo's most anticipated annual events.

2. Dickinson

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 461.6
  • Commute Time: 14.2 minutes
  • Income: $58,622
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 24.7%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 428 inhabitants

Dickinson is an affluent community of nearly 20,000 residents, located halfway between Fargo and Billings, Montana. The flourishing energy industry has been the biggest contributor to the city's growth in recent years and it's estimated that Dickinson's population will double by end of this decade. Sites like the Theodore Roosevelt State park and the Little Missouri National Grassland are responsible for the city's thriving tourist trade.

Did You Know: Weighing in at 1,500 pounds, the world's largest intact triceratops skull is displayed at Dickinson's Dakota Dinosaur Museum.

1. Williston

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 255.8
  • Commute Time: 13.1 minutes
  • Income: $69,559
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 21.3%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 475 inhabitants

Once a quiet farming community, Williston's population has exploded in recent years with the arrival of thousands of oil field workers. Unemployment is virtually nonexistent and median incomes are the highest of any city in our rankings. Williston's expansion is expected to continue in coming years so if you're thinking of moving here, you'll want to act fast. Housing prices are steadily going up thanks to rising demand and the market for new homes is extremely competitive.

Did You Know: Scientists believe that the Bakken shale formation, the primary source of Williston's oil industry, may contain several billion of barrels of black gold.

From an economic perspective, North Dakota is one of the hottest destinations for folks who are looking for new employment opportunities. The winters are cold, to be sure, but the summer brings plenty of sunshine and warm weather. If you're having trouble deciding where to make your home, our study highlights some of the most preferred places to settle down based on safety, income and quality of life.

Data Sources:

  • U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates
  • FBI, Uniform Crime Reports
  • U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
  • U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census

The Top 10 Cities to Live in North Dakota

RankCityViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute TimeMedian Household Income% Bachelor's Degree or HigherPeople per Restaurants and Bars
1Williston1 in 255.813.1$69,55921.3%475.2
2Dickinson1 in 461.614.2$58,62224.7%428.2
3West Fargo1 in 433.817.7$64,15032.9%981.4
4Valley City1 in 673.012.2$43,53329.5%346.8
5Minot1 in 430.314.8$49,01827.4%401.3
6Bismarck1 in 294.117.4$53,18633.5%459.2
7Grand Forks1 in 368.812.3$42,41135.5%420.9
8Mandan1 in 378.617.7$56,81324.8%558.2
9Wahpeton1 in 988.512$44,65922.9%390.0
10Fargo1 in 278.715.1$44,30439.0%440.9

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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