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  • Sailing on Lewis and Clark Lake in Yankton, South Dakota
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    Rich History and Incredible Views in Vermillion

  • The Dignity of Earth & Sky sculpture in Chamberlain, South Dakota
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    Delving into Native American Traditions in Chamberlain

  • The South Dakota State Capitol Building in Pierre
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    Pierre and Fort Pierre: State Capital Beauty and Cowboy Culture

  • Posing with a field of sunflowers in South Dakota
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    On to Eagle Butte, a Reflection of Heritage

  • The Sitting Bull Monument, overlooking the Missouri River, near Mobridge, South Dakota
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    Native American Culture in Mobridge

Traditional dance at a powwow in South Dakota
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Central South Dakota: Follow the Footsteps of Native Americans and Explorers

By Christi Womack

  • Route distance:
    860.00
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Discover fascinating Native American and cowboy cultures, follow the route of a legendary expedition and take in stunning scenery on a road trip through central South Dakota.

Prairies filled with radiant sunflowers are among the stunning sights you’ll see in central South Dakota while crisscrossing the mighty Missouri River, one of North America’s longest. Follow portions of both the Oyate Trail and the Native American National & State Scenic Byway, learning about the rich cultures of the Yankton, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes. Trace the route that explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took on an expedition in the early 1800s. After landing at Sioux Falls Regional Airport (FSD) via a connection from an international airport, rent a car and start your south-to-north drive in central South Dakota.

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Sailing on Lewis and Clark Lake in Yankton, South Dakota
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Rich History and Incredible Views in Vermillion

From Sioux Falls, drive south on Interstate 29 for about an hour to begin your journey in Vermillion, which is near South Dakota’s southern border with Nebraska. Just north of town, explore the Spirt Mound Historic Prairie, a place that local Native American tribes revered and a highlight along the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. The explorers stood atop the hill jutting up from the landscape, where wildflowers still flourish and birds and animals frolic. Drive northwest through Yankton, stopping at the Dakota Territorial Museum to see permanent and traveling exhibitions about the area’s history – from the traditions of the Yankton Sioux to trails blazed by explorers Lewis and Clark to the influx of pioneer settlers. Buy a picnic lunch and spend time enjoying the views of the Missouri River at Lewis & Clark Recreation Area, an expansive state park with trails, boat ramps and a lodge on the northern shore of Lewis and Clark Lake. On your way to Chamberlain, stay overnight at a cozy inn in Pickstown, the site of the tribe’s popular Fort Randall Casino Powwow, an annual June event.

142 km
1.5 hours by car
02
The Dignity of Earth & Sky sculpture in Chamberlain, South Dakota
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Delving into Native American Traditions in Chamberlain

Entering Chamberlain, stop in the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, a museum inside a rest stop along Interstate 90. Climb aboard a replica of the explorers’ 16.7-meter keelboat, then walk nearby trails on the beautiful grounds and take in views overlooking the Missouri River. At the bluff, you can’t miss seeing Dignity of Earth & Sky, a 15.2-meter stainless steel sculpture of a Native American woman that honors the Lakota and Dakota cultures. She is illuminated at night so brilliantly that drivers can see her from the interstate. Learn more about the history and traditions of Northern Plains American Indians at the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center on the campus of St. Joseph’s Indian School. See artifacts and educational displays inside, then venture out to the serene Medicine Wheel Garden with amazing views of the Missouri River. Before you leave, visit the Collector’s Gallery to view and buy authentic art, clothing, jewelry and more made by local artists. Start driving toward Pierre, the South Dakota state capital. After about an hour, stop to take a break and enjoy boating, biking and hiking at West Bend State Recreation Area, a Lewis and Clark trail stop. Next: Finish the drive to Pierre to spend the night.

63 km
0.75 hours by car
03
The South Dakota State Capitol Building in Pierre
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Pierre and Fort Pierre: State Capital Beauty and Cowboy Culture

For your first stop in Pierre, go to the South Dakota State Capitol Building, a 1910 landmark that is open for tours every day of the year. Admire murals, paintings and sculptures inside. A copper dome tops the four-story Neoclassical building, much of it built with native granite and Bedford limestone. Near the banks of Capitol Lake, view memorial statues for war veterans and first responders. Museum exhibits at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate operated by the South Dakota State Historical Society, also give glimpses into the state’s history. The 33,000-item collection includes items as varied as Lakota objects, military items, toys and quilts. Head upstairs to the Observatory Gallery for expansive views of the State Capitol Building and Missouri River. Across the river, visit the former military post of Fort Pierre, now a fun river city proud of its Old West past. Go to Fischers Lilly Park, where the Bad River meets the Missouri River. This is where Lewis and Clark nearly had a battle with the Lakota Nation in 1804. Attend Friday night cattle auctions at the Fort Pierre Livestock Auction Barn, established in 1947. South Dakota’s official state sport is rodeo. You’ll want to stop by the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center, a museum specializing in all things cowboy, including legendary Bull-a-Rama rodeo events. Enjoy dinner at Drifters Bar & Grille with views of the Missouri River and Pierre. After an overnight stay, start your day with a hearty breakfast at the Chuckwagon Café.

145 km
1.5 hours by car
04
Posing with a field of sunflowers in South Dakota
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On to Eagle Butte, a Reflection of Heritage

While travelers see sunflowers growing throughout South Dakota – the state is the largest producer of sunflowers in the USA – they’re especially abundant along Highway 34 west of Pierre from August to early September. It’s a worthy detour on the way to Eagle Butte to see those yellow fields and stop along the road to capture that memory with your camera. When you reach the small town of Eagle Butte, headquarters of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, eat breakfast or lunch and sip a latte at the Keya Café, operated by the Cheyenne River Youth Project. At the Lakota Cultural Center, see artifacts, including photos, beads and quilts. A series of murals by Lakota artists depict scenes such as the Battle of Wounded Knee, the dawn of a new day and moving a camp. Locally made arts and crafts are sold in the gift shop. Drive about an hour and a half northeast through the Cheyenne River Reservation to enjoy picturesque views of farms and grass-covered hills. Stop in the Grand River Casino & Resort just before crossing the Missouri River toward your next stop.

132 km
1.5 hours by car
05
The Sitting Bull Monument, overlooking the Missouri River, near Mobridge, South Dakota
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Native American Culture in Mobridge

Take a break for relaxation and recreation at the West Whitlock Recreation Area, where Arikara and Mandan people once camped. Today, people still come here to camp, fish in the Missouri River and visit the replica of a lodge that existed in the Lewis and Clark era. Continue to Mobridge, a fitting place to end your central South Dakota road trip. At the Mobridge Auditorium, take an audio tour of 10 murals painted by Crow Creek Sioux artist Oscar Howe; stop by the on-site Chamber of Commerce office to check in for the tour and viewing. On Standing Rock Sioux Nation land 3 kilometers southwest of Mobridge, visit a park overlooking the Missouri River to see two important monuments. One is for Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota spiritual leader in the 1800s; learn more about his life and legacy at the town’s Klein Museum. The other monument is for Sacagawea, a Shoshone teenager who helped guide Lewis and Clark on their expedition. Admiring these two impressive monuments is a contemplative way to end your cultural tour. To return home, drive just under two hours to airports in Aberdeen (ABR) or Pierre (PIR), both in South Dakota, or to Bismarck (BIS) in North Dakota.

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