Missouri River Valley Trip Guide: Chamberlain, Pierre, Yankton and Vermillion | Midwest Living

Missouri River Valley Trip Guide: Chamberlain, Pierre, Yankton and Vermillion

Whether you take your trip by car, foot, canoe or kayak, you'll keep the spirit of adventure alive in South Dakota's Missouri River Valley. Things to do in the Missouri River Valley include the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center, Fort Randall, the National Music Museum, and Spirit Mound Historic Prairie.

Towing and pushing their keelboat up the shallow, winding Missouri River in 1804, Lewis and Clark's band of explorers emerged from woodlands into the jaw-dropping vastness of the Great Plains of South Dakota. Today, modern dams have largely tamed the river on its north-south run through the state's heart to a dogleg near the Nebraska border. Even so, many spots along the broad Missouri valley still evoke the endless, rolling sea of grass the explorers found. Drive the Native American Scenic Byway to get a sense for the prairie, and stop in at the towns and small cities along the route.

The four huge, serpentine reservoirs formed along the river—Oahe, Lewis and Clark, Francis Case, and Sharpe—have an appeal all their own, with campgrounds, marinas and parks dotting thousands of miles of shore. South Dakota's Park's and Recreation Department maintains many areas around the lakes. For information on those, as well as about fishing, camping, hunting and other activities: (605) 883-3391; gfp.sd.gov


This popular Interstate-90 travel oasis (population: 2,270) overlooks the Missouri River where it forms Lake Francis Case.

What to do

Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center Artwork by contemporary Native American artists shares space with historical weapons and clothing. Free. (800) 798-3452; aktalakota.org

Native American Scenic Byway This byway twists and dives across a rolling sea of grass for 357 miles from Chamberlain north to Bismarck, North Dakota; the 100-mile stretch from Chamberlain to Pierre is especially scenic. byways.org

View from the Native American Scenic Byway.

Where to eat

Casey’s Cafe Cheeseburgers draw hungry families to Casey’s. Don’t pass up the pie for dessert (605) 734-6530).

Derby Coffeehouse Stop in for espresso drinks, pastries and lunch all week and ribeyes and seafood on Friday and Saturday nights. (605) 234-1380

Where to stay

Cedar Shore Resort Along the shore of Lake Francis Case in Oacoma, a modern resort offers rooms with balconies, plus a pool. (888) 697-6363; cedarshore.com

For information: Chamberlain–Oacoma Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB (605) 234-4416; chamberlainsd.org


The state capital (population: 13,900) serves as the gateway to 231-mile-long Lake Oahe.

What to do

Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center Casey Tibbs isn't a household name, but Tibbs, who died in 1990, is a rodeo legend. So is trick rider Mattie Goff-Newcombe, who is captured in bronze on one display. This fun museum in Fort Pierre features memorabilia and gripping video footage. (605) 494-1094; caseytibbs.com

South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center See several prized artifacts, including the Verendrye Plate, a lead tablet claiming the area for France. (605) 773-3458; history.sd.gov

South Dakota Discovery Center Catfish and other Missouri River natives swim in huge tanks. Kid-friendly activities include digging for bones. (605) 224-8295; sd-discovery.com

South Dakota State Capitol Take either guided or self-guided tours of  the capitol, built between 1905 and 1910. (605) 773-3688; state.sd.us/boa/tours

State Capital Inner Dome. Pierre, South Dakota.

Where to eat

Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse Dine on reasonably priced steaks in a down-home setting. (605) 224-9774; cattlemansclubsteakhouse.com

Where to stay

Best Western Ramkota Hotel The hotel overlooks the river. Ask the RiverCentre Cafe chef to cook the fish you catch in nearby Lake Oahe. (605) 224-6877; pierre.bwramkota.com

For information: Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce (800) 962-2034; pierre.org


The Missouri River flows past restored 19th-century buildings in a lively town (population: 14,454).

What to do

DJ’s Specialty Resort and Sports Rentals Rent gear to paddle the Missouri River below Gavins Point Dam. (605) 665-3206; djssportsrentals.com

Lewis and Clark Recreation Area Get a day pass for the beaches near Yankton. (605) 668-2985; lewisandclarkpark.com

Riverside Park This downtown park features picnic spots, a playground and trails. (605) 668-5231; cityofyankton.org

Where to eat

Ben’s Brewing Company Yankton’s first brewpub is a casual place to spend an evening. The pizzas are great. (605) 665-5771; bensbrewing.com

JoDean’s Join Yankton locals dining from the 50 feet of all-you-can-eat buffet and a dessert bar. Or step up to the bar dating to the 1880s. (605) 665-9884; jodeans.com

Where to stay

Lewis and Clark Resort In Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, find cabins and motel rooms, plus a sand beach. (605) 665-2680; lewisandclarkpark.com

For information: Yankton Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 888-1460; visityanktonsd.com


A longtime Missouri River port town, Vermillion (population: 10,000) is now home to the University of South Dakota.

What to do

The Austin-Whittemore House This 1882 Italianate villa is a repository of Vermillion and regional history. (605) 624-8266; cchssd.org

National Music Museum Take a look at almost 15,000 instruments from around the world at this museum on the University of South Dakota campus. Highlights include three guitars from the Johnny Cash collection. (605) 677-5306; orgs.usd.edu/nmm

Spirit Mound Historic Prairie Lewis and Clark explored here after hearing the Native American legends of "the little devils." Hike to the top of the mound and take in the view. Free. (605) 987-2263; sdgfp.info

Spirit Mound Historic Prairie.

Where to eat

Red Steakhouse Be prepared to shell out, but it's worth it: The salmon is flaky, the steaks are tender. (605) 624-0079; theredsteakhouse.com 

For information: Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company (800) 809-2071; vermillionchamber.com


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