Explore the Charming Small Towns of South Dakota's Missouri River Valley: Chamberlain, Pierre, Yankton and Vermillion
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.
This popular Interstate-90 travel oasis overlooks the Missouri River where it forms Lake Francis Case.
Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center
Artwork by contemporary Native American artists shares space with historical weapons and clothing at the museum and cultural center.
Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center at Cedar Shore
On the banks of the Missouri River in Oacoma, a modern resort offers rooms with balconies, plus a pool.
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.
For more information visit chamberlainsd.com
South Dakota's state capital (population 13,900) features both indoor attractions as well as outdoor rec at Lake Oahe.
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.
Cattleman's Club Steakhouse
Dine on reasonably priced steaks in a down-home setting.
Try to catch a walleye by dropping a line in the 231-mile-long lake north of the city. The lake also offers opportunities for camping, picnicking, bird-watching, boating, hiking and biking.
Museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society
This unusual museum built into a hillside explores the culture of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota; pioneer life; and modern-day challenges. Head to the observation gallery for a view over the State Capitol and the Missouri River bluffs.
South Dakota Discovery Center
Rotating hands-on stations let kids look at topics like the world under our feet and space missions. They can also role-play in Discovery Town's veterinary clinic and restaurant.
South Dakota State Capitol
Take either guided or self-guided tours of the neoclassical-style capitol, built between 1905 and 1910.
For more information: visitpierresd.com
The Missouri River flows past restored 19th-century buildings in a lively town (population: 14,600).
Lewis and Clark Recreation Area
One of the state's most popular parks, Lewis and Clark Recreation Area features marinas, three campgrounds, biking, disc golf, fishing, hiking and horseback riding, plus cabins, cottages and a lodge at the lakeside Lewis and Clark Resort.
Visit this downtown park for picnic spots, a playground and trails.
Ben's Brewing Company
Yankton's first brewpub is a casual place to spend an evening. Try beers like the Dakota Thirst along with homemade pizzas and free popcorn.
JoDean's Steakhouse and Lounge
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.
For more information: visityanktonsd.com
A longtime Missouri River port town, Vermillion (population: 10,800) is now home to the University of South Dakota.
Try cold brew and baked goods at the community coffeehouse.
Dakota Brick House
Choose from 20 rotating craft beers on tap plus pizzas and craft cocktails at this downtown tap house and grill. Trivia Nights on Tuesdays and live music on the patio on Thursdays add to the fun.
National Music Museum
Currently undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion, this museum on the University of South Dakota campus holds almost 15,000 instruments from around the world. Check the website for special exhibits and other events that are open to the public while the permanent exhibitions are closed for construction.
Spirit Mound Historic Prairie
70 feet above the plain, signs along the ¾-mile walk to the top explain the mound's importance to Native Americans and the Lewis and Clark expedition.
University of South Dakota Art Galleries
Three galleries open to the public feature the largest single collection of works by Oscar Howe, an American Indian artist and former university faculty member; solo and small group exhibitions; and a variety of art-related events and lectures.
For information visit livevermillion.com