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Lewis and Clark
South Dakota's Lewis and Clark Trail
You'll discover a wealth of adventure along South Dakota's Lewis and Clark Trail.
This list of highlights begins at the southeastern tip of the state, where the explorers first entered South Dakota, and ends near the North Dakota border.
Click on the links to view trail highlights.
1. Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve
In Lewis and Clark's day, the Missouri River was shallow and unpredictable. Some days, the men spent hours towing the keelboat over sandbars. At Adams Nature Preserve, you can see one of the last free-flowing segments of the Missouri River. This section of the river retains its original character. More than seven miles of hiking and biking trails crisscross the preserve. Located near North Sioux City. Take the McCook exit off I-29 and follow the signs.
2. Site of First Election
Following the death of Sgt. Charles Floyd, the captains needed a replacement. A vote was held Aug. 22, 1804. Patrick Gass received 19 votes in what is believed to be the first election by U.S. citizens west of the Mississippi. A marker in downtown Elk Point relays the story and the event is re-enacted each August as part of a community commemoration.
3. Spirit Mound
Earlier in their journey, Lewis and Clark encountered tribes who told them of 18-inch tall devils, armed with arrows inhabiting a prairie hill. The story sparked Lewis and Clark's interest, and on Aug. 25, 1804, they set off on foot to investigate. The men hiked for four hours in the sweltering heat. At the top, the infamous devils were nowhere to be found. But the explorers did see an incredible sight: a herd of buffalo, nearly 800 of them, grazed in the distance. The Spirit Mound Historic Prairie is managed by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. It stands along Highway 19 six miles north of Vermillion.
4. Lewis and Clark Visitor Center
This is a great place to learn more about the expedition, the tribes they encountered and the river itself. Built on a bluff overlooking Lewis and Clark Lake, one of four Missouri River reservoirs in South Dakota, the center offers incredible photo opportunities. Pastel-colored cliffs line the shore, and the shimmering waters play host to sailors, anglers and water-skiers throughout the summer. The center is located at Gavins Point Dam. Take Highway 52 west from Yankton.
5. Lewis and Clark Recreation Area
The activity is non-stop at Lewis and Clark Recreation Area near Yankton. Water enthusiasts come to sail, boat, fish and swim. The park is located on Lewis and Clark Lake and offers a full-service marina, sandy beaches, hiking/biking trails and a paved trail that hugs the shoreline. Options for accommodations include campsites (many with spectacular views of the lake), cabins and motel rooms. Take Highway 52 west from Yankton.
6. Native American Scenic Byway
This Scenic Byway cuts through the heart of South Dakota's mixed-grass prairie as it follows the river's path extending through the heart of the Great Sioux Nation. The route takes travelers through the lands of the Yankton, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes. The Corps of Discovery reported seeing an abundance of wildlife when they passed through this area. Today, your chances of spotting prairie dogs, pronghorn and deer as you drive the byway are still good. Several tribes also maintain bison and elk herds. Besides the animals, you'll be captivated by the wild, rugged country, much of which remains undeveloped. The route begins near Running Water.
7. Fort Randall Dam
More than 50 years after Lewis and Clark forged a path up the Missouri River, Fort Randall was built along the river near present-day Pickstown. Today, you can walk the old fort grounds and view the remains of a chapel the soldiers built. Inquire at the Visitor Center about tours of the Fort Randall Dam and power plant. The stretch of river below the dam is great for canoeing. It remains undeveloped, however, so be sure to plan ahead. Take Highway 281 west from Pickstown.
8. Lewis and Clark Information Center
The Information Center along I-90 at Chamberlain affords breathtaking views of Lake Francis Case, a sprawling Missouri River reservoir. Step out onto the two-story balcony to photograph the river and its gentle bluffs. The balcony is shaped like a keelboat, the expedition's primary form of transportation in South Dakota. Exhibits inside the center depict items the explorers brought on their journey and show examples of the wildlife the Corps encountered. Visit the center off I-90 at mile marker 264.
9. Akta Lakota Museum
While in South Dakota, Lewis and Clark had their first meetings with the Yankton and Teton Sioux. Before the expedition even began, President Jefferson had instructed Meriwether Lewis to make a "favorable impression" on the tribes of the Sioux Nation because of their immense power. Today, you can learn about Sioux history, heritage and culture at the Akta Lakota Museum in Chamberlain. Take exit 263 off I-90 and go two miles north.
10. Big Bend of the Missouri
On Sept. 20, 1804, the explorers reached the Big Bend of the Missouri River. It's here that the river makes a huge loop, almost creating a full circle. In his journal entry for the day, Clark reported that the distance of the Narrows, the area between the two ends of the loop, on foot was only 2,000 yards. By water, the same trip was 30 miles! Now, 200 years and four dams later, the river still makes that huge loop. Stop by West Bend Recreation Area to view the river, fish, boat or camp. Located 26 miles east and nine miles south of Pierre off Highway 34. Or visit the Narrows three miles north of Lower Brule off Highway 10.
11. The Bad River
The expedition had its first meeting with the powerful Teton Sioux at the mouth of the Bad River. The two groups smoked a pipe and Lewis delivered a speech. After a tour of the keelboat, Clark returned the Teton chiefs to shore. As the pirogue approached land, three young Teton grabbed hold of it and wouldn't let go. It was a pivotal moment as both sides drew arms. But, thanks to the quick action of Chief Black Buffalo, a fight was avoided. The explorers moved to a nearby island, which they named Bad Humored Island. Today, an interpretive sign on La Framboise Island in Pierre offers a description of the day's event. From here, you can watch the Bad River pour into the Missouri and imagine that historic meeting of Sept. 25, 1804. A historical marker in Lily Park in Fort Pierre commemorates the site of the confrontation.
12. Cultural Heritage Center
At the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, the Oyate Tawicoh'an (Ways of the People) exhibit focuses on South Dakota's tribal heritage. You'll learn about the religious, social and cultural practices of the Yankton and Teton Sioux, the Arikara and other Plains Indian tribes. The exhibit includes an Arikara bullboat just like the one Clark described in his journal on Oct. 9, 1804. Other highlights include a full-size tipi, a rare horse effigy, and striking examples of colorful beadwork and quillwork. The Cultural Heritage Center is located north of the State Capitol. It's built into the side of a Missouri River bluff.
13. West Whitlock Recreation Area
In October of 1804, the explorers spent several days at an Arikara village. The Arikara were primarily farmers who tended crops such as corn, beans, squash and tobacco. They lived in earth-lodge homes along the upper Missouri. At West Whitlock Recreation Area near Gettysburg, you can step inside a full-size replica of an Arikara lodge, just like those Lewis and Clark visited 200 years ago. The lodge is made of logs and branches, and its grass roof blends into the surrounding prairie. Follow the signs from Highway 1804.
14. Monument to Sacagawea
Two different stories surround the death of Sacagawea, the only woman to accompany the Corps of Discovery. While some say she died at an old age in Wyoming, many historians believe she died at Fort Manuel in present-day South Dakota. Sacagawea's untimely death of a "putrid fever" came just six years after the expedition ended. A simple monument to this heroic woman overlooks the Missouri River at Mobridge. Take Highway 12 across the river and watch for signs to Sitting Bull's grave, which is near the Sacagawea monument. A replica of Fort Manuel stands near the original fort's location on the river near Kenel, S.D.
15. Legend of the Stone Idols
Lewis and Clark visited north central South Dakota in the fall of 1804 and were told about two stones resembling human figures and a third like a dog near present-day Pollock. In Arikara lore, the idols are a pair of star-crossed lovers forbidden to marry and a faithful dog all turned to stone. Many believe the stone idols were recently uncovered above a creek that feeds into the Missouri River near Pollock.