porter sculpture park

Between the Mile Markers: Sioux Falls to Mitchell

Iconic landmarks are important, but they’re only part of a magical South Dakota vacation.

One of the best parts of travel is leaving behind our comfort zones and discovering joy in the unexpected. Even mishaps—a flat tire, an unexpected repair—can lead to meals, views, and other unexpected gifts that will last in memories long after the tow truck has arrived. Surprises can be magical. Moments can last a lifetime. We believe what happens between the mile markers is just as important as the destination itself. Check out this list of places that might be just the perfect spots for a legendary road trip.

The many entertainment offerings of Sioux Falls—South Dakota’s biggest city—and the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell attract visitors from around the globe, but there’s plenty of other fun in and between the two cities on an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 90. Prepare to be surprised by the unique experiences that await you between the mile markers.
 

Wild Water West
Wild Water West
Wild Water West // Sioux Falls
26767 466th Ave.

From Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend, the slides and splashes of Wild Water West produce audible eruptions of joy from all ages enjoying a South Dakota summer. Active aquaphiles can enjoy the 65-foot/ four-slide tower and a 55-foot tube vortex slide called “Tornado Alley,” but you can also get in some relaxation in the 500,000-gallon wave pool or on a Lazy River tube. A wide variety of concessions, including a swim-up bar, will satisfy any craving. Little ones can safely enjoy the family-oriented Caribbean Falls and the activity pool designed just for kids. Heck, you don’t even need to love water to enjoy Wild Water West. With mini golf, batting cages, paintball, sand volleyball and more, you can dry off in the sun without having to end the fun. The state’s largest waterpark is consistently voted the city’s #1 fun spot. What else can we say? Wild Water West is where fun is basically guaranteed. 

Hours and Information:
A day ticket (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) costs $24.95 plus tax for those 4 feet & taller. Those shorter than 4 feet or 60 years and older get in for $14.95 plus tax. Children 2 and under are free. You can also get evening tickets (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) for $14.95 plus tax (4 feet and taller), $7.95 plus tax (under 4 feet or seniors 60 or older) and free for ages 2 and under. Tickets can be pre-purchased here, but make sure to check out their site for daily specials and other great offers that will leave you with plenty of money in the sunscreen budget. To contact the park office with questions, call 605-361-9313.

Great Plains Zoo
Great Plains Zoo
Great Plains Zoo // Sioux Falls
805 S. Kiwanis Ave.

Visitors are often surprised to find such a quality zoo in the middle of the Midwest, but that’s exactly what awaits you at Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls. It’s home to a nationally recognized snow monkey exhibit and more than 1,000 animals from around the world, including giraffes, tigers, rhinos, and kangaroos. The zoo is also doing their part to prevent the disappearance of 43 species, taking meticulous care of rare animals like the Amur tiger and Eastern Black rhinoceros. There may be no place better to see education and fun combine into one amazing experience. Plus, you can enjoy the looks you’ll get when you tell your friends how you had your mind blown at a zoo in South Dakota.

Hours and Information:
The zoo is open year-round, but hours vary based on season. In 2019, summer (May 25-Sep. 2) hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday with last admission at 6 p.m. on all days. Fall (Sept. 3-30) hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday with last admission at 5 p.m. on all days. Winter (Oct. 1-March 31) hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday with last admission at 4 p.m. on all days. Spring (April 1-May 22) hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday with last admission at 4 p.m. on all days. The zoo and museum are closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

USS South Dakota Memorial
Battleship Memorial
USS South Dakota Memorial
Battleship Memorial
Battleship Memorial // Sioux Falls
2705 W. 12th St.

Located on the corner of 12th Street and Kiwanis Avenue (and just blocks away from the Great Plains Zoo) is one of the most unique parks in the state. The U.S.S. South Dakota Battleship Memorial features a free visitor center that houses exhibits on the history of a battleship that became legendary for her World War II exploits. What really draws people, though, is that the outdoor park is in the exact shape of the ship’s deck and features real pieces from the actual ship.

Hours and Information:
The park and museum are open from May 1 to September 30 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. There is no admission fee. 

Falls Park
Falls Park
Falls Park // Sioux Falls
131 E. Falls Park Drive

Bringing up South Dakota in conversation may inspire visions of Mount Rushmore, open prairie, or maybe even a buffalo. But waterfalls? Probably not. No problem. You can easily change that by taking in Falls Park in Sioux Falls. Located just a couple of blocks from the city’s thriving downtown, this 123-acre oasis is where quartzite rock meets flowing water, resulting in waterfalls where an average of 7,400 gallons of water drops 100 feet each second. Paved walkways make the park accessible to all as does the handicapped-accessible elevator that will take you to the top of a five-story observation tower for a truly unforgettable view. Learn about the park’s history at the Falls Park Visitor Information Center, dine with a view of the falls at the Falls Overlook Café, or just wander and take in the sights, including the 12 unique sculptures installed throughout the park. In the summer, you might find a farmers’ market. In the winter, see the park light up with holiday spirit thanks to the 500-plus trees and poles decorated with more than 26 miles of festive lights. Whatever season you visit, the calm and pristine beauty of Falls Park will be ready and waiting for exploration.

Hours and Information:
There is no charge to visit the park, which is open from March 8 to Nov. 1 from 5 a.m. to midnight. Hours during the remaining months vary.  

Fernson Brewing
Fernson Taproom
Fernson Taproom // Sioux Falls
1400 E. Robur Drive

As you leave Sioux Falls, don’t miss this fun-for-all-ages brewery tucked away in an industrial area. When the brewery renaissance hit South Dakota in 2015, Fernson was one of the first on the scene. It didn’t take long for them to become one of the biggest breweries in the state. Beers like Lion’s Paw Lager or their flagship Farmhouse Ale helped them establish a reputation for making some of the tastiest brews in the state. Today you can buy cans of Fernson across the state, but it’s even better to see exactly where the beer is made—and have a taste, if you’re 21 or over—at their original location just northeast of the junction of Interstate 90 and Interstate 29.

Hours and Information:
The taproom is open Wednesday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Kids and pets are welcome, tours are available, and you’re welcome to bring in your own food to pair with the tasty selection of beer available onsite. 

Wall Lake Park // Sioux Falls

Located five miles south of Hartford, Wall Lake Park is a 25-acre public park and home to the only swimming beach in the county. Take a break from the road and enjoy a picnic lunch or use one of the on-site grills. The picnic shelter is available for reservation—click here for more info—and offers a hilltop view of the lake. Kids of all ages can enjoy the playground equipment before or after a nice swim, providing some fresh air and exercise that could make the rest of the trip a little easier. 

Hours and Information:
The park is open year-round from dawn to dusk. Leashed pets are allowed in the park, but not on the beach. Glass containers are prohibited on the beach. Alcoholic beverages are not permitted anywhere in the park.

Buffalo Ridge Brewing
Buffalo Ridge Brewing Project
Buffalo Ridge Brewing Project // Hartford
102 N Main Ave.

It’s unusual for a town of only 3,200 people to have one of the top-rated breweries in the state, especially when the brewing company only opened in late 2018. But that’s just a testament to how comfortable and tasty everything is at Buffalo Ridge Brewing Project. Hosting everything from concerts to book clubs and yoga classes, Buffalo Ridge quickly became known as the place in town to connect with friends and expand your mind while dining on tasty treats and, of course, washing it all down with one (or more) of the brewery’s 18 rotating beers. From hoppy IPAs to a mellow cream ale and a powerful (and popular) sour, there’s something for every taste. Accompanied minors are allowed in the taproom and can order up a fresh glass of draft root beer. The nitro cold brew coffee is a hit with all ages as is the locally made salsa and many appetizer options. After all, everyone’s taste buds deserve a vacation!

Hours and Information:
Buffalo Ridge Brewing Company is open 4 p.m. to 10 pm. on Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday. Kids are welcome as are well-behaved pets on leashes. Tours are available if requested in advance.  

Motorsports
I-90 Speedway
I-90 Speedway // Hartford
46052 SD Highway 38

Sometimes, you just need to get the adrenaline pumping. That’s where the I-90 Speedway comes in. Located three miles west of Hartford, the historic speedway hosts spring car, stock car, and modified racing on Saturday nights throughout the summer. (For a full schedule, click here.) Watching the hyper-focused drivers take curves on the dirt track in their quest for first place is an exhilarating experience, whether you’re a long-time race fan or just a traveler looking for something different. Take a seat in the grandstand’s general seating area, splurge for the VIP seating in the grandstand tower, or set up your camping chair in the grassy terraces located at each end of the grandstand. The entire family—including leashed pets—is in for a rip-roaring experience at the I-90 Speedway. Ticket prices for races vary, so check the schedule for specific information. Start your engines for one heck of a South Dakota memory! 

Hours and Information:
Gates open at 4 p.m., allowing for plenty of time to check out the scene before the racing program begins at 7 p.m. Food, sodas, beer, and souvenirs are all available on-site.

Humboldt

What many travelers don’t know about small towns is that they a) have hidden restaurant gems and b) host some fun—and often unusual—events. Humboldt is no exception. As you make your journey along Interstate 90, stop by for a bite at the always-friendly Big J’s Roadhouse BBQ & Grill (211 Stofferean Drive) or the Hartford Steak Co. Tavern (709 N. Mundt Ave./ Highway 38), referred to by some locals as “The Best Little Steakhouse in South Dakota.” The meal and Midwestern hospitality will be worth the stop alone, but you can also work in one of Humboldt’s days of celebration. Main Street Days (July) feature a parade, baseball game, car show, parade, and inflatables for the kids—all lovable expressions of small-town spirit. The Lawnmower Poker Run and Threshing Bee raises money for charity once every August in a most unusual way: residents drive their riding lawnmowers to several checkpoints, picking up a card at each spot in hopes of ending up with the best poker hand.  Each spot features games and the chance to win extra prizes. In the end, one lucky rider wins, but so do the charity recipient and anyone that gets to watch or participate in the fun. A community potluck follows, allowing you to make new friends with delicious food…and possibly a lot of questions about lawnmower-based activities.

You can kick off the holiday spirit by checking out the craft & business displays, dining at the traditional soup and pie luncheon, and possibly winning a turkey on Turkey Day (November). (The tradition of catching turkeys that were thrown off the roof of a local supply business has, however, been excised from recent celebrations.)  Finally, you can try a new way to get into the Christmas spirit on Santa Day (December). Residents deck their houses in lights and decorations in hopes of placing in the town’s contest, but anyone can tour Humboldt on one of the Christmas hayrides. A hayride may have not been on your bucket list before, but we’re guessing it might be now.  Whenever you’re on the road in South Dakota, don’t be afraid to pull over and learn how small-town hospitality and celebrations can make the most unique memories. 

Hours and Information:
Big J’s Roadhouse BBQ & Grill is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Hartford Steak Co. Tavern is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday through Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Porter Sculpture Park
Porter Sculpture Park
Porter Sculpture Park // Montrose
45160 257th Street

You can enter the address into your GPS, but it probably won’t be necessary. The park’s giant horse and bull head catch most eyes traveling along Interstate 90. Follow your fascination for one of the most unique experiences in the state. Sculptor Wayne Porter constructed every one of the park’s 50-plus sculptures, and he’s happy to tell you all about the dragon, goldfish, bright pink rocking horse, and other creatures that originated in his artistic mind. 

Hours and Information:
The park is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Memorial Day through September 15.  

Salem

Salem is officially the halfway point between Sioux Falls and Mitchell. That makes it the perfect place to pull over, stretch your legs, and explore. Get your caffeine fix at The Homestead Coffee Co., a family affair where the drinks are tasty and the grilled cheese is something special. You can really cure some hunger at The Brewery, where they’ve been using the same amazing pizza recipe since 1963. Is it treasure you seek? Than treasure you shall find at Ace’s Shopwise, a thrift store with bargains, a “Collector’s Corner” that features antiques and pop culture relics, and a rather amazing book exchange program. If you bring in a book, you can exchange it for a different one. No cost. No purchase necessary. Ace’s motto is “Pay for a book once, read for life.” It’s just another example of the magic that you can find between the mile markers. 

Hours and Information:
The Homestead Coffee Co. is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Brewery is open Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Ace’s Shopwise is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Alexandria

If you’ve ever enjoyed an old Warner Bros. or MGM cartoon, you’re probably familiar with the term “Eat at Joe’s.” Good news! That’s exactly what you can do at Joe’s Café in Alexandria, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend legendary cook Dorothy Berg’s famous chili. Just a few miles south of Alexandria is a little piece of paradise called Lake Hanson. Every summer, the small lake is a welcome oasis for swimmers, boaters, or anyone looking to get in a little beach time. That it’s regarded as having some of the cleanest water in the area doesn’t hurt the lake’s draw at all. (Online directions will list it as “Hanson Lake,” but trust us—no one calls it that.) 

Hours and Information:
Joe’s Café is open every day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Spencer

Most are too modest to say it out loud, but Midwesterners pride themselves on being resilient. For residents of Spencer, though, that toughness was put to the test at 8:44 p.m. on May 30, 1998, when the most destructive tornado in state history ripped through the small community of 300. The F4 tornado killed six people. Sixty homes and five churches were destroyed. Barns exploded. The water tower turned into a twisted heap of metal, and the only thing left standing at the bank was the vault. Many people wondered if the town would even survive. It did, of course, and even though its population is now only around 150, the entire community is a testament to the resilience that seems to be part of South Dakotans’ DNA.

Corn Palace
The World’s Only Corn Palace
The World’s Only Corn Palace // Mitchell
604 N Main St.

Welcome to the Palace City! Mitchell is considered the unofficial midway point of the state, but it’s best known as home to the World’s Only Corn Palace. Once you see it, you’ll understand. Located only minutes off Interstate 90, the Corn Palace is a Moorish Revival-style structure covered in corn. But it’s not like organizers just shoot a mythical corn cannon at the walls and call it good. No, almost every year, the previous year’s murals are replaced with carefully planned art murals based on a theme. Past themes have included “Salute to Rodeo,” “Mother Goose Rhymes,” and “Everyday Heroes,” but “Rock of Ages”—complete with corn-art visages of Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson—proved to be particularly popular in 2016. Snap the perfect vacation pic in front of the Corn Palace before getting another shot across the street with Cornelius, a six-foot-tall ear of corn that’s one of the most popular parts of a Corn Palace visit. Take in the art gallery on the Corn Palace’s second floor, see the dazzling light display each night and, if the timing’s right, catch a concert, basketball game, or other event inside the palace itself. More than 500,000 visitors come to see the Corn Palace each year, so make sure you don’t miss this one-of-a-kind folk-art wonder.

Hours and Information:
The Corn Palace is open year-round and free to enter and explore except when certain events are happening. Check here for a complete schedule of Corn Palace events. 

Guns of History_MItchell
The Guns of History Gun Gallery
Guns of History_MItchell
The Guns of History Gun Gallery
The Guns of History Gun Gallery // Mitchell
700 N Sanborn Blvd

Prepare yourself for a fascinating look at some of the weapons that shaped American history. Focused on armed conflicts from 1860 to 1890, this impressive collection includes firearms used by Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Gall, Two Moons, and George Custer. Chances are good you’ll meet noted author and historian Wendell Grangaard, a language scholar who helped interpret the Togial language imprinted on many of the museum’s firearms.

Hours and Information:
The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for youth, and $20 for a family of two adults and any child under 18. 

Archeodome
Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village
Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village // Mitchell
3200 Indian Village Road

The only active archaeological dig site in Mitchell is used to finding things in the dirt. That’s because the campus of the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village was once a thriving village of 200 to 500 people more than 1,000 years ago. An incredible number of artifacts have already been unearthed from the dig site housed under the Archeodome Interpretive Center, and there's no shortage of relics to be discovered. Every summer, archeological students from Sioux Falls and England come to continue their research, unearthing pottery, tools, and other remnants from an ancient culture. It’s during this time that visitors can watch archaeology in action, but the center is open year-round for anyone who wants to see the dig site. The village’s Boehnen Memorial Museum offers an in-depth look at how the area’s former residents lived. Walk into a full-size reproduction of an earthen lodge, see a full bison skeleton, and experience informative exhibits, an audio/visual technology center, student library, and gift shop. Guided tours are offered throughout the day at no extra cost. Travelers can have even more fun during special events like Archeology Awareness Days (held one weekend every summer) and Lakota Games on Ice (held annually sometime in the last half of January). 

Hours and Information:
The non-profit organization charges $6 for adults, $5 for seniors 60 and over, and $4 for teens 13-16 and students with a valid ID. Kids 12 and under get in free (if they are accompanied by an adult), and well-behaved leashed dogs are welcome. A group rate of $4 for adults and $2 for children is available for groups of 10 or more. Bus tours are $75 per bus, and there is ample parking for buses and RVs.

Dakota Discovery Museum
Dakota Discovery Museum
Dakota Discovery Museum // Mitchell
1300 McGovern Ave.

Immerse yourself in a world of history, art, and more at the Dakota Discovery Museum. The recently renovated museum is the area’s premier repository for South Dakota history, from the area’s original inhabitants to the settlers and beyond. There’s also a tremendous display of art featuring work from early Native Americans to current up-and-coming artists.  Rotating exhibits mean there’s almost always something new to see when you return. (Past exhibits have focused on hunting, Middle Border fashion, and a history of first responders.) Plus, you can check out their website to see a digital exhibit. It’s a great way to build excitement for your upcoming visit to a truly amazing devotion to South Dakota’s rich history. 

Hours and Information:
From May to October, the museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. During the rest of the year, hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission is $7 for adults 18-62, $6 for seniors 63 and older, $3 for youth 6-17 and free for children under 6.
 

McGovern Library
McGovern Library
McGovern Library // Mitchell
12 W. University Ave.

Born in the small town of Avon and raised in Mitchell, George McGovern went from renowned high school debater to decorated Air Force pilot, respected minister, and distinguished professor before he followed a political path that nearly took him to the Oval Office. Although McGovern lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon in 1972, he went stayed socially active, dedicating himself to ending world hunger. Before his death in 2012, McGovern actually lived across the street from the library dedicated to his legacy of public service. Today, visitors to the library’s museum can learn more about one of South Dakota’s finest sons. Walking past the statue of George and his beloved wife, Eleanor, will take you inside, where memorabilia spanning McGovern’s entire life mixes with historical facts to offer a fascinating look at the man who said, “The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher standard.”

Hours and Information:
There is no admission charge for the library, but hours can vary because of its association with Dakota Wesleyan University. Click here for the most updated hours. 

Hungry Dog // Mitchell
422 S Sanborn Blvd.

Anyone raised on hot dogs probably doesn’t think of them as a tremendously interesting food, but Hungry Dog takes things to a new level. Residents and visitors alike keep coming back for Hungry Dog’s unique and delicious vittles, including the Wiz Dog (featuring a deep-fried, bacon-wrapped hot dog covered in house-made cheese wiz), the Mac-n-Cheese (a hot dog covered in house-made mac-n-cheese and loaded with crushed potato chips) and the Philly Dog, which is essentially a Philly cheesesteak with a hot dog in it. There are also burgers, chicken sandwiches, and other options guaranteed to leave you full and happy. Pro tip: Get the cheese balls if you can. They’re made with cheese from the nearby Dimock Dairy, and it’s not uncommon for supplies to be depleted before the workday is over.

Hours and Information:
During the summer, Hungry Dog is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Winter hours vary.

Chef Louie’s Steak House and Lounge // Mitchell
601 E. Havens Ave.

When in beef country, do as the beef eaters do and get a perfect steak from Chef Louie’s. The old-school chophouse is an institution in Mitchell, serving perfect steak and seafood since 1940. It’s also easy to find, given the giant bull statue that holds court in front of the restaurant. If fresh-cut meat, homemade sauces & desserts, and friendly hometown atmosphere is your thing, Chef Louie’s has a table for you.

Hours and Information:
The chef is in from 4:30 p.m. to close (which is anywhere from 9 p.m. to midnight).

As always, there’s so much more to explore and discover in South Dakota. We hope this list helps you find some extra fun between the mile markers. For more information or to request an in-depth vacation guide, visit TravelSouthDakota.com