South Dakota's Lewis & Clark Trail
A wealth of adventure awaits those brave enough to explore the journey of Lewis and Clark. Begin at the southeastern tip of the state, where the explorers first entered South Dakota, and follow these highlights until the trail ends near the North Dakota border.
Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve
In Lewis and Clark's time, the Missouri River was shallow and unpredictable. Some days, the men spent hours towing the keelboat over sandbars. At Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve, you can see one of the last free-flowing segments of the Missouri River. More than seven miles of hiking and biking trails crisscross the preserve, giving visitors a chance to experience the section’s original character. Located near North Sioux City, take the exit 4 off I-29 and follow the signs.
Site of First Election
Following the death of Sgt. Charles Floyd, the captains needed a replacement. A vote was held on August 22, 1804, where Patrick Gass received 19 votes in what is believed to be the first election by U.S. citizens west of the Mississippi. Find the marker in downtown Elk Point that relays the story. Take exit 18 off I-29.
Early in their journey, Lewis and Clark met tribes who told them stories of 18-inch devils armed with arrows that inhabit a prairie hill. On August 25, 1804, Lewis and Clark set off on foot to investigate, hiking four hours in the sweltering heat. At the top of this hill, the infamous devils were nowhere to be found. But the explorers did see a herd of buffalo, nearly 800 strong, grazing in the distance. The Spirit Mound Historic Prairie is managed by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks and stands along Highway 19, six miles north of Vermillion.
Lewis and Clark Visitor Center
Built on a bluff overlooking Lewis and Clark Lake, the center offers in-depth information about the expedition, the tribes Lewis and Clark encountered, and the river itself. Pastel-colored cliffs line the shore, providing incredible photo opportunities. The shimmering waters play host to sailors, anglers and water-skiers throughout the summer. The Lewis and Clark Visitor Center is located near Gavins Point Dam, take Highway 52 west from Yankton and then cross the dam.
Lewis and Clark Recreation Area
Located on Lewis and Clark Lake, this popular park offers a full-service marina, sandy beaches, hiking and biking trails, and an archery range. Water enthusiasts come to sail, boat, fish and swim. Options for accommodations include campsites with spectacular views of the lake, cabins and motel rooms. Take Highway 52 west from Yankton.
Native American Scenic Byway
South Dakota's cultural roots unfold as you travel this route through the Great Sioux Nation. The breathtaking trial follows the Missouri River 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, proghorn and deer are still good. Several Native American 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 on Standing Bear Bridge on Highway 37 near Running Water on the Nebraska border.
Fort Randall Dam
More than 50 years after Lewis and Clark forged a path up the Missouri River, Fort Randall was built along the shores near present-day Pickstown. Today, 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 but remains undeveloped, so plan ahead. Take Highway 281 west from Pickstown.
Lewis and Clark Welcome Center
The Welcome 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 through 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.
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 on the campus of St. Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain. Take exit 263 off I-90 and go two miles north.
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, was only 2,000 yards on foot. By water, the same trip was 30 miles. Now, more than two centuries and four dams later, the river still makes that huge loop. Visit the Narrows three miles north of Lower Brule off Highway 10. Stop by West Bend Recreation Area to view the river, fish, boat and camp. It is located 26 miles east and nine miles south of Pierre off Highway 34.
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 (a large canoe) was readying to leave, three young Teton grabbed hold of it and wouldn't let go. It was a pivotal moment as both sides drew arms. Thanks to the quick intervention 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 there you can watch the Bad River pour into the Missouri and imagine that historic meeting of Sept. 25, 1804. A historical marker in Fischers Lilly Park in Fort Pierre commemorates the site of the confrontation.
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. 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 built into the side of a Missouri River bluff located north of the State Capitol.
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 River. At West Whitlock Recreation Area near Gettysburg, step inside a full-size replica of an Arikara lodge, just like those Lewis and Clark visited 200 years ago. Made of logs and branches, the lodge’s grass roof blends into the surrounding prairie. Follow the signs from Highway 1804.
Monument to Sacagawea
The only woman to accompany the Corps of Discovery, two different theories surround the death of Sacagawea. While some say she lived to 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.
Legend of the Stone Idols
Lewis and Clark visited north central South Dakota in the fall of 1804. They 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 along with a faithful dog who were all turned to stone. The site and a historic marker are located approximately one mile south and two miles west of Pollock.
There are public and private organizations with additional information about the entire Lewis & Clark Trail. Visit their websites for more information:
National Park Service – Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail website
The Middle Missouri River Lewis & Clark Network – Lewis and Clark Country website
Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation – website