Breathtaking views of the Missouri River, diverse landscapes, and tribal history and culture are showcased on the Native American Scenic Byway running north and south through central South Dakota. The route takes travelers through the lands of the Yankton, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes.
From the Chief Standing Bear Bridge on the Nebraska border to the North Dakota border near Kenel, the byway follows a natural path cut by the Missouri River. Highways 37, 1804 and 50 make up the route from Running Water north to Fort Thompson.
The byway crosses the Missouri River on Big Bend Dam at Fort Thompson and follows Highway 1806 to Fort Pierre. The byway then heads west on Highway 34 and north on Highway 63 to Eagle Butte. Continuing east on Highway 212, the route gives the option of going north on gravel BIA 7 on the west side of the river or following Highway 83 on the east side. At Mobridge, Highway 1806 again heads north to Kenel.
Landscapes along the way includes mixed-grass prairie and rolling hills that end in limestone cliffs that line river in many places. An abundance of wildlife, including prairie dogs, pronghorn and deer, can be spotted as you travel – not to mention bison and elk herds that are maintained by several tribes.
Much of this wild, rugged country remains undeveloped to this day, making this a truly unique road trip. Keep reading to see some amazing sights and sites you can see along the way.
Begin or end your journey in Yankton, the capital of Dakota Territory from 1861 to 1883. See Native American artifacts and learn about their history at the Dakota Territorial Museum, but don’t miss the natural beauty of Lewis and Clark Recreation Area. The rec area great for hiking, biking, camping, disc golf, horseshoes and birding. The 25-mile Lewis and Clark Lake is also a popular place for water recreation. One splash and you’ll see why.
Look for Soaring Eagles
As you follow Highway 50 northwest towards Pickstown and Lake Andes, keep your eyes open for bald eagles. Both the Randall Creek State Recreation Area and the Karl E. Mundt National Wildlife Refuge are known for being prime eagle-spotting locations, with the latter home to a refuge that provides habitat for 100 to 300 bald eagles. Eagles are considered sacred in the Native culture, representing truth, strength, power and wisdom.
See Dignity's View in Chamberlain-Oacoma
These communities each occupy a side of the Missouri River, offering magnificent views of open hills and water in central south Dakota. Just outside of Chamberlain on a hill overlooking the river stands Dignity: of Earth and Sky, a 50-foot-tall statue of a Native woman that honors the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people. Enjoy a unique chance to learn about Native American heritage at the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center.
When Lewis and Clark explored this region in 1804, they noted the abundance of wildlife and colorful bluffs. Today, in the lands of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, the byway crosses the Missouri River near Big Bend Dam and enters the lands of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. Don't miss the sculpture in Fort Thompson of Lewis and Clark interacting with a local Native.
Pierre/ Ft. Pierre
The Pierre/Ft. Pierre area has much more than the beautiful Missouri River. In Fort Pierre, you can visit the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center and the Verendrye Monument, where French explorers buried a lead plate claiming the region for France. The lead plate — and many Native American artifacts — can be viewed at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center across the Missouri River in Pierre, as well as the beautifully restored South Dakota State Capitol. Visitors to the capital city area can also stop by the Oahe Dam, which gives way to colossal Lake Oahe, the fourth-largest reservoir in the United States.
This is the land of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. An event called the Red Can Graffiti Jam resulted in eye-popping murals on buildings all across Eagle Butte. The teown is also the home to the H.V. Johnston Cultural Center, a hub for cultural activities. Visit to see displays of historical artifacts, murals, photographs, beadwork and paintings.
Visitors can — and should — stop by the Klein Museum, home to a multitude of artifacts pertaining to the history of the area. The museum has some very rare Native pieces that alone make the trip worthwhile. Inside the Mobridge Auditorium, you can see 10 murals by legendary Native artist Oscar Howe. Some of Howe's earliest works, these murals were completed in 12 days in the early 1940s and are sights to behold. For more information on how to see these murals at no cost, click here.
On a bluff along the Missouri River across from Mobridge is a monument to Sacagawea, the only female member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. There's also the Sitting Bull Monument, a seven-ton granite bust marking the final resting place of the legendary Sioux leader. The story behind how the remains ended up there? Well, that's a doozy.