Category Archives: South Dakota

Missouri National Recreational River

Overview

Forming the border of Nebraska and South Dakota, the Missouri National Recreational River was originally designated in 1978, but only 300 of its 34,128 acres are managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  Its lower segment runs 59 miles from the Gavins Point Dam to Ponca State Park.  More than a decade later, a 39-mile stretch was added from the Fort Randall Dam to Niobrara State Park, and includes 20 miles of the Lower Niobrara River (which is itself designated a National Scenic River upstream).  The section of river in between is a 29-mile long reservoir known as Lewis and Clark Lake, named for the explorers that led the Corps of Discovery up this section of river in August-September 1804.

Highlights

Lewis and Clark Visitor Center, Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium, boating, fishing

Must-Do Activity

Most visitors come for the boating and fishing opportunities along the Missouri River.  If you are well-prepared, canoeing can be a fun way to experience these two relatively free-flowing sections of river.  The NPS and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) manage the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center near Yankton, South Dakota, which, in addition to dam tours, offers the Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium.

Best Trail

The 4,400-mile long Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail tracks through here, but since the Corps of Discovery used the Missouri River as their path, there is no hiking trail to follow.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are several great museums along the Missouri River section of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail.  Our favorite is the NPS headquarters for the trail in Omaha, Nebraska, which has the beautiful Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge across the river connecting to Iowa.  If you drive over to Council Bluffs, do not miss the free museum at the Western Historic Trails Center.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mnrr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None for the NPS unit, but the state parks charge admission.

Road Conditions

Roads to the state parks and visitor centers are paved, but there are many dirt roads that access boat launches along the river.

Camping

Niobrara State Park and Ponca State Park both have more than 100 campsites with running water.  The COE also operates campgrounds near its dams.

Related Sites

Niobrara National Scenic River (Nebraska)

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Explore More – In the aftermath of several devastating floods, when did Congress enact the Flood Control Act to construct five dams along the Missouri River?

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Overview

During the Cold War, there were 150 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos in South Dakota.  Start your visit at the thought-provoking museum in the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center on Interstate 90, located at Exit 131 (the east entrance into Badlands National Park).  It can be hard to get onto a tour of the Delta-01 launch control facility that same day without reservations, but you can always stop at the Delta-09 missile silo at Exit 116.

Highlights

Museum, Delta-09 missile silo, guided tours of Delta-01 launch control facility

Must-Do Activity

Guided tours of the Delta-01 launch control facility have very limited space and a nominal fee, but are no longer solely first-come, first served thanks to an online reservation system.  Guided tours are also available of the Minuteman II training silo at Ellsworth Air Force Base down the road on Interstate 90 at Exit 67, which is home of the free South Dakota Air and Space Museum (that is definitely worth a stop).

Best Trail

Located off Interstate 90 Exit 116, you can walk around the Delta-09 missile silo, which has interpretive signs around a deactivated Minuteman II ICBM.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Stop to read the quote by the front door to the NPS visitor center.  It is a sobering reminder of the brutal logic behind “nuclear deterrence” and “Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).”

Peak Season

Summer and the September weekend of the Custer State Park bison roundup.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mimi/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

No fee for the main visitor center or the Delta-09 missile silo, but there is a small charge for the guided tour of the Delta-01 launch control facility.

Road Conditions

Access to the multiple sites is by paved or good gravel roads.

Camping

Campgrounds and free backcountry camping are allowed in nearby Badlands National Park.

Explore More – A single Minuteman II missile has a 1.2-megaton warhead, which is equivalent in power to what percentage of all munitions used throughout World War II?

Badlands National Park

Overview

Badlands National Park is known for its fossils, but not all of the mammals here are extinct.  Bison and bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the park, in addition to common prairie residents that include pronghorn, mule deer, prairie dogs, and coyotes.

Highlights

Door Trail, Notch Trail, Conata Basin, Sage Creek Road

Must-Do Activity

Driving the dirt road back to the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground, you will likely encounter a roaming bison herd and several prairie dog towns.  Bighorn sheep and pronghorn can also be found near the road.

Best Trail

The Notch Trail is only 1.5 miles in and out, but is an adventure with a large ladder, badlands, cliffs, and an excellent overlook at the end.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bighorn sheep, many with large curling horns, seem to pose atop the badlands formations, especially around the Pinnacles Overlook.

A big horn sheep in Badlands National Park

Peak Season

Summer, but we prefer the fall when it is less crowded, especially in Sage Creek Primitive Campground.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/badl/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Badlands Loop Road is paved, and Sage Creek Road and Conata Road are both graded and passable to all vehicles.  Sheep Mountain Table Road in the Stronghold Unit may be more difficult when wet, but otherwise does not require four-wheel drive as designated on the park map.

Camping

Cedar Pass Campground has RV sites and the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground is located down a good dirt road on the west side of the park. Backpacking is free and only requires registration at the trailhead.


This design we created to celebrate Badlands National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How many endangered black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to the park in 1994?

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Jewel Cave National Monument

Overview

Sometimes overshadowed by nearby Wind Cave National Park, the third-longest mapped cave system in the world is located within Jewel Cave National Monument.  Thick calcite crystals are the sparkly jewels that adorn the walls of this gem in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Jewel Cave.JPG

Highlights

Lantern Tour, Scenic Tour, Wild Caving Tour

Must-Do Activity

The Wild Caving Tour is reserved for those willing and able to squeeze through the 8.5 x 24-inch crawlspace located out front of the visitor center.  It is a taste of what is to come during sections like the “Brain Drain.”  Thick layers of manganese will permanently stain clothing worn by those brave enough to take this epic 4-hour journey that crawls less than half a mile past rare hydromagnesite balloons and gypsum flowers.

Best Trail

Most of the forest within the monument has burned, but Canyons Trail makes a 3.5 mile loop from the visitor center or Historic Ranger Cabin.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Most cave tours do not allow you to touch anything, but on the Historic Lantern Tour at the historic entrance to the cave (summer only) you can feel the 4-inch long calcite crystals (also called dogtooth spar) that formed like a bathtub ring as water slowly drained out.

August 2012 494.JPG

Peak Season

Summer when the Historic Lantern Tour and Wild Caving Tour are offered.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/jeca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None to park, but there is a charge for all tours.

Road Conditions

All roads paved.  Note that the Historic Lantern Tour at the historic entrance to the cave is not at the main visitor center where the elevator is.

Camping

None, but plenty of places at Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Black Hills National Forest.

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Wild Caving Tour patrons have to prove they can squeeze through this 8.5×24-inch crawlspace.

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Thick layers of manganese will permanently stain clothing worn on the Wild Caving Tour.

August 2012 448
Ranger at the entrance for the Historic Lantern Tour.

August 2012 471

August 2012 505
This formation is known as “Madonna and Child.”

Explore More – How many miles of the cave’s passages have currently been mapped?

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