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10 Reasons to Visit South Dakota’s Quaint & Quiet Capital City

The capitol building in Pierre, South Dakota.

Pierre, South Dakota, is located right in the center of the state on the banks of the Missouri River. Given its central location and rich history, this humble Great Plains destination is a popular stop for folks on Midwest road trips. Let’s just say that someone on a drive from Minneapolis to Missoula, Montana, might have a better time if they take the route through Pierre.

What is the Capital of South Dakota?

If you guessed that Pierre is the capital city of South Dakota, you win! Wonder what gave it away…

Understandably, many people think Sioux Falls is the state capital, given its larger size and population. Pierre is actually South Dakota’s eighth most populous city after other municipalities like Rapid City, Aberdeen, and Mitchell. In fact, when it comes to state capitals and their populations, Pierre is second-to-last on the U.S. list, following Montpellier, Vermont.

Pierre got its name from Fort Pierre, founded in part by Pierre Chouteau Jr. Chouteau was a French fur trader who dealt in beaver and buffalo. Depending on who you ask, he just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right amount of money.

The city of Pierre started as a simple trading post across the river from the fort. Back then, the Dakota Territory was still new to the Union. Neither South nor North Dakota had yet to be granted statehood. President Grover Cleveland signed a bill that split the territory in two and made them states in 1889.

Pierre was made the temporary capital of South Dakota following the area’s transition. While other cities like Huron also competed for the honor, Pierre beat them out due to its central location and long history of settlement. It became the permanent capital following elections in both 1890 and 1904.

In addition to being the state’s capital, Pierre is also the seat of Hughes County.

What is South Dakota Known For?

While most people think of Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and Badlands National Park when they think of South Dakota, the state has more to offer than these American icons. It’s in places like Pierre that the state’s history can be more thoroughly explored without all the usual crowds. Below is a list of compelling reasons to visit Pierre that you won’t find on Wikipedia.

10 Reasons to Visit the Capital of South Dakota

1. State Capitol Building

The South Dakota State Capitol Building is no exception when it comes to the grandeur that American architects bestow upon the civic hearts of their states. Built between 1905 and 1910, the legend goes that 66 Italian artists laid its tile floors. Rather than have so many artists sign their names, each received a blue tile somewhere in the building. To this day, only 55 blue tiles have been found.

2. Flaming Fountain & Law Enforcement Memorials

When dropping in on the capitol building, don’t forget to visit exterior memorials like these. We’re listing them separately from the capitol building because we believe veterans who have put their lives on the line deserve their own respect and acknowledgment. Since they’re situated outside, you can still access them even when the capital is closed.

3. Museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society

Located on the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center grounds, the museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The museum hosts a wide range of exciting attractions that focus on everything from the state’s Native American legacy to its Cold War missile fields. Its Observatory Gallery grants a great view of the surrounding area.

4. Trail of Governors

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For those whose patriotism extends to South Dakota itself, the Trail of Governors is a great way to literally step into history. The trail is marked by a growing collection of bronze statues of former mayors, many of which have accompanying plaques and supplemental online videos. Since it meanders through Pierre’s business district and capitol area, it’s an excellent choice for exploring the city on foot.

5. Lake Oahe

North of Pierre, you’ll find the Oahe Dam that holds back the mighty waters of the Missouri River, forming Lake Oahe. The lake area is excellent for all types of fun, particularly fishing. 50 recreation areas surround the sprawling body of water, many of which have features like boat ramps, campgrounds, and picnic areas.

6. South Dakota Discovery Center

The Discovery Center was designed for the benefit of children’s growth and education. As such, it has a lot of hands-on exhibits and installations that’ll be sure to electrify tiny minds. It’s available for birthday parties, field trips, and after-hour rentals if you’re in the market. To keep parents happy, the Center also has an adult-oriented program named “Discovery on Tap.” Don’t get too excited, though — the “on tap” part isn’t about beer.

7. Fort Pierre Chouteau National Historic Landmark

If you really want to head back in time, you can visit the site of the fort that once supported this pioneer settlement. Of course, there’s not much left to see, so this one’s more for the dedicated American history fans. The Fort Chouteau Museum is just about a block away as well.

8. South Dakota National Guard Museum

Once a small military museum, the National Guard Museum has a collection of artifacts ranging from the present day all the way back to the state’s earliest militias. It’s located downtown, right near the river, and is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Though the grounds are small, this is a must-see spot for veterans and other patriots.

9. La Framboise Island

Right in the middle of the Missouri River between the banks of Pierre and Fort Pierre, you’ll find this undeveloped oasis. It is connected to the city via a single causeway. The island is covered with trails, making it an excellent destination for hikers and bikers looking for casual exercise or a secluded swimming spot.

10. Farr Historic House

This ancient beauty was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Although it housed a couple of governors in its time, it hasn’t been made into any sort of interactive museum, so you’ll have to enjoy the view from outside. That is, of course, unless you intend to spend the night there since it has apparently been turned into bed and breakfast.

Know any fun things to do in Pierre, South Dakota? Tell us all about them on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!

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