Travelers on the 242 miles of U.S. Route 83 in South Dakota with find the charming and historic cities of Pierre and Fort Pierre, vast grasslands and drive through the heart of Lakota Country at the Rosebud Reservation.
Standing Rock/Cheyenne River Reservations
While not on Highway 83, the route parallels the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Reservations, which are a quick drive west on U.S. Route 12.
Pass over Lake Oahe at Mobridge and follow the signs to the Grand River Casino. Next to its driveway is a sign pointing the way to one of two spots where the remains of Chief Sitting Bull are reportedly entered. Why two spots? Back in the 1950s, a dispute between the two reservations resulted in some of the chief’s descendants reportedly taking them back to where they thought they belonged in the middle of the night.
This reported grave site, which has a good view of the lake, has a carving of the great chief’s bust made by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore.
The casino has a nice gift shop where items made by local artists are for sale.
As the state capital, Pierre offers visitors a chance to visit its state history museum, library and capitol building.
The South Dakota Cultural
Heritage Center, which includes the state archives as well as a museum, has
several ongoing exhibitions celebrating the heritage of the state’s settlers
and Native American tribes, and follows their stories into the 21st Century. The unique building is built into the side of a hill. Follow the signs
north of the capitol building.
Museum Hours and Admission
Memorial Day through Labor Day
Monday through Saturday
9:00 AM to 6:30 PM
Sundays & Holidays
1:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Labor Day through Memorial Day
Monday through Saturday
9:00 AM to 4:30 PM
Sundays & Holidays 1:00 PM to 4:30 PM
The Museum is closed New Year’s Day, Easter,
Thanksgiving and Christmas.
State Capitol Building
No need for directions to the capitol building, which sits atop a hill overlooking the city. The building was constructed between 1905 and 1910, and may look familiar to Montanans. Its architects based it on the capitol building in Helena.
Self-guided tours can be done 365 days a year anytime from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Pick up the self-guided tour brochure at the front desk.
The U.S. Route 83 Travel page recommends Mad Mary’s Steak House (left), at 110 E. Dakota Ave., just a couple blocks south of Highway 83 as it passes near downtown Pierre. And for the summer months, you can’t beat the Cool Spot across the river in Ft. Pierre for some soft serve!
Fort Pierre, SD
A short drive over the Missouri River is Fort Pierre, which has a lot to offer history buffs.
The Verendrye Museum is named after the two sons of French-Canadian explorer, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de La Vérendrye, who led the first European expedition into present day North Dakota. Later, two of his sons Louis and Chevalier, returned to search for the elusive Western Sea. Their whereabouts on their journey was a matter of conjecture until 1913 when some local kids unearthed a lead plaque on a hill overlooking the town. The plaque had the names of the expedition members etched into it, and signified that they had claimed the land in the name of the King of France. Take the road up Verendrye Drive and climb the hill to the spot where the tablet was discovered. This overlook has wonderful views of the river and the two towns.
The museum is open in the summer hours from 9 to 5. Or call 605-223-7761 for an off-season appointment.
A few blocks to the east off the highway is Lily Park. Along with having nice picnic grounds and a view of where the Bad River meets the Missouri, those following the Lewis and Clark trail will want to stop here and see where the expedition first encountered the Lakota people, better known as the Sioux. The Corps of Discovery had a tense standoff with a band of Sincacu (Burnt Thigh) band here. As the historian Stephen Ambrose speculated in his book, Undaunted Courage, a skirmish between the two parties would have been a disaster for the United States, and the legendary trip may have turned out differently. Fortunately, cooler heads on both sides prevailed.
The Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center
Legendary Rodeo Cowboy Casey Tibbs (1929-1990) grew up on a homestead some 50 miles northwest of here, but he always considered Fort Pierre his home. Tibbs was called the “Babe Ruth of rodeo” for helping to popularize the sport. After years of work, the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center opened its doors in 2009. It has memorabilia from Tibbs’ career as well as displays on the history of rodeo.
Along the west side of the highway is a statue of Tibbs riding a bronc. Look up and the center is on the hill to the west.
Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center
Hours of Operation: Beginning June 1st
Monday- Saturday 10:00 AM- 5:00 PM
Sunday - 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Surrounding the four-lane
highway south of Fort Pierre, is the Fort Pierre National Grasslands. If there
weren’t signs, drivers would never know it. There is no interpretive center, or
even a scenic overlook. The prairie has always gotten the short shrift when it
comes to preserving and appreciation of our natural heritage.
Pull over wherever possible to take some pictures of this short-grass prairie.
Like the road east of
Bismarck, Highway 83 briefly merges with an Interstate south of Pierre.
also like the North Dakota, drivers can take the legacy road, which can be
found just to the north of the Coffee Cup Fuel Stop.
Take this road west and
avoid the interstate. This 20-mile stretch was once co-signed with U.S. Route 16, which was replaced by Interstate 90.
There are some beautiful little train
trestles here, as well as the small town of Draper, South Dakota.
The road will join 83 again at Murdo, S.D.
World Famous Pioneer Auto Show
This collection of more than
275 antique vehicles is a roadside attraction worth checking out.
family has been collecting classic cars, tractors, motorcycles and memorabilia
from the early days of the automobile age since the 1950s. It started at a gas
station as a few old cars designed to attract travelers heading west on Highway
16 to the Black Hills.
Within a few years, the collection had grown big enough
to store in a building. It is now spread out in 30 buildings.
There is a
gift shop, a reproduction of a prairie town and an old fashioned diner.
station, originally a Phillips 66, is stills standing at the corner of Hwy 83.
Summer hours are 8 a.m to 9 p.m.
It closes at 6 p.m. during the winter months.
Highway 83 cuts through the middle of the land of the Sicangu (The Lakota Brule, or Burnt Thigh people). Legend has it that this band of the Lakota nation fell victim to a prairie fire and its members had to run into a
pond to escape its flames. The resulting scars
gave the people their name.
The Sicangu's most famous leader was the legendary Spotted Tail, or Sinte Gleska.To visit the chief's grave site, travelers will have to turn west for a couple miles on Hwy 18, then head south on a county road to the town of Rosebud. (Photo of the grave site courtesy of Jeff Barnes.)
The largest town the highway passes through is Mission. Stop on the outskirts at the Turtle Creek Supermarket, a tribally owned business. While there, buy some Tanka Bars. This small business based on the Pine Ridge Reservation to the west sells bison jerky mixed with cranberries.
Read more about it here.
The Sicangu Heritage Center, operated by the local tribal college, has a wonderful collection of Lakota art. It is open year round except for major holidays, Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. Other times, by appointment only. (605)856-8211.
Follow the signs to the
Sinte Gleska College's Lakefront Campus, which is a few miles east of the U.S. Route 18 and 83 intersection,
to visit the center.
Learn more about the history and sites to see along U.S. 83 in The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas and the second edition, Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma. CLICK HERE TO ORDER
Check out the other U.S. Route 83 Travel Pages!