South Dakota Scenic Drives: Native American Scenic Byway

Along South Dakota's Native American Scenic Byway, the lakes and streams of the Great Plains tell the story of the Sioux's connection with the land. Journey through the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Indian Reservations, and view their unique cultures firsthand.

Buffalo roam on the high plains that sharply contrast the nearby bottomlands and the bluffs along the river. The Big Bend of the Missouri River features prominently in the geography of the area. Dams created Lake Francis Case and Lake Sharpe, which are excellent recreational areas as well as places of beauty.

Advertisement

Archaeological Qualities of the Native American Scenic Byway

A significant number of archaeological studies are being conducted along the Native American Scenic Byway. One of the major interpretive sites along the byway, the Crow Creek Massacre site near the southern border of the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, is a well-known archaeological site.

In 1978, archaeologists from the University of South Dakota and the Smithsonian Institute uncovered the remains of nearly 500 people, victims of the largest prehistoric massacre known in North America. The event occurred around 1325. Archaeologists have several ideas about what happened at the Crow Creek site. One theory is that there were too many people for the land to support and that village farmers got involved in battles over the land.

Qualities of the Native American Scenic Byway

Travel through the grounds of one of the most significant Native American nations in the country. You encounter two Sioux reservations as you drive the byway: the Crow Creek Indian Reservation and the Lower Brule Indian Reservation.

When Lewis and Clark made their journey through this part of the country, they came with the intention of forming a peaceful relationship with the people there. Remnants of that journey remain today, as travelers explore a new landscape and a new culture. The Native American Scenic Byway is a journey through the heart of the Sioux nation. Excellent cultural interpretive sites give you an in-depth, educational, and entertaining experience with Native American culture.

Qualities of the Native American Scenic Byway

The history of the Sioux and other indigenous people who preceded them is an important part of Native American culture. A major change in the Sioux culture was initiated by their contact with Lewis and Clark, who went up the river in 1804 and returned in 1806.Their voyage of discovery is one of the major interpretive themes of this byway.

In this area, Lewis and Clark first observed mule deer, coyotes, antelopes, jackrabbits, magpies, and several other animals, plants, and birds. Lewis and Clark were followed by fur traders, who in turn were followed by steamboats, which were followed by settlers. Fur-trading posts were converted into military posts, and the great Sioux Reservation was reduced to its present size. Communities were built, and the river was dammed. Through it all, the land remains, giving evidence of the past.

Qualities of the Native American Scenic Byway

One of the prominent natural features of the byway is the buffalo that roam the area. The traditional Sioux culture was dependent upon the buffalo -- it provided food, shelter, and implements. The elimination of the buffalo almost eliminated the Sioux culture, but buffalo are now being returned to the reservations.

Another prominent natural feature of the byway is the Missouri River, the main route of commerce through central North America for hundreds of years. The Big Bend of the Missouri is one of the best-known geographic features of the continent. Native plants are also an integral part of Native American ceremony and lifestyle.

This map of the Native American Scenic Byway will help you explore fascinating Sioux tribal lands. Wildlife is plentiful along the route.
This map of the Native American Scenic Byway will help you explore fascinating Sioux tribal lands. Wildlife is plentiful along the route.

Qualities of the Native American Scenic Byway

The damming of the river along the Native American Scenic Byway created Lake Francis Case and Lake Sharpe. These impounded waters provide excellent recreational opportunities. All types of water sports are available, and the fishing is among the best in the country.

The recreational facilities along the lakes are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and nice camping facilities are also available. The communities at either end of the byway offer biking, hiking, and nature trails. In addition, both Sioux reservations have well-managed hunting and fishing programs that are available to the public.

Find more useful information related to South Dakota's Native American Scenic Byway:

  • South Dakota Scenic Drives: The Native American Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in South Dakota. Check out the others.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

Advertisement

Highlights of the Native American Scenic Byway

The scenery along the Native American Scenic Byway is spectacular. The hills and bluffs along the river are rugged and prominent. The bottomlands where creeks and streams enter the river are characterized by woodlands and wetlands. The high plains have a unique appeal of openness and freedom. Visitors often have the opportunity to view wildlife along the byway.

This itinerary takes you the entire length of the byway, from north to south. If you're traveling in the other direction, read this list from the bottom and work your way up.

Advertisement

Oahe Dam: You can begin traveling the Native American Scenic Byway at the Oahe Dam, the world's second-largest earth-filled dam. Originally built to control flooding from the Missouri River, today the dam is a popular site for water recreation activities of all sorts.

Pierre: Six miles southeast is the north terminus at the South Dakota capital of Pierre. While in Pierre, tour the Cultural Heritage Center, which showcases South Dakota history. Also in Pierre is the state capitol, one of the most fully restored U.S. capitols.

Missouri River: The Missouri River runs parallel to the Native American Scenic Byway. You can enjoy numerous water recreational activities at many points along the byway, including swimming, camping, boating, and fishing.

Farm Island Recreation Area: Located four miles southeast of Pierre is the Farm Island Recreation Area. The park is nestled along the shores of the Missouri River and provides a great place for a variety of outdoor recreation activities. Camping, boating, and fishing are popular here. Swimmers enjoy the beach of the Missouri River. 

Fort Pierre National Grassland: Traveling south of Pierre, you pass through the Fort Pierre National Grassland. The land is publicly owned and administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The grassland is noted for crop fields of sorghum, wheat, and sunflowers.

Lower Brule Indian Reservation: Only 30 miles southeast of Pierre begins the Lower Brule Indian Reservation. Visitors to the reservation enjoy the tribal casino, as well as visits to Lake Sharpe and the Big Bend Dam.

Crow Creek Indian Reservation: The Crow Creek Indian Reservation begins near Big Bend and continues until the southern terminus of the Native American Scenic Byway. Casinos, water sports, fishing, entertainment, and hunting are available on the reservation.

Lake Sharpe: Lake Sharpe stretches some 80 miles from the Oahe Dam in the north to the Big Bend Dam in Fort Thompson. It is easily accessed at the West Bend State Recreation area 50 miles east of Pierre on the byway.

Big Bend Dam: Big Bend Dam is located approximately 50 miles southeast of Pierre. Built to control flooding of the Missouri River and to provide hydroelectric power, the dam has created vast reservoirs that today provide ample opportunity for fishing and water recreation. Swimming, sailing, scuba diving, and fishing are popular activities in the area.

Take the tour of the powerhouse to learn about the engineering feat of creating the dam. One-hour tours of Big Bend Powerhouse are available at no charge. Picnic areas, docks, and marinas are available. A visitor center is located at the dam.

Akta Lakota Museum: The Akta Lakota Museum is located in Chamberlain and is devoted to preserving and promoting Sioux culture. The museum is located at the St. Joseph's Indian School for Native American Youth.

Catch a glimpse of how Native Americans lived -- and live -- along the Native American Scenic Byway. This route offers a history lesson you just can't get in a textbook.

Find more useful information related to South Dakota's Native American Scenic Byway:

  • South Dakota Scenic Drives: The Native American Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in South Dakota. Check out the others.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

Advertisement

Featured

Advertisement

Loading...