South Dakota has a lot to offer travelers, including epic landmarks like Mount Rushmore. But, if you are looking for a unique experience and aren’t afraid to abandon the interstate in favor of smaller highways, you can explore southern South Dakota in a way few visitors do. By following the Oyate Trail, you get to work your way through destinations that go unseen by most tourists.
What Is the Oyate Trail?
Comprised of 388 miles of highway, mainly along highways 50 and 18, the Oyate Trail is a route through southern South Dakota. During your journey, you’ll work your way through small towns. As you do, you’ll get chances to visit historical and cultural sites that reflect the heritage of the Native Americans that call the region home as well as the Europeans who arrived.
Traveling the Oyate Trail
Following the Oyate Trail is fairly simple. You begin your journey in Vermillion and head toward Edgemont. As you head on your adventure, you’ll stop at various points to learn about the area, see interesting landmarks, and more.
Experiencing everything the Oyate Trail has to offer takes at least three days, though it can certainly be spread out into a longer journey. This makes it a great short road trip that’s perfect for a three-day weekend or as part of a larger cross-country journey. If you are ready to travel the Oyate Trail, here’s how to make the most of the trip.
You’ll launch your Oyate Trail exploration journey in Vermillion, which is about seven miles to the west of the intersection of Interstate 29 and Highway 50. Once there, head to the University of South Dakota and find the National Music Museum. The museum houses over 15,000 antique and rare instruments, making it a great destination for music-lovers.
As you head west, make a stop at Yankton, a little town on the Missouri River that served as the Dakota Territory’s first capital. There, you’ll find the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, a mecca for camping and water sports.
If you are taking your time exploring the Oyate Trail, you can arrange to camp at the park, which is quite affordable. Otherwise, there should still be time during the day to make it to the next destination.
Heading farther west brings you to the town of Tabor. Every June, the city hosts Czech Days, an annual festival, which offers a lot of family-friendly fun.
Then, you’ll use highways 50 and 18 to make your way to the Fort Randall Dam, an area that is also home to the Yankton Sioux Tribe Reservation and the Fort Randall Casino. Once you reach Winner, you’ll stop for the night.
One day two, you’ll start by heading to Mission’s Rosebud Indian Reservation. Ther, you can visit Sinte Gleska University before making your way south to Saint Francis. At the Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum, you can view amazing Native American Art and learn about the tribe’s history.
Making your way west, you’ll find the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the largest reservation in the entire state. Both Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations hold a range of events during the summer, including festivals and powwows. Plus, the Pine Ridge Reservation is home to the Wounded Knee Memorial, a must-see destination for every traveler.
As you head further west, make a stop at the Red Cloud Indian School and Heritage Center. During the summer, there’s an art show that highlights Native American fine art. Then, head to either the Prairie Wind Casino or Hot Springs to stay the night.
On day three, you’ll start by spending some time in Hot Springs. The Mammoth Site is an excellent place to spend some time, allowing you to view the largest collection of mammoth fossils in all of the Western Hemisphere. Excavation at the site is on-going, so you might be able to see some archeologists hard at work, too.
Next, you can head to a massive nature warm-water pool that’s great for swimming. Then, make a stop at the wild horse sanctuary to see these amazing animals.
Finally, take some time to check out Wind Cave Natural Park. There, you can explore one of the world’s longest cave systems.
Making the Most of Your Journey
As you work your way along the Oyate Trail, it’s easy to make the most of your journey. You’re traveling through a ton of small towns, each one with its own quirks and personality. As a result, keep your itinerary flexible. When it comes time to neat, find a small diner that the locals love and try something a bit adventurous, like a buffalo burger.
Additionally, keep your eye out for seasonal events. Nearly every town hosts at least one festival, and those can be great for stretching your legs and experiencing the local culture. Plus, some of the cities offer something unexpected. For example, the Burke Stampede Rodeo is said to be one of the largest (if not the largest) amateur rodeos in the Midwest, so you might want to check it out if it’s going when you pass through.
Ultimately, the Oyate Trail is all about exploration. Don’t be afraid to take a path less traveled, as you never know what may be in store if you do.