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Lemmon is home to the world’s largest petrified-wood park. Bonus -there’s no admission fee to see it.

Lemmon native John Lopez has sculptures living across SD and worldwide.

Historic real-life mountain man Hugh Glass was attached by a bear near Lemmon and is memorialized in a sculpture by Lopez.

Welcome to Lemmon!

Petrified Wood Park is a Selfie Paradise

Take a selfie in Lemmon’s Petrified Wood Park and everyone in your social media family will wonder about your whereabouts. The city’s signature attraction, dating to the 1930s, is a funky collection of petrified wood, fossils, stones, and other geological wonders, some mortared together in the shape of trees, spires and castles. Rounded stones known as cannonballs, collected largely from the nearby Cannonball River Valley, are a big part of the park. Though the park may sound kitschy, it’s actually a tasteful and well-preserved throwback to simpler times. There’s no admission, and the Daily Grind coffee shop is just across the street.

A Town For All Who Love Cowboys

If someone designed a town for the American cowboy, it would look a lot like Lemmon. The little city that straddles the border of the two Dakotas has just 1,200 citizens but it seems 10 times that size on days when there’s a rodeo or cattle auction. Even on a slow day, Lemmon looks like our cowboy capital. The restaurants serve only the best beef, because ranchers know the difference. The downtown stores have cowboy clothing and art, and there’s a life-size metal sculpture of the town’s founder in a new plaza — astride a horse, of course. Travelers intrigued by the American West should be sure to spend time in Lemmon.

Retrace the Hugh Glass Story

The survival story of Hugh Glass is immortalized in literature and movies, most recently in Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Revenant. Though the film has fictionalized elements (such as snow-capped peaks in Perkins County), it did leave viewers wondering how to visit the site of Glass’s confrontation with the grizzly. A stone and bronze monument marks the approximate spot where Glass began his 200-mile journey in 1823. Find it by driving south of Lemmon 13 miles on Highway 73 to Hugh Glass Road, then west about 3 miles. The monument is above Shadehill Reservoir, a scenic prairie with hunting, fishing, camping and hiking trails. The 5,000-acre lake was created in 1951 by a dam on the Grand River. Astrid Blumer runs a local restaurant and gathering spot. She is a delightful immigrant from Germany who welcomes travelers and locals alike. After The Revenant became popular, Lemmon citizens organized an annual Hugh Glass Rendezvous that grows in popularity every summer. The mountain

Grand River Museum: Cowboys, Indians & Creationism

Schmidts began finding fossils and Native American artifacts in 1910 when the family homesteaded in the Grand River Valley. Their Old West collection grew with their love of the land, and in 1998 they led an effort to start a history center in Lemmon. Today the Grand River Museum has exhibits on Hunkpapa leaders like Sitting Bull and Rain in the Face. It has a timeline for Creation Science, as well as photographs and films about ranching and early cowboys including town founder Ed “Boss Cowman” Lemmon. The non-profit museum also has a big gift shop that includes an impressive inventory of West River literature.

Where Cowboying is Work and Play

For an inside glimpse of the cattle industry, visit on cattle auction day (Wednesdays all year and Thursdays in fall and winter). Sit on the bleachers of Lemmon Livestock and watch the buyers and sellers. Thousands of cattle will change hands at a busy winter sale, along with enough money to make a big-city banker blush. Six-figure transactions can transpire in minutes, with nothing more noticeable than a nod or the raise of a finger. Cattle outnumber people 4 to 1 in South Dakota, but the ratio is 37 to 1 in Perkins County. For a culinary treat, enjoy a hot beef sandwich with real potatoes and gravy in the auction barn’s restaurant. Ranching is hard work, but cowboys know how to have fun; the best example is the Boss Cowman Rodeo, held the second weekend of July.

Writers, Artists, Musicians Telling the Story

Kathleen Norris’ popular book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography put Lemmon on the literary map. Contemplating the grass-filled landscapes that some see as emptiness, Norris wrote, “angels seem possible in the wind-filled expanse.” Today other regional artists are also interpreting life on the plains — including singer/songwriter Eliza Blue, who lives on a ranch near Bison, rancher/writer George Gilland of Timber Lake and hometown sculptor John Lopez who recently opened a gallery called the Kokomo Inn near the Petrified Park on Main Street. Lopez’s art can be found as far away as France, but some of his best works remain in town — at the museum, the school and a downtown plaza. A new organization called the Placemakers Co-op organizes regular opportunities for local people to learn from artists and craftsmen. Townspeople also rallied to restore the Palace Theater, a city landmark that had fallen into disrepair. Today it’s a place for concerts, films and other cultural events.

A Business Community of Entrepreneurs

Travelers with business savvy marvel at Lemmon. Though the city has just 1,200 residents and ranches have consolidated in the country, storekeepers and entrepreneurs keep finding new and interesting ways to grow. Carl and Kylee Kimmerle, who arrived from Utah to live on land homesteaded by Kylee’s great-grandfather, started a new butcher shop called LemmonMade. The Kimmerles quickly gained a reputation for beef jerky, breakfast sausage and other specialties. Kate Westphal, who grew up on a nearby ranch, came home to work as an R.N. at the nursing home and then started Romancin’ the Range, a boutique with western fashions and her own handcrafted leather jewelry. Matt Johnson is the new owner of Benny’s, a popular restaurant. He says it’s a challenge to run a steakhouse when many diners are ranchers who raise some of the world’s best beef. “You gotta start with the good stuff,” he laughs. His Steak Sandwich is actually a delicious sirloin coulotte. Johnson also serves chislic, but not the lamb variety found across East River. He grills cubes of — you guessed it — beef sirloin ball tip.

Hometown Artist John Lopez’ Travel Tips

John Lopez, a world-recognized artist, knows and loves his hometown. His favorite walking path is Blacktail Trail at Shadehill Reservoir, “a couple of miles of easy walking on a well-marked path.” Lopez says fans of Kathleen Norris may want to make a pilgrimage to Hope Church, which was a prominent part of her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. The church is southeast of Lemmon on the Keldron Road. Lopez recommends the cinnamon rolls and hot beef sandwiches at the Alaska Café, and also notes that the original founders of the cafe — two sisters who arrived from Alaska — have started a new eatery called the Red Barn Bakery with wonderful soups, bagels and sandwiches. Lopez’s Kokomo Gallery (open June through October) has samples of his iron art along with a gift shop with books and prints of his works.

More stories on Lemmon

Petrified Giant

An ancient petrified tree in Perkins County may be one of the largest ever discovered and may eventually tell us more about what kind of landscape existed here in the past. “My father and a friend of his discovered it while herding sheep back in the 1930s,” recalls retired local rancher Clyde Jesfjeld. “They decided that it had to be a tree because of the way it appeared.”

The Ultimate Survivor

On the last weekend in August, Lemmon-based artist John Lopez unveiled a new sculpture commemorating Hugh Glass, close to the spot where the legendary pioneer nearly lost his battle with an angry grizzly bear. The sculpture — depicting the pivotal moment in the Glass legend — comes at a time of renewed interest in his story.

Not Just Ranches and Rodeo

As the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad snaked west, Lemmon bought several thousand acres of land along the proposed route, hoping to cash in on a new town site. His first choice was about four miles east of the present-day town, but it sat in North Dakota, then a dry state. “In order to make Lemmon a real boom town, the saloon with its attendant evils would have to be tolerated,” he later wrote. The town ended up on the South Dakota side.

Lemmon: Our Cowboy Capital

If you designed a town as a tribute to the American cowboy it would look like Lemmon. The little city straddling the border of the two Dakotas has just 1,200 citizens but it seems 10 times that size on days when there’s a rodeo or a cattle auction. Even on a slow day, Lemmon looks like a cowboy capital — though nobody there would claim the title because real cowboys don’t brag.

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