Southeast SD Tourism2022-02-25T18:45:42+00:00


Experience what life was like for the first people who lived here. The Prehistoric Indian Village boasts an archeological excavation site that continues to produce a strong collection of artifacts.

See over 15,000 American, European, and non-Western instruments from all cultures and historical periods at the internationally recognized National Music Museum in Vermillion.

Falls Park is a “can’t miss” free attraction in this region. Located just north of Downtown Sioux Falls, the park is a beautiful site of quartzite rock and cascading falls with numerous lookout points to explore.

Welcome to Southeast SD Tourism!

The Southeast: Worth Exploring in the 21st Century

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led their Corps of Discovery up the wild Missouri River in 1804, they took time to explore on foot the land that eventually became southeastern South Dakota. The Corps found huge herds of pronghorn and bison, grizzly bears and investigated curiosities like Spirit Mound. But what if they ditched the keelboats and walked the land today? They’d find a place dotted with family farms, verdant green fields and lush river valleys. They would explore lots of small towns (and one that’s very, very big). Clark would have a hard time keeping up with journal entries about the diverse wildlife (though the grizzlies are gone) and unique geological features. Yes, they would be amazed — and so will you.

Ancient Fun on the Quartzite Trail

There’s a geologic treasure scattered across southeastern South Dakota that has been here longer than our famed petrified forests or the prehistoric fossils painstakingly brushed from the soil. Outcroppings of ultra-hard, 1.6-billion-year-old Sioux quartzite protrude from grassy prairies and riverbanks over 6,000 square miles from the James River eastward into Minnesota and Iowa. The Sioux Quartzite Outcrop Trail includes 10 places in southeastern South Dakota and western Minnesota with significant outcroppings or a close connection with Native American history. The 370-mile loop, which includes stops at Falls Park in Sioux Falls, the Dells of the Big Sioux River in Dell Rapids and Devil’s Gulch in Garretson, is perfect for an overnight excursion.

This is Corn Country

South Dakota corn feeds the world. Farmers harvested 4.5 million acres in 2020, and the average of 162 bushels per acre set a new record. But did you know that our No. 1 cash crop also makes great art? If you don’t believe it, take a drive down Mitchell’s Main Street, where corn, grain and other native grasses have decorated the World’s Only Corn Palace since 1892. Twelve colors are specifically grown to create the murals, which are designed by Dakota Wesleyan University students enrolled in Kyle Herges’ Digital Media and Design course. Ears are nailed to the building one by one until the murals are finished, usually by October 1. The southeast is also home to the state hand corn picking contest, a throwback to the days before big harvesters. And, of course, corn can be a sweet treat. Pick up a dozen ears of sweet corn at almost any farmers market. It’s all pretty a-maize-ing.

Eat, Drive and Walk the Meridian Highway

Highway 81 is called the Meridian Highway because it was designed in 1911 to connect Winnipeg, Manitoba, to the Gulf of Mexico along the Sixth Principal Meridian. Thanks to the Interstate Highway System it no longer stretches from border to border, but the route slices through southeastern South Dakota just as it always has. Start a mini-road trip at Historic Prairie Village in Madison (open May 2 through Labor Day), a collection of turn-of-the-century buildings gathered from towns around the state. The village’s signature event — an annual steam threshing jamboree — is held in late August.  Grab a signature pizza from Charlie’s Pizza House and if you see a food truck parked outside of Backspace Brewing Co. or Ben’s Brewing Co., don’t pass it up! Calories are not a concern when you follow up your meal with a stroll over Yankton’s Meridian Bridge, a double decker walkway that spans the Missouri River.

A Birdwatcher’s Paradise

The southeast is the last region to see our migrating birds as they fly south for the winter, and the first to see them return in the spring. But its rivers, lakes and wetlands make it a good region year-round for birdwatching. Look for screech owls, Baltimore orioles and warblers at the Outdoor Campus, a complex of trails, native prairie fields and a small natural history museum built along an oxbow of the Big Sioux River in Sioux Falls. Bald eagles spend the winter in old cottonwoods along the Missouri River bottoms near Yankton and you can get great views of them from the Army Corps of Engineers’ Lewis & Clark Visitor Center. See a colony of cormorants near Lake Madison, scarlet tanagers in the dense forest of Newton Hills near Canton and bobolinks at the Hogrefe GPA east of Parkston. Check the Southeast South Dakota Tourism website for a brochure that includes a trail with 33 stops and a checklist to keep track of your bird sightings.

Slowing Down in the Fast Lanes

The southeast is the only quarter of South Dakota in which both of our interstate highways pass. The speed limit might be 80 mph, but there’s plenty of opportunity to stop, stretch your legs and take a leisurely stroll among nature. Start on I-29 near North Sioux City at the Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve. Take Exit 62 and roam the forests of Newton Hills. In Brookings, the 25 acres of formal display gardens and 45 acres of arboretum fill the air with a fresh, flowery aroma and bright colors. On I-90, head west from the Minnesota line until you reach Highway 11. Head north to explore the wondrous quartzite of Palisades State Park or south to hit the trails of the Big Sioux Recreation Area. Lake Vermillion (Exit 374) is a peaceful spot on the prairie, and Great Bear Recreation Area in Sioux Falls has great summer hiking trails to explore.

An Eiffel Tower in South Dakota?

Dozens of small towns with populations of a few hundred to a few thousand are found throughout the southeast, and there are surprises in almost every one. Find a replica of the Eiffel Tower in Tyndall. The Dimock Dairy has been making fresh cheese since 1931. Stop by their new store along Highway 37 and sample the cheese curds (hear the squeak?). Tour America’s only museum built from straw bales in Carthage. More than 50 larger than life sculptures dot the prairie south of Montrose at the Porter Sculpture Park. Walk in the footsteps of Laura Ingalls Wilder as you tour her home and other De Smet locales that are featured in her “Little House” books. Think twice before you simply pass through a small town around here.

Feast of Cultures

Immigrants from dozens of countries in Europe and Asia settled this part of South Dakota, and their descendants pay tribute to that heritage with fun festivals throughout the year. Schmeckfest is Freeman’s annual springtime tasting festival, where German standards like sausage, fried potatoes, sauerkraut and cheese buttons are on the menu (don’t miss the cultural demonstrations and historical buildings at Freeman Academy). Czech Days in June brings thousands of people to Tabor, where Bohemian culture thrives through colorful dress, polka music and thousands of fruit-filled pastries called kolaches. The Midsummer Festival at Dalesburg Lutheran Church north of Vermillion features a full Swedish smorgasbord and dancing around the midsummer pole in celebration of the longest day of the year. The Danes of Viborg sing, dance and dine on little round pancakes called aebleskiver at Danish Days in July (you might even see a Viking ship rolling down Main Street). There’s a festival for everyone. Just be sure to come hungry.

Endless Fun in Sioux Falls

You could spend days exploring Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota (pop. 195,000). And maybe you will. Start in Downtown Sioux Falls (DTSF), the heart of the city. Phillips Avenue bustles with shops, restaurants and lounges that stay busy long after the sun goes down. Grab a craft beer at Fernson Brewing Company’s taproom or local ice cream from Falls Overlook Cafe which features Stensland Ice Cream. Want to work off those calories? The 29-mile Sioux Falls Bike Trail follows the Big Sioux River Greenway, highlighted by the city’s namesake Falls of the Big Sioux. Spot wildlife in the forested areas of several city parks and admire the downtown skyline to include the stunning Arc of Dreams. Spend some time learning about Sioux Falls’ history at the Old Courthouse Museum. The building itself was constructed with native Sioux quartzite in 1889 and served as the Minnehaha County courthouse until 1962. See the very first Fawick Flyer, an automobile built by Sioux Falls entrepreneur Thomas Fawick in the early 1900s.

More stories on Southeast SD Tourism …

Did Jess Jump Devil’s Gulch?

The sheer beauty of quartzite cliffs towering above Split Rock Creek are enough to attract visitors to northern Minnehaha County near Garretson. But the scenery is only part of the magic. Most come to see the spot where legendary outlaw Jesse James supposedly jumped an 18-foot-wide gorge in 1876 to escape a posse after robbing a Northfield, Minn., bank.

Chasing Cats

In the spring of 1949, Roy Groves was a 64-year-old grandfather who lived with his wife Alice in a little white house just a short walk from Toby’s Lounge, today a legendary chicken shack in Meckling. He stood just under 6 feet tall, was stocky and had the quiet countenance you might expect from the grandfatherly figure shown in black and white photographs with an old fishing hat perched atop his head.

An Original River Town

The ever-growing delta of the great Missouri borders Springfield on the south, and a state prison housing 1,200 men sits on the north side of town. But you can’t pigeonhole Springfield as a river town or a prison town. It’s more complicated than that. Ask John McNeill, a singer-preacher-teacher who moved there with his wife, Susan, in 1976.

A Week at the Dells

…The terrain is unique with steep cliffs, natural stairs and stony perches that help to get to eye level with our feathered friends. And to be honest, that’s really how I first came to think of the Dells as more than just a neat place where the river had cut through 40 feet of Sioux quartzite, carving an impressive canyon in the middle of the eastern South Dakota prairie.

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