Looking for a family getaway full of outdoor recreation, historic sites, and small town charm? Check out the quaint and lovely town of Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Located just across the river from the state capitol, Fort Pierre is a wonderful destination full of adventure for the whole family.
Things to do in Fort Pierre, South Dakota
Fort Pierre offers a convenient road trip location just 30 minutes north of I-90 in central South Dakota. The town has a storied history including Native American tribes, early French explorers, and the famed Lewis & Clark expedition. Located along the Missouri River, the town is also a great base for outdoor recreation activities.
One of the most unique historic sites in Fort Pierre is the Verendrye Monument. This site marks the spot where the first known European explorers in the area, the La Vérendrye brothers, buried a lead plate claiming the area for France in 1743. The plate was discovered by schoolchildren in 1913 and is now on display South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center across the Missouri River in Pierre. The site also offers a wonderful overlook view of downtown Fort Pierre and the Missouri River.
Fort Pierre Train Depot
Train fans of all ages will enjoy the historic Fort Pierre Depot. The depot was originally constructed in 1906 and served the community for over 50 years. After the depot was abandoned, a local rancher purchased the depot for storage and moved it 170 miles away! Over 50 years later, the depot was moved back to downtown Fort Pierre and fully restored. Today, visitors can explore the inside and see railroad memorabilia.
Visit a Museum
Fort Pierre offers several museums right in town. The Verendrye Museum is located downtown in the historic American Legion Hall. The museum brings the past to life with exhibits including period displays of home furnishings, carriages, photographs, tools, artifacts, and fossils, and much more.
The Fort Pierre Log Cabin Visitor Center offers not only tourism information but also displays on pioneer history. The historic Sansarc School and Old Jailhouse are next to the Visitor Center and can be toured during the hours the Visitor Center is open.
Located just up the hill from downtown is the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center. This museum features memorabilia of 9-time World Champion, Casey Tibbs, the 1920s era trick rider Mattie Goff Newcombe, and many other world champions from South Dakota. This museum also displays many other past and present aspects of the rodeo.
Fishers Lilly Park
Fishers Lilly Park is located where the Bad River meets the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark’s expedition met with the Lakota nation here in 1804. The lack of an interpreter and differences in trade objectives lead to an armed confrontation and almost caused a premature end to the famed journey. Today, the site is a historic stop on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
This lovely park also offers a shaded playground, picnic areas, and a bridge over the Bad River. The park even includes a campground with electrical outlets.
Lake Sharpe is a narrow and clear lake formed between two dams on the Missouri River. This beautiful lake offers endless water recreation from kayaking, boating, fishing, and swimming.
Fun Time Rentals in town offers boat and watercraft rentals. Fort Pierre offers several boat ramps for easy access to water fun. Take in the view of the hills and bluffs while enjoying a day on the water!
Located just a few miles north of Fort Pierre is South Dakota’s largest lake, Lake Oahe. This lake is both huge and stunning! Be sure to start your visit with a stop at the Lake Oahe Dam Visitor Center to learn about the construction of one of the largest earth rolled dams in the world. During the summer, public tours of the dam powerhouse are offered at 1 p.m.
Next to the Visitor Center is the historic Oahe Chapel. Built in 1877, the chapel was moved to its present lakeside location in 1964 after construction of the Oahe Dam flooded its original location. The chapel is also available to tour inside and see many of the original furnishings of when the chapel was used as both a church and school.
Lake Oahe offers several recreation areas for hiking and mountain biking. The Cottonwood Path at the Oahe Downstream Area is a great choice for kids. This one mile, easy hike leads through woods and a prairie area.
Another great hiking option is the West Shore Recreation Area. The trails here are open to both mountain biking and hiking. The rolling hills along the lakeside offer outstanding views. This area is especially stunning at sunset!
See the Sunflowers
Did you know South Dakota is one of the world’s top producers of sunflowers? These flowers typically bloom from late July to early September. The field locations can vary year to year, but the roads around Fort Pierre are typically home to huge fields of blooms and make a great scenic drive option.
Family Fun Time
If the kids are wanting some extra fun activities, check out the newly opened Fun Time Adventures in Fort Pierre. This fun park offers mini golf, go karts, and axe throwing.
Attend a Festival
Fort Pierre offers several fun and charming small town festivals throughout the year including rodeos, parades, and fireworks. We attended the popular Trader Days festival which features a BBQ contest, turkey races, and more. We also watched our first ever kazoo parade and it was as fun and quirky as it sounds!
More Area Activities
Fort Pierre is located just across the river from the capitol of South Dakota, Pierre. Fort Pierre makes a great homebase only minutes away from more family activities in Pierre.
The South Dakota Discovery Center is a must see with kids. Located in the historic Pierre powerplant building, the large exhibit hall is filled with hands-on fun. Kids can learn about space, animals, the earth, and explore a kid-sized village.
Another wonderful place to explore just across from Fort Pierre is La Framboise Island Nature Area. Bordered by two channels of the Missouri River, the island offers miles of kid-friendly trails.
We enjoyed the Forest Trail loop which offered wonderful views of the river, woods, and Fort Pierre. Right before the trail turned away from the river to head north into the woods, we found a perfect beach area for sand fun.
Mickelson Pond Park in Pierre is another fun spot with kids less than 10 minutes from Fort Pierre. This park is the start of a paved trail that features small playgrounds all along the 1.23 mile path. Each playground is nature themed and is a fun way to get kids motivated to take a walk or bike ride!
Where to Stay and Eat in Fort Pierre
Fort Pierre offers several lodging options conveniently located to all of the town activities. Those who have RVs or wish to rough it can choose from several area campgrounds. If you are in need of a hotel, the AmericInn in Fort Pierre is located right along the river with bridge and water views. We enjoyed our stay at the Holiday Inn Express which offered a great free breakfast and a fun pool for the kids.
Even though Fort Pierre is a small town, it offers some great choices for dining. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and water views while dining at Drifters. The outdoor space offered a perfect spot for the kids to burn energy while waiting for our food.
Another fun spot to eat right in the historic downtown is Silver Spur. Their menu offers a little bit of everything and includes a kids menu. Don’t miss an after dinner treat just down the road at the local ice cream shop, the Cool Spot.
Why you should visit Fort Pierre, South Dakota
One visit to the charming town of Fort Pierre and you will fall in love with the natural beauty and friendly residents. With the town located only 30 minutes north of I-90, it makes a wonderful off the beaten path road trip destination. Come explore the outdoor recreation, historic sites, and family fun activities of this lovely area.