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Chamberlain, South Dakota
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Spearfish, South Dakota
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Custer, South Dakota


Feel the frontier spirit in two towns on the Missouri River

Chamberlain and Oacoma sit on opposite sides of a stretch of the Missouri River in South Dakota, where American explorers Lewis and Clark once camped in 1804. The pioneering spirit of these explorers is embodied in this rugged pair of towns.

With a combined population of fewer than 3,000 people, these sister communities exude the mystique of an era when fur traders and mountain men roamed into the uncharted backcountry. Set among gently rolling hills, both towns offer up plenty of scenery and relaxation for today’s travelers eager to take a break on the busy highways.

An interpretive center at the Chamberlain Rest Area commemorates the Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery journey through South Dakota with interpretive panels, murals and a replica keelboat that rests partially inside and outside the center walls. Visitors can climb aboard to look out on the river.


Before the Corps

Of course, the region’s history stretches further back than Lewis and Clark. South Dakota is littered with the fossilized remains of mosasaurs, ancient marine reptiles who swam in the seas that covered this part of the U.S. roughly 80 million years ago. Many of the state’s largest finds have been along the banks of the Missouri River around Chamberlain, and a casual hike can sometimes lead to big discoveries.

Later, the region became the hunting grounds of Northern Plains tribes such as Blackfoot, Crow and Lakota Sioux. The history and traditions of the Lakota people are preserved at the Akta Lakota Museum.

The museum’s 14,000 square feet of exhibit space are filled with artifacts, art and interactive, educational displays depicting Lakota life and the tribe’s intersection with European-American settlers and traders. A collector’s gallery provides space for local artists to display and sell contemporary works.

Today’s tribal communities have established modern methods of entertaining visitors, so a trip to Lode Star Casino in Fort Thompson or Golden Buffalo Casino in Lower Brule can’t be ruled out. Nothing makes a rainy day shine brighter than a few hands of blackjack or the ring of winning slot play.


Chamberlain CVB

Unchanged Landscapes

Today, travelers can see the landscape much as it might have looked to the nomadic Plains tribes on a journey along the Native American Scenic Byway. Heading north from Chamberlain, the southernmost portion of the byway, Highway 1806, follows the Missouri River along its eastern banks up to Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, before crossing to the west side of the river and into the Lower Brule Indian Reservation.

Stop at the Buffalo Interpretive Center on the Lower Brule Reservation, where you may catch a glimpse of the tribe’s herd of bison, which graze over a 6,200-acre stretch of South Dakota plains. The center features educational displays that illustrate the importance of the buffalo to the Lakota way of life.

After a day on the scenic byway, stretch your legs and take a few swings at the Chamberlain County Club Golf Course. The nine-hole facility offers 2,942 yards from the longest tees, and it also offers a 17-tee driving range. If you prefer to enjoy the view from two wheels, travel the path from Barger Park to Roam Free Park. This short path–just over one mile in length–ends in 360-degree views of South Dakota’s rolling plains and soft hills.

Missouri River Wildlife

The Missouri River supports a rich habitat that makes for excellent fishing, and the Big Bend Dam near Fort Thompson is a prime spot for catching walleye, white bass and muskie. Birds of many a feather find their way to the region, and the Great Lakes Birding Trail pinpoints some excellent spots for birdwatching. Lewis and Clark themselves discovered the Black-billed Magpie near Oacoma, though today visitors are more likely to spot Baird’s Sparrows, terns, prairie chickens, longspurs and barn owls.

Pheasant hunters can enjoy 15,000 acres of prime hunting territory, with access through local guides, who can provide packages that include transportation, cleaning and even hunting dogs. Other species to pursue are grouse, deer and waterfowl.

The price of everything keeps going up, except for the coffee at Al’s Oasis. This Oacoma institution has been luring road-weary travelers for decades with a five-cent cup of joe—one that’s now served alongside at least 50,000 slices of pie a year. Once you’ve had your fill, get your picture taken with the Big Buffalo statue that stands out front.

For More Information

Chamberlain Convention and Visitors Bureau




South Dakota Department of Tourism