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

Chamberlain/Oacoma

The riverside towns of Chamberlain and Oacoma may be small, but they’ve got deep roots in the rich past of the Great Plains. Everyone from Native Americans to Lewis and Clark left their mark here on the banks of this segment of the Missouri River, shaping the land into a compelling vacation destination. Of course, the area’s fish-filled waters, endless hiking trails and fun diners and events bring travelers seeking an easygoing getaway.

Twins of the Heartland

Both towns are located near the center of the state within the vast Great Plains. They hug the shores of the Missouri River with Oacoma on the west bank and Chamberlain on the east bank. You can’t miss them if you’re crossing South Dakota east-west via Interstate 90. The towns are approximately 320 miles north of Omaha, 370 miles west of Minneapolis and 210 miles east of Rapid City. The best months to come are from mid-May to late September, as temperatures are warmest. In mid-July, expect highs around 91 and lows that rarely go below 64 at night.

Getting Back to Nature

Teeming with deer, prairie dogs, pheasant, waterfowl and grouse, it’s no surprise why so many hunters return to Chamberlain and Oacoma again and again every season. The region also boasts one of the highest annual bird harvests in the state. You can also launch your boat and sail to Lake Francis Case, a reservoir on the Missouri River with thriving walleye populations. Serious anglers can try their hand at ice fishing in the winter or sign up for a variety of fishing tournaments in the summer.

Life on the Banks

There’s always something to do along the Missouri River shoreline: hike or cycle along various trails, enjoy a scenic picnic, try paddleboarding or go waterskiing. Whatever you choose to do, don’t forget to look up — robins, bald eagles, loons and 400 other types of birds are native to this area.

Revel in Small-town Charm

Chamberlain and Oacoma are tight-knit communities with less than 3,000 residents combined. Locals take pleasure in the simple things, and they encourage you to do the same. Hunt for treasures at antique shops like Chamberlain’s Fabulous Finds and Oacoma’s Old West Trading Post. Snap a photo beside the massive buffalo statue at Al’s Oasis. This local institution has been luring road-weary travelers for decades with a five-cent cup of joe — often served alongside one of the 50,000-plus slices of pie they dish up each year. Once you’ve had your fill, get your picture taken with the Big Buffalo statue out front.

Shopping and Racing

Pick up handmade arts and crafts at The Quilt Shop or Dakota Plains Gallery and Gifts. Play slots and treat yourself to a nice supper at Golden Buffalo Casino or Lode Star Casino, both located just 20 minutes from town. Sink that birdie putt at the nine-hole Chamberlain Country Club. For something out of the ordinary, catch lawn mower races every Saturday in nearby Pukwana.

Parties and Parades

Fun festivals and family-friendly events are peppered throughout the year. In June, uncover one-of-a-kind vintage finds at Scavenger’s Journey, or see majestic horses at the Annual Brule County Horse Show. In August, check out sweet rides at the Mighty Mo Car Show. Other summer festivities include the spectacular “Rock the Bluffs” fireworks show on the Fourth of July and American Island Days, a weekend filled with live entertainment, food vendors and the Little Miss American Island Pageant. When the leaves start to change, drop by the Fall Festival for pumpkin decorating contests and watch the Parade of Lights on Black Friday.

Native American Monuments

Native American heritage holds a prominent place in the area. Those passionate about Native American history will want to visit the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center. Situated on the St. Joseph’s Indian School campus, this free museum celebrates the culture and past of the Lakota Sioux tribe. A few Native American tribes also host their annual powwows here. Consisting of traditional dancing, singing and food, attending a powwow is a great way to immerse yourself in indigenous culture. Check out its many artifacts, educational exhibits and the Collector’s Gallery showcasing artwork from local artists. Afterward, drive along the Native American Scenic Byway to reach monuments, memorial markers and historic sites associated with the Sioux nation.

Lady of the Plains

On the east bank of the Missouri River just south of Chamberlain, the 50-foot-tall stainless-steel sculpture of a Native American woman receiving a star quilt stands on a bluff overlooking the water. Officially called Dignity, the statue has earned the nickname, Colossus of Chamberlain. The quilt is built with 128 blue diamond shapes that move with the wind.

South Dakota Hall of Fame

Don’t leave without learning about South Dakota’s most famous residents at the South Dakota Hall of Fame. From legendary athletes to actors to leaders, you may be surprised by who you recognize here. Notable native sons and daughters include broadcaster Tom Brokaw, USA Today founder Al Neuharth, actress Cheryl Ladd and Native American leader Sitting Bull.

Footsteps of Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark made a shocking discovery when they first traversed these lands. In their journal, they described finding a “45-foot backbone of a fish.” Paleontologists believe the men actually found the remains of a mosasaur; subsequent expeditions uncovered several more compelling paleontological finds, and you can learn more at Dinosaur Park. Speaking of Lewis and Clark, you can learn more about their adventures at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Nestled near the shores of the Missouri River, this establishment offers informative exhibits, murals that tell the story of their famous expedition and a detailed replica of the explorers’ 55-foot keelboat.

For More Information

Chamberlain Convention and Visitors Bureau

605-234-4416

www.chamberlainsd.org

South Dakota Department of Tourism

800-732-5682

www.travelsd.com