Explore > South Dakota > South Dakota Spotlight
spotlight header

Places Welcoming You

gs logo Beaver Lake Campground
Custer, South Dakota
gs logo Chris' Camp & RV Park
Spearfish, South Dakota
gs logo Oasis Campground
Chamberlain, South Dakota

Spotlight: Chamberlain/Oacoma

Go exploring in this pioneering pair of towns

On either side of a gentle bend in the Missouri River, the South Dakota townships of Chamberlain and Oacoma provide a front-row seat into America’s pioneering, frontier past.

With a combined population of less than 3,000 people, these two tight-knit sister communities still manage to echo the attraction and allure of a bygone era, when fur-traders and mountain men spearheaded brave expeditions into wild, uncharted backcountry.

Both communities trace their roots back to the 1822 establishment of the Fort Kiowa fur-trading post. The Fort is most renowned for its role in the defining moment of Hugh Glass’s life. A scrappy hard-nosed frontiersman, Glass set off from the Fort in 1823 as part of a 100-man trading expedition to far-away Fort Henry. Partway into the weeks-long trek, Glass was mauled by a grizzly bear and—true to the hard-nosed spirit of the time—left for dead by his fellow expedition members. Battling infection in his leg and fainting spells brought on by dehydration and starvation, Glass is reported to have crawled 200 miles back to Fort Kiowa, where he made a miraculous and full recovery.

Today, the one-time site of Fort Kiowa sits underwater, the result of the damming of the Missouri River, but the scrappy frontier spirit it once represented still remains. Visitors will find themselves drawn to a mix of historic sites, interactive museums and myriad outdoor activities in vast, untamed tracts of pristine South Dakota wilderness.



Learn Lakota Lore

Make your first stop the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center. Long before legendary fur trappers and rugged pioneer outposts appeared on the scene here, the Lakota people called this area home. The museum’s exhibits showcase art and artifacts from the history of the Sioux nation (of which the Lakota people and language are a part), including an intricate 36-foot-long diorama depicting the stretch of prairie plain between the Missouri River and the Black Hills to the west. In addition to its cultural and historical displays, the museum also features the Collector’s Gallery, where contemporary local artists can display and sell their artwork.

Once you’ve explored the museum, continue your chronological journey through the history of Chamberlain and Oacoma with a stop at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, located just a few miles south of downtown Chamberlain. Admission is free and the Center is just off of Interstate 90, making it an easy must-visit even for those just passing through. Highlights include a life-sized replica of the 55-foot-long keelboat used on the legendary expedition (visitors are able to climb aboard for pictures) and an array of artifacts from Lewis and Clark’s cross-continent travels.

Get a five cent cup of coffee at Al’s Oasis, a stop along I-90 that offers food, souvenirs and touring for travelers. Stock up on supplies, sip a beer at the Last Chance Saloon or pull up a chair at Al’s Restaurant/Lounge.

Chamberlain CVB

Chamberlain CVB

Follow Lewis and Clark

When you’re ready for a nature tour of your own, hit the Native American Scenic Byway—part of which follows the Lewis and Clark motor route. The byway begins in Chamberlain and winds its way north through Crow Creek Reservation and Brule Sioux Indian Reservation, and past Lake Sharpe and Lake Francis Case. It’s an easy way to explore central South Dakota’s landscape of rolling foothills and bluffs.

Hikers, bird-watchers and wildlife photographers will want to head 90 miles south to the Fort Randall Dam area. Just below the dam, the area is home to one of the world’s highest concentrations of wintering bald eagles, hundreds of which dot the tops of the refuge’s forests of scenic cottonwood trees. During the summer months, tours of the Fort Randall Dam and Powerhouse are available. If hunting or fishing is your game, then you’ll find yourself casting in walleye-filled waters and zeroing in on an abundance of wild pheasant, grouse and deer.

Set up camp or park the RV in one of several nearby campsites and go exploring. Pristine creeks, streams and lakes buzz through spring, summer and autumn with anglers. Hikers hit the region’s absurd abundance of trailheads year-round, unknowingly on the historic trail of legendary fur trappers who were among the first explorers to map the area.

Rich in big-time history and small-town charm, the Chamberlain-Oacoma region still seems to buzz with the same pioneering frontier spirit that attracted fur trappers like Hugh Glass and explorers like Lewis and Clark more than 150 years ago. Vast tracts of still-untamed wilderness expand in every direction from the shores of the Missouri River, both sides of which are bracketed by small communal townships where you can still buy a cup of coffee for a nickel.

For More Information

Chamberlain Convention and Visitors Bureau
South Dakota Department of Tourism