LCNHT Great Plains Region

The LCNHT Great Plains Region: North and South Dakota

On the vast Dakota grasslands, Lewis and Clark encountered a diverse Native cultures and herds of seemingly innumerable buffalo. Learn more about the leg of their expedition now called the LCNHT Great Plains Region!

Tracing Lewis and Clark’s Adventure through the Dakotas

In this region, the expedition corps had two significant contacts with Native American tribes. First, the confrontation with the Lakota that almost ended the expedition and second, the beneficial encounter with the people of the Mandan tribe that strengthened the expedition corps as Sacagawea and her husband joined Lewis and Clark. The population of South Dakota and North Dakota are rather low, leaving a lot of untouched nature that can be discovered along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. The lands along the trail are filled with recreational areas, hiking trails, museums, small but vibrant communities, and scenic landscapes. 

In the language of the Sioux Indians, Dakota means “friend“, which might be the reason why the inhabitants of these two states are seen as friendly people. So come and meet the friendly people of the Dakota States.

Dried grass field and moutains on a cloudy day in the Great Plains
Grass field in Tilford, South Dakota

Highlights of the LCNHT Great Plains Region

Both states have strong ties to Native American Culture as certain parts of the States include several Native American reservations. This cultural connection is highlighted by various museums that can be found along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail like the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum or the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center. These museums aim to preserve the culture of several tribes that lived in these states for future generations and to teach visitors about their history and traditions. 

Another highlight is the nature of the Great Plains. Along the Missouri River, which marks the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, you can find several recreational areas like the ones around Lake Oahe or Lake Sakakawea. If you enjoy hiking, the North Unit of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park offers visitors several hiking trails through its untouched nature. Due to the nature being untouched, hikers can experience these trails just like Lewis and Clark did when they were traveling through these lands.

Towns in the region

The cities and towns within South Dakota and North Dakota might not be well known to people from out of state, but they do have a lot of character and have a strong historic bond to the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Two brown Bison in the Great Plains grass field with one in front of another
Two Bison walking on a grass field

Bismarck – the capital of North Dakota and the county seat of Burleigh County sits on the banks of the Missouri River. This bustling city in the Great Plains offers its visitors a huge variety of activities, as well as museums and restaurants. Here you can also find statues that preserve the city’s connection to the Lewis and Clark expedition for future generations as the expedition corps spent several months waiting out the winter in nearby Fort Mandan. Bismarck can be reached by flying into Bismarck Municipal Airport or taking I-94 to Bismarck.

Pierre – the capital of South Dakota located right in the center of the state. Along with Fort Pierre, a small town that sits across the Missouri River, visitors can discover why this place holds historic significance for South Dakota. This area was also the site of the confrontation between the expeditions corps and people from the Lakota tribe. The communities have various museums and events around the year that preserve their history and traditions. You can get here either by flying into Pierre Regional Airport or by taking exit 212 on I-90 and going north for 34 miles.

Yankton – or the “River City” – is the county seat of Yankton County and the former capital of the Dakota Territory. Visitors should stop by the Meridian District and check out its various shops, restaurants, bars, and other leisure establishments. The city’s proximity to the Missouri River gives locals and visitors of Yankton the opportunity to enjoy nature in several recreational areas. Yankton is located in the southeast of South Dakota and can be reached by taking exit 26 on I-29 and going west for 33 miles.

Brown rocky mountains by a sunset in South Dakota
Brown mountains in South Dakota

Events in the Great Plains Region

Even if both states are rather less populated than most states, you can expect a wide range of events all over the region.

If you are curious about Native American culture, traveling to the Great Plains is a great idea, as several Native American events and powwows (or wacipis) are hosted from April to October. Visit the Annual American Indian Day and Powwow in Chamberlain or the Annual University of South Dakota (USD) Wacipi in Vermillion to find out how Native American Tribes celebrate life.

As a lot of people that have settled in the Great Plains are of Scandinavian descent, the Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, ND is organizing a Midsummer Festival. Taking place mid-June, this Scandinavian tradition is a celebration of the summer-solstice. The festivities in Minot are usually filled with dances, workshops, live music, delicious foods and so much more! Admission to the event is free for everyone, so stop by and celebrate midsummer. 

The Street Fair in Bismarck, ND is an annually celebrated fair in the streets of Bismarck. The fair, which was established in 1973, consists of around 180 street vendors that offer arts, crafts, and food to visitors and spans over 7 blocks in downtown Bismarck. The annual street fair takes place in mid-September over two days and organizers expect around 60,000 to 70,000 visitors each year.

Person giving fruit to another person at a fruit market
Fresh food can be found at local street fairs in Bismarck, South Dakota

Seasons in the LCNHT Great Plains Region

Spring in the Great Plains

As the springtime weather of the Great Plains is rather unpredictable, visitors should prepare themselves for temperatures that can range from 20 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. After a long and cold winter, the Great Plains are slowly waking up as plants begin to grow, baby bison start roaming the prairies, and birds fill the sky signaling the beginning of spring. This opens the door for hiking, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities.

Man fishing in a pond near grass field in the Great Plains
Fisherman by a pond in the Great Plains

Summer in the Great Plains

The summer is the time when the Great Plains are fully alive. Now you can enjoy recreational areas and campgrounds along the Missouri River, communal outdoor events and festivities, hiking trails, open-air museums and so much more. With the warmer water and climates, the list of activities you can do on both the land and in lakes has become even longer. Depending on the time of day and the weather, average temperatures can be between the 60s up to the 90s.

Woman laying by a river reading a book cross-legged
Try reading a book along the Missouri River on a nice summer day

Fall in the Great Plains

This is the time when the leaves in the region transform into breathtaking hues of fall colors, so get in your car, drive down the scenic highway, and check out the fall foliage. As the Great Plains are usually less visited in the fall season, you can expect to have a more intimate experience at the parks and recreational areas in the region. Even though the temperatures (the 40s to 60s) are dropping in the fall, you can still visit events like rodeos, powwows, and other events.

Winter in the Great Plains

Don’t expect the Great Plains snowfall to send the region into hibernation. During the winter season, people are taking advantage of the chilly weather in a variety of ways including snowmobiling, ice fishing, snowshoeing, skiing, and so on. Come to the Great Plains if you want to feel the cold in a different setting than the mountains or the coast. Average temperatures linger around 0 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Man rides on a snowmobile during a sunset
Catch a thrilling ride on a snowmobile during the winter season in the Great Plains