At a length of 3,700 miles, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is the second-longest of the country's Scenic and National Historic Trails. The trail follows the journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, known as the Corps of Discovery and comprising 31 men, one woman, and a baby. From May of 1804 to September of 1806, the expedition traced the courses of the Missouri and Columbia rivers in their search for a water route to the Pacific Ocean. They began in Illinois and traveled through the vast Great Plains, across high desert plateaus, over rugged mountains, and to the shores of Oregon and Washington. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail stretches across eleven states, and the portion that follows Lewis and Clark in South Dakota is a particularly beautiful and fascinating part of the trail. The corps journey through this state was the first time many of the Native Americans in the region had ever laid eyes on a white man.
After almost three months of travel, the Corps of Discovery entered what would later become the state of South Dakota in mid-August of 1804. They passed the mouth of the Big Sioux River near the town of Vermillion, south of Sioux Falls and near the borders of Iowa and Nebraska. This is the eastern edge of the state's Lakes Region, a center for water sports, outdoor recreation and fishing. The expedition of Lewis and Clark in South Dakota shot and ate their first bison and made the first scientific observation of a pronghorn antelope here. From here, several members of the group left to make the ascent of nearby Paha Wakan (Spirit Mound), which they had heard about from the Native Americans. It is now one of the state parks, a recreation area with hiking trails to the actual point where the explorers admired the view.
A little farther along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail the expedition had their first encounter with the Yankton Sioux and their first sighting of Plains Indians tipis. They held a festive Grand Council trading tobacco, flags, and medals, followed by a "magic show" using magnifying glasses, compasses, and air guns. Today, this is the Chief White Crane Recreation Area, with camping areas and vacation cabins for rent. For more than 40 more miles, the stretch of the Missouri River is bald eagle country. Near the present town of Platte and the Snake Creek Recreation Area, the youngest member of the expedition was nearly lost when he became separated from the group. Near Pierre, now the state's capital, the group met a large band of Teton Sioux. Today, the large Oahe Dam just north of Pierre has created the fourth largest man made reservoir in the United States. Downstream from the dam is some of the best fishing in the state. As they made their way north along the Missouri River, the group encountered Arikara lodges made of cottonwood logs, willow branches, and grass—and Clark saw his first grizzly bear tracks. They last camped in South Dakota near the town of Pollock, on the border with what is now North Dakota.
After nearly two months, the Lewis and Clark in South Dakota expedition continued on to the Pacific Coast. There are numerous state parks and recreation areas all along the course of their journey in the state. In 1806 they returned, spending another two weeks in the state before arriving in St. Louis, Missouri on September 23, 1806, completing their epic two-year journey. Check out the full Lewis and Clark Trail map.