As with rivers around the world, South Dakota rivers have always played a significant role in trade and commerce, cultural growth, and development. In fact, one of the most significant episodes of exploration in American history voyaged along the course of a river in South Dakota as the legendary Corps of Discovery traveled up the Big Muddy—the mighty Missouri River, which bisects the state from north to south. This history-changing expedition that lasted from 1804 to 1806 is now commemorated along the course of Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail as it makes its way across eleven states from Illinois to the Pacific Northwest. The Missouri River and other South Dakota rivers continue to play an important role in the commerce and development of the state, and they are major tourist attractions in a state where tourism is the second most important industry.
The Cheyenne River is a tributary of the Missouri River. It rises in the grasslands of eastern Wyoming and flows east into South Dakota until it joins the Big Muddy in the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation at Lake Oahe, one of the largest man made reservoirs in the United States, north of Pierre. Along its course, it flows for almost 530 miles, skirting the southern part of the Black Hills and the northern edge of Badlands National Park. In southwestern South Dakota, it flows through a major hunting area, and below the Lake Oahe Dam it is a popular fly-fishing river.
Another important river in South Dakota is the White River, which begins in Nebraska and enters South Dakota at the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Black Hills, the richest area in the state for fossils and dinosaurs in South Dakota. The White River then flows between the North and South units of Badlands National Park and travels east to join the Missouri River at one of the lakes south of Chamberlain and Interstate 90. This river is close to Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Black Hills caves.
Big Sioux River
Also a tributary of the Missouri, the Big Sioux River serves as the border between northwestern Iowa and southeastern South Dakota. It flows over the waterfall that gives the city of Sioux Falls its name, and this is where it joins the Missouri. This river in South Dakota is excellent for paddling and boasts wonderful canoe trails. Additionally, there are sections between Sioux Falls and Sioux City in Iowa that are prime white-water rafting territory. Near the town of Brandon is one of the state parks, the Big Sioux River Recreation Area, with canoe put-in spots, camping and fishing facilities, hiking and biking trails, and even cross-country skiing in the winter.
Joining the Missouri south of Yankton, the James River has its origins in North Dakota. It has also been called the Jim River and the Dakota River. Many South Dakota rivers have been dammed to control flooding, generate power, and create recreational lakes, and the James River is no exception. While the river was called the unnavigable river by the local Dakota Sioux tribes, it is popular for canoeing enthusiasts and is one of the major fishing rivers in the eastern part of the state.