Smack in the middle of South Dakota on the bluffs above the Missouri River, Pierre sits on plains once roamed by Sioux Indians and herds of buffalo. The city has been the state capital since South Dakota achieved statehood in 1889. With a population of 13,600 people, Pierre is not big, but it draws tourists interested in the vestiges of the Old West.
The rough-and-tumble Old West lives on in local rodeos. In June, the Casey Tibbs Match of Champions packs in crowds to watch the area’s premier bronc-riding event. The match is held at the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center, across the river in Fort Pierre. The Center contains exhibits devoted to the history of rodeo.
Another highlight among Pierre’s attractions is the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center. Exhibits at this downtown center tell the story of the Native American tribes who lived in the state before early Lewis and Clark trail-blazed their way west, and before the first European settlers moved into the territory.
Also downtown, the Pierre Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800 West Dakota Avenue is the place to get a map and tourist information about things to do in Pierre. An easy walk from there takes visitors to the stately 1910 Capitol building, where a tour of the interior reveals lovely murals and an intricate, hand-laid mosaic-tile floor. One of the cool things to do in the capitol is spotting the blue tiles left as signatures by the 66 artisans who created the floor.
At the foot of the capitol’s grand marble staircase, glass display cases contain miniature models of gowns worn by each first lady of South Dakota to the inaugural balls. A 96-foot-high dome tops the second-floor rotunda. Paintings of the Tree of Life appear in the 16 alcoves of the dome. When the legislature is in session, visitors may watch the government in action from galleries on the fourth floor. Tourists who visit Pierre at Christmas may see 100 decorated Christmas trees displayed inside the capitol!
The 115-acre grounds afford a pleasant stroll around Capital Lake and the memorials that dot its perimeter. Among the war memorials is the Fighting Stallions Memorial commemorating Governor George Mickelson and seven other South Dakotans who lost their lives in a 1993 plane crash. In front of the war memorials, the Flaming Fountain relies on hot water from an artesian well and an underground pocket of natural gas to keep it burning.
More adventurous visitors to the Pierre area may want to try their luck at nearby Lake Oahe, where walleye and bass bite, or at the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, where grouse, pheasant and antelope challenge hunters. Two other must-see attractions are not far from Pierre. The 100-mile Native American Scenic Byway, running from Fort Pierre southeast to Chamberlain, offers tourists a glimpse into the heritage of the Sioux nation. A couple of hours to the west of Pierre are the 244,000 acres of protected mixed-grass prairie in Badlands National Park.