By Kim Schmidt, public and media relations manager, N.D. Department of Commerce – Tourism Division; and Marianne Marttila-Klipfel, curatorial assistant, Dacotah Prairie Museum
We’ve all had days when we just want to jump in the car and get away for a little R&R, or a little adventure—not far from home, but not in our own backyard, either. Luckily, folks in the James River Valley have a variety of options for Dakota day drips—though once you get there, you may want to stay a little longer! Read over our picks, then go to DakotafireCafe.com/Dakota-day-trips to add your own.
Coteau des Prairies Lodge in Havana, N.D.
Coteau des Prairies Lodge near Havana treats guests to an authentic ponderosa pine lodge decorated with local artwork, rustic wood furniture and all the amenities of a modern home. The 14-bedroom facility will comfortably accommodate 45 guests and is sure to be a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, crafters, quilters, family gatherings and the casual traveler. Many recreational opportunities are nearby; Sica Hollow and Fort Sisseton are within a half-hour drive. www.cdplodge.com
Sheyenne Oaks Horse and RV Camp
Nestled in the rolling hills of the Sheyenne National Grasslands of southeast North Dakota, Sheyenne Oaks is a great place to enjoy nature: Horseback riding, hiking, golf and canoeing are just a few minutes away. The area is similar to the Missouri Ozarks, but on a smaller scale. Bertha’s Cabin is an enhanced feature. It was built in the early 1900s, but is newly remodeled with running water, electricity, kitchen, bathroom and front and back porch. A hot tub on the back porch provides a relaxing end to the day. The cabin sleeps four. Staying in a teepee (with electricity and running water) will be another lodging option, starting this summer. www.sheyenneoaks.com/index.htm
Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway
The 63-mile byway runs from north of Valley City south to Lisbon on Highway 21 in eastern North Dakota. It features rolling grasslands and woodsy hill country in the Sheyenne River Valley. The road winds past miles of breathtaking springs, woods and historic sites, following ancient Native American footpaths and pioneer wagon trails. Quaint towns and farmsteads lend an Americana charm. Enjoy the many “mom and pop” shops along the way. One highlights of the drive is Fort Ransom State Park near the historic town of Fort Ransom. Five can’t-miss sites along the byway:
- Lake Ashtabula/Bald Hill Dam
- Valley City Historic Bridges Tour/Medicine Wheel Park
- Fort Ransom State Park/Village of Fort Ransom
- Sheyenne State Forest
- Wadeson Park/Walker Dam
Fort Ransom State Park
Fort Ransom State Park in the scenic Sheyenne River Valley of southeastern North Dakota has a scenic overlook high on the valley slope that affords a spectacular view of this unique area. Canoeing is popular on the Sheyenne River during the summer, and snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are major winter activities. The park offers 887 acres, modern and primitive camping, comfort station, campsite reservations, sewage dump station, picnicking, hiking and cross-country ski trails, amphitheater, biking, horse corrals, canoe and kayak access and rentals. Fort Ransom also offers high-tech treasure hunting called geocaching. Sodbuster Days are held the second full weekend in July and the first weekend after Labor Day in September. For more information on geocaching in Fort Ransom, go to www.parkrec.nd.gov/parks/frsp/frsp.html
Dakota Thunder: The World’s Largest Buffalo
Perched atop a hill along the edge of Jamestown, N.D., the World’s Largest Buffalo has been standing watch over the “Buffalo City” and greeting travelers cruising along Interstate 94 since 1959. The 26-foottall, 60-ton concrete giant was designed and built by Jamestown College art instructor Elmer Peterson as a way to pay homage to the animal that once roamed the Northern Plains. It was dedicated in 1960 by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York in a ceremony that garnered national attention. For the past 53 years, the World’s Largest Buffalo has been one of the Midwest’s most popular roadside attractions. To mark its 50th birthday in 2010, the World’s Largest Buffalo received the name Dakota Thunder. Make time to also see the rare white buffalo and to peruse the National Buffalo Museum and Frontier Village, and detour into town to see the Saint James Basilica. www.tourjamestown.com
Drive-In Movie Theaters
Several towns within easy driving distance have drive-in movie theaters—places where, as the Midway Drive-In puts it, you can “see the stars from your cars.” Enjoy the nostalgia, as well as the film!
Midway Drive-In, located “midway” between St. Lawrence and Miller, S.D. The theater was built in 1953, and the screen was rebuilt in 1968 after a strong gust took it down during a movie. (No report on if they happened to be showing “Gone with the Wind.”) Open Memorial Day through Labor Day. For movie listings, go to www.midwaydrivein.info or call 605-870-0108.
Pheasant City Drive-In Theatre, Redfield, S .D. The theater was built in 1953 and still uses the old gas popcorn popper that started with the facility that year. “It still makes the best popcorn around,” according to their website. Open June through September. For more information, call 605-472-1999 or 605-472-1453 or go to www.galluptheatres.com. Listings are available on their Facebook page: Search for “Gallup Theatres.”
Pheasant Drive-In, Mobridge, S.D. A storm took down the big screen overlooking the Missouri River in June 2012, but the theater was operational again by August with a new backdrop. Open June through early October. For more information, call 605-845-2021 or go to their Facebook page.
De Smet, S.D.
If you haven’t visited famous author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little town on the prairie lately, it may be time to go again. Take the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society Tour (www.liwms.com) to see original homes of the Ingalls family and then continue on a driving tour around town to visit sights mentioned in Laura’s books. Also consider checking out Ingalls Homestead-Laura’s Living Prairie (www.ingallshomestead.com), an open-air living history museum offering many old-fashioned family activities and displays. (NOTE: The Memorial Society Tour and Ingalls Homestead are different entities and have separate entrance fees.) During the first three weekends in July (5, 6 and 7; 12, 13 and 14; and 19, 20 and 21), end the day by taking in the Outdoor Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant (www.desmetpageant.org). Tickets are required but may be purchased at the gate. This year’s script is “The Little Town on the Prairie.” Also visit the Depot Museum & Harvey Dunn School (the schoolhouse attended by painter Harvey Dunn and made famous by his painting “After School”). Brookings is less than an hour’s drive away, with many more museum options. Schadé Vineyard & Winery is also along this route, offering South Dakota-grown wine tasting and vineyard tours (www.schadevineyard.com).
Coteau des Prairies Region, Sisseton, S.D.
Enjoy the beauty of the Coteau des Prairies and Glacial Lakes in the Sisseton, S.D., area. Get a bird’seye view of three states atop the 75-foot Joseph N. Nicollet Tower (www.sissetonmuseums.org), 3.5 miles west of Sisseton. Admission is free; an interpretive center is also on site. Then enjoy a short drive (10 miles northwest of Sisseton) to check out Sica Hollow State Park, offering natural beauty, a self-guided interpretive foot trail, picnic and camping opportunities (gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/sica-hollow) A park entrance fee is required. Other state parks are nearby: Fort Sisseton Historic State Park, Roy Lake State Park and Pickerel Lake Recreation Area. Several sites in the area have significance to Native American history and spirituality
(www.oyatetourism.com). If you are in the area July 5-7, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Wacipi, or powwow, is not to be missed
Ordway Prairie and Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, north of Aberdeen, S.D.
This daytrip will require a bit of imagination, but you’ll almost be able to step back in time. A fifth of the North American continent was once grassland, and little of it remains to suggest expansive it once was. A visit the Samuel H. Ordway, Jr. Memorial Preserve (http://bit.ly/XZtV7Z) 10 miles west of Leola, S.D., can start to give you an idea. Here buffalo still roam the prairie, and you can find teepee rings where Native Americans once stayed. The visit also has an ultra-modern touch: The new building at the preserve is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, which means it meets certain criteria in green building practices. Then drive about 50 minutes east on S.D. Highway 10 to Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for wildlife of many kinds. One dramatic sight is the migration of the massive flocks of Canada and snow geese each spring and fall. Check the migration reports on the refuge’s website (www.fws.gov/sandlake/migration.htm) before you go to see what kind and how many birds are moving through the area. Don’t forget your binoculars. In both places, you can hunt for pasque flowers, the South Dakota state flower, in early spring: The sign that winter is losing its hold.
Buffalo Ridge Resort, Gary, S.D.
This resort was once the South Dakota School for the Blind and has been completely renovated into a peaceful, history-rich location for relaxation or celebration. Guests can stay either in the Herrick Hotel or at the campground. Outdoor areas for formal and informal gatherings abound, and walking trails around Lake Elsie beckon, with two waterfalls, sand beaches and babbling brooks. The Rock Room Bar and Grill offers an intriguing ambiance for dining. The resort also boasts fishing in eastern South Dakota’s only trout stream. www.buffaloridgeresort.com/index.html
We know we’ve missed many! What’s your favorite Dakota day trip? Is there a place near your own stomping grounds that’s worth a detour? Tell us about it! Go to www.dakotafirecafe.com/Dakota-day-trips to add to the list!