National Park Road Trip 2010: Moving Swiftly Down the Missouri

Close by the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the South Dakota capitol is a gorgeous building worth a visit. Stop by the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Sioux City, Iowa, and you can pose next to a statue of Lewis, Clark, and their dog, Seaman. Photos by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: David and Kay Scott this summer are living what many of us wish we could do: they're following a meandering path across the country to visit units of the National Park System. This installment of their trek comes from Iowa, where they're following the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Greetings this Sunday morning from Council Bluffs, Iowa, where we enjoyed a hotel stay following six consecutive nights of tenting along the Missouri River. Both the humidity and temperature are rising as we move southeast, making the cool Montana nights of a little over a week ago a fond memory. The trip is in its tenth week during which we have driven 7,800 miles through 22 states.

The town of Council Bluffs is across the Missouri River, but not far from where Lewis & Clark had their initial meeting with Indians during their long journey to the Pacific. The river has changed course since the Corps of Discovery’s council with the Oto and Missouri Indians on August 3, 1804, so no specific location for the meeting has been identified. It was during the Corps’ stay that the name Council Bluffs was born.

Council Bluffs and its neighbor, Omaha, boast several interesting places to visit, so this will be a busy day. The sites include several related to Lewis & Clark, plus Omaha is home to railroad giant Union Pacific and its grand art deco railroad station (long ago given to the city) that served passengers during an earlier era.

Our last note was from Bismark, North Dakota. From North Dakota’s capital we drove south along the western side of the Missouri River before crossing to the east bank at Mobridge, South Dakota.

Our intent was to spend the night at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground, but it turns out that the majority of these have been transferred to the state of South Dakota. This change in ownership not only disqualifies us from half-price camping (America the Beautiful senior passes are not recognized by South Dakota), it also means we must pay a separate entrance fee. What a raw deal! Still, the Indian Creek State Recreation Area campground where we stayed was well maintained and we pitched our tent next to the river.

On the way to Mobridge we stopped for lunch at a county park along the river. It turned out that the Corps of Discovery camped on the opposite bank during their outbound trip.

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The following day we continued south along the river. We stopped about mid-day in Pierre, South Dakota, in order to tour the capitol. What a beautiful building it is! Built in the early 1900s, the magnificent building was totally restored to its original grandeur in time for the state centennial. Tours of the capitol are free. Pierre is a small town and we parked directly across the street from the capitol. While roaming through the interior we noticed the door to the governor’s office was open, so we stepped in. The governor was out, but we talked for a half hour with his assistant.

The next two nights were spent tenting along the Missouri. The last tenting night was near Yankton, South Dakota, where Kay once lived. This is an attractive town that offers hundreds of campsites in a series of parks along the Missouri. We spent the evening touring the town and the next morning visited the Lewis & Clark Visitor Center on the south bank of the Missouri.

Operated by the Corps of Engineers and National Park Service, it offers excellent views of the lake, river, and dam. It is also above a campsite used by Lewis & Clark during their trip west.

At the visitor center a National Park Service ranger told us about a viewpoint overlooking a stretch of the Missouri River as it flows free for nearly 60 miles between Yankton and Sioux City, Iowa. This stretch is a section of the Missouri National Recreational River. Keep in mind that at this time the river is very high>

In passing through Sioux City, on our way south to Council Bluffs, we stopped at the Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. Although not on the scale of the interpretive center in Great Falls, Montana, this center is quite elaborate and certainly a worthwhile stop for anyone attempting to trace the Lewis & Clark Trial.

Today we will do some touring of Omaha and then head south along the Missouri toward Kansas City. This is where our outbound journey began two months ago as we started following the route of the pioneers along the Oregon Trail.

David and Kay Scott are regular contributors to the Traveler. Their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges was first published by the Globe Pequot Press in 1997 and is now in its sixth edition.