Fort Sisseton State Park (South Dakota)
One of the reasons I like to travel is discovering terrific
out-of-the-way places that few people know about. During my 3-month trip
around America in 1995 (see
Roadtrips, 1995-1999), the most outstanding "hidden jewel" that I
discovered was the Cumberland Island National Seashore on the southern coast of
Georgia. So far during this trip, that honor goes to Fort Sisseton State
Park in northeastern South Dakota.
drove out to Fort Sisseton (SIS-a-ton) during my fourth evening in Webster while doing research at the
Day County Courthouse, having spent the previous nights at a motel, on Ole Svang's homestead, and at a rather
mundane State Park nearby. I planned to stay at Fort Sisseton for a night
or two before heading up to Bismarck, but I enjoyed my stay there so much that I
stayed for a week and a half, mostly getting caught up with my website and
e-mail, and just relaxing.
I'm still trying to figure out why more people don't visit this
park. And I left only because the empty campground would be filled the
next night for the start of Labor Day weekend. Compared to all the
crowded, dingy State Park campgrounds that I stayed at in the South that cater
to obnoxious beer-chugging, muscle-t-shirt-wearing powerboat owners, this park
was a gem. Even not compared to them.
As I walked
around Fort Sisseton, I kept thinking about F Troop,
the 1960 TV series about a cavalry fort on the frontier.
Here's the song.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
Sisseton was built in 1864, a few years after the
Dakota Uprising, on what was
then the wild frontier of the Dakota Territory (think "Dances With
Wolves" for the era and the setting, and you'll get the idea). For the next 25 years, the
manned by soldiers in the U.S. Army and Cavalry, most of whom were not
exactly thrilled to be stationed at this remote outpost.
Fort Sisseton was
abandoned in 1889, the buildings fell into disrepair but in 1960, the
land was acquired by the South Dakota State Parks Department. They've
worked hard ever since to restore the fort and have done a magnificent
job. There are about 15 buildings open to the public, each labeled with an
interpretive sign and filled with interesting displays inside, including the North
Barracks, which now serves as the spacious and informative Visitor
Above left: The Officer's Quarters at Fort Sisseton State Park.
Above center: The North Barracks have been converted into a Visitor
Center and also contain a replica of the barracks.
Above right: Sunset over the peaceful and empty campground. The old stable,
reputedly the longest stone
structure in the U.S., contains the campground's restroom and showers.
This is the only place where I've showered in a stable!
Above left: I was going to stay at Fort Sisseton for only a day or two, but I
liked the peaceful campground here so much that I stayed for a week and a half.
Above center: An inquisitive horse.
Above right: The lonely highway near Fort Sisseton. There's very
little traffic on this road during the day and virtually none at night.
Fort Sisseton is one of the most peaceful places I've ever visited in the U.S.
This park reminds me of Fort Snelling in Minneapolis or Fort
Laramie in Wyoming except there are very few visitors and, unlike those parks,
there's also a campground. The wonderful 14-site campground overlooks a
beautiful prairie that provides magnificent sunset vistas across the prairie each night.
Amazingly enough, the campground was empty (or nearly empty) every night I was
there. The restrooms and showers are located in the former stable that's
reputed to be the longest stone building in the U.S., and the grounds are very
A gentle wind blew through the campground each day, the weather
was perfect, I was well-stocked with carrot cake from Jim's Supermarket in
Webster, and I fell asleep each night
to the soft chirping of crickets. For nine peaceful days, all was right with the world.
still can't figure out why more people haven't discovered this place. Fort
Sisseton is one of the best kept secrets in the Dakotas and it made my list of
State Parks in the U.S. There isn't a lot of glitz here, but if you like solitude, are interested in history, and enjoy
watching beautiful sunsets over the prairie from a quiet campground, you'll really love this
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