The toughest part about a trip to Pierre, South Dakota, is going to be how you pronounce the state capital’s name. It is not, as its spelling implies, like the French man’s name—Pee-air—but like the structure at the end of a dock—a pier or your colleague at work—peer.
After you’ve got that taken care of, it’s smooth sailing because Pierre is about as unpretentious as you can get. It’s the second smallest state capital population-wise (Montpelier, Vermont, is the smallest) and that makes the city feel more like a neighborhood than a population center. It is ironically at the near exact center of the state, South Dakota looking more like a rectangle than most states. And it’s flat, flat, flat—tumbleweed-rolling-across-the-runway flat. You-can-see-for-miles flat.
Pierre is situated along the Missouri River and if you follow it north, you’d fly over the Oahe Dam and up to Bismarck, North Dakota. The Oahe Dam’s powerplant provides the electricity for most of the north-central United States. It is the world’s largest Hydro-Earth dam. This area of the Missouri River was a key stop for Lewis and Clark on their westward exploration.
The flight you want to take is to the west. Here in this wide-open country are the Black Hills, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Flying over these landmarks is almost more magical than visiting them on foot. The size, magnitude, expanse, and pure audaciousness of these monuments and this area are best viewed from the sky.
In the fall, the area sees an interesting population increase from a remarkable pastime—pheasant hunting. Farms around Pierre are groomed to keep the birds, and others such as grouse, quail, and partridge, healthy and populous. Starting in mid-October (the season is Oct. 19, 2019, to Jan. 5, 2020), hunters arrive at the airport and are transported across the area to lodges and farms. There, hunters will flush the birds out from the fields and shoot just enough to prepare a traditional South Dakota treat, which has been a part of life here since 1919.
Tumbleweed Lodge in Pierre offers a great South Dakota pheasant hunting experience. Outdoor Channel called it “one of the greatest hunting lodges in the world.” Owned by a local family, the Bollwegs, the 18,000-square-foot lodge is expansive, beautifully outfitted yet rustic feeling with a communal dining room, great room featuring a fireplace, cigar room, and inviting bar (although no drinking is allowed when hunting).