15 Best Things to Do in Yankton, SD

Yankton, SD
Daniel Stephen Hakes / shutterstock.com

Yankton, South Dakota, is a city of many names.

People usually refer to it as the “River City” because it relied on the Missouri River for its early development.

Meanwhile, others called it the “Mother City of the Dakotas” because of its historical significance.

Likewise, people nicknamed Yankton the “Cement City,” owing to its cement shipments that helped build the Panama Canal.

No matter its nickname, Yankton remains a place for relaxation and enjoyment.

You can visit the city’s several historic buildings while venturing off to its scenic nature destinations.

For instance, you’ll have your pick of 14 municipal parks, each with different amenities.

Several hiking trails also lead from downtown Yankton to the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area.

Do you want to know more about Yankton, SD? Check out this list below.

Enjoy the View From the Meridian Bridge

View of Meridian Bridge
Daniel Stephen Hakes / Shutterstock.com

The decommissioned Meridian Bridge is one of Yankton’s main tourist attractions.

One of its strongest appeals is its history since it was the first bridge built over the Missouri River.

In 1924, the Meridian Highway Bridge Company finished the bridge, which still stands strong today.

Today, only pedestrians and cyclists are allowed to cross the Meridian Bridge.

View of Meridian Bridge
Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can walk up to the double-decker bridge and take in the panoramic view of the Missouri River.

Likewise, you can take all the photos you want while you’re up there.

If you bring a bike, you can also cross without fuss.

Learn Local History at the Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home

One of the historic buildings in Yankton is the Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home, a luxurious Eastlake Stick-style house.

Its interior also follows the elegant Queen Anne style.

Many of the home’s original features are still intact, such as the tall double doors, chandeliers, and high ceilings.

Secretary of the Dakota Territory James H. Teller built the house in 1886.

In 1890, the house changed hands to Nelson J. Cramer, an attorney, and his wife, Alice Bulfinch.

When the couple moved in, they revised the house’s interior to the Victorian style.

Alice Cramer’s oil paintings still hang on the walls, too.

Yankton opened the house to the public in 1974, after Herbert Kenyon’s death in 1972.

Today, you can join guided tours inside the house for a small fee.

Visit the Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home at 509 Pine St., Yankton, SD 57078.

Master the Bow at the National Field Archery Foundation Museum

If watching the archers in shows like Game of Thrones entertain you, you might need to visit Yankton's National Field Archery Foundation Museum.

For 75 years, the foundation has collected thousands of historical archery artifacts, like old bows, arrows, and other archery equipment.

Inside the museum, you’ll find its massive collection of 178 recurve bows, together with equipment.

Many of these tools date back to 1900.

If you’re a broadhead fan, you’ll also find 189 broadhead arrows displayed in the lobby.

Many people from 50 countries have already visited the museum.

Their exhibits are so fun and informative that they’ve caught the attention of non-archers, too.

Visit the National Field Archery Foundation Museum at 800 Archery Lane, Yankton, SD 57078.

Swim or Play Golf at the Fantle Memorial Park

As the heading states, Fantle Memorial Park lets you swim or play golf, among others, on its grounds.

If you go there from June to August, you can beat the heat at the Olympic-sized swimming pool, which uses a heater to keep it at a consistent 80° F.

Otherwise, you can simply bring your Frisbees to the 18-hole disc golf course inside the park.

You’ll need to get your disc, though.

While you’re out on the green, let your kids enjoy themselves at the playground, equipped with swings.

You can also just take a walk along the lighted pedestrian paths or play a game of volleyball.

Visit the Fantle Memorial Park at the corner of 21stStreet and Douglas Avenue, Yankton, SD 57078.

Visit the Dakota Territorial Capitol Replica

A REplica of Dakota Territorial Capitol building in Yankton's Riverside Park
Anderc99, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While not strictly a historic building, this place still holds tremendous historical value.

This replica seeks to remind people of what Yankton looked like in the days of the Dakota Territory.

When they established the Territory in 1861, the people built the first Dakota Territorial Capitol in 1862.

However, they tore it down in 1886.

Today, the Capitol Replica follows the same design as the original building.

The building’s main attraction is the quilt, whose pattern shows important Yankton landmarks.

Likewise, it also features several scenes depicting the passage of history in Yankton.

Visit the Dakota Territorial Capitol Replica at Riverside Park, Douglas Avenue, and Levee Street.

Relive Yankton History at the Mead Cultural Education Center

Yankton also doesn’t suffer from a shortage of historic buildings.

Another site you can visit is the Mead Cultural Education Center, which has stood for more than a century.

In 1909, the building belonged to the women’s ward of the Dakota Hospital for the Insane.

It got its present name from the former director Dr. Leonard C. Mead.

Today, the Dakota Hospital for the Insane is now the Human Services Center, which operated until the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the former women’s ward became the Mead Cultural Education Center.

It hosts exhibits showing artifacts from regional and local history.

One of its permanent displays features implements and items taken from its days as a mental institute.

Visit the Mead Cultural Education Center at 82 Mickelson Dr., Yankton, SD 57078.

See a Show at the Riverside Park

While Riverside Park may not have many amenities, it features an outdoor amphitheater that hosts performances and special events throughout the year.

Besides watching shows, you can also stroll through its vast green spaces.

If you visit from June to August, you might catch production from the Yankton Area Arts Association every Tuesday at 8:00 p.m.

Don’t even worry about admissions because it’s free of charge.

Every week, the amphitheater also hosts concerts from community bands and musicians.

Visit the Riverside Park at 200 Levee St., Yankton, SD 57078.

Marvel at the Gothic Architecture of the Bishop Marty Memorial Chapel

Since 1950, the Bishop Marty Memorial Chapel has been Yankton’s top landmark.

If you love old Gothic churches, this building is for you.

After all, many believe that the chapel is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the entire United States.

When you pass through the doorway, you’ll see figures of saints hovering over the arch.

Among these saints are St. Gertrude the Great, St. Benedict, and St. Scholastica.

The church also belongs to the Sacred Heart Monastery, where the Benedictine Sisters in the area also reside.

The church offers guided tours, but only by appointment. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Visit the Bishop Marty Memorial Chapel at 100 W 8thSt., Yankton, SD 57078.

Go Karting at the Karttrax Family Fun Park

If you’ve ever wanted to play real-life Mario Kart, you’ll need to head to Yankton’s Karttrax Family Fun Park.

Test your driving skills against your family and friends at the go-kart track, and become the Number 1 driver.

Otherwise, you can simply smash into each other at the park’s bumper car and bumper boat areas.

Your kids will also enjoy the park’s kiddie go-kart tracks and the kiddie train. What are you waiting for?

Back up all your trash-talk at Karttrax.

Visit the Karttrax Family Fun Park at 4908 W. 8thSt., Yankton, SD 57078.

Study History at the G.A.R. Hall

The acronym G. A. R. stands for the “Grand Army of the Republic,” which gives you a clue about the history permeating the building.

In 1887, Civil War veterans on the Union side built the hall, following the Mid-Victorian Italianate Style.

They met in the hall until 1924.

Until 1999, the Woman’s Relief Corps of the G.A.R. maintained the building before selling it to the Yankton Area Arts.

Today, you’ll still see a period-accurate Civil War cannon on Hall’s front lawn.

This cannon dates back to 1862 and weighs 2,515 lbs.

Likewise, the weapon saw heavy use in the Civil War.

Now, a time capsule containing a granite stone lies inside the cannon.

Visit the G. A. R. Hall at 508 Douglas Avenue, Yankton, SD 57078.

Study Marine Life at the Gavin’s Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium

Marine Life at the Gavin’s Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium
USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Yankton’s proximity to the Missouri River means it’s a lovely haven for many fish species.

Satisfy your aquatic curiosity by visiting Gavin’s Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium.

Since its construction in 1960, the facility has produced more than 5 billion fish and released them in the Midwest.

Inside the aquarium, you’ll find a variety of fish and turtle species living together in 13 tanks.

Besides live animals, you can also look at marine exhibits and related displays.

These displays also explain the work and objectives of the hatchery.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service runs Gavin’s Point and 64 other National Federal Hatcheries and Fish Technology Centers.

Visit Gavin’s Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium at 31227 436thAvenue, Yankton, SD 57078.

Besides history, the G. A. R. also features art exhibits, thanks to the efforts of the Yankton Area Arts.

The gallery features various works from world-famous artists, as well as regional artists and local artistic kids.

Likewise, the gallery also holds special cultural and artistic events.

On the lower level, you’ll find a classroom where artists can hold meetings, teach art courses, or just paint by themselves.

There’s also a kitchen for elegant dinner parties or gallery receptions.

The gallery also showcases a unique collection of historical antiques.

One of these antiques is a table used in the 1877 trial of Jack McCall, who shot and killed the gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok.

They restored the table to its original condition, and you can see it on display at the gallery.

Revisit Dakota History at the Jack McCall Historical Marker

On the subject of Jack McCall, Yankton has also erected a marker to indicate his hanging.

This marker signifies a crucial moment in Dakota history before its incorporation into the United States.

On August 2, 1876, Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickok while playing poker inside the Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory.

At the time, Deadwood had no formal police department or court system, so a band of residents tried McCall.

They acquitted him and set him free.

However, McCall kept bragging about the murder after fleeing to Wyoming, already part of the United States.

Federal officers caught him and sent him back to Yankton for trial.

This time, the jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

The marker stands in the parking lot of the Human Services Center.

Smash Bottles at The Ice House

Even dive bars can have some history, too.

Just drop by Yankton’s The Ice House, the first artificial ice plant in the city.

John Keller built the ice plant in 1928, and it managed to flourish by selling beer during Prohibition.

Since then, it has become an unmissable spot in Yankton.

The Ice House is also unique because it’s one of the few bars in the U.S. with carhop service.

However, many patrons would rather sit on the docks fronting the bar and drink ice-cold beer.

These patrons also follow a long-standing tradition of hurling empty bottles against the brick wall under the docks.

Visit The Ice House at 101 Capital St., Yankton, SD 57078.

Take a Stroll Along the Yankton RiverWalk

If you’re not in the mood to visit tourist sites, you can simply enjoy Yankton through the RiverWalk.

This path is downtown, so you won’t need to go far at all.

On this path, you’ll feel the distinct Yankton flavor of history and authentic culture.

When you follow the RiverWalk, you’ll find many pieces of outdoor art lining the paths and green spaces in downtown Yankton.

Non-profit volunteers collaborate with civic leaders and local artists to fill out the RiverWalk with more sculptures.

Eventually, these works will make up a permanent collection displayed at the Meridian Bridge plaza.

Take the Yankton RiverWalk at 231 Broadway Avenue #1, Yankton, SD 57078.

Final Thoughts

Yankton, South Dakota, offers an eclectic mix of art, culture, and history to please even veteran tourists.

Its historical sites and markers will remind you of the city’s steady progress since the 19th century.

Likewise, its arts community remains vibrant and lively no matter the time of year. Book your Yankton trip today!