Vermillion is nestled along the banks of the Missouri River in Southeastern South Dakota. Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota are just a hop, skip, and a jump away. This small town is home to the University of South Dakota, and it knows how to play big. The arts, culture, history, and music are second to none. You will find it easy to fall in love with beautiful Vermillion, South Dakota.
I hope you will give Vermillion a visit, as this community is often overshadowed by other towns, such as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa, all within a two-hour radius. The people and the experiences will keep you busy all day long. I participated in some of these activities on a hosted afternoon and evening visit, which included hosted lodging. All opinions are my own.
1. Take A Campus Tour Of The University Of South Dakota
I had the opportunity to take a campus tour of the University of South Dakota and I found the campus to be beautiful. Old Main was built in 1883 and is one of the most iconic buildings on the campus. It is also one of several buildings on campus that is on the National Register of Historic Places. While touring the grounds, be sure to take a photo of the legendary coyote sculpture that sits in a prime spot on campus. Our tour guide was a student at the school and shared his experience as well as some of his favorite places on campus.
2. Visit The National Music Museum
The National Music Museum is home to one of the largest collections of musical instruments in the world. My hometown is Mason City, Iowa, which is home to Meredith Willson and The Music Man. I had no idea that this museum was so close to my hometown. From harps to pianos, the musical instruments are endless. There are large displays of several unique instruments that will keep your mind spinning. Music is alive and well in Vermillion, as this museum is truly one of the best that I have visited in the country.
3. Explore Spirit Mound
Spirit Mound Historic Prairie in Vermillion was part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804, and it’s easy to see why they wanted to explore the mound. It is easy to immerse yourself in the colorful wildflowers and beautiful prairie grass in the midst of summer. If you are quiet, you will hear birds chirping and all of the quiet that surrounds this area. There are benches along the way as you make the gradual incline to the mound. Once you arrive, imagine the bison roaming against the wide-open skies of South Dakota. Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress in layers.
4. Visit The W. H. Over Museum
The W. H. Over Museum has a mission of collecting, preserving, documenting, exhibiting, and researching objects that are related to South Dakota. The museum provides educational programs, fossil collections, works of art, and numerous artifacts. This museum offers an opportunity to learn about the history of the area as well as stunning archaeological artifacts that represent natural history. Visit Spirit Mound and then visit this museum for the full Vermillion history experience.
5. Indulge In A Sandwich At Mr. Smith’s Cafe And Bakery
Mr. Smith’s is located in a hardware store and was quite honestly the best sandwich I have had all summer. I ordered a Club Sub and added some roasted red peppers to it and it was the sandwich of a lifetime. The bread has been recognized by Oprah, and I would agree that the bread in this bakery is extremely tasty. I dined with two other people who also ordered sandwiches, and our table was quiet as we all indulged in our tasty sandwiches. If you need a reason to shop in a traditional hardware store, I’m giving you one. Stop in and eat lunch; you won’t regret it.
I indulged in this sandwich at the beginning of a 5,000-mile road trip, and this sandwich was the best meal that I had during the entire trip. Vermillion and Mr. Smith’s surprised me in a big way!
6. Hike Or Bike The Vermillion River Trail
South Dakota is home to wonderful hiking trails, and Vermillion is no exception. The Vermillion River Trail runs a little under a couple of miles. Hikers will appreciate this fairly easy trail, as will cyclists. If you are wanting a casual stroll with a view, this trail is for you. Sunrise and sunset are spectacular times of day to explore this trail, as the sun provides outstanding photo opportunities. Parking is available at Cotton Park. Restrooms are available in this area, which is located on South Dakota Street, south of the intersection with Chestnut Street.
7. Visit South Dakota’s Oldest Winery
Valiant Vineyards Winery and Distillery is South Dakota’s oldest winery. When you stop in, one of their wine experts will guide you through an original South Dakota wine experience. Hold onto your glass and overlook the valley during the colorful, warmer months in South Dakota. A bed and breakfast is also on site, and visitors can book a night’s stay. You can book a stay in The Frontier Room, The Native American Room, The Queen Anne Room, or another luxurious room that is calling your name.
8. Play A Game Of Disc Golf
Disc golf tends to be popular in college towns, and Vermillion is no different. Prentis Park and Barstow Park are home to two disc golf courses in Vermillion. Grab a disc — more commonly called a frisbee, and head off to toss a few discs in a game of “golf.” The trees bring shade to the area, which makes these courses nice to play on hot summer days. College students and locals enjoy an occasional game of disc golf, and you can, too.
9. Explore The South Dakota Sculpture Tour
Take a self-guided tour of the South Dakota Sculpture Trail around town and on the University of South Dakota Campus. This is a great way to learn more about the community of Vermillion, as well as an opportunity to see how the arts are alive in the town. Legacy, which is on campus, is probably the most photographed sculpture of all of them. With more than a handful of sculptures, you will be inspired as you see each of these beautiful works of art.
10. See The Austin-Whittemore House
The Austin-Whittemore House is located at 15 Austin Street and is on the National Register of Historic Places. This home is unique to the area, as it was built five years prior to South Dakota becoming a state. It is one of the few remaining 19th-century structures in the Vermillion area. The builder of the home, Horace J. Austin, came from one of the first groups of settlers to arrive in the Dakotas in 1859. Following the Civil War, he returned to Vermillion and served as a state legislator until his death in 1891. Architectural enthusiasts will appreciate this home, as it has a true presence in Vermillion.
11. Attend A Collegiate Sporting Event
The University of South Dakota is home to the Coyotes and has several sporting events that are open to the public. During my campus tour, it was quite evident that there is a lot of pride within the community of the school. From the football coaches to the basketball coaches, they all had a lot of enthusiasm for the college and their programs. I have not attended a collegiate sporting event at this university, but I have no doubt that you will leave feeling as though you belong to the school.
Where To Stay In Vermillion
I had the opportunity to stay at a Red Roof Inn that was locally owned during my time in Vermillion. This property has won several awards and was conveniently located a short distance from the college campus. I’d highly recommend this property, as my own experience was a very good one. It did not have the feel of a typical chain hotel because the staff was very welcoming and a few personal touches were in the room.
Vermillion is one of those smaller towns in the Midwest that knows how to play big. The town is large enough that it has the amenities many people desire, yet it offers a small-town feel. You can stroll safely through the neighborhoods and parks. It’s also easy to shop on Main Street while admiring the beautiful architecture of the buildings. It’s not uncommon for someone to wave from their car window as they drive down the street you are walking near. That speaks volumes when it comes to a safe, small town.
The murals that are scattered throughout town also offer some great photo opportunities. It won’t take you long to keep busy, once you set foot in Vermillion. Mix and mingle with the locals in the shops and you will quickly learn that the people of Vermillion have a lot of pride in their hometown. The arts, campus life, and outdoor experiences were highlights of my visit. I hope you will find a full day or weekend of activities when you visit and even plan an extended stay. Vermillion will welcome you.