Travel Guide: Nicollet Tower

One of the things I love most about the prairie region of the United States is the natural beauty. Particularly in the warmer months, the prairie can be awe-inspiring. One of the best ways to see it in all its grandeur is to visit Nicollet Tower in Sisseton, South Dakota!

All pictures by Emily Badenhorst

Situated along Highway 10 just a few miles outside of Sisseton, the Joseph N. Nicollet Tower and Interpretive Center is named for the famed French cartographer and later head of the American Corps of Topographical Engineers Joseph Nicollet, who mapped the area in the 1830s. According to literature available at the center, the tower was built with the cooperation of the Dakota (Sioux) people between May of 1991 and June of 1992, with the dedication in October of 1991.

When I visited recently, I found the entire park to be picturesque and beautiful. Next to the parking area is a sign indicating a project to encourage native wildflower restoration, and there is ample room to take in a nice picnic, as I observed a family doing so in the shade of the tower.

The tower itself appears quite solid, and stands 75 feet tall. The stairs which one must climb to make the ascent number more than 90, but with plenty of landings to catch ones breath on, they really are no challenge.

As you climb, but especially once you’ve made it to the top, the view becomes increasingly incredible, with rolling fields, lovely trees, and even the soft sound of a nearby stream to enjoy!

A special feature of the tower is its unfettered views of not only the surrounding South Dakota landscape, but of North Dakota and Minnesota as well! While these states aren’t immediately obvious to the tower-top observer, all one must do is remember that the road leading back into Sisseton is East, and thus points to Minnesota. The road leading away from town is thus West, and more of South Dakota. If you stand with your left side facing the Interpretive Center, you’ll be facing north, towards North Dakota. Then again, if you’re a cool kid, you can always just refer to the compass in your smartphone, and everything will become much more apparent.

Facing East back toward Sisseton and on to Minnesota
Facing West away from Sisseton and deeper into South Dakota
Facing North towards North Dakota

Now, the Interpretive Center is basically a large room full of tourist information, a second room set up to accommodate the viewing of a video, and a piano and kitchenette. The last two seem a bit out of place to me, but, hey, that’s just my “interpretation”. The best part, honestly, are the clean bathrooms which one learns to appreciate when stops along the prairie highways can be an hour apart.

If you go, you’ll want to take I-29 south from Fargo, or north from Sioux Falls. Take exit 232, and turn left. You’ll pass through Sisseton (I like to stop at the Pizza Hut on the right side of the road), and about five minutes after exiting the highway, the tower will be visible. The sign at the entrance says it’s open from sunrise to sunset, although the brochure says 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday, and 1pm-4pm on Sundays Mid-May to Mid-September. It’s totally free, by the way. Call 605-698-7672 for more information.


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