Home to just 16,000 people, you might wonder if – or why – Mitchell, South Dakota is worth a visit at all. Actually, Mitchell is the sixth-largest city in South Dakota, and home to one of the state’s most popular and well-known attractions, the Corn Palace (pictured above and #1 on this list, naturally!).
But what are the other things to do in Mitchell, South Dakota, if you find yourself visiting more than this one attraction? In this post, you’ll find out.
A popular spot to stop for a brief excursion while crossing South Dakota, you’ll learn why Mitchell is worth spending a bit more time in – from history and culture to the Great Outdoors. Ready to learn the best things to do in Mitchell? Read on and start planning your next adventure in the Dakotas.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Yankton, Očhéthi Šakówiŋo peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Featured photo courtesy of Travel South Dakota, travelsouthdakota.com
This post was originally published in September 2021, and was updated most recently in August 2023.
1. Visit the Corn Palace
If you ever ask anyone what to do in Mitchell, visiting the Corn Palace is the first thing they’ll mention.
You will find the world’s only corn palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. The Corn Palace is located in the heart of Mitchell and opened its doors in 1921. There, residents and rural neighbors would gather to celebrate fall festivals and crop-growing season, and harvest. This tradition continues with the annual Corn Palace Festival held in late August each year.
Today, visitors can explore and celebrate the history of agriculture here through the many industrial exhibits and uniquely designed corn murals.
2. Explore the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village
A bit of history is hidden in every corner of Mitchell. Another example is the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.
The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is a short drive from the Corn Palace and is the only archaeological site in South Dakota open to the public. Here, you’ll explore the relics of the people who first lived on these lands 1,000 years ago: the Mandan tribe. There are excellent exhibitions where you can learn all about the earthen lodges (the tribe’s shelter construction), the innovative hunting tools, and the agricultural techniques of the Mandan tribe.
If you’re short on time, you should go to the Village’s Boehnen Memorial Museum and Thomsen Center Archeodome, as these are two of the most unique things to do in Mitchell.
3. Visit the Dakota Discovery Museum
If you still feel like exploring the historical side of Mitchell, you can also pay a visit to the Dakota Discovery Museum. This museum is more comprehensive and shares the old stories of South and North Dakota, and the adjoining states.
Through art and artifacts of the region, the exhibitions transmit the rich past to those who visit. Everything is here, from the Plains Indians and the fur trade to the Dakota territory and 1930s Great Depression.
It’s important to know you’ll have to pay a small entrance fee (currently $7.70) to access the museum.
4. Learn at the Guns of History Gallery
The Guns of History Gallery is another pit stop for you history buffs. The Guns of History Gallery explores the long-standing role of firearms in the United States. The museum exhibits a one-of-a-kind collection of weapons and firearms dating from 1860 to 1890, and every piece has a history behind it.
Inside, you can find the guns that Custer’s 7th Cavalry used in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the weapons held by the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. You’ll also find Sitting Bull’s shotgun as well as Crazy Horse’s Winchester rifle. And this just scratches the surface of the historic pieces inside the gallery.
Note: Following the pandemic, I’m not sure if the Guns of History Gallery ever re-opened. Be sure to check Google for accurate opening hours or give them a call to see if they’re open when you plan to visit.
5. Rev Your Engines at the Telstar Mustang Shelby Cobra Museum
Jerry and his wife Mavis are a lovely couple who took their love for cars a step further and transformed it into a museum: the Telstar Mustang Shelby Cobra Museum.
Back in 1990, Jerry and Mavis founded the first Shelby and Mustang Museum. The museum has a wide array of fully restored Mustangs, Shelby, and Cobra cars on display and offers guided tours to learn all about the car that once made Americans’ heads turn. Visiting this place is a lovely journey back in time as the owners have gone to a great extent to include at least one Shelby from every year and model of production in their collection – the first Shelby made its debut in 1965, so there’s a lot to see!
Telstar Mustang-Shelby-Cobra Restorations & Museum should be on your list of things to do in Mitchell for those who have a passionate interest in cars.
6. Explore the McGovern Legacy Museum
For anyone interested in political history the McGovern Legacy Museum is a(nother) must-visit. This museum is a dignified tribute to George and Eleanor McGovern, two of Dakota Wesleyan University’s most prominent alumni.
Beautifully displayed, the exhibit begins at World War II when George McGovern distinguished himself as a pilot. It follows on to the years when the couple were leaders in the South Dakota Democratic Party.
The museum’s highlights depict the 1972 presidential election and George McGovern’s unwavering commitment to fighting global hunger. Visitors can also see a variety of short films narrated by George McGovern himself.
7. Get Outside at Lake Mitchell
History buffs aren’t the only ones who can have fun there; there are also plenty of outdoor activities in Mitchell to explore the greener side of the city.
To get the best of Mitchell’s natural scenery, head to Lake Mitchell with over 12 miles of hiking and biking trails that follow the lake and forested areas along the shore of Lake Mitchell. During the fall, lines of trees bursting with vibrant fall foliage border the trails – if you can, don’t miss the lake at this incredible time of the year.
For those who want to spend the whole day (and night), they can go to Lake Mitchell Campground. It overlooks Lake Mitchell and offers numerous camping sites. Oh, and birding is quite popular here, so make sure to bring your binoculars.
8. Learn at the Carnegie Resource Center
A dream-come-true for genealogy buffs, the Carnegie Resource Center is a gold mine.
Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Resource Center in 1903. In 2006, the Mitchell Area Historical Society acquired the historic Library housed in the Center. Since then, the Mitchell Area Genealogical Society and the library have been working to preserve the building and its history and the history of the families in the Southeastern South Dakota area. You can find historical and genealogical exhibits, extensive documents for research, and a permanent collection of Corn Palace memorabilia from 1892 to the present.
When walking around, don’t forget to look up as you’ll see the lovely artwork of Oscar Howe painted across the dome. The famous Yanktonai Nakota Sioux painted the mural in 1940 and named it “Sun and Rain Clouds Over Hills.”
Where to Stay in Mitchell
If you’re sold on spending some time in Mitchell, you probably need a place to rest after each day of adventure. There aren’t a ton of traditional accommodation options in Mitchell; Google reports just 12 hotel/motel options. That said, there are enough options to fit your travel style and budget, whatever they may be.
- Budget: Motel 6 (from $62/night)
- Mid-Range: Corn Palace Inn (from $81/night)
- Luxe: Holiday Inn Express & Suites (from $184/night)
- Local Option: Thunderbird Lodge (from $87/night)
Do you know of other great things to do in Mitchell, South Dakota? Let me know in the comments!