U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Fort Pierre National Grassland

South Dakota

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Grassland Information

Visit Date: 9/14/2011

Fort Pierre (fort pier) National Grassland (NG), located in central South Dakota, is 115,997 acres. It is administered by the Nebraska National Forest supervisor's office, Rocky Mountain Region. There are no developed campgrounds.

Fort Pierre National Grassland (NG) feels like the little grassland "that could." It is a patchwork of quilt consisting of federal, state, private and Indian land. There isn't much in the way of formal developed recreation; it is more a place were you develop your own recreational opportunities. The grassland's focus on wildlife habitat provides visitors with recreational opportunities of hiking, mountain biking, hunting, fishing, bird- watching, dispersed camping, and wildlife photography.

The Fort Pierre National Grassland (NG) was settled in the 1800s under a variety of "Homestead Acts," which opened the land to people, generally farmers, and helped to settle the west. A prolonged period of drought in the late 1920s into the 1930s caused some homesteads on sub-marginal farmland (a location receiving 15 or less inches of annual moisture) to literally dry up. During this time, Congress established the Land Utilization Program (LUP) which bought homesteads from bankrupt private owners and returned it to public land status. In the 1950s, the LUP holdings were assigned to the USDA Forest Service who was tasked with management of these sub-marginal lands. Over the years the Forest Service has established some twenty National Grasslands, including Thunder Basin, from sub-marginal lands. "The designation of the area as National Grassland is not a description of the area as much as a statement of policy and effort to restore the area to a multiple of uses and benefits."

Considered to have the "best huntable populations of Greater prairie chicken and Sharptail grouse in South Dakota," Fort Pierre NG also offers visitors something unique to national grasslands good fishing for bass, bluegill, and crappie. It is estimated Fort Pierre NG has 261 ponds and about 25% of those ponds have fish. (Here's a tip: If the pond has a name, it probably has fish.) An added plus of having that "huntable populations of Greater prairie chicken and Sharptail grouse," is the bird-watching opportunities. Contact the Fort Pierre NG office for information about reserving a blind for watching the display behavior of these birds. For all the other birds, especially raptors, all you need is patience.

One of the reasons homesteaders were unsuccessful in the area now known as Fort Pierre NG was the high levels of selenium in the soil. Basically, selenium accumulated in the animals, poisoning them and causing their death. Today, alternating crops and rotating livestock grazing frequently has made the land productive for both dominate crops and wildlife. These land management practices and being at the edge of the midgrass prairie, with an average rainfall of about 18 inches, the Fort Pierre NG enjoys forage production approximately double that of other national grasslands. For any one recreating on the Fort Pierre NG, this means a wide array of recreational opportunities from hiking to hunting, fishing to bird-watching, and dispersed camping to wildlife photography.

A few suggested dispersed campsites can be found in the table below. However, most areas of the grassland are open to dispersed tent camping. The Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) identifies routes where dispersed camping with a vehicle is permitted and there are many. The only restriction is you must not park your vehicle more than 30 feet from the road's centerline. Otherwis, there are no restrictions for enjoying the Fort Pierre NG's many recreational opportunities.


SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 125 North Main Street Chadron, Nebraska 69337 308-432-0300 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESS Ft. Pierre 1020 North Deadwood Street Ft. Pierre, SD 57532 605-224-5517

Name GPS Coordinates Comments
Monument Dam N44 01.981,
W100 23.754
Elev. 2100'
Isolated; outstanding vista; Largemouth bass, bluegill, etc.; tent/high clearance vehicles
Sheriff Dam N44 06.333,
W100 25.553
Elev. 1900'
Mowed open field on west side of pond; Largemouth bass, bluegill, etc.; good vista; tent/high clearance vehicles
Richland Dam N44 08.808,
W100 24.500
Elev. 1900'
Mowed open field on east side of pond; Largemouth bass, bluegill, etc.; adjacent to Richland Wildlife Area; any size RV
Click on a site name for picture.

*The following are suggested dispersed campsites.  
However, subject to Forest Service rules, one can 
camp most anywhere on the grassland. 

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Fred and Suzi Dow