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  • Writer's pictureTammy Bashore

Spirit Mound Historic Prairie Hiking Trail near Vermillion, SD

The Spirit Mound Historic Prairie hiking trail is one of the few places where you can walk with certainty where Lewis & Clark once traversed. It was once described as "mountain of evil people" and a "hill of little people". The Sioux, Omaha, and Otoe tribes told stories of 18-inch tall humans with “remarkably large heads” who inhabited the site. Armed with arrows, these spirits were said to have attacked anyone who approached the hill.

The day that I hiked this trail, I had it to myself. Not surprising, considering it was a swelteringly hot day. But as I made my way to the top, a cool breeze set in, that added to the overall spiritual experience that can be found at Spirt Mound if you are open to it.

Spirit Mound Historic Prairie hiking trail is an out-and-back trail that is approximately 1.5 miles long. It is located just a few minutes north of Vermillion on Highway 19. There is no entry fee to this area; just park your car and start your walk!

The first 1/3 of the trail is a flat prairie land with many different native grasses and flowers. During the summer months these plants can become taller than myself and can feel as if you are walking through a nature tunnel. The trail includes information markers that give insight into the history of Spirit Mound. Be sure to bring along bug spray, water, hat, long sleeves, etc. Due to the abundance of wild flowers, there will be bugs along the way. So make sure you have all the right gear if that will bother you.

Once you make it through the grassland portion you begin the spiral ascent up the mound. Resist the urge to go off path and cut corners to make it to the top quicker. These grasslands are in a restoration process, and need to be protected from foot traffic. Along this path you will find benches for resting if necessary, but there is absolutely no shade found along this trail, so plan accordingly.

The last climb includes make shift stairs, although I found the trail alongside to be a bit easier to navigate. Once you reach the top, on clear days you are able to see all the way to the Big Sioux River on one side and the James River on the other! It is quite a view of the prairie and connection to the experiences that still take place on this sacred land today.

While Lewis & Clark, and hikers of today, may not have seen any of the little people mentioned, I did feel a sense of spirits as I walked the trail. It felt peaceful and calming; a gorgeous place to sit, reflect, pray, and meditate.

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