Watertown is a city located in the northeastern part of the state of South Dakota in the United States. It was founded in 1879 along the Big Sioux River, and was named after Watertown, New York. The city grew rapidly during the early 20th century, thanks to the expansion of railroads and the agricultural industry in the region.
As of the 2020 census, the population of Watertown was 22,655, making it the fifth-largest city in South Dakota. The city is the county seat of Codington County and is known for its charming downtown area, as well as its outdoor recreational opportunities, including fishing and boating on nearby Lake Kampeska.
One unique aspect of Watertown is the Redlin Art Center, which showcases the work of artist Terry Redlin; who grew up in Watertown, and is known for his realistic paintings of wildlife and outdoor scenes, and the art center displays many of his original works. Here are 15 things to do in Watertown, South Dakota:
1. Visit the Bramble Park Zoo
The Bramble Park Zoo is one of the top attractions in Watertown, SD. The zoo is home to a wide range of animals, including exotic species like tigers, lions, and camels, as well as native animals like bison, elk, and pronghorn. You can take a leisurely stroll through the zoo’s 15 acres and see these animals up close. There are also special exhibits throughout the year, like the Boo at the Zoo event in October and the Christmas at the Zoo event in December.
The entrance fee to Bramble Park Zoo in Watertown, SD varies based on age and military status, with prices ranging from $11.45 to $13.63 for children and adults.
2. Explore the Redlin Art Center
The Redlin Art Center is a must-visit attraction for art lovers in Watertown, SD. The center is dedicated to the work of Terry Redlin, a famous wildlife artist who grew up in the area.
Terry Redlin was an American artist born on July 11, 1937, in Watertown, South Dakota, and passed away on April 24, 2016. He was best known for his paintings of wildlife, outdoor scenes, and nostalgic Americana. Redlin developed his love for nature while growing up in the Midwest and spent much of his life as an avid hunter and fisherman, which is reflected in his art.
Redlin’s artwork is characterized by its highly detailed and realistic style, which captures the beauty of nature and the rural American way of life. His paintings often depict scenes from the early 20th century, such as old country stores, rustic cabins, and vintage vehicles.
Redlin’s work has been widely exhibited throughout the United States, and he has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors for his contributions to the art world. The Redlin Art Center in Watertown, SD, which showcases much of his original work, was established in 1997 and has become a popular destination for art lovers and tourists alike.
3. Walk around Lake Kampeska
Lake Kampeska is a popular destination for locals and traveler alike. The lake is a great place to go for a leisurely walk, and there are plenty of picnic areas and playgrounds for families to enjoy. Visitors can also rent kayaks or paddleboards to explore the lake’s calm waters, or go fishing for walleye, perch, and other game fish.
4. Check out the Codington County Heritage Museum
The Codington County Heritage Museum is a great place to learn about the history of the Watertown area. The museum features exhibits on Native American artifacts, pioneer life, and local industries like agriculture and manufacturing.
Some of the museum’s most notable exhibits include displays on the region’s military history, including the Civil War and World War II, as well as exhibits on the development of the local railroad industry and the impact of technology on the community.
Admission is free of charge so one can explore the museum’s exhibits and collections without paying any entrance fee. However, donations are appreciated to help support the museum’s operations and educational programs.
5. Go fishing at Pelican Lake
Pelican Lake is one of the top fishing spots in the Watertown area. The lake is stocked with walleye, perch, northern pike, and other game fish, and there are plenty of public access points for anglers to use. Visitors can also rent boats or bring their own to explore the lake’s waters.
6. Visit the Mellette House
The Mellette House is a historic home that was once the residence of Arthur C. Mellette, the first governor of South Dakota. Built in 1885 by Arthur and Lillie Mellette, the home was designed in the Queen Anne architectural style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Mellette House has been restored to its original Victorian-era splendor and is now open to the public as a museum.
If you visit the Mellette House you can explore the elegant rooms of the home, which are furnished with period-appropriate antiques and decorations. The museum also features exhibits on the history of Watertown and the Mellette family, including artifacts and personal belongings belonging to the governor and his wife.
7. Play a round of golf at the Cattail Crossing Golf Course
The Cattail Crossing Golf Course is a top destination for golfers in Watertown, SD. The course features 18 holes of challenging golf, as well as beautiful views of the surrounding prairie. The course is open to the public, and there are also golf lessons and clinics available for golfers of all skill levels.
8. Take a bike ride on the Prairie Winds Trail
The Prairie Winds Trail is an 18-mile bike trail that runs through the South Dakota prairie. The trail is perfect for a leisurely bike ride or a brisk walk, and there are plenty of scenic views along the way.
The trail is also popular with birdwatchers, as there are many different species of birds that can be seen along the trail.
9. Go shopping at the Watertown Mall
The Watertown Mall is a great place to go shopping in Watertown, SD. The mall features over 30 stores, including national retailers like Target and JCPenney, as well as local boutiques and specialty shops. There are also plenty of places to grab a bite to eat.
10. Attend the Terry Redlin Art Festival
The Terry Redlin Art Festival is an annual event held in Watertown, SD that celebrates the life and work of Terry Redlin. The festival features art exhibits, live music, food vendors, and other family-friendly activities. Visitors can see Redlin’s art on display and participate in art workshops and demonstrations.
11. Enjoy a concert at the Goss Opera House
The Goss Opera House is a historic building that has been restored to its former glory and now serves as a cultural hub for the community. Originally built in 1889, the Goss Opera House was a popular venue for live theater performances and other forms of entertainment throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Make sure you attend a concert or other event and experience the unique atmosphere of this historic building.
12. Explore the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge
The Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to experience the natural beauty of the South Dakota prairie. The refuge features over 11,000 acres of grasslands, wetlands, and forests, and is home to a wide range of wildlife, including deer, foxes, coyotes, and migratory birds. Visitors can hike the trails, go birdwatching, or take a guided tour to learn more about the refuge.
13. Visit the Watertown Brewing Company
Founded in 2015, the Watertown Brewing Company is a local microbrewery that specializes in craft beers. If you happen to be here, stop by the taproom to try a flight of beers, enjoy a pint, or take a tour of the brewery to see how the beer is made. The brewery also hosts events like trivia nights and live music performances.
14. Attend the South Dakota State Fair
The South Dakota State Fair is an annual event held in Huron, SD, about an hour’s drive from Watertown.
One of the highlights of the fair is the grandstand entertainment, which has featured well-known acts such as Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, and Florida Georgia Line in recent years. The South Dakota State Fair is also known for its food offerings, with vendors serving up everything from classic fair favorites like corn dogs and funnel cakes to more unique options like bison burgers and deep-fried Oreos.
15. Explore the Watertown Historic District
The Watertown Historic District is a neighborhood in the heart of downtown Watertown that features many historic buildings and landmarks. The district features well-preserved 18th and 19th-century buildings, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tourists to the area can explore a variety of landmarks and attractions, including the Edmund Fowle House, a colonial-era home turned museum; the Watertown Free Public Library, housed in a stunning Carnegie building; and the Watertown Arsenal, a former military complex that now houses a mix of residential, commercial, and cultural spaces.
In conclusion, Watertown, SD offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy. From outdoor recreational opportunities at Lake Kampeska and Pelican Lake to cultural experiences at the Terry Redlin Art Center and the Mellette House, there is something for everyone in this charming town. With its friendly residents and welcoming atmosphere, Watertown is a hidden gem in South Dakota that should not be missed.