At the confluence of the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers, Sioux City is also where Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota all meet.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through in July and August of 1804, pausing to lay to rest Sergeant Charles Floyd, whose grave is marked with a grand monument.
In the early 20th century Sioux City was a key railroad hub, home to the busiest stockyards in the nation.
Now one of the Midwest’s top metro areas, Sioux City is the urban center for shopping, culture and entertainment in the tri-state region.
There’s a wonderful abundance of free attractions, at the Sioux City Public Museum, Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the excellent Sioux City Art Center.
1. Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
While charting the new lands acquired by the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through what is now Sioux City in the summer of 1804. This history is marked by a 20,000 cultural complex that opened in 2007.
Enthralling exhibits bring to life the expedition’s time in the area, including the untimely passing of Sergeant Charles Floyd, who was the first U.S. soldier to die west of the Mississippi.
There’s also plenty of detail about this historic adventure, before and after it reached the confluence of the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers.
Kids will find a lot of interactivity here, with computers, flip books, stamping stations and a brass-rubbing station, while Keelboat Theater shows the 15-minute film, “A Visit with William Clark”.
2. Sioux City Public Museum
In 2011, this local institution moved into a sleek modern building downtown. Until that time the Sioux City Public Museum had been housed in the 23-room Peirce Mansion (1893), which it continues to manage, along with the Sergeant Floyd River Museum, which we’ll talk about later.
The HQ is a state-of-the-art attraction, with plentiful interactive displays like the Time Machine and Innovation I-Wall informing you about the city in fresh ways.
A good starting point is the opulent Corn Palace Theatre, screening a 12-minute orientation film about the “Spirit of Sioux City”.
The Big Dig replicates one of the active fossil digs in the area, and the Sioux City Stockyards bring to life what were once the busiest stockyards in the United States, explaining their relationship with the railroads.
3. Sioux City Art Center
With a formidable collection that has taken shape since the 1930s, the Sioux City Art Center is in an award-winning modern building that opened in 1997.
While the focus is on artists from Iowa and the Midwest, the collection also features work by a contingent of national and international artists, among them Salvador Dalí, Dale Chihuly, Claes Oldenburg, Käthe Kollwitz and Jun Kaneko.
On show in a special room is Grant Wood’s Corn Room mural, which was commissioned for Sioux City’s Martin Hotel in 1927.
This work was actually papered over in the 1950s before being rediscovered in 1979. There’s always something new to see at the five galleries, while the center has a slew of programs for young people and adults to flex their creative muscles.
4. Sergeant Floyd Monument
Sioux City is the burial place of a young member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Charles Floyd (1782-1804). He died on the upstream voyage, mostly likely from appendicitis, and was buried at the place that would become Sioux City.
He was the only member of the Corps of Discovery to die on the expedition. Due to erosion, his grave has twice been relocated east of the original site, while the memorial’s solemn Kettle River sandstone obelisk was erected in 1901 and stands at 100 feet high.
The monument is in a 23-acre riverside park, just downstream from downtown Sioux City, and with an arresting view of the Missouri River valley.
5. Sergeant Floyd River Museum
Catching your eye in a dry dock next to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is the restored MV Sergeant Floyd towboat.
Launched in 1932 in Jeffersonville, Indiana, she was built for the United States Army Corps of Engineers to help manage the nation’s inland waterways, and is one of just a handful of USACE vessels from that period to survive to the present day.
On a self-guided tour you can pick up fascinating titbits about Native American history and culture, fur trapping, the Lewis & Clark Expedition and steamboats on the Missouri River.
One compelling exhibit is a facial reconstruction of Charles Floyd based on a plaster cast of his skull. Also inside is a handy Welcome Center for the tri-state area.
6. Sioux City Railroad Museum
First arriving in 1868, the railroads played a big role in the development of Sioux City and the tri-state area in the late 19th century.
At their peak, there were eight railroads serving Sioux City making this country’s 10th-largest railroad center in the United States in the 1920s and 30s.
The site of the Sioux City Railroad Museum is fascinating, at the once giant engine terminal and repair shops built for the Milwaukee Road in the 1910s. By WWII the shops employed more than 500 workers, overhauling 35 steam locomotives and servicing 70 trains every day.
Exploring the museum’s 32 acres, you can check out these old buildings and marvel and grand pieces of machinery like Steam Locomotive No. 1355 – “Ironhorse” (1909).
There’s also a motor car ride along ¾ of track, the Grand Scale Train for 32 passengers and an impressive model railroad.
7. Woodbury County Courthouse
A marvelous sight in downtown Sioux City is the Prairie School-style, Woodbury County Courthouse, completed in 1918. Dubbed the “Jewel of the Prairie”, this four-story brick building is considered one of the county’s finest Prairie School edifices.
The courthouse was designed by George Grant Elmslie, along with his partner, William Gray Purcell, and Sioux City architect, William L. Steele, and replaced an older courthouse from the 1870s.
On the street, take a look at the sculptural elements by Alfonso Iannelli over the doors, and the intricate grillwork above the northern entrance, by Elmslie.
The interior abounds with marble, delicate metalwork and murals, and if you’re interested in a tour, you can contact the Board of Supervisors’ office via the Woodbury County website.
8. Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation
In a hangar at Sioux Gateway Airport is a museum guiding you through the modern history of aviation and surface transportation.
There are 30,000 square feet of displays and exhibits, with a wide array of preserved aircraft, among them a Boeing 727-200 and a Huey helicopter that served in Vietnam.
One memorable sight is an intact Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major, the largest-displacement piston engine to be mass-produced in the United States.
For earthbound vehicles you’ll find a fleet of motorcycles and historic cars, including a ‘41 Cadillac Fleetwood “60” Special Sunroof Sedan ridden by President Truman in a parade in Omaha, and a road grader from 1913.
In 1989, Sioux City was the scene of the United Airlines Flight 232 disaster, and there’s a moving tribute and memorial garden.
9. LaunchPAD Children’s Museum
Just across from Pearl Street Park in downtown Sioux City is an acclaimed children’s museum, full of smartly designed interactive exhibits for kids aged from 6 months to 10 years.
LaunchPad has plenty of attractions rooted in local farming, such as a big red barn, hog pen, grain bin, milking cow and an agriculture zone, where kids can find out about crops grown in the area and what life is like as a farmer.
Other spaces like the Build Zone, Wind Zone and the wonderful Water Table, introduce young minds to science and engineering concepts, while there’s ample opportunity for roleplaying at the Market and Cafe.
10. Palmer Candy Company
With humble beginnings as a wholesale grocer, the Palmer Candy Company has had a long presence in Sioux City going back to 1878. You can find out about this history and choose from a big selection of treats at Palmer’s Old Tyme Candy Shoppe.
This is in an elegant Art Deco-style building on the edge of downtown Sioux City, with a delectable array of snacks and confectionery including sea salt caramels, gourmet truffles, roasted nuts, Swedish fish and homemade brittle.
Keep an eye out for classics like the Twin Bing (cherry nougat coated with chocolate and chopped peanuts), first introduced in the 1920s. Also worthwhile is the small museum inside, displaying old-time candy making equipment and photos from the company’s distant origins.
11. Stone State Park
There’s a number of picturesque natural spaces on the city’s doorstep, and one of the prettiest is this 1,000-acre state park against the Iowa-South Dakota border.
Still within Sioux City’s limits, Stone State Park is on the northernmost of Iowa’s Loess Hills, with steep slopes cloaked in hardwood forest, and fragments of prairie on the highest ridges.
Here and there you’ll come across exposed bedrock composed of shale, lignite, sandstone and limestone, dating back some 100 million years to the Cretaceous period, and loaded with marine fossils.
Stone State Park has an extensive trail system catering to hikers, as well as horseback riders, mountain bikers and, in winter, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.
The park’s campground is in a peaceful wooded hollow, offering 30 campsites (ten with electrical hookups).
12. Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center
While you’re visiting scenic Stone State Park it’s well worth stopping at this free nature center, hiding in the woodland off Sioux River Road.
Here you can acquaint yourself with the natural habitats of northwestern Iowa, checking out interactive wetland, woodland and prairie exhibits.
There are also compelling displays about the area’s rich natural history, as well as tanks and terrariums with live fish and reptiles.
A special bird-viewing area shows off the winged wonders at the state park, and in late spring and summer the wildflower and butterfly gardens are a joy.
A series of trails will lead you from the center into the park’s woodland and to spectacular vantage points over the prairie.
13. Anderson Dance Pavilion
If there’s an outdoor show taking place in Sioux City, chances are it will happen at this classy riverside venue embedded in formal gardens.
Easily spotted for its Neoclassical colonnade, the Anderson Dance Pavilion gave a new purpose to the riverfront when it opened in the early 90s, and has a fine view over the water. No surprise then that this is a go-to spot for wedding photos.
The lineup of events held at this scenic spot include Cinco de Mayo, Summertime Mardi Gras (early July), ArtSplash (late August), and a slew of music festivals and outdoor concerts.
14. Cone Park
Come winter there’s tons of fun to be had at this park in the south of the city. The highlight is a 700-foot tubing hill, but there’s also a skating rink, outdoor fire pit, day lodge for warming and a smaller “Bunny Hill” ideal for littler thrillseekers.
A ticket offers unlimited access to the main hill for three hours, and tubes are provided. The rest of the year, Cone Park attracts walkers on its two-mile trail loop, and when things heat up in summer the ice rink becomes a splash pad, open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
15. Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve
Across the border with South Dakota, minutes from downtown Sioux City, is a beautiful parcel of land on the Missouri River.
On 1,500 acres, the Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve dates back to 1872, and was donated to the people of South Dakota by the grandchildren of the original homesteader in 1984.
This is a stunning natural escape, with 10 miles of limestone trails winding along the riverbank and through prairie and forest.
You can look around a series of preserved historic buildings, and take part in a host of activities including birdwatching (100 species recorded here), archery, biking and cross-country skiing, with rentals available in winter.