Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Geographic Center of the United States, South Dakota: Directions and Information

Everything you need to know about reaching the true Geographic Center of the United States, the actual marker, and corresponding monument in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Specific driving directions included!
South Dakota... its in the middle!
South Dakota has to be the most adventurous state in the American Midwest. The state is well known for its rock climbing and hiking in the Black Hills, endless wandering opportunites in the Badlands, and of course, Mt Rushmore! There's one other lesser known point of interest that has attracted road trippers and tourists alike; the Geographic Center of the United States!

What is the geographic center of the United States mean? It is the point that has been measured by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as being the middle of all 50 states. To put it another way, "it is the point that the United States could be balanced on if the US was a uniform thickness" (paraphrased from the Lebanon, Kansas marker). Interestingly enough, this point has migrated westwards over the years!
The Park and Granite Monument for the Center
A Brief History in the Determination of the Geographic Center of America


The history of the center begins with the admitance of Arizona to the Union in 1912. This marked the last contiguous state to be added to the United States forming the present day map of the country. In 1918 an actual geographic assesment was done and determined a point just outside Lebanon, Kansas to first have the title of Geographic Center. Not long afterwards, the town adopted the moniker "Center of America".


This point lasted for about 47 years until January 3rd, 1959 when Alaska entered statehood. This significantly moved the geographic center to South Dakota. Later that year, Hawaii became the 50th state. Another survey was done which placed the geographic center about 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, South Dakota. This is a full 430 miles northwest of Lebanon, Kansas!
Belle Fourche's Monument
The site, located on an empty prairie, was dedicated and unceremoniously marked with a concrete slab and pole. Nothing much has changed since then! However, the town of Belle Fourche recently christened a park near the Tri-State museaum to commemorate their location. Although it is not the true center, the park itself is a more fitting marker for the center; it has all 50 flags and a large granite monument.


Specific Directions and Map to the Geographic Center of America

The center has no formal address and can be difficult to find. Therefore it is very important that you set your odometer to find this place. Exact distances are given because the roads are very poorly marked. The good news is, you can reach the geographic center by sedan; its a gravel road that is accessible. I don't think any car would have trouble with that road.

You're looking for these!
The exact directions are as follows:


     - From the corner of US Route 212 and US Route 85...
     - Head North on Highway 85 exactly 13.4 miles to Old Highway 85
     - There should be a sign for "Geographic Center of America" (as of May 2011)
     - Slight Left on Old Highway 85 (dirt/gravel road)
     - Drive North for 7.0 miles until you see a LARGE GREEN BARN on the left
     - You should see the signs and marker on the RIGHT side of the road.

(I was able to navigate there at night, these directions are reliable!)


As of May 2011, the Geographic Center is marked by a very large rock cairn and the metal sign pictured above. The actual center and USGS marker is just about 50 yards away in the field. There is a conspicuous trail which leads out to the marker. Although I didn't see a flag, the large orange pole still stands as well as the block of concrete. Not much to see considering its significance!
The concrete that marks the center!
Well I hope this guide has provided some clairty on traveling to the true and monumental centers of America! I wrote this because there is a lot of conflicting and vague information on the directions and true location. Although it is not a destination in itself, I do hope that you are able to see the many other adventures that the Dakotas have to offer. Although the Geographic Center is in the middle of a featureless field, Western North Dakota and the Black Hills of South Dakota are reason enough to visit this part of the country.

Check out other adventures of South Dakota and North Dakota!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

2 comments:

  1. Glad I could be of service! It was difficult to find, but then again, I probably should have searched for it in the daylight hours

    ReplyDelete