This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series
The draw of the Four Corners is that you can be in four states at the same time. In fact, my right index finger has done exactly this. The draw of Belle Fourche, South Dakota is that you can be right smack dab in the middle of it all. The United States, that is. If you count Alaska and Hawaii (you really should).
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Where is Belle Fourche?
It’s in western South Dakota, serviced by Highways 85, 212, and 34. The nearest airport is in Rapid City, South Dakota and it takes just under an hour to drive over.
If you choose to fly into Gillette, Wyoming, the drive to the Center of the Nation Monument is about 90 minutes.
Luckily, the drive from both directions is easy and scenic.
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Why is Belle Fourche Important?
Before Alaska and Hawaii became a thing, the very center of the United States was somewhere near Lebanon, Kansas. In fact, it still is, but it’s now known as the geographic center of the contiguous United States.
When the two youngest states officially joined the Union, things had to be switched around a little bit to accommodate their locations. Enter Belle Fourche.
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What Is There To Do in the Area?
Other than stopping to take a photo with the large granite compass flanked with flags from all 50 states that marks the center of the nation, you can stop into the Center of the Nation Visitor Center and the Tri-State Museum, if open.
It’s hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10AM to 4PM, Mountain Standard Time, but the monument is always accessible.
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What’s the Catch?
Unfortunately, the actual geographic center of the nation is located on private property about 20 miles away. When it was discovered, a metal pole was placed into the ground to mark the location, but the owner of the land wasn’t interested in turning his property into a full-blown tourist attraction.
So, based on the results of a National Geodetic Survey, it was decided to place the monument in Belle Fourche, as it is the closest town to the real location, and actually within the margin of error.
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You have my permission not to mention this to your friends after your visit, though. Just let them think you stood right in the center of it all.
If, however, you’d like to really go and see the actual geographic center of the nation, follow these instructions from the Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce:
Drive 13 miles on HWY 85 north from the intersection of HWY 85 and 212. Turn left onto Old HWY 85 (look for a small blue sign with white lettering) and drive 7.8 miles until you see a barn on your left hand side.
On the right side of the road, you will see a small sign in red, white, and blue telling you that you have reached the Center of the Nation. Looking into the pasture, you will see a US Flag flying freely. Feel free to park and climb through the barbed wire fence and make the short walk out to the location. Make sure to watch for cow pies and snakes! At the location you will see the survey marker highlighting the “Center of the Nation.”
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