South Dakota — Attractions
Nearly all of the star attractions in South Dakota revolve around nature. From the desolate Badlands to the ocean-like grasslands of the Great Prairie, this state is end-to-end natural beauty. Sprinkled around the state are historic sites like the Wild West town of Deadwood, dinosaur digs, iconic monuments like Mount Rushmore, Native American settlements, and just a handful of manmade towns like Sioux Falls. Where South Dakota comes up short on urban finery, it overcompensates with outstanding uncrowded nature.
Badlands National Park
The raw ragged, wind-ravaged scenery of the Badlands affects everyone who experiences it. This geologic anomaly is a surreal landscape of towering spires, tabletops, and canyons littered with prehistoric animal remains. Hiking, biking, or horseback riding here is an amazing experience, as is simply walking around hunting for dinosaur fossils. Expect to see plenty of wildlife in this desolate area that is best experienced as an overnight camping trip. The night skies are so dark here that the stars seem within arm’s length.
Address: 25214 Ben Reifel Place, Interior, SD 57750
One of America’s most legendary frontier towns from the Wild West era is still standing in the heart of the Black Hills. Wild Bill Hickok was shot dead in a saloon while playing poker in this lawless gold rush town, and plenty of other colorful characters lived in Deadwood during its heyday. It’s a major tourist attraction now, but nicely preserved with lots of interesting historic attractions and an actual residential population. Gambling is legal here as well, adding another draw for visitors who use the town as a base for exploring the Black Hills.
Address: Western South Dakota
Mount Rushmore National Monument
One of America’s most patriotic and most recognized landmarks is Mount Rushmore. The four US presidents carved in giant scale into the side of a beautiful rock cliff really is an impressive sight. It’s considered a marvel of engineering, and visitors can enjoy some excellent hiking in this corner of the Black Hills. The park is also a superb rock climbing destination in South Dakota (just not on the faces of the presidents). Several interpretive walks with park rangers help put the story of this sculpture into perspective.
Address: 13000 Highway 244, Keystone, SD 57751
Wind Cave National Park
The Native Americans have known of sacred holes in the Black Hills that blow air since their history began. Wind Cave is a truly magical place, not just for the caves that either blow out or suck in the air depending on the weather. This intimate park is also a haven for wildlife like bison and elk, and is laced with 30 miles of beautiful hiking trails and several scenic roads. Guided ranger tours can help visitors learn more about the caves and nature here.
Address: 26611 US Highway 385, Hot Springs, SD 57747
South Dakota’s largest city has a small-town feel but is backed up by a lot of significant Wild West history. The old downtown center has a great western atmosphere to it, with plenty of shops and restaurants to check out. The highlight of the city is the waterfalls, protected by Falls Park right in the heart of town. Riverside paths and viewing platforms offer several vantage points over these beautiful cascades. Some of the city’s oldest historic buildings are also inside this park. While there aren’t many show-stopping attractions in Sioux City, it’s a great place to stop and get some urban rejuvenation.
Address: Eastern South Dakota
South Dakota is America’s best state for digging around for dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. The Mammoth Site is a marvelous attraction as it combines museum exhibits with a working archaeological site. To date, 60 complete mammoth skeletons have been unearthed from the sinkhole and put on display. Visitors can watch archaeologists at work, digging and preserving prehistoric creatures, and learn all about the Ice Age.
Address: 1800 US 18 Bypass, Hot Springs, SD 57747
Custer State Park
One of America’s largest state parks is a masterpiece of natural beauty, history, and wildlife. Few other places in the country can guarantee sightings of a buffalo herd in the wild or offer such extensive hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. There are also three amazingly scenic drives in the park, including the famous 14-mile Needles Highway and animal-infested Wildlife Loop Road. Visit in September to witness the unique buffalo roundup event.
Address: 13329 US Highway 16A, East Custer, SD 57730