Few states in America reflect the vast, desolate beauty of the Great Plains better than South Dakota. Wildlife and wilderness dominate this sparsely populated region of the upper Midwest, which means millions of acres of land to play in. While rolling grassland and eerie geological formations are the main features of the landscape, South Dakota also has mountains in its pine-covered Black Hills.
There is plenty of outdoor recreation during the warm months, including excellent rock climbing, hiking, biking, and water activities. National parks like the Black Hills, Badlands, and Wind Cave have a little bit of everything, with few crowds to distract from the nature and wildlife. South Dakota is also a superb place to go fossil hunting, caving, and explore ancient Native American sites.
When the flat prairie rises up in South Dakota, it creates lovely rock formations perfect for rock climbing. It’s one of the top sports for visitors, with dozens of established climbing areas, mainly in the western part of the state. Mount Rushmore and towns like Spearfish are particularly sweet, with outfitters like Sylvan Rocks Climbing Adventures helping with guidance and training.
The hiking here is pretty nice, too, and easy enough for anyone to try their hand at thanks to the gentle topography that dominates the state. You can find over 60 state parks, recreation areas, and national forests throughout South Dakota, and all of them boast miles of trails. From the Great Lakes region in the center to the Badlands, Black Hills, and Custer State Park, you can almost count on having a trail to yourself. Stores like Cabela’s and Base Camp Adventure Sports carry all the gear and advice you’ll need.
Some of the world’s richest fossil beds are located in South Dakota, making this state a prime spot for fossil hunting. You can easily do some exploring on your own in Badlands National Park and likely stumble across dozens of ancient bones. Or hook up with a company like Black River Fossils or PaleoAdventures to search for really cool dinosaur remains.
The rolling terrain of the Great Plains makes biking here easy. Road cyclists have miles of empty two-lane country roads to savor, like the Spearfish Canyon Route and Yankton Biking Trail, while mountain bikers can hit the single track of Custer State Park and the Badlands. The 109-mile George Mickelson Trail is a perfect example of a reclaimed railroad bed-turned-bike path that winds through the Black Hills. Companies such as Dakota Bike Tours and Harlan’s Bike and Tour can rent gear and lead rides.
The entire center of South Dakota is cut by the massive Great Lakes region where the mighty Missouri River flows. There are dozens of lakes, rivers, and reservoirs where you can go boating in a canoe or kayak. Anywhere there’s a body of water and a town, you can find an outfitter renting equipment or leading day tours. Zach’s Kayaks and Canoe Rentals in Sioux City is just one of many reputable outfits.