Whether you're looking for a nature experience in a fascinating setting, great museums and cultural attractions, or the opportunity to explore America's Wild West legacy, you'll find it all in South Dakota. You can see some impressive rock formations in Badlands National Park, enjoy natural hot springs, visit Mount Rushmore or visit museums and art galleries in Sioux Falls. Here are the best places to visit in South Dakota.
Mount Rushmore National Monument
Mount Rushmore National Monument is probably one of the most unique sites in the world, attracting over three million visitors each year. Although the monument is an American symbol, most visitors know very little about how it came to be. You can learn all about the history of the site at the Lincoln Borglum Visitors Center just below Grand View Terrace, where you can watch a short explanatory film Visit the Sculptor's Studio.
After admiring the impressive sculptures of the country's early presidents, you can explore the rest of the monument with a ranger-led program, learn about early Indian tribes in India, or visit the Presidential Trail to see the sculptures up close. Photo: Robert Cicchetti / Fotolia
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park preserves and protects a rugged environment with striking geological formations that house some of the continent's richest fossil deposits. The main activity in the park is hiking. There are designated trails for every fitness level – maps and information are available at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, where children can enjoy some educational exhibits.
Intrepid hikers can immerse themselves in the breathtaking scenery by hiking backcountry trails that were once the haunt of the saber-toothed cat and now support bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and numerous other wildlife species. Kids can sign up for junior ranger programs, and nothing beats family camping and star gazing in the heart of the Badlands. Photo: tco 4938 / Fotolia
Sioux Falls is one of the most diverse cities in South Dakota, offering visitors an attractive combination of outdoor fun, family activities and cultural attractions. Falls Park surrounds the beautiful waterfalls on the Big Sioux River in the heart of the city and offers more than 19 km of trails for hikers and bicyclists. Other good recreation areas include Terrace Park and Great Bear Recreational Park, where you can ski in winter.
History buffs should visit the Pettigrew Home and Museum and the USS South Dakota Battleship Museum. Art lovers can visit the Washington Pavilion of Arts to admire both fine arts, attend the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and other cultural performances. Children will enjoy the Delbridge Museum of Natural History and the Great Plains Zoo. Activities in Sioux Falls Photo: malajscy / Fotolia
Rapid City is the gateway to some of South Dakota's most famous attractions like Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park. Here you will also find numerous attractions in the city to suit all tastes. You can get a great overview during a tour on the City View Trolley before exploring the historic neighborhoods and wonderful fine arts at the Dahl Arts Center, APEX Gallery and the incredibly diverse Art Alley.
At the City of Presidents Downtown, you'll encounter a series of life-size bronze statues of the nation's former leaders (part of the Rapid City Historic District Tour). There is an endless list of family attractions, including indoor and outdoor water parks, the Dinosaur Park, the Journey Museum, Splash Pads and Storybook Island. Activities in Rapid City Photo: malajscy / Fotolia
Aberdeen, South Dakota
Aberdeen attracts visitors with small-town charm and plenty of interesting activities for all ages. If you have children visiting, you can have hours of fun at Wylie Park, home to Storybook Land and the Land of Oz, and the Aberdeen Aquatic Centre, which offers water slides and rides for all ages.
If you want to learn a little about South Dakota history, head to the Hagerty and Lloyd Historic District, the Dacotah Prairie Museum, the Highlands Historic District and the unique Red Cross Pheasant Canteen. Nature lovers can spend some time at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge or hike and bike on 20 miles of trails. Photo: Aberdeen
The famous gold rush of 1880 brought a flood of prospectors to South Dakota, some of whom founded the small town of Pierre, which later became the capital of South Dakota.
Today, visitors can see several historic buildings, including the impressive State Capitol, and learn about Pierre's early history at the Heritage Center, Upper Pierre Historic District, Flaming Fountain Memorial and National Guard Museum. For a change of pace, you can visit LaFramboise Island and Oahe Dam to explore hiking and biking trails, have a picnic or go fishing. Families should visit the SD Discovery Center and Aquarium. Activities in Pierre Photo: spirit of america / Fotolia
If you want to see something truly different and uniquely American, you'll find it at the world's only Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. The Corn Palace pays homage to the region's corn farmers and artists and is a must-see during your visit.
You can learn all about the beginnings in Mitchell by visiting the Dakota Discovery Museum, the McGovern Legacy Museum and the Prehistoric Indian Village where Indians grew corn as far back as 1100 years ago. Walk down Mitchell's historic Main Street to discover unique stores, galleries and restaurants, or go swimming, strolling or picnicking in Hitchcock Park. Photo: Spirit of America / Fotolia
In Deadwood, you can look back to the infamous Wild West Gold Rush days when a poker face and a quick draw were lifesavers. Rest assured, there's nothing dead about Deadwood, and you'll find a long list of fascinating activities to keep you busy.
You can walk in the footsteps of characters like Calamity Jane while touring the restored historic buildings and watching a shoot out as part of a Main Street Historic Street Show. You can pan for gold at the Broken Boot Gold Mine, try your luck at one of the many casinos and gambling halls, enjoy a relaxing spa, or get active on miles of hiking, biking (or snowshoeing and snowmobiling) trails. Photo by Refocused Photography / Fotolia
Yankton, South Dakota
Yankton is a historic town on the banks of the Missouri River in South Dakota. One of the best ways to enjoy Yankton's small-town charm is to explore historic downtown Yankton, where unique architecture features modern restaurants, galleries and boutiques.
The town has several historic homes that you can see on foot or by car on a self-guided tour. A map is available at the visitor center. You can take a walk or bike ride across the Meridian Bridge, a landmark since 1924, tour some wineries, visit the Dakota Territorial Museum or see a summer concert at Riverpark Amphitheatre. Outdoor recreational activities include sailing, canoeing or kayaking along the Missouri River or exploring some of the many hiking / biking trails. Photo: Yankton
South Dakota attractions: Custer State Park
Custer State Park in the Black Hills invites adventure seekers to explore 71.000 acres of spectacular scenery with wildlife and recreational activities for all ages to explore. You can learn about the park's history by stopping at the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center and then walking in Custer's footsteps along the banks of French Creek, where gold was discovered in 1874.
There's a long list of activities, including scenic and wildlife drives that take you to the 1.300 herd of buffalo can meet. You can hike, bike or ride horses on miles of trails, fish for trout at several lakes and experience great family camping at one of the many campgrounds. Photo: RVPR Photo / Fotolia
Sylvan Lake is located in the heart of Custer State Park in the Black Hills, surrounded by stunning rock formations and beautiful forests. The lake is a popular recreation area with many activities and camping opportunities at the scenic Sylvan Lake Campground. Visitors can also check in at the Sylvan Lake Lodge.
You can spend your days lakeside, bird watching or getting as active as you like. There are several hiking trails that lead to impressive viewpoints. If you wish, you can join a guided geological walk to learn how this stunning landscape was formed. The lake is ideal for fishing, swimming and boating. At the accommodation you can rent a paddle boat. Photo: jkraft 5 / Fotolia
Falls Park, South Dakota
Falls Park is located in the heart of Sioux Falls, where the falls of the Big Sioux River fascinated generations of locals and visitors and shaped industry and commerce in the city.
Today, the park spans 123 acres, which you can explore on foot (or by bike or rollerblades) along the Big Sioux River Greenway trail that begins in Falls Park and winds through several city parks. In Falls Park, you can see some really old industrial buildings, including the remains of the seven-story Queen Bee Mill (1881) and the old Light and Power Company building, which now houses the Falls Overlook Caf? Located. Photo: Malajscy / Fotolia
South Dakota attractions: Iron Mountain Road
If you want to visit Mount Rushmore National Monument or Custer State Park, you have to take the time to drive Iron Mountain Road (a.k.a. 16A), the breathtaking 17-mile road that connects these two attractions. To better appreciate this historic engineering marvel and the dramatic vistas that unfold on the journey, try taking the drive in both directions.
You can call the Iron Mountain Road Store to get a map and directions to get there. Then you can explore 314 curves, fourteen switchbacks and some of the best scenery in the state. Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to see the famous Mount Rushmore sculptures, perfectly framed by the single-lane tunnels, and you might encounter large herds of grazing bison. Photo: JMB / Fotolia
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Black Hills National Forest
The Black Hills National Forest invites all nature lovers and adventurers to explore more than 1.2 million acres of forested mountains – an area more than 100 miles long and 70 miles wide.To best appreciate this fantastic recreation area, you must spend at least a few days there. You can rent a cabin or bring your tent or RV and enjoy one of thirty campgrounds.
You'll be surrounded by lakes and streams, forests, canyons and rugged rock formations, all waiting to be explored. Hikers have a choice of several dozen day hikes or can take in the backcountry trails. Other activities include mountain biking, climbing, horseback riding, fishing, wildlife viewing, and boating. Photo: Wirepec / Fotolia
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Needles Highway – Needle Eye
Needles Highway (SD HWY 87) is a National Scenic Byway in the heart of Custer State Park in the Black Hills and appeals to all nature lovers and photographers. This remarkable 14-mile highway winds through some of the most scenic countryside in the park, twisting through huge granite peaks (needles).
Be prepared for sharp curves, deep tunnels and fantastic views. Your drive along the Needles Highway will take you past Sylvan Lake (where you can picnic or swim) and the aptly named Needle's Eye, an opening in the rock formation caused by centuries of wind, rain, freezing and thawing. Needles Highway is only open in the summer and is meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. So you'll need to allow at least an hour to travel the 14 miles. Photo: Iceman J / Fotolia
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Sights in South Dakota: Spearfish Canyon
The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway winds through a deep, narrow canyon on the northern edge of the Black Hills, enticing hikers with fascinating views of interesting geology, rock formations, streams, waterfalls and abundant wildlife.
Your scenic drive will take you along the edge of Spearfish Creek, and there are plenty of places to stop and hike on a plethora of trails that will take you to some attractive waterfalls, including Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls (accessible by boardwalk) and community caves. You can also try your hand at trout fishing – it's supposed to be excellent. The street is open all year round, and the various waterfalls are particularly attractive in winter when they form frozen ice sculptures. Photo: Daniel Thornberg / Fotolia
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South Dakota Attractions: Jewel Cave National Monument
Located about 13 miles from the town of Custer in the Black Hills, Jewel Cave National Monument protects and showcases the third longest cave network in the world, where you can explore some of the breathtaking labyrinth of over 180 miles of underground passages. Jewel Cave is irresistible to adventurers, explorers and geologists, and depending on your fitness level, there are several ways to explore its splendor.
The Scenic Cave Tour is considered moderately strenuous (lots of stairs), but it follows a paved walkway through several lighted caves and passageways. People with limited mobility can take advantage of the shorter (accessible) Discovery Tour, while dare-devils can tackle the Wild Caving Tour, which requires you to crawl, scramble and squeeze through some tight tunnels and passages with your own headlamp. On the surface, you can explore several hiking trails, bird watch or admire the wild flower meadows. Photo: Jewel Caves National Monument
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Black Elk Peak (Harney Peak)
Black Elk Peak, formerly known as Harney Peak, was renamed in 2016 to honor Nicolas Black Elk and to highlight the significance of the peak to Native Americans, for whom the peak is a sacred site.You can find out what it feels like to stand at the highest point (722 feet) in South Dakota by taking the four-mile hike to the summit, which rewards you with breathtaking views of the Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park.
You will find the starting point near the Sylvan Lake in the Custer State Forest. Expect a loop hike that will take you about four to five hours along a well-marked and well-traveled trail that starts out gentle but gets pretty steep toward the summit.
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attractions in South Dakota: Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park protects one of the most extensive and unusual cave networks in the world, where you can see unique cave formations found almost nowhere else in the world. You can explore the caves on one of several guided tours to suit all abilities, including introductory tours for visitors with special needs.
The Natural Entrance Cave Tour and Fairgrounds Cave Tour are moderately strenuous (lots of stairs), while the Garden of Eden Tour is less strenuous and enters the maze via an elevator. If you're up for it, sign up for the four-hour Wild Cave Tour, where you'll learn the basics of safe caving under the guidance of a forester. Above ground, you can enjoy camping, hiking, wildlife viewing and ranger-led programs for all ages.
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Fort Pierre National Grassland
Fort Pierre National Grassland is located just eight miles south of Pierre in central South Dakota and is an easily accessible recreation area for locals and visitors alike. You can camp throughout the grasslands, but you'll need to bring everything you need for dispersed camping since there are no campgrounds.
Horseback riding is probably the most popular activity in the summer, and you may encounter large herds of cattle and buffalo as you gallop through the prairies. You can go wildlife viewing at various prairie dog towns or see the mating rituals of the grouse from the grouse skins. Game bird, prairie dog and deer hunting are popular seasonal activities. Fishing is great year-round and ice fishing is a big draw in winter.
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Missouri National Recreational River
If you close your eyes and imagine a 100-mile stretch of the Missouri River bordered by the pristine American Wild West, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect on the Missouri National Recreational River. The area is popular with miles of rivers to explore and for all water sports – you can choose from boating, water skiing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing.
Back on the mainland, there are dozens of hiking and biking trails that follow the winding waterways, and primitive camping is allowed on some islands and sandbars in the park. If you like hunting, photography and wildlife watching, you will find plenty to do in this park. Photo: NPS Photo
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South Dakota attractions: Bridal Veils Falls
The lovely Bridal Veil Falls are located in Spearfish Canyon, surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the Black Hills.You can reach the falls by driving along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (US Highway 14A). The falls are about 10 to 15 minutes from the town of Spearfish.
You can park along the road and view the 60-foot falls from an observation deck along the road. You can also reach the falls via a short hiking trail. The falls are usually at their best in spring when Spearfish Creek is flowing strongly, but they are also very beautiful when frozen in winter – when you can snowshoe to them via the hiking trail.
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LaFramboise Island Nature Area
La Framboise Island is located in the Missouri River southwest of the city of Pierre and offers an easily accessible green space where visitors can enjoy various outdoor activities. The island is a great place to hike, and there are several trails, including the river trail, which is also great for biking.
Other activities include all kinds of boating (there is a public boat ramp), fishing and wildlife watching. Birdwatchers are in for a treat, as bald eagles live on the island and roost in winter and spring. Some parts of the island are outside these limits.
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Places of interest in South Dakota: Roy Lake State Park
Roy Lake is located southwest of Lake City in South Dakota. The park offers locals and visitors a scenic green space where you can get back to nature and enjoy a variety of outdoor activities. The park is a great place to camp – you can pitch a tent on an RV in a spacious, shaded campground and spend your evenings around the campfire. If you want, you can rent simple log cabins with bunk beds for your stay.
Roy Lake is known for excellent fishing and there are good facilities for avid anglers, including equipment rentals, a boat ramp and a cleaning station. You can rent boats, canoes and kayaks on site, relax on the beach, go swimming and water skiing or explore the hiking trails. Photo: Roy Lake State Park
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Richmond Lake Recreation Area
The Richmond Lake recreation area near Aberdeen will appeal to all nature lovers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts. The southern unit of the region offers a campground suitable for tents or RVs, and there is also an accessible cabin that can be rented.
Boating and fishing are popular activities in Richmond Lake. You can use the boat landing or the fishing pier. Equipment rentals are available on site. If you prefer to hike and bike, there are over 10 miles of trails, including a bridle path for horseback riding and a snowshoe / cross-country ski trail for the winter. The 200-acre Forest Drive Unit is great for wildlife watching. Photo: Richmond Lake recreation area
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