Don’t Miss Visiting South Dakota’s Most Iconic Places
While there are plenty of opportunities to be amazed at the sights around South Dakota, some famous destinations must absolutely be included on a travel itinerary. Here’s an introduction to the state’s collection of the “Great 8” places to visit. Go to one, a few or all, and discover the splendor of each stop.
Historic Deadwood: Learn about Wild West legends and lore in this western South Dakota town brimming with live entertainment, festivals, concerts, historic sites, shootout reenactments and gaming. See Victorian architecture, and learn how the gold-mining rush in the late 1800s brought wealth to the town.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial: An hour south of Deadwood, gaze at the 60-foot faces of four U.S. presidents carved into a granite mountain in the Black Hills. Explore a walking trail, gift shop and museum exhibits. Take the best photos as the sun rises, and return after the sun sets in the summer for the lighting ceremony.
Crazy Horse Memorial: About a 30-minute drive from Mount Rushmore, another massive carving – the world’s largest in progress – pays tribute to the culture and traditions of Native Americans and features Crazy Horse, the revered leader of the Oglala Lakota Nation, astride his steed. Take a guided tour from spring through fall.
Custer State Park: Just 15 minutes from Crazy Horse, explore the home of 1,300 bison – locals more oftern call them “buffalo” – as well as other free-roaming wildlife, such as antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and burros. Highlights of the 71,000-acre park are Sylvan Lake, the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway and the Wildlife Loop Road.
Jewel Cave National Monument: Drive west about 25 minutes to visit the national monument that includes the third-longest cave in the world. On a tour inside the cave, which has a year-round temperature of 9 degrees Celsius, climb 723 stairs and see colorful rock formations. Outside, hike along three scenic trails for magnificent views.
Wind Cave National Park: Explore another historic cave just a 30-minute drive away. Wind Cave, the first cave to ever be designated a national park, features nearly 141 miles of explored passages. Above, bison roam the surrounding grasslands.
Badlands National Park: From Wind Cave, drive east for about 75 minutes, then take the scenic Badlands Loop Road to view stunning and rugged landscape with buttes, canyons, pinnacles and spires. In this massive 244,000-acre park, see bighorn sheep, bison, rabbits, bobcats and birds. Hike with a ranger or attend an evening program to learn more.
Missouri River: Take Interstate 90 and drive east for about three and a half hours until you reach the banks of the Missouri River. From north to south, the river cuts the South Dakota prairie in two and offers water recreation opportunities, such as boating, fishing and waterskiing. Lewis and Clark navigated the river while exploring the West in the early 1800s.
- In the Black Hills National Forest, follow the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway for a 22-mile drive that climbs nearly 2,000 feet. Marvel at the canyon, which is less than a mile wide, and stop often – there are three waterfalls to find and seven top-notch hiking trails to stretch your legs on.
- At three facilities at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, established in 1999 in Philip near Badlands National Park, learn about the Cold War, nuclear weapons and how missiles here served as a deterrent from the 1960s to the ’90s.
- Those interested in learning more about Native American culture in South Dakota can attend a powwow, known as a wacipi, at the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center, or catch the annual Sisseton-Wahpeton Wacipi, a tradition for more than 150 years.
- Marvel at a series of roadside oddities near Interstate 90. See large statues of a human skeleton leading a dinosaur skeleton on a leash near Murdo, an 80-foot dinosaur outside Wall Drug in Wall, a 60-foot bull’s head among the treasures at Porter Sculpture Park near Montrose, and the new 50-foot Dignity overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlin.
- Get your thrills in the Black Hills with a wild roller coaster ride down the mountain at Rush Mountain Adventure Park outside Keystone, or do more than a mile of zip lining near Mount Rushmore at Rushmore Tramway Adventures.