Are you thinking of taking a vacation in South Dakota and are looking for sights, interesting places and insider tips around the US state? Then you have come to the right place! In this article, we have listed for you the best and most exciting places to visit in the US state of South Dakota. South Dakota offers tourists and vacationers two things in particular, and that’s plenty of nature and history!
Thanks to the Black Hills National Forest, which covers a huge area, the state of South Dakota offers several opportunities to experience the breathtaking nature, landscape and history of the area. In addition to famous landmarks such as Mount Rushmore, which attracts every day numerous visitors with its stone sculptures, or Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota also has a lot more to offer.
16. Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota is one of the largest cave complexes in the world. More than 238 km long, the cave attracts numerous tourists every year, both foreign and domestic. Like most larger caves, Wind Cave has not yet been fully explored and offers numerous unexplored branches and cave passages, especially for caving enthusiasts. It goes without saying that entering unexplored areas within the cave is reserved for experts who are well versed in the cave complex of Wind Cave National Park.
Wind Cave is known, among other things, for its numerous calcium formations, also called boxwork. Here, over several hundred kilometers, various calcium formations run along the walls, almost resembling honeycombs. Wind Cave is not the only cave in the area, however, as Jewel Cave, also very well known, is located just a few kilometers west of Wind Cave. The closest town to Wind Cave National Park is also Hot Springs.
Founded in 1908, the town of Wall in South Dakota has a population of just 699 as of 2020. Nevertheless, the small town has developed into a real tourist attraction over the decades. But why is that? Wall attracts so many tourists every year because the small town has a special history. The focus is on the town’s own pharmacy, also known as the “Drug Store” in English. This small pharmacy was founded in 1931, within the great economic crisis that at that time encompassed the entire United States.
From the outside, the Wall Drug Store is almost reminiscent of a store from the Wild West, as the pharmacy logo itself has a Wild West-like design and the building also features typical Wild West architecture. In addition to the Wall Drug Store, the small town of Wall also has a missile test site. This is not directly in Wall, but is located 4 miles west of the city.
14. Rapid City
Rapid City is the second largest city in South Dakota by population. In total, Rapid City is home to over 74,000 people, counted in 2020. The city is also known as the “Gateway to the Black Hills” and the “City of Presidents.” The reason for this is that Rapid City is very close to the world-famous Mount Rushmore, which seems almost unreal with its huge U.S. presidential sculptures carved in stone.
But also the city itself has a lot to offer to its visitors. The city’s own dinosaur park and Ellsworth Air Force Base are the main attractions. Also interesting for tourists from Germany is a small piece of the Berlin Wall, which can be found in Rapid City, as well as the Borgund Stave Church. So if you’re traveling in South Dakota and want to visit Mount Rushmore, you might want to pay Rapid City a visit first. It’s worth it!
13. Sioux Falls
Sioux Falls is the largest city in the US state of South Dakota and currently has over 190,000 residents. The city is located in the eastern part of the state and is not far from the Big Sioux River. It is interesting to note that Sioux Falls is one of the first cities ever founded in South Dakota. The history of the city dates back to 1856.
Among the attractions in Sioux Falls are the Falls Park, the Great Bear Recreation Park, the Great Plains Zoo, the Delbridge Museum, and the Washington Pavilion. Falls Park is a particularly exciting geographic formation, with countless waterfalls that attract numerous visitors each year. The river with its small waterfalls is reminiscent of the ideal terrain for white water rafting and thanks to numerous viewing platforms, you can see the natural spectacle from different perspectives.
Located in the U.S. state of South Dakota, the city of Mitchell, is located in the eastern part of the state and is not far from the James River. A total of about 22,170 people currently live in Mitchell and the city was founded in 1883. In terms of attractions, Mitchell has a lot to offer. Among other things, the city is known for the so-called Corn Palace. The Corn Palace is, as the name suggests, a large palace. The special thing about it, however, is the decoration and exterior design of the Corn Palace.
The entire building was decorated with different corn kernels and the wall painting itself, consists of colors of dried corn. The exterior design of the Corn Palace is changed by the operators every autumn harvest, that is, once a year, so that the building attracts different visitors and tourists also repeatedly. Also worth mentioning is the Dakota Discovery Museum, which focuses on the history of the prairie.
11. Black Hills National Forest
If you are in the mood for nature and wild landscapes, you should not miss the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota. Located in the southwestern part of South Dakota, the national forest offers spectacular scenery and covers an area of over 5000 square kilometers. As the name implies, the forest is located on the Black Hills.
The Black Hills are among the oldest mountains in North America and some of them reach a height of 2200 meters. They are called “Black Hills” because the forests on the mountains consist mainly of dark pines, which make them look almost black from a distance. In the Black Hills National Forest, a breathtaking landscape awaits you, along with several sights, which will be explained in more detail in the next sections.
10. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
The reason why numerous tourists are attracted to the state of South Dakota every year is not least the famous Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Often called just “Mount Rushmore”, it is a mountain where 4 portraits of previous US presidents, up to 18 meters high, were carved into the mountain. The 4 US presidents depicted are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
The 4 US presidents chosen for the monument were among the most important US presidents in history to date when the Mount Rushmore monument was completed in 1941. Due in part to the size and detail of the stone portraits, Mount Rushmore is arguably known around the world and attracts many visitors each year. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located on the eponymous Mount Rushmore, which is a total of 1745 meters high and was named by the New York lawyer Charles Rushmore.
9. Custer State Park
Very close to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, there is also the Custer State Park. Custer State Park is a game preserve that is also located in the Black Hills. Custer State Park is also the largest state park in the U.S. state of South Dakota and was established in 1912. The park offers its visitors a great landscape and various attractions. Among other things, there are 3 dams in the park, which are suitable for various water sports.
Among other things, the state park became famous in 1927, when the then U.S. President Calvin Coolidge moved into his Summer White House there and then announced that he would not run in the next U.S. presidential election. For visitors and tourists, Custer State Park offers, among other things, the Peter Norbeck Center. Various exhibits are held there, ranging from natural history to the cultural heritage of Custer State Park.
The city of Deadwood in South Dakota is also located in the vast Black Hills and as of 2020, has around 1260 residents. The city is especially known for its history in the context of the Wild West and attracts mainly because of this, annual many tourists. The history of the city is also interesting, as the foundation took place directly within the great economic depression in 1876.
Once the city was founded by gold miners who were searching for gold in the Black Hills during the gold rush in the United States. The history surrounding the town’s origins is explored in greater detail in various museums and exhibits in Deadwood. However, the city also offers a lot to visitors by its very existence. Because the town is so deeply rooted in the days of the Wild West, there are numerous old saloons and buildings that take you back to the days of the Wild West just by looking at them.
7. Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park owes its name to the fact that once the inhabitants considered the area practically unfit for agriculture. Therefore, they gave the area the name “Badlands,” which means “bad land.” With the advancement of technology in agriculture, the area around Badlands National Park is now used for agriculture.
Regarding the history and sights in the Badlands National Park, especially the numerous fossil findings have to be pointed out. In the national park a lot of prehistoric fossils have been found, for example those of prehistoric horses, rhinos or sheep. Also finds of more than 11000 years old human civilization were found in the Badlands National Park and are presented today in different museums, like within the White River Visitor Center, to the visitors and tourists more near.
The town of Spearfish in the U.S. state of South Dakota owes its name to the creek of the same name, Spearfish Creek. This is an extremely fast flowing creek, which has some peculiarities compared to other creeks. Due to its nature, Spearfish Creek does not freeze in winter from top to bottom, as is usually the case, but the other way around.
This means that the water level of the creek actually rises in winter and can still be used for fishing, for example. Once the area around the town of Spearfish was used by Native Americans before it was proclaimed a town during the gold rush in 1876. Before the subsequent incorporation of Spearfish in 1888, the town was known as Queen City. For tourists and visitors, a visit to Spearfish Creek is especially worthwhile, as this creek is a great natural spectacle in winter as well as in summer.
5. Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial is very reminiscent of Mount Rushmore, as it is also a sculpture carved in stone. However, it is not an image of a U.S. president, but rather an image of a Native American. So far, the sculpture has not been completely finished, but it is still much larger than the 4 heads of the sculptures at Mount Rushmore. The Crazy Hose Memorial, which has not yet been completed, was created by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who also helped build the Mount Rushmore monument.
So far, a total of 10 million granite has been blasted out of the mountain for the sculpture, and yet only the face has been completed. However, this should not be a reason for visitors and tourists to refrain from visiting the Crazy Hose Memorial. The memorial carved in stone impresses in any case, despite the non-completion, especially because of its considerable size.
4. Needles Highway
The Needles Highway is part of a very large highway in South Dakota. The highway leading through the Black Hills is altogether 38000 kilometers long and leads among other things through the Wind Cave National Park as well as the Custer State Park. Only the northern 23 kilometers of the highway are called Needles Highway.
The northern part of the highway got its name due to the fact that the highway leads through various granite rock formations, which strongly resemble pointed needles. Very close to the highway there is also the Black Hills Playhouse. Most tourists visit the Needles Highway mainly due to the fact that the highway offers 2 tunnels that lead through massive granite walls. The tunnels are called Iron Creek Tunnel and Needles Eye Tunnel and are very impressive just by looking at them.
3. Black Elk Peak
Once named after an Oglala Lakota medicine man, Black Elk Peak is the highest point and mountain in South Dakota. Located in the Black Hills, the mountain is worth visiting primarily for its lookout station, which is located at the top of the mountain. There, at 2208 meters above sea level, you can overlook almost the entire Black Hills and take unique photos.
Thanks to the lookout, you can get a different perspective of the Black Hills and see the landscape in its entirety, unlike when you are on the ground or inside the Black Hills. In addition to the overlook, a small dam also awaits visitors and tourists, very close to Black Elk Peak. The focus of the Black Elk Peak is therefore mainly the nature and impressive landscape, as it is usual for the Black Hills.
2. Big Thunder Gold Mine
If you are looking for a real adventure, you should not miss the Big Thunder Gold Mine in particular. This is a very large mine in the area around Keystone, in South Dakota. The gold mine offers its visitors numerous activities and events. Especially the different tours through the mine are worth mentioning, as well as the offer to the visitors to dig for gold themselves.
Those who have no idea of how strenuous the work of miners in the Big Thunder Gold Mine was, will experience a real surprise at the latest when they try to dig gold themselves. Thanks to the numerous events and guided tours for tourists, you will get an unforgettable insight into the history of mining at Big Thunder Gold Mine.
1. Jewel Cave National Monument
With a total of 335 km of explored cave passages, Jewel Cave National Monument is the third longest cave in the world. The cave is located in the Black Hills and is open to visitors and tourists all year round. Especially recommended here are the 3 guided tours, which range from a simple walk through guided trails, to real cave exploration.
A more gentle insight into the depths of the cave can be obtained by means of the Scenic Tour. The tour lasts a total of 1 hour and 20 minutes and is mainly on guided and developed paths. The tour is great for the whole family, especially if children and toddlers are with you. It gets a little more challenging with the Lantern Tour, which, with an average duration of 1 hour and 45 minutes, is especially suitable for adventurous people. Here it also goes through unlit areas of the cave.
Light is provided by lanterns, which must be carried on the tour. If this is not enough for you, you can go on the spelunking tour. However, this tour is only suitable for people who have a certain level of agility and endurance, and are free from claustrophobia. The tour leads through all undeveloped areas of the cave and demands a lot from the participants. Equipped with helmets and helmet lamps, you have to crawl through sometimes very narrow passages and crevices.