In the heartland of America is a place where bustling cities meet the wild frontier, and the wind-swept prairies blend with towering granite peaks and jagged spires. This place is South Dakota, the land of Great Faces and Great Places.
Home to treasures like Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Custer State Park, South Dakota holds adventure no matter what your age. Six national parks and monuments allow visitors to marvel at a larger-than-life sculpture at Mount Rushmore, hike through other-worldly terrain at Badlands National Park, and explore deep below the surface in two of the world’s longest caves.
South Dakota has a rich paleontological history that includes the finding of one of the most complete T. rex skeletons ever discovered and the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world, which are still being unearthed in the Black Hills. Hikers in Badlands National Park can periodically watch ongoing digs in what is considered one of the richest fossil beds in the United States.
Visitors can step back in time to the Wild West in Historic Deadwood. You can see where Wild Bill Hickok played his last hand of poker, visit the gravesites of Calamity Jane and other notable characters, and learn about the history of the gold rush in the area.
South Dakota is also abundant in water recreation. The Black Hills area is home to several lakes and streams, the Missouri River runs down the centre of the state, and north-eastern South Dakota is dotted with dozens of clear lakes. All of these bodies of water offer visitors the perfect opportunity for kayaking, fishing, boating and other water recreation.
South Dakota is home to the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people, collectively known as the Great Sioux Nation. Several museums and cultural centres across the state depict the history and traditions of these nations as well as display ancient artefacts and modern artwork. Visitors may also experience this colourful culture at one of many powwows held across the state.
The early pioneers that conquered the prairies left a lasting legacy across South Dakota. Central South Dakota was the setting for the majority of the film, "Dances with Wolves," which won seven Academy Awards. In her book series, “Little House on the Prairie,” author Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of her life growing up in the town of De Smet. Four of her six books were written about her family’s adventures on the prairies of South Dakota. You can tour her childhood homestead and see the places that inspired her classic books and a television series.
Whatever the adventure visitors are looking for, they will find a wide variety in South Dakota.
South Dakota Highlights
Don't leave without tasting...
Kuchen (COO-gun), the official state dessert. Several restaurants in the state serve the cake, or you can purchase it to take away at the Kuchen Factory in the town of Eureka.
Put these events on your calendar
- Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (September): watch as the park’s 1,300 buffalo are rounded up by wranglers on horseback. Held on the last Friday in September
- Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (August): in addition to races and ramp jumps, the Rally plays host to a dozen outdoor concerts from well-known rock and country musical artists
- Christmas at the Capitol (November/December): the state Capitol building, in Pierre, is filled with real Christmas trees donated and decorated by clubs and organisations throughout the state
- Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant (July): a theatrical pageant based on one of the writer’s books, held in De Smet
- Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo (January/February): rodeo events, indoor livestock shows and competitions, and free entertainment in Rapid City
- Oglala Lakota Nation Annual Pow Wow (August): you’ll be amazed by the colour, movement, dancing, music and overall cultural experience in Pine Ridge
Top photo opportunities
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, where Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down during a poker game. The chair he was sitting in is on display
- Standing in front of the Corn Palace in Mitchell
- Crazy Horse Memorial, with the finished scale model in the foreground and the mountain carving in progress in the background
- Badlands National Park
- Pink quartzite cliffs at Palisades State Park
- Falls Park, Sioux Falls
- Nicollet Tower, near Sisseton
- Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains
Your child will always remember...
- Seeing the baby bears at Bear Country USA near Rapid City
- Riding the 1880 Train in Keystone
- Seeing Mount Rushmore for the first time
- Seeing the Guinness Book of World Records’ Largest Collection of Reptiles at Reptile Gardens near Rapid City
- Walking through Wall Drug
- Hugging a dinosaur leg at Dinosaur Park
Classic road trip
Interstate 90 is the fastest way to traverse South Dakota from east to west, but visitors should take time to slow down and experience the many classic road trip stops along the way, such as the World’s Only Corn Palace, Wall Drug and the 1880 Town. Other scenic road trip drives include the Oyate Trail, Native American Scenic Byway, and the I-29 Cultural Corridor.
- Wall Drug (in the town of Wall)
- World’s Only Corn Palace (Mitchell)
- Pioneer Auto Show (Murdo)
- 1880 Town (on Exit 170 along I-90)
Don't overlook this...
Custer State Park in South Dakota’s Black Hills encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park, often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The herd is one of the largest publicly owned herds in the world. Visitors driving on the Wildlife Loop will also discover whitetail and mule deer, pronghorn antelope, ‘begging’ burros, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk and other native animals. The state park is also home to five lodges.
Downtown Rapid City features a variety of boutiques and unique shopping experiences, such as Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries, which carries traditional and contemporary Native American art, books, tribal music and gifts. Downtown Sioux Falls is also filled with locally-owned boutiques and unique finds.
History happened here
- Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down during a poker game by Jack McCall at the Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood
- Author Laura Ingalls Wilder had a homestead in De Smet with her family, basing several of her books on the area
- Lewis and Clark travelled through the state while exploring the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 and 1806
- The 1876 Gold rush
- Minuteman Missile/Cold War - Visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site near Wall
- Go boating, jet skiing, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, sailing and more on the Missouri River—which runs through the middle of the state—and in the reservoirs created by four dams along the way
- Cited as one of the 10 best in the world, The Mickelson Trail is a 109-mile Rails-to-Trails project running through the heart of the Black Hills. You’ll walk over more than 100 converted railway bridges and through four rock tunnels
- Winter sports
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