South Dakota is an undiscovered treasure of a state, especially in winter months when its wooded valleys and majestic waterfalls transform into a winter wonderland. I was lucky enough to take a roadtrip through some of South Dakota’s most scenic areas, and am happy to share a guide of where to see some of my favorite sights!
Road Trip Guide to South Dakota
Upon arriving in Rapid City, wander the quaint Main Street and check into the appropriately named Rushmore Hotel & Suites for a good night’s sleep before hitting the open road. While our itinerary took us east to west, you could easily rearrange stops to fit your own schedule.
Amongst South Dakota’s top attractions are the Badlands, where you can loop through the dramatic canyons of layered rock formations. Keep some cash handy, as there is a $20 entrance fee — but the stunning view of the iconic rock formations are well worth it.
On your way out, stop at Wall Drug for their famous maple donuts and five-cent coffee. This “restaurant” — practically large enough to be an indoor mall — is also chalk-full of historic paintings and artifacts, shops for souvenirs, and locally handmade Native American jewelry.
The town of Deadwood is rich with Wild West history — wild enough to be made famous by the hit HBO series. Explore the downtown area and grab a cold one at Saloon #10, where “Wild Bill” Hickok met his fate in the 19th century.
Enjoy the scenery of the Black Hills National Forest by snowshoe or snowmobile, or — if you’re brave — go backcountry hiking on the plentiful trails throughout the park. Terry Peak Ski Area is also a great spot to hit the slopes! I highly recommend staying at Deadwood Lodge for a night or two while enjoying the area.
The true treasure of South Dakota is Spearfish Canyon; rugged, forested mountains tower above you as drive through the canyon, with hidden waterfalls, streams and underground caves scattered throughout.
Make Spearfish Canyon Lodge your home, and wander from there. Just a short walk from the lodge is the Latchstring restaurant, from which you can take a short hike to Spearfish Falls — a magical, semi-frozen waterfall you have to see to believe. There’s also a completely frozen waterfall at 11th Hour Gulch just steps off the highway near mile marker 20 (wear boots with traction!).
Community Caves is known as the go-to spot to explore the area’s best caves, though it can be tough to spot. If you’re up for the challenge, see more information here on how to access the hike (it’s very hidden in fresh snow!).
Of course, you can always rent snowshoes and snowmobiles (or “sleds” as they call them) at the lodge if you have time to spare.
From Spearfish, head down to Mt. Rushmore to see one of South Dakota’s most iconic monuments! Weather permitting, walk the Presidential Trail and grab a quick coffee and snack at Carver’s Cafe — a pitstop with a monumental view.
Before you head back to Rapid City, be sure to keep your camera battery charged and head down to Custer State Park — a wildlife destination known for its herds of bison!
My trip to South Dakota was in partnership with South Dakota Tourism. Ordinary Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.