South Dakota is without a doubt a state that has always been synonymous with adventure. From pioneers to Native Americans and all things Wild West, the state’s thrilling history is reflected in the unbelievable diversity of its breathtaking scenery.
From vast expanses of gently rolling prairies to majestic and wildly dramatic mountain ranges, South Dakota is full of must-see, awe-inspiring places that I’ve been lucky enough to explore. Here’s a guide to some of the unmissable sights I encountered!
10 Places To Visit in South Dakota
Badlands National Park
From fossils to star-gazing and 244,000 acres of nationally protected wilderness, rolling grasslands and towering mountain ranges, Badlands National Park is one of the most visually striking natural areas in the country.
The endlessly attractive scenery is best enjoyed on a scenic road trip where you can enjoy views of iconic rock formations like the Yellow Mounds or Sharps Formation. For a leisurely hike, head over to the Window Trail, or for a more challenging experience, try Saddle Pass.
Populated with limestone towers thousands of feet high and evergreen forests, Spearfish Canyon can be reached off Interstate 90 and is at its most beautiful during Fall when red and gold start to emerge in every direction. Spearfish Creek lies on the canyon floor and an endless network of waterfalls make it an irresistible roadside attraction — even in the winter!
Other popular stops on the route include the Spearfish Canyon Lodge and the Cheyenne Crossing Store where you can recharge your batteries in their award-winning café.
Mt Rushmore National Memorial
Undoubtedly one of the nation’s most recognized and iconic attractions, the Mt Rushmore National Memorial is as popular as you’d expect, drawing in almost 3 million people a year. The 60 ft stone faces really are a sight to behold and represent 150 years of American history.
The best time to arrive is early morning, just as the sun is coming up and when the crowds are pretty much non-existent. For a closer look at the breathtaking sculpture, find the Presidential Trail, a half-mile of shaded pine forest with amazing views of the memorial.
Bear Butte State Park
Alive with Lakota heritage and history, Bear Butte State Park is nestled in the Black Hills and home to Bear Mountain, a 4,526 foot-tall summit from whose peak you can see 4 states — if you make it to the top! The State Park is populated with wild bison and an endless network of hiking and climbing trails, giving you the feeling of truly being in the wilderness, especially during low season between September and May.
Custer State Park
Another breathtakingly beautiful area of the state that used to be home to an estimated 60 million buffalo is the impressively vast Custer State Park, a charming expanse of prairies and grasslands where these majestic animals still roam free. Try to visit in September when you’ll have the chance to experience the annual buffalo roundup, an incredible feat, which sees a stampede of buffalo being herded across the plains.
Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial is the Native American answer to the Mt Rushmore Memorial and is of equal importance in the course of American history to its presidential counterpart. The massive project still isn’t complete but you can take tours for $15 to admire Chief Standing Bear’s face — part of the monument which when completed will stand at over 500 feet tall.
Black Hills National Forest
This unimaginably vast 1.2 million acre expanse of forest is mixed between protected and logged areas that are accessible either by surrounding roads or by venturing on hikes into the center. With over 450 miles of trails to explore, your options are endless. A good starting point is the Iron Mountain Trail, where you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and the Black Elk Wilderness.
Head down to the third longest cave in the world where you can spend hours exploring the underground tunnels and networks that spread over 194 miles of mapped passageways. Fragile but magnificent rock formations line the many cave walls and ceilings and the mysterious attraction of the subterranean maze draws thousands of visitors a year.
Like many places in South Dakota, Deadwood began as a gold mining camp and developed into the colorful and culturally rich town it is today, dotted with historical buildings and recognized as a National Historic Landmark. With guided tours available, you can do everything from learning about Deadwood’s fascinating past to witnessing shootout reenactments on Main Street!
Where to stay: The Lodge at Deadwood
Wall Drug Store
Just north of Badlands National Park, you’ll find one of America’s favorite attractions in the city of Wall — the Wall Drug Store. Here you’ll find free attractions, 5-cent coffee, shopping and The Western Art Gallery Restaurant that seats 520 people!
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.