South Dakota Top 20 Attractions

Home to some of the best national parks in the country, South Dakota offers visitors the chance to explore all types of attractions including natural, wildlife, caves, museums and art galleries.

South Dakota has a rich history of the United States and one of the most culturally significant states for Native Americans. Many of the best places to visit in South Dakota allow visitors to explore many of these notable sites and landmarks while providing fun, education, adventure, and more.

If you are currently planning your next vacation in this beautiful state, check out these top 20 must-see attractions in South Dakota.

1: Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore is a sculpture of the heads of four former United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into granite on the southeast side of Mount Rushmore.

Nearly three million people visit Mount Rushmore each year. Learn the story about the nation's first inhabitants and learn to appreciate the diverse and rich heritage of America.

Check out the Borglum Visitor Center to a view a 14-minute film describing how the monument was built.

Walk the Presidential Trail to get up close and personal to the monument. Take lots of pictures and make tons of memories right here where American history began.

Address: 13000 S Dakota 244, Keystone, SD 57751

Website: www.nps.gov

2: Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/faunggs photos

Although unfinished, the Crazy Horse Memorial is shaping up to be the tallest statue in the world. The mountain memorial is being carved into the Thunderhead Mountain, located a short distance away from Mount Rushmore.

Original planning for the statue began in 1948, and it still in development due to funding. Currently, only the face is completed and already a major draw for visitors seeking to learn more about the meaning behind it. 

The Crazy Horse Memorial honors Crazy Horse, one of the most famous Native American figures and leaders of the Lakota Tribe. He’s most known for fighting against encroachment on sacred Native American land. His efforts were unsuccessful but remained a prominent story in the early stages of the United States.

The memorial statue was commissioned by a Lakota tribe leader and designed by Korczak Ziolkowski. Project management changed hands frequently since beginning the project, but it’s currently a work in progress.

The face of Crazy Horse is the only completed feature, used to start building the site up as a tourist attraction. The Site features a visitor center with a gift shop. There is a bus tour to take visitors to a viewing location of the statue’s progress. The Site also includes an orientation center and the Indian Museum of North America to learn more about the history and cultural signify of the monument.

Address: Black Hills National Forest, 12151 Ave of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, SD 57730

Accomodation: Where to stay in Crazy Horse

Website: www.crazyhorsememorial.org

Also Read: Top 5 Tourist Attractions in Custer, South Dakota

3: Mitchell Corn Palace

Mitchell Corn Palace

The Corn Palace is the pride and joy of Mitchell South Dakota. Dubbed “The World’s Only Corn Palace” – this unique tourist attraction has become the headquarters of everyone’s favorite grain plant.

The Corn Palace originally opened back in 1892 to showcase South Dakota’s healthy agricultural climate. Today, it attracts roughly 500,000 tourists per year for its corn murals. The murals are redecorated every year to match a chosen theme.

Each mural is made with colored corn, grains, and other natural elements. Just don’t forget to bring the butter and salt.

Address: 612 N Main St, Mitchell, SD 57301

Accomodation: Where to stay in Mitchell

Website: www.cornpalace.org

4: Black Hills National Forest

Black Hills National Forest

The extensive Black Hills National Forest covers an area of more than 1.25-million acres, with parts crossing the border into Wyoming. The wonders of the forest may be surprising for first-time visitors. It’s a destination for experiencing the scenic nature of South Dakota and even viewing the famous Mount Rushmore monument.

Black Hills National Forests is a managed forest, designated in 1897 as a national forest for increased conservation efforts of the environment and landscape.

The forest mainly consists of ponderosa pine trees with sections of birch, spruce, oak, and aspen trees. The designated forest region extends from the region’s grassland plains to the Black Elk Peak mountains, South Dakota’s largest mountain range.

The varied elevations in the forest create habitats for a diverse mix of vegetation and wildlife. Some of the common animals to see in the park include elk, deer, cougars, black bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. The park also has lots of bird species such as bald eagles, falcons, and hawks.

Black Hills National Forest is a popular destination for tourists for outdoor recreation. Go camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and indulge the nature lover in you. It has hundreds of miles of hiking trails winding throughout the forest - visitors arrive at various viewpoints, remote areas, and even ascending the highest peak for the best views. There are 30 designated campsites.

Address: 1019 N 5th St, Custer, SD 57730

Accomodation: Where to stay in Custer

Website: www.fs.usda.gov

5: Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Travel to the Southwest region of South Dakota to discover the Badlands National Park, the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the US. The park designates the area as wilderness, giving visitors nothing but natural scenery for enjoying the landscape.

Badlands National Park achieved national monument status in 1939 and national park status a bit later in 1978. There are more than 200,000 acres to explore with lots of things to see and do.

There is an abundance of wildlife living within the park. Some of the common animals are the endangered black-footed ferret, bighorn sheep, bison, coyotes, elk, bobcats, foxes, and prairie dogs.

The highest point in the park is at Red Shirt Table.

In addition to the geological significance of the park, it also holds pop culture significance with a few famous films shot in the park.

Tourism is prevalent at Badlands National Park, receiving more than one million visitors every year. The park includes a visitor center to provide information about the park, exhibitions, and special programs throughout the year.

Hiking is one of the best outdoor activities to do in the park. It has a variety of trails - Castle Trail, Door Trail - and even themed trails, including the Fossil Exhibit Trail, to see fossil replicas of now-extinct animals once thriving in the region.

Address: 25216 Ben Reifel Road Interior, SD 57750

Accomodation: Where to stay near Badlands National Park

Website: www.nps.gov

6: Mammoth Site of Hot Springs

Mammoth Site of Hot Springs
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/PatrickRohe

After the discovery of a historic mammoth tooth in 1974 near Hot Springs, South Dakota, shortly after in 1980, the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs was established. The site serves as a museum and paleontological site for research and continuous excavations for discoveries.

The site is characterized as a prehistoric sinkhole. It was concluded to be a large pond from the Pleistocene era that several animals local to the regions used. Excavations of the site reveal lots of history about the sinkhole, dating back over 20,000 years. Some of the remains uncovered at the site include 61 mammoth bones, short-faced bears, oxen, camel, llama, wolves, and other small mammals.

It’s the world’s largest concentration of mammoth remains and attracts scientists from around the world for conducting research.

The site was declared a National Natural Landmark. The museum is open to the public for checking out the exhibitions showcasing many of the discoveries around the site. It showcases life-size renditions of the site’s animals as well as providing information about them.

The site is currently used for conducting research, and excavations continue to discover new findings. The museum hosts volunteer days for amateurs to head out to the site and take part in the digging process.

Address: 1800 US-18 BYP, Hot Springs, SD 57747

Accomodation: Where to stay in Hot Springs

Website: www.mammothsite.com

7: Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park
Photo Courtesy: NPS Site

Wind Cave National Park is home to the famous wind cave – a record-breaking cave by international standards for many features. The park also includes the above-ground area, allowing lots of things for visitors to see and do in the cave and throughout the landscape.

Established in 1903, the wind cave is the first cave in the world designated as a national park. It’s most known for the unique calcite formations developed on the cave interiors, called boxwork and frostwork. It’s one of the only places in the world to see the rare boxwork formation.

The wind cave is also the world’s densest cave system. It currently holds the record for the longest cave in the world based on the area explored. Tours to the cave began long before designation as a national park and have since developed into an incredible experience for adventurous visitors.

Wind Cave National Park also includes the above-ground area as part of the park. It’s known as the largest natural mixed-grass prairie remaining in the US. The grassland consists of diverse wildlife, including free-roaming bison, elk, coyotes, cougars, foxes, and many more.

The park receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. In addition to cave tours, there are also more than 30 miles of hiking trails and a large campground open all year.

Address: 26611 US-385, Hot Springs, SD 57747

Website: www.nps.gov

8: National Music Museum

National Music Museum
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Larry Jacobsen

Naming something the “National Music Museum” is sure to bring lofty expectations. Fortunately, this musical instrument museum lives up to the hype. The National Music Museum was founded in 1973 on the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

It houses a collection of over 15,000 musical instruments from various time periods and cultures from all over the world. The extensive collection spans over 500 years and includes American, European, and Eastern instruments of historical significance.

This is a must-see destination for any music lover. There aren’t many places where you can find Elvis’s guitar, ancient Italian violins, and didgeridoos under the same roof. But that’s what you’ll find at this landmark museum.

Address: 414 E Clark St, Vermillion, SD 57069

Accomodation: Where to stay in Vermillion

Website: www.nmmusd.org

9: Sioux Falls Park

Sioux Falls Park
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Don Graham

The Big Sioux River has been the center of life in the region through many years. Since the founding of South Dakota in 1856, it has been the center of recreation and industry.

While you are here you can explore the Queen Bee Mill, which is a seven-story mill that lies to the east of the river.

The Light and Power Company, which was built in 1908 is now the Falls Overlook Cafe where you can enjoy some delicious refreshments while taking a break from touring the park.

The Big Sioux River and Recreational Greenway is a 19.3-mile trail where you can jog, bike or rollerblade along the river.

Address: 131 E Falls Park Dr, Sioux Falls, SD 57103

Accomodation: Where to stay in Sioux Falls

Also Read: Top 5 Tourist Attractions in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

10: Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Jordan Wilms

Spearfish Canyon is one of the premier destinations in the Black Hills, located nearby Spearfish, South Dakota. The canyon is a narrow gorge developed by erosion from the Spearfish Creek.

Visitors can enjoy riding along the famous Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive, recognized as a National Scenic Byway for its natural beauty and one of the most scenic in the US. The 19-mile drive winds through the canyon to provide incredible views of the forest-covered canyon.

The canyon features a mix of flora, being at an intersection between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains. The forest mainly consists of ponderosa pine trees but also has over 1,000 other plant species growing within it.

The canyon also has a diverse mix of wildlife. There are several bird species seen in the canyon, such as bluejays, turkeys, swallows, eagles, and other forest animals.

In addition to the popular driving route, the canyon is also a popular destination for hiking. There are lots of hiking trails established in the canyon, leading to some of the notable sites and viewpoints.

Visitors can hike the trails to reach notable falls: Spearfish Falls, Roughlock Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. The viewpoints emerge from the forest to have sweeping views of the canyon and surrounding scenery.

Address: Spearfish, SD

Accomodation: Where to stay in Spearfish

Website: www.spearfish.com

11: Deadwood

Deadwood
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/dconvertini

The historic town of Deadwood was formally a bustling center where people came to take part in the Black Hills Gold Rush.

Deadwood is a city in Lawrence County, in the western part of South Dakota. The name derives from dead trees found in the valley by early settlers. The town was founded in 1876 after discovering gold nearly and, for three years, was a popular site for digging and merchants involved with the trade.

At its peak, the population reached approximately 5,000 people, which has since declined drastically. It’s now a quiet town filled with lots of history and a popular tourist attraction for a glimpse into its past.

A popular TV series by the same name was filmed locally and depicted many of the activities that happened during the Gold Rush.

The entire town is a National Historic Landmark, known for the preservation of architecture and sites from the Gold Rush-era. A stroll down Main Street showcases the old architecture and notable buildings from the past, including saloons, theaters, shops, and more. Many of these sites hold tales of famous figures from its hey-day.

Tourists can check out the local visitor center for information about local events and tours. Historical tours are popular for going around to the city’s landmarks and most storied locations.

Some of the top recreational activities nearby include hiking, horseback riding, and biking.

Address: Deadwood, SD

Website: www.deadwood.com

12: South Dakota Air and Space Museum

South Dakota Air and Space Museum
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/270862

Discover the history of South Dakota Aviation at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. The museum is one of the many in the system of the National Museum of the US Air Force. It’s located in Box Elder, next to the Ellsworth Air Force Base.

South Dakota Air and Space Museum is a must-visit attraction in South Dakota for education and entertainment. The public museum showcases the history of the US Air Force aviation and Aviation history in South Dakota. It’s set up in two sections.

The first area of the museum is an outdoor airpark. Visitors can walk amongst actual aircraft, dating back to WWII to even actively used planes. There are over 30 planes in the park, including notable bombers – B-1B Lancer and the B-29 Superfortress.

The second section of the park is set up in former aircraft hangars, where visitors can see a variety of exhibitions. Exhibitions include the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame, Interactive cockpits to some of the most famous planes, information about aerospace technology, and a space gallery.

The museum offers seasonal tours – a guided tour via bus around the base. The tour takes visitors to the Minuteman Missile Training Launch Facility to see four missiles.

Address: 2890 Davis Dr, Ellsworth AFB, SD 57706

Website: www.sdairandspacemuseum.com

13: Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Sharon Mollerus

Sylvan Lake is the most famous like in the Black Hills mountain range – it’s one of the main reasons why so many people visit the Custer State Park. It’s one of five lakes in the park with lots of outdoor recreational activities available for visitors.

Sylvan Lake is an artificial lake formed in 1881 after the development of the Sylvan Lake Water Dam. It transformed into a major destination for tourists.

Hiking is a favorite activity to do at the location. Trails lead around the rim of the lake, which is a one-mile stretch of shoreline. One of the most popular trails is called the Sunday Gulch Trail. The pathways also take visitors to great viewpoints to overlook the lake.

Aside from hiking around the lake, it’s a common starting point for other adventures in the Black Hills, such as hiking to the summit of Black Elk Peak, the highest point, and The Needles rock formations.

The lake is also open to the public to enjoy. Boating is a frequent activity. The lake permits canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boating with rentals available at the site. Fishing and swimming are also allowed.

Other activities to do at Sylvan Lake include having picnics, rock climbing, or having an overnight stay at the designated tent campsites.

Address: Custer, SD

14: Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Murray Foubister

After discovering the Jewel Cave in 1900, the site officially became the Jewel Cave National Monument in 1908. The national monument status was designated for the conservation of the cave. Recreational tours also developed for the public.

Jewel Cave National Monument is the third-longest cave in the world with over 200 miles of explored passageways. The cave continues to be actively explored and extended. The name derives from the early discovery of calcite crystals forming within it, referred to as jewels. The cave also showcases several other cave formations to make it an exciting place to explore.

The national monument is a popular tourist destination, attracting over 100,000 people every year. There are a variety of recreational tours available for visitors to get an inside look at the cave interior and exterior sites.

There are three tours available to explore the cave: The historic tour gives visitors an authentic cave exploration experience with using only lanterns to light the pathways of the cave’s earliest-explored areas. The scenic tour is a more developed tour with pre-lit paths through the central region of the cave. The wild caving tour is for those more adventurous to explore some of the undeveloped passageways.

A visitor center provides displays with information about the cave and its history.

Address: 11149 US-16 B-12, Custer, SD 57730

Website: www.nps.gov

Also Read: Top 5 Tourist Attractions in Custer, South Dakota

15: Good Earth State Park

Good Earth State Park
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Ruiwei Qi

Good Earth State Park is a must-visit park for those traveling in the Big Sioux Area of South Dakota. Established in 2013, it’s the newest state park designated for the cultural and historical significance of Native Americans.

Good Earth State Park includes nearly 600 acres extending along the Big Sioux River near Sioux Falls. It’s a destination for outdoor recreation, but also for learning more about the history of the site.

The park consists of the famous Blood Run Site, a former settlement of thousands of Native Americans. It was one of the earliest inhabited areas of the region and the largest Oneota cultural site discovered so far, used as a gathering place for ceremonies and also a trade center. The entire site is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

A visitor center is a great starting place before exploring the park to get lots of information about the site. It provides exhibits showcasing detailed information and history. The center also includes an amphitheater and interactive museum.

Many visitors come to the site for recreational activities. It’s a popular place for hiking, with various trails established throughout the park. The trails lead through the park’s flora to multiple viewpoints or chances to see local forest animals.

Address: 26924 480th Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57108

Website: gfp.sd.gov

16: Ingalls Homestead

Ingalls Homestead
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Loren Kerns

Lovers of the Little House on the Prairie book have a chance to connect with the former childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder when visiting the Ingalls Homestead. The site is a historic house museum of the author and her family.

The house is located at De Smet, South Dakota, built in 1887, where the family lived until 1928. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society currently owns the house and opened it to the public for fans of the late author to experience a bit of inspiration behind her book series. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Visitors are welcome to the house and offers a range of activities. Inside the house includes original furnishings crafted by her father. Several of the Ingalls family members are buried nearby (excluding Laura).

The grounds are open for overnight stays at the house to get an authentic experience of how life was for her at the homestead. Tourists can experience traditional living with hands-on activities that would have been standard for a woman during the era.

Visitors can stay in tents or covered wagons. The homestead has several farm animals to interact with. The site also hosts occasional plays.

Address: 20812 Homestead Rd, De Smet, SD 57231

Website: www.ingallshomestead.com

17: Lews & Clark Recreation Area

Lews & Clark Recreation Area

Lewis & Clark Recreation Area is a popular camping area located in the Southeast region of South Dakota. It’s a major Missouri River Reservoir formed from Gavins Point Dam, established in 1966 along the northern shore to the Lewis and Clark Lake.

The Lewis & Clark Recreation Area includes three designated campgrounds – Gavins Point Section, Yankton Section, and Midway Section. The various sections combine to host over 400 campsites.

Some cabins can be rented for overnight stays or, for more modern visits, check out the lake resort.

The sites include waterfront locations to give great views of the lake and easy access to explore some of the region’s wildlife. The most common wildlife includes turkeys and deer, often seen while exploring the various nature trails of the park.

There are several trails within the area designated for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The trails are great for exercise or touring around the lark. Visitors will have beautiful scenery of the lake and surrounding flora.

The area also features several beaches for relaxing or swimming. Visitors can get active out on the water with various boating activities like kayaking and canoeing.

Some of the unique activities here include archery and disc golf.

Address: 43349 SD-52, Yankton, SD 57078

Website: gfp.sd.gov

18: Children’s Museum of South Dakota

Children’s Museum of South Dakota
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Spark Brookings

To experience the perfect destination for traveling with kids in South Dakota, a trip to the Children’s Museum of South Dakota is the best option. The museum open in 2010 in the city of Brookings, designed with lots of interactive features for hours of fun and education.

The Children’s Museum of South Dakota was established in a renovated Brookings elementary school, completely transforming into one of the most fun museums in the state. It has over 5,000 interactive parts and 550 books for reading.

The museum features indoor and outdoor areas. One of the highlights of the museum is the full-size animatronic T. Rex, one of the only of its kind in the US. Another popular area is Kidstreet, an entire town operated by kids. Kids can work on cars, deliver mail, become news reports, work the cashier station in a grocery store, and even dig for dinosaur bones.

Kids can also enjoy the outdoor playground and water activities. It’s the perfect place to keep kids entertained with a bit of learning and discovery.

The museum is open all year round and receives over 100,000 visitors annually. There is also an onsite café for dining in and a toy store to pick up a few toys before leaving.

Address: 521 4th St, Brookings, SD 57006

Website: www.prairieplay.org

19: Old Courthouse Museum

Old Courthouse Museum
Photo Courtesy: Mapio

The former Old Minnehaha County Courthouse is repurposed as the Old Courthouse Museum. The courthouse building is one of the oldest in Sioux Falls, built in the 1800s. The distinct architecture is among the first attractive features of the site.

The building was built using local quartzite in a Romanesque Revival style, including Roman archways over the entrance and some of the windows – it also features an iconic clock tower. The building remains preserved since its original appearance, with the interior restored for housing the current museum. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The rooms that once housed the seat of the county government (1890-1962) are now used for displaying museum exhibitions. The museum encompasses each of the three floors to present a variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions. It’s known for presenting regional history and cultural significance while providing information about the building itself.

Some of the exhibitions include Native American artifacts and culture details, American flags, vintage toys, and a brief history of US history events like prohibition, WWI, and women’s suffrage.

It is free entry, and guided tours are available to learn more information about each of the exhibitions. The museum is also used as a venue for some private events.

Address: 200 W 6th St, Sioux Falls, SD 57104

Also Read: Top 5 Tourist Attractions in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

20: Bear Butte State Park

Bear Butte State Park
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Don Barrett

Bear Butte State Park is a naturally formed dome-like feature of the landscape, often considered either a hill or a mountain. The hill and surrounding area were designated as a state park in 1961 for its cultural significance to the Plains Indians. It was used as a religious site and sacred land.

The large hill rises over 380-meters and covered with diverse flora on its slopes. It’s located near Sturgis, South Dakota, and is a site with lots of history tied to Native Americans in the region. Artifacts were collected at the site from early civilizations dating back as far as 10,000 years.

Tribe members use the sacred hill for meditation and prayer – it’s also a symbol of peace. Currently, many Native American descendants make a pilgrimage to the site and leave offerings around the base or on the summit.

Bear Butte State Park is open to the public while respecting the traditions and legacy of the site. It features an education center for learning more about the importance of the site to the Plains Indians, both historically and today.

The main hiking trail leads up the steep slopes to reach the top of the hill, providing incredible views overlooking the area. It also has a nearby campsite for overnight stays.

Address: 20250 SD-79, Sturgis, SD 57785

Website: gfp.sd.gov

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