If you're looking for a place to bring your whole family for a variety of festivities, action, adventure, and great places to learn American history (especially the Sioux tribes), then you can’t go wrong with the state of South Dakota. We’ve rounded up ten of our best things to do in South Dakota. You probably won’t be able to see all of it on one vacation, so you’re probably best picking out a handful of locations that stand out to you the most.
No trip to South Dakota is complete without seeing the president’s magnificent sculptures out of the side of Mount Rushmore. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt are all the creation of Gutzom. I took from 1927 until 1991 to finish this monumental feat of art and engineering. It took over 400,000 tons of the mountain to be excavated in order to bring this work of art to life. It’s easier to appreciate it up close and personal.
Our first of many parks on our list starts with the misunderstood Badlands National Park. Its beauty consists of a different color pallet, so at first glance it may seem a bit rougher around the edges, but it really comes together with both its geography and wildlife that darts in and out of sight along your travels. It may not be your typical picnic park, but it definitely makes for it by providing you a look at nature in all of its natural beauty.
South Dakota has many great parks and reservations to experience. Custer State Park is famous for the wide expanses of grasslands where herds of bison commonly roam and forage all day. The backdrop of the mountains and rivers. This makes Custer State Park a great place for unplanned side routes and adventures, spontaneous camping trips filled with hiking and biking.
After you finish your day at Custer State Park, you can head down to see another major monument carved out of the mountainside. For this monument, though, it is dedicated to Native American historical figure, Chief Standing Bear. This is a great opportunity to see how the carving is done in-person, as the monument is still under construction. This is an engineering feat to behold and an easy place to squeeze into a busy day of sight-seeing and outdoor activities.
Address: 12151 Ave of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, SD 57730
The next park that deserves top ten honors is Wind Cave, which is a giant cave with a small crevice entrance. The shape of the cave whips up the wind currents and creates a rapid draft effect. As you venture deeper into the cave, the shapes of the walls and the structures within start to take on their own life. Unique hexagonal formations create an acoustic that sounds as if someone is whispering. Although the cave is the star of the show, its surroundings are also worth taking in, as the rest of our parks on our list.
You read that title correctly: here lies the ultimate kids, big kids, and adult’s dream come true, witnessing real mammoth fossils up close and personal. You already know the wooly mammoth is larger than an elephant, but it doesn’t quite hit you until you are standing in front of one of its massive, or rather mammoth, tusks. The best part about the mammoth site is that the mammoth bones aren’t already fully revealed and polished, rather they are partially uncovered, giving a unique look at how archeologists work.
If you want a glimpse into one of the most pivotal moments during American history, you have to check out the Homestake Gold Mine. While not the San Francisco scale of the gold rush, South Dakota did see its fair share of gold mining during 1870. You could say that this museum is a bit dark and gloomy, as the working conditions of gold miners was extremely dangerous and risky. It will definitely give you a new appreciation of how much of South Dakota was developed.
If you are into giant pine trees, mountains, streams, and, of course, waterfalls, then Spearfish Canyon has it all. This area is very dense, filled with lush wildlife and rapidly changing geology. There are number of famous peaks here, each with their own dramatic waterfalls cascading down them. Technically if you head north of Spearfish, you will find the exact center of the United States of America.
There are a ton of museums to visit while in South Dakota, but among the ones that are considered “must-visit” is the Old Courthouse Museum in the city of Sioux Falls. The building is a treasure in of itself. It is three stories high, constructed using impressive amounts of quartz and stone. The inner walls are filled with historic murals that tell the story of South Dakota. Being inside the building has a calming and inspiring effect.
South Dakota’s music history often gets neglected and forgotten, so if you’re looking to go off the old beaten trail, stop by the National Music Museum. You’ll find more than just Dakotan musicians, though, here you will find different varieties of cultures, genres, and generations of music. There is literally something for everyone here, from Americana to International folk music.