10 Best Things to Do in South Dakota: Top-Rated Attractions 2022

10 Best Things to Do in South Dakota: Top-Rated Attractions 2022

Home to the majestic Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota has a lot to offer if you have time to explore. Located in the Midwest, it is divided by the Missouri River. The endless plains and meadows of the east contrast delightfully with the diverse and dramatic landscapes of the rugged western areas.

While the Black Hills and Badlands boast impressive natural tourist attractions, you can also visit the charming towns of Deadwood and Wall and the cultured cities of Sioux Falls and Rapid City. The state is named after the Lakota and Dakota Sioux, so you’ll also be able to delve into its rich Native American history, heritage, and culture.

With special outdoor activities and all kinds of activities, from monuments and museums to canyons and caves, there are many exciting places to visit in South Dakota.

1. Fast City

Best Things to Do in South Dakota
Best Things to Do in South Dakota

Just a stone’s throw from many of South Dakota’s impressive tourist attractions, Rapid City is an ideal base for visiting, in addition to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument, the beautiful Badlands.

The city itself is well worth exploring as it has a lively city centre, packed with eye-catching attractions for you to enjoy. South Dakota’s second-largest city was founded on the banks of Rapid Creek in 1876 when gold was discovered in the nearby Black Hills. 

Visitors can delve into its exciting past at the Journey Museum. A culinary and cultural centre simultaneously, Rapid City has excellent restaurants, while a stroll through Art Alley is a must for its graffiti, paintings and poems.

Rapid City is also known as the “City of Presidents” due to its magnificent series of life-size sculptures of each nation’s former presidents. With Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park located nearby, Rapid City is within reach of a host of natural wonders.

2. Mount Rushmore National Monument

Best Things to Do in South Dakota

One of America’s most unique tourist attractions, the majestic Mount Rushmore and its colossal carvings are visited by millions of tourists each year. This stunning sculpture, the most photographed attraction in South Dakota, is located in the country’s southwestern part.

Carved between 1927 and 1941 on the side of the strong mount are the massive heads of four of the nation’s most revered and respected presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These famous figures respectively represent the birth, growth, development and preservation of the nation.

At the National Monument, not only will you be able to gaze at the 18-meter-high sculptures in awe, but you will also be able to learn all about how they were carved and created at the on-site visitor centre. Every evening, the four figures are delightfully illuminated as a small, but moving ceremony is held.

3. Badlands National Park

Best Things to Do in South Dakota
Best Things to Do in South Dakota

Home to colourful canyons and fabulous rock formations, Badlands National Park, boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in the state. Located less than an hour’s drive east of Rapid City, it has some incredible set to explore.

Formed over millennia, their ranges seem almost otherworldly, as massive plateaus and vast valleys dot the terrain. Its Spiers and pinnacles are sculpted by wind and rain, making for phenomenal photos.

Although its spectacular landscapes have been preserved since 1939, the Native Americans in the area have lived there for much longer. At the White River Visitor Center, learn about the rich heritage of Lakota and its relationship to the rugged region.

4. Custer State Park

Best Things to Do in South Dakota

Nestled between the Black Hills is the captivating Custer State Park, the largest wildlife park in South Dakota. In addition to having a fascinating landscape, it is known for its massive herd of bison in the wild, one of the largest in the world.

Created in 1912, this picturesque park is named after the famous cavalry commander Colonel Custer, who passed through this remote region in the 1870s. Within its confines, rolling hills and grasslands can be found, with the sensational Lake Sylvan and its rock formations one of the highlights.

In addition to gazing at its abundant bison, you can feed its “beggar donkeys”, donkeys who come to the car window and ask for a bite. With its hiking, kayaking and camping offerings, Custer State Park, and its impressive Needles Highway, is a place worth visiting if you get the chance.

5. Black Hills National Forest

Best Things to Do in South Dakota
Best Things to Do in South Dakota

The beautiful Black Hills National Forest will delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Spread across much of the Southwest, its mountain-covered forests offer many recreational opportunities. Hiking, mountain biking, and camping are prevalent activities.

The rugged and remote range of the Black Hills towers dramatically above the Great Plains. Its picturesque slopes and green forests hide lakes and streams, canyons, caves and rock formations. It also encompasses the 2,208-meter-high Black Elk Peak, the highest mountain in South Dakota.

Hundreds of kilometres of scenic trails and hiking trails wind their way through nature, and its waterways can be used for fishing and sailing. Sometimes visitors can also spot local wildlife. Moose, black bears, and coyotes reside in the mountain range.

6. Mitchell

Best Things to Do in South Dakota

Situated in the southeast and amidst fertile farmland and pretty meadows is the magnificent town of Mitchell. It houses several excellent museums and features the “World’s Only Corn Palace”, the main tourist attraction in the city.

This phenomenal palace is lined with murals made of herbs, grains, oats and corn, with colourful minarets and onion domes adorning its bold design. Built-in, the 1890s to highlight the rich lands of the region and encourage settlers to relocate to the area, the building now hosts local cultural and sporting events.

The city has a lively yet laid-back, historic main street to stroll along, lined with galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Its other main attractions are the Dakota Discovery Museum, which has interesting exhibits on pioneers and Native Americans, and the prehistoric Indian town of Mitchell.

7. The Wind Caves National Park

Best Things to Do in South Dakota
Best Things to Do in South Dakota

Located in the Southwest is the wonderful Wind Cave National Park, which is just a short drive from the town of Hot Springs. Although the park is home to beautiful meadows and magnificent grasslands, the most outstanding sight is undoubtedly the cavern that gives it its name.

One of the longest caves in the world, its captivating complex of colossal chambers, caverns and chasms stretches for a staggering 239 kilometres. With many more passageways waiting to be discovered. 

Despite all its dazzling and dramatic landscapes, Cueva del Viento is primarily known for its impressive box work formations, rarely found anywhere else in the world.

In addition to hiking through its giant honeycomb of caves, visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing, with bison, bobcats, and elk seen on the surface. Protected since 1903, Wind Cave is a unique and unforgettable place.

8. Wall

Best Things to Do in South Dakota

Wall is close to the state’s most popular and scenic attractions, so many people use the small town as a base to explore all of its natural wealth. Known as the “geographic centre of nowhere,” it welcomes millions of people to its charming and picturesque community every summer.

Founded in 1908, its name comes from the “natural wall” of remarkable rock formations near Badlands National Park. The beautiful Black Hills National Forest and majestic Mount Rushmore are also just a short drive from the city.

The city is also known for its large roadside pharmacy. Since opening in the 1930s, Wall Drug has become a popular tourist attraction and is home to several cowboy-themed shops and restaurants. With an amiable and welcoming atmosphere, Wall is worth a visit.

9. Sioux Falls 

Best Things to Do in South Dakota
Best Things to Do in South Dakota

Situated on the Big Sioux River banks, Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota. Named for the beautiful waterfalls that lie at its heart, the city has galleries and museums to visit, as well as a lively downtown district to explore.

However, the highlight is the fantastic Parque de las Cataratas. It is centred around enchanting waterfalls and offers excellent views over them. In total, there are about 70 parks and greenways scattered around the city limits for hiking and biking. You can even ski at the Great Bear Recreation Park.

Visitors can delve into the city’s past at the Old Courthouse Museum or the Delbridge Museum of Natural History, both worth a visit. With some exquisite art galleries to stroll through and the gigantic Great Plains Zoo to explore, Sioux Falls has something for all ages and interests.

10. Deadwood

Best Things to Do in South Dakota
Best Things to Do in South Dakota

Known for its history, heritage, and Wild West origins, Deadwood is a fascinating place to visit. The entire city is a National Historic Landmark. Founded in 1876, when streaks of brilliant gold were discovered in the surrounding Black Hills mountains, it is home to well-preserved gold rush-era buildings.

Due to its early lawless days and larger-than-life characters. On guided city tours, you can hear about famous people like Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok and watch re-enactments of epic shootings.

In addition to the historic homes, museums and Mount Moriah cemetery, you can pan for gold at the Broken Boot Gold Mine. With bars and hotels still offering to gamble, visiting the resort town is like stepping into the past. Its historic main street looks very much like it did more than a century ago.

Frequently Asked Questions: Best Things to Do in South Dakota

What is the number one attraction in South Dakota?

Mount Rushmore National Monument. This historical monument is South Dakota’s most prominent tourist attraction. Carved majestically into the side of the mountain are the heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

What is the prettiest part of South Dakota?

Lined with thousand-foot canyon walls, Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills is arguably the most scenic spot in South Dakota. In the Northern Hills, the 22-mile Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway takes in all the beauty with plenty of roadside stops along the way.

What is the best month to visit South Dakota?

The best time to visit South Dakota is usually from late spring to autumn, particularly from May to October. Summer is typically the peak tourist season, but late spring and autumn are generally better regarding accommodation and fewer crowds.

How many days do you need to see Mount Rushmore?

As you can see from the suggested itineraries, it’s best to spend a few days exploring the Mount Rushmore area. You’ll need at least 3 days in order to have time to experience just the main attractions of the Black Hills.

How can I see Mt Rushmore?

For a unique view of Mount Rushmore, you can see the profile of George Washington from outside of the national memorial. Located on Highway 244, less than a 5-minute drive from the memorial site, you can see Mount Rushmore from the side. Park in the small parking area to see the side-view of George Washington’s face.

Is Mt Rushmore open to the public?

The visitor facilities at Mount Rushmore National Memorial are open all year, seven days a week, with the exception of December 25th. On December 25th, weather permitting, the parking structure and grounds remain open, but all buildings are closed.

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