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Written by Marion Head. Author of South Dakota: An Explorer’s Guide
South Dakota is an expansive, midwestern U.S. state where rolling prairies give way to the dramatic Black Hills National Forest. Black Hills is home to 2 historical monuments carved right into towering granite peaks: Mt. Rushmore, the iconic depiction of 4 revered U.S. presidents, and Crazy Horse Memorial, a tribute to the storied Native American tribal leader. This is just the tip of the iceberg if you are planning to visit South Dakota.
Simply scroll though the list to help plan your trip to South Dakota.
52 Reasons to Visit South Dakota
1. Mount Rushmore: you’ve seen pictures but it’s even more amazing in person. Really.
2. Custer State Park: a place filled with spectacular scenery, wild life, fishing, hiking, campgrounds, lodges, and history galore. Spend a day or a week.
3. The Falls in Sioux Falls: yes Sioux Falls was really named for waterfalls and they run right through the middle of downtown. Really beautiful and surrounded by a great park.
4. Bramble Park Zoo in Watertown: an intimate zoo where you really feel like you commune with the critters and the people working there really care about them.
5. The Badlands: spectacular spires and formations that change yearly, seasonally, and even daily as the sun sets and rises. Mysterious and magical.
6. Lewis and Clark Recreation Area in Yankton: a huge reservoir on the Missouri with lots of recreational activities associated with the water.
7. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: if you ride a motorcycle and have not been there with 250,000-500,000 of your like minded friends then you really must make plans to go.
8. The Open Cut at the Homestake Mine in Lead: yes the mine is closed but the hole in the ground where they dug for gold is still there and mind boggling in its enormity.
9. Deadwood: if you like western history, if you like small stakes gambling, if you like free entertainment then you will love Deadwood.
10. Prairie Edge in Rapid City: a fabulous collection of Native American arts and crafts the likes of which you will find no where else.
11. Wall Drug: the reason Wall is there. The trashy, the classy, the collectible all jumbled together in a retail nirvana.
12. National Music Museum in Vermillion: a world class museum in a tiny little college town. Collections from the 1400’s to the present of every kind of instrument imaginable.
13. Indian Tacos: fried flat bread with greasy ground beef and cheese. A heart attack waiting to happen but sooo good.
14. Black Hills Passion Play in Spearfish: since 1938 professional actors and local amateurs have put on this depiction of the last days of the life of Christ.
15. Storybook Island in Rapid City: a free city park with a story book theme that will entertain your kids for an entire afternoon.
16. Pow Wows: a tradition among Native American tribes where folks visit, dance, and celebrate their heritage. Go as a respectful visitor and learn.
17. President’s Alpine Slide in Keystone: ride up the mountain on a tram and slide down it on a special wheeled sled. Fast and fun.
18. Pheasant hunting: over 180,000 hunters a year come to SD to bag a pheasant. That many people can’t be wrong.
19. Black Hills Playhouse: nestled in Custer State Park, this professional theater puts on plays and musicals every summer.
20. Angostura Recreation Area outside Hot Springs: a huge reservoir with fishing, boating, skiing, and a great sand beach.
21. The Sertoma Butterfly Garden in Sioux Falls: a lovely heated home for hundreds of butterflies that you can walk among and view up close and personal.
22. Bear Country outside Rapid City: a drive through wild life park with bears, elk, wolves, deer and the cutest baby critters you could hope to see in Baby Land.
23. Black Hills Gold: you’ve seen the unique tri colored gold with the grape leaves and you won’t find better prices than from the source.
24. Prairie Berry Winery outside Hill City: local wine which is yummy and a great, friendly staff.
25. Wounded Knee Museum in Wall: this museum does a great job of explaining the end of the Indian Wars
and what really happened at Wound Knee and to the Native American people. Sad, but a story that needs to be told.
26. Evans Plunge in Hot Springs: since 1890 folks have been soaking in the 80 degree springs and now it’s a great place for the family to swim and play.
27. Geology Museum in Rapid City: on the SD Tech campus this free museum has great displays of dinosaurs, fossils, rocks and minerals. Did I mention it’s free?
28. Rodeo: in the summer every community has a rodeo and why not, it’s a SD tradition.
29. Spearfish Canyon: drive from Spearfish south and see waterfalls amidst the spectacular scenery. And it’s even more amazing in the fall.
30. The 1880 Train in Hill City: a steam engine that runs from Hill City to Keystone. Take a ride into history.
31. Caves: the Black Hills have great caves to visit including Wind Cave and Jewel Cave that are run by the park service.
32. Fishing: the entire state has lakes, creeks, and the famous Missouri River all of which are teeming with walleye, pike, trout, bass, crappie, and catfish. Drop a line anywhere.
33. Sylvan Rocks Climbing School in Hill City: want to learn to rock climb and rappel? These professional climbers can teach you.
34. Hunting: there are lots of hills and prairie and lots of game including deer, elk, turkey, and for varmint hunters prairie dogs and coyotes.
35. The Corn Palace in Mitchell: the one and only community center covered with murals made of grain. Go figure.
36. The Wild Horse Sanctuary outside Hot Spring: over 500 rescued wild mustangs living free on the SD prairie.
37. Wylie Park in Aberdeen: a great city park with all the amenities including a Wizard of Oz themed children’s park.
38. The Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls: has a science museum, art galleries, IMAX theater and concert halls. Entertainment for an entire day.
39. The dams of the Missouri: there are five hydro electric dams on the Missouri River and all have visitor centers to understand the history and ecology of the river.
40. The Presidents in Rapid City: through downtown Rapid City there are life size bronze statues of the American presidents done by local artists. Very impressive and a lot of fun.
41. Old Town Keystone Walking Tour: with 19 stops this tour takes you to several mines, buildings from the 1880s and there are signs along the way to explain everything.
42. Sculpture Walk in Sioux Falls: every year over 50 art works are scattered around downtown Sioux Falls for visitors’ enjoyment and you can vote on your favorite.
43. Laura Ingalls Wilder: if you love the Little House books or TV show visit De Smet where the Ingalls family once lived. The town has preserved buildings and holds a pageant every summer to celebrate the beloved author.
44. Lewis and Clark: the Corp of Discovery spent a good portion of their journey traveling the Missouri through SD. There are numerous places to learn more about their adventures but Yankton is a great place to start.
45. Winter sports: yes it snows in SD and the people take advantage of it with skiing (cross country and downhill), snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snow shoeing.
46. Harney Peak: the highest mountain east of the Rockies and an awesome place to hike if you’re up to it.
47. Camping: there are state parks, city parks and then lots of wilderness for campers to explore. Pack and RV or a back pack and you will find a spot to suit your needs.
48. Rockhounding: the Black Hills are considered one of the 5 best places to find rocks and minerals in the United States. Just look down and you will find mica, quartz, feldspar, granite, tourmaline, jasper, and much more.
49. Golf: hard to believe but people in SD are golf nuts and every community has at least a nine hole course.
50. Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City: the home of professional fossil hunters and preparers and the folks that the found the famous T-Rex Sue. They have an amazing display of dinosaurs as well as fossils and minerals to buy.
51. Western wear: every town has a shop where you too can deck out in boots, jeans and a cowboy hat. And no one will think you look remotely odd.
52. Space: imagine a place where you can go hiking or driving and not see another person or car for hours if not days. Imagine a place that is so wide open you can see the horizon in two directions. Imagine a place where you can really find out what it’s like to be alone-that is South Dakota.
For more on South Dakota, read Marion’s article South Dakota’s Hidden Treasure: Custer State Park.