Famous for Mt. Rushmore, the Black Hills, amazing outdoor activities like fishing, and iconic wild west towns like Deadwood, you’ll find a wide range of fun things to do in South Dakota. Additional famous South Dakota activities include visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial, the Badlands and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. We dive much deeper and in this article, you’ll find the ultimate list of unique and fun things to do and see in South Dakota in 2022 that fit any travel itinerary or budget.
South Dakota is an expansive, midwestern U.S. state where rolling prairies give way to the dramatic Black Hills National Forest. The Black Hills are home to two historical monuments carved into towering granite peaks: Mt. Rushmore, the iconic depiction of four 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 of things to do in South Dakota if you are planning to visit. While most head here for Mt. Rushmore, we have 52 great reasons to visit South Dakota
Simply scroll through the list to help plan your trip to South Dakota.
52 Fun Things to do in South Dakota
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South Dakota is divided into four tourism regions: the Black Hills & Badlands region in the west, the South Dakota Missouri River region in the center, the Glacial Lakes & Prairies region in the northeast, and the Southeast region in the southeast.
There are beautiful towns and places to visit in South Dakota. If you love camping, fishing, art, history or beautiful open spaces, this state has a lot to offer.
There is an abundance of things to see in South Dakota, so grab a pen and paper and choose the places you want to see on your South Dakota vacation.
Things to do in the Black Hills & Badlands
1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the most popular things to see in South Dakota. We’ve all seen pictures, but it’s even more amazing in person. Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, about 30-minutes southwest of Rapid City. Completed in 1941, the sculpture is carved into the granite rock face and is about 60-ft.-high. The four U.S. presidents at Mt. Rushmore are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The site also features a museum with interactive exhibits.
No Mount Rushmore Vacation is complete without exploring more of the Black Hills and Badlands National Park! If you are looking for things to do near Mount Rushmore, the first place to look is in the Black Hills and Badlands as well as the town of Spearfish. If you are a hiker or climber, there are many mountains in South Dakota to explore. South Dakota Mountains in the Black Hills that are over 7,000 feet in elevation include Bear Mountain, Crooks Tower, Terry Peak, and Crows Nest Peak.
2. Custer State Park is another of the top South Dakota tourist attractions. Custer State Park is South Dakota’s largest and first state park and is located in the Black Hills, about 20 miles (45 minutes) from Mt. Rushmore via US-16A W. The park is filled with spectacular scenery, wildlife, fishing, hiking, campgrounds, lodges, and history galore. Custer State Park Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway is one the best place to spot Bighorn Sheep in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
3. The Badlands are spectacular spires and formations that change yearly, seasonally, and even daily as the sun sets and rises. They are quite mysterious and magical. Badlands National Park is another likely place to spot Bighorn Sheep.
4. The 1880 Train in Hill City: This steam engine that runs from Hill City to Keystone is one of the most popular things to do in South Dakota near Mount Rushmore. The two-hour ride is a narrated 20-mile round trip with beautiful vistas of Harney Peak, mining encampments, and the Black Hills. This ride into history is good old-fashioned fun.
5. Black Hills Playhouse: nestled in Custer State Park, this professional theater puts on plays and musicals every summer.
6. Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City: the home of professional fossil hunters and preparers and the folks that found the famous T-Rex Sue. They have an amazing display of dinosaurs as well as fossils and minerals to buy.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Caves: the Black Hills have great caves to visit including Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument that is run by the park service.
10. Take a Scenic Drive in the Black Hills The 70-mile Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway in the Black Hills of western South Dakota, was named one of the 10 Most Outstanding scenic drives in America. This is a very popular tourist attraction in the fall and to see the leaves change to their beautiful hues of orange, yellow, and red. Another spectacular Black Hills drive is along the 38-mile Needles Highway with ponderosa pine and the Black Hills spruce forests, birch, and aspen trees.
Things to do in Spearfish SD
Spearfish is a center for art and culture located between Mount Rushmore and Devils Tower. Spearfish provides good access to the adventures and beauty of the Northern Black Hills of South Dakota.
11. 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.
12. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway: drive from Spearfish south and see waterfalls amidst the spectacular scenery. This beautiful drive on US Highway 14A is even more amazing in the fall.
Things to do in Rapid City SD
Rapid City is known as The City of Presidents, partially because it is the official gateway city to Mount Rushmore, and also because of the public art project in the city that includes 43 life-size bronze presidential statues located on street corners throughout downtown. Below are some of our favorite things to do in Rapid City.
13. Prairie Edge: if you visit Rapid City, a fabulous collection of Native American arts and crafts is well worth a visit at the Prarie Edge. There isn’t a collection like anywhere else.
14. Storybook Island in Rapid City: a free city park with a storybook theme that will entertain your kids for an entire afternoon. This is one of the most popular things to do in Rapid City SD for families.
15. Bear Country outside Rapid City: a drive-through wildlife park with bears, elk, wolves, deer and the cutest baby critters you could hope to see in Baby Land.
16. Geology Museum in Rapid City: on the SD Tech campus this free museum has great displays of dinosaurs, fossils, rocks, and minerals. This is one of the most popular free things to do in Rapid City.
17. The Presidents in Rapid City: through downtown Rapid City there are life-size bronze statues of the American presidents created by local artists. These are one of the most popular Rapid City tourist attractions. It’s a fun & quirky city art project that is quite impressive.
Things to do in Deadwood SD
Deadwood is about an hour from Rushmore, the Needles Hwy, Iron Mt. Rd. and 1.5 hours to the Wildlife Loop. Deadwood was on the verge of becoming another Old West ghost town, but in 1989 limited-wage gambling was legalized and Deadwood was reborn. Because of gambling, and the popular TV show, the town is booming once again. If you like western history, if you like small stakes gambling, if you like free entertainment then you will love Deadwood.
18. Visit Mount Moriah Cemetery where you can find the graves of Wild West outlaws like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
19. Visit the Historic District buildings that were once brothels, saloons, and gambling houses. Today, the historic district contains many original buildings dating back to the nineteenth century.
Things to do in Sioux Falls
Sioux Falls is the most populated city in South Dakota. The city is about 340 miles from Mount Rushmore and located in eastern South Dakota, about 15 miles west of the Minnesota border. Some of the top things to do in Sioux Falls Falls SD are visit the ruins of the 19th-century Queen Bee Mill. The Queen Anne–style Pettigrew Home & Museum and the Old Courthouse Museum.
20. The Falls in Sioux Falls: Yes, Sioux Falls was really named for waterfalls and they run right through the middle of downtown. They are really beautiful, surrounded by a great park and one of the most popular Sioux Falls things to do.
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. Sculpture Walk in Sioux Falls: every year over 50 artworks are scattered around downtown Sioux Falls for visitors’ enjoyment and you can vote on your favorite.
23. The Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls: has a science museum, art galleries, IMAX theater and concert halls. Entertainment for an entire day.
Additional Events & Attractions in South Dakota & Events
Vacations in South Dakota should include several tourist attractions. Below are some additional events and special locations worth checking out.
24. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: is held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota, and the surrounding Black Hills region. It is scheduled for Fri, Aug 5, 2022 – Sun, Aug 14, 2022. If you ride a motorcycle and have not been, you really must make plans to go.
25. 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. Watertown is about 307 miles from Rapid City & 106 miles from Sioux Falls.
26. Lewis and Clark Recreation Area in Yankton: a huge reservoir on the Missouri with lots of recreational activities associated with the water. Yankton it’s about 64.5 miles to Sioux City and about 358 miles to Rapid City.
27. 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.
Must See in South Dakota
A few South Dakota places to visit that are a bit off the tourist track, but worth a visit.
28. Wall Drug: the reason Wall is there. The trashy, the classy, the collectible all jumbled together in a retail nirvana.
29. The Corn Palace in Mitchell: the one and only community center covered with murals made of grain. Go figure the world’s only corn palace would be in South Dakota!
30. 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.
31. 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. This is one of the top family favorite South Dakota tourist attractions.
32. 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.
33. Pow Wows: a tradition among Native American tribes where folks visit, dance, and celebrate their heritage. Go as a respectful visitor and learn.
34. 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.
35. 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.
36. 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.
37. Prairie Berry Winery outside Hill City: local wine which is yummy and a great, friendly staff.
38. Indian Tacos: fried flatbread with greasy ground beef and cheese. It may not be low in calories (or fat), but you’ve got to have a bite if you are in South Dakota.
Places to See in South Dakota if you love the Outdoors
39. Pheasant hunting: over 180,000 hunters a year come to SD to bag a pheasant. That many people can’t be wrong.
40. Angostura Recreation Area outside Hot Springs: a huge reservoir with fishing, boating, skiing, and a great sand beach.
41. 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.
42. Rodeo: in the summer every community has a rodeo and why not, it’s a South Dakota tradition.
43. Fishing: the 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. Hunting: there are lots of hills and prairie and lots of game including deer, elk, turkey, and for varmint hunters prairie dogs and coyotes.
44. Sylvan Rocks Climbing School in Hill City: want to learn to rock climb and rappel? These professional climbers can teach you.
45. The Wild Horse Sanctuary outside Hot Spring: over 500 rescued wild mustangs living free on the SD prairie.
46. Wylie Park in Aberdeen: a great city park with all the amenities including a Wizard of Oz-themed children’s park. This is one of the most fun family things to see in South Dakota.
47. The dams of the Missouri: there are five hydroelectric dams on the Missouri River and all have visitor centers to understand the history and ecology of the river.
48. Lewis and Clark: the Corp of Discovery spent a good portion of their journey traveling the Missouri through South Dakota. There are numerous places to learn more about their adventures but Yankton is a great place to start.
49. Winter sports: yes it snows in SD and the people take advantage of it with skiing (cross country and downhill), snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snowshoeing.
50. Harney Peak: the highest mountain east of the Rockies and an awesome place to hike if you’re up to it.
51. Camping: there are state parks, city parks and then lots of wilderness for campers to explore. Pack an RV or a backpack and you will find a spot to suit your needs.
52. Golf: hard to believe but people in SD are golf nuts and every community has at least one nine-hole course.
The author of this article also wrote South Dakota: An Explorer’s Guide
Fun Facts About South Dakota
- South Dakota Has More Shoreline Than Florida.
- Bullock Hotel in Deadwood and the Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City are two of the most haunted places in the state.
- There is a castle in South Dakota. Easton’s Castle was built sometime between 1886 and 1889. It was originally a 30 room, three-story Queen Anne-style mansion.
- In 1876 the outlaw Jesse James leaped across the 18-foot gorge known as Devil’s Gulch on his horse while trying to escape capture after one of his many robberies.
- The State Animal of South Dakota is the Coyote.
- There is an active paleontological dig site of Woolly Mammoths in Hot Springs, South Dakota. It is known as the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world.
- The state dessert of South Dakota is Kuchen (German dough pie made with custard and fruits).
- The state bread is Frybread.
- The smallest incorporated town in South Dakota is Hillsview with a population of 3.
- Indian Museum of North America is located in Crazy Horse, South Dakota, and is dedicated to telling the story of Native Americans through cultural artifacts and exhibits.
South Dakota Travel Guide
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. While there is an abundance of things to do if you visit South Dakota, one of the best is to truly enjoy the space and beauty!
When to Visit | Weather in South Dakota
The coldest month in South Dakota is January when the average low temperatures can reach 11°F or lower. July, the warmest month with an average day time temperature of 85°F.
Travel to South Dakota is at its peak during June, July, and August and when Mount Rushmore will be most crowded. A better time to visit is during April and May. While it might be a bit more rainy than summer, you’ll find cheaper lodging and smaller crowds at the most popular tourist attractions. September and October is ideal for fall colors, especially in the Black Hills. This time of year has a lot of migrating wildlife and beautiful daytime temperatures in the 60-70°F 60s range.
Related Post: Custer State Park: South Dakota’s Hidden Treasure There is a secret that most Midwesterners would like to keep that way–a state park that rivals many of the overcrowded national parks for natural beauty, history, and family fun. Where, you might ask? In the southern Black Hills of South Dakota.
Related Post: A Perfect Day In Minneapolis Minnesota is South Dakota’s neighbor to the east. Minneapolis, Minnesota is one of the most underrated cities in the United States to visit. This city is absolutely full of diverse and unique activities
As travel today remains uncertain, please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind at all times. If you are comfortable with traveling, please travel responsibly and within regulation as any travel is at your own risk.
If you do decide to travel at this time, here are a few recommendations:
- Wear a face mask.
- Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands on a regular basis. Click here for a DIY Hand Sanitizer Recipe
- Check official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures, and status of local businesses and South Dakota Travel alerts..
- Book a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
Marion L. Head is an educator and freelance writer who lives in Seattle, WA. Marion has published fiction in various anthologies and nonfiction on various websites. Marion is author of South Dakota: An Explorer’s Guide for Countryman Press.