Written by Marion Head. Author of South Dakota: An Explorer’s Guide
1. Mount Rushmore: you’ve seen pictures but it’s even more amazing in person. Really. Check out some of these MT Rushmore travel booksto get an idea.
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.