Located in the center of the country, South Dakota offers urban sights and rugged natural beauty. From badlands that jut into the sky and lush forests that have hosted Native American tribes for thousands of years, to deep underground caverns and the lifelike presidential monument of Mount Rushmore, South Dakota’s landscapes offer unique opportunities. Whether you’re interested in nature, culture or history, you’ll find plenty of things to see and do. Badlands National Park offers dramatic vistas. The town of Deadwood brings the Old West to life, and you can learn about local tribes and prairie ecosystems at Good Earth State Park in Sioux Falls. Use this list of top attractions in South Dakota to help plan your next visit:
1 Mount Rushmore National Monument
This historic landmark is South Dakota’s most prominent tourist attraction. Majestically carved into the side of the mountain are the heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. The carving, designed by Gutzon, began in 1927, stopped for several decades, and was finally completed in 1991. During its creation, more than 400,000 tons of stone were stoned from the side of the mountain. The monument is illuminated at night and accompanied by a patriotic ceremony. Located on the terrace overlooking the monument, the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center is an enjoyable part of any visit. The 0.6 mile Presidential Trail allows visitors to get up close and personal with the monument.
Adres: 13000 SD-244, Keystone, South Dakota
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/moru/planyourvisit/index.htm
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Mount Rushmore: Best Areas and Hotels
Read also: Best Campgrounds in Badlands National Park
2 Badlands National Park
The dramatic landscape of Badlands National Park consists of uniquely shaped hills and pinnacles made from the erosion of clay and sand. A large herd of bison roams freely in the park adding a unique element to the whole experience. This rugged landscape is strangely beautiful and one of the most visited destinations in South Dakota.
Lined with parking lots and viewpoints, the Badlands Loop Road tours the scenic area from the northwestern Pinnacles Entrance to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center . Changing vistas of rugged rock formations are the real draw of this scenic route, as is the Buffalo Gap National Grassland , one of the last remaining intact prairie landscapes in North America. There are marked hiking trails throughout the park, especially in the Cedar Pass area. Maps are available from the park administration or at visitor centers.
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Badlands National Park
3 Custer State Park
As one of the top state and national parks in South Dakota, Custer State Park covers a wide range of different terrain and offers opportunities for outdoor recreation and sightseeing. A large herd of bison roam the peaceful landscape , which is also home to a wide variety of other wildlife. Granite peaks tower over the forests, lakes and streams. Scenic drives, such as the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road , provide easy access to the park with beautiful views along the way. For the more adventurous, there are trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, with a must-see trail including the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail .
Adres: 13329 U.S. 16A, Custer, South Dakota
Official site: https://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/
Where to Stay: Where to Stay near Custer State Park
4 Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial, north of Custer, has been a work in progress since it began in 1947. Chief Standing Bear ‘s head and upper body are carved into this mountain, like the relief of Mount Rushmore just up the road. The on-site Indian Museum of North America enriches any visit to Crazy Horse, and visitors can also access the scheduled bus runs to the monument’s base throughout the day to meet Crazy Horse in person.
Adres: 12151 Avenue of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, South Dakota
Official site: https://crazyhorsememorial.org/
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Crazy Horse Memorial
5 Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park, just north of Hot Springs , is home to a vast karstic cave system, thought to be one of the largest in the world. It was discovered in 1881 by a hunter, who noticed a draft coming from a split in the rock. The cave contains a unique and delicate cave structure known as boxwork , ‘ which can be found in a few other places in the world. The only way to explore Wind Cave is by taking one of the many Park Ranger tours that take place almost every day of the year. Different tours are available for different skill levels, with most routes following lighted and cement routesinstalled by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. For those not interested in an underground tour, the above-ground portion of the park is also very beautiful, with rolling hills and roaming bison.
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/wica/index.htm
Where to stay: Where to stay near Wind Cave National Park
6 Mammoth Site
The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs has a large number of Columbian mammoth bones . More than 60 mammoths, including three woolly mammoths, have been discovered at this site. Visitors can see partially exposed mammoth bones displayed as they were found in an indoor, climate-controlled building. Guided tours are available, giving visitors a glimpse of the excavation. Junior and Advanced Paleontology Classes are available for anyone interested in getting their hands dirty, and the on-site Ice Age exhibit hall displays some of the fossils found underground.
Adres: 1800 US Bypass, Hot Springs, South Dakota
Official site: https://mammothsite.com/
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Mammoth Site
Hidden in the dense Black Hills landscape and steeped in the rich history of the Black Hills Gold Rush, the town of Deadwood is a blast from the past. Deadwood’s Wild West origins are on full display and waiting to be experienced off the streets. Some of Deadwood’s top-rated attractions include reenactment shoots on Historic Main Street , the Adams Museum, and the Broken Boot Gold Mine . Another fun place to visit in Deadwood, the Mount Moriah Cemetery is the final resting place for some of the Wild West’s greatest characters, including ” Wild Bill” Hickok , who met his demise right on the streets of Deadwood.
8 Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish Canyon is a beautiful natural area known for an abundance of ponderosa and spruce pine trees, as well as beautiful waterfalls and dramatic cliff walls. Popular roadside attractions and hikes in Spearfish Canyon include Bridal Veil and Rough Lock Falls and Spearfish Peak and Little Crow Peak. While beautiful natural scenery guarantees any time of year along the 22-mile route, the entire area is especially picturesque in the fall , when the foliage begins to change color. Just north of Spearfish lies the geographic center of the United States.
Official site: https://visitspearfish.com/things-to-do/spearfish-canyon
9 National Music Museum
The National Music Museum & Center for Study of the History of Musical Instruments at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion houses thousands of American, European, and non-Western instruments from around the world and a range of historical periods. At this self-selected place for music lovers, a small entrance fee provides access to a wide variety of musical instruments, ranging from American electric guitars to German zithers.
Adres: 414 East Clark Street, Vermillion
Official site: https://orgs.usd.edu/nmm/identity.html
10 Good Earth State Park at Blood Run
Good Earth State Park, on the western side of the state and outskirts of Sioux Falls, has a deep history in the area, despite its relatively new status as a state park. Good Earth State Park, as part of the larger Blood Run National Historic Landmark , occupies a lush area that once served as a thriving trading center and gathering places for the Oneota peoples . The site is currently considered one of the oldest areas of human history in the country. Today’s visitors can learn about the culture and history of the area through the modern visitor center and see the environment where these Native Americans have lived for thousands of years.
Adres: 26924 480th Ave, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Official site: https://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/good-earth/
11 Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove
The Sertoma Butterfly House in Sioux Falls is home to hundreds of free-flying butterflies from all over the world. While the butterflies are the real highlight, the Marine Cove is also home to a variety of marine life in tanks and petting zoos . Popular exhibits and activities at the Butterfly House include the Pacific Tide Pool and Shark & Stingray Touch Pool and the 3,600-square-foot indoor tropical garden that houses the butterflies. Visitors are also encouraged to check out weekly classes and events at the Sertoma Butterfly House, including yoga, meditation and tai-chi in the garden.
Adres: 4320 Oxbow Avenue, Sioux Falls
12 Old Courthouse Museum
The Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls is a restored three-story 19th century quartzite building . The interior contains a number of interesting features, including murals on the walls depicting life in an earlier period in Dakota. The museum displays exhibits related to the history of the state and city . Entry is free , although donations are accepted. Popular permanent exhibitions at the Old Courthouse Museum include a replica of a 19th-century schoolroom and an artefact-filled gallery dedicated to the First World War.
Adres: 6th and Main Street, Sioux Falls
Official site: https://www.siouxlandmuseums.com/home-page/old-courthouse-museum-exhibits/
More to explore in South Dakota
The things to do in South Dakota are spreading far and wide. You’ll find a lot of culture in cities like Deadwood, Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Outside of the urban areas, South Dakota’s best state and national parks offer a variety of outdoor activities. For ideas on great places to pitch your tent or park your RV, check out our articles on the top-rated campsites in South Dakota, the best campsites around Mount Rushmore, and the best campsites in Badlands National Park.