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101 Things to see in South Dakota

There are so many things to see in South Dakota that you could probably spend months there without doing them all. Let’s face it, South Dakota wouldn’t really be on most people got to see list but you would be wrong to think that. From outdoor recreation, family attractions several with an old west vibe, and an abundance of wildlife South Dakota offers so much to explore. After all, where else can you see a 12-foot-tall prairie dog!

Love outdoor recreations, well you will love South Dakota. With 2 national parks and several national monuments, most people would think of the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. And of course, Sturgis we all have seen pictures of the famous bike week held each August, but South Dakota is so much more. So here is a list of 101 things to see in South Dakota. What are you waiting for, let’s take that road trip!

Things to see in South Dakota

Things to do in Black Hills

1. Black Hills National Forest

Covering more than 1.2 million areas (in South Dakota and Wyoming) the Black Hills National Forest is home to numerous scenic drives, camping areas, wildlife, hiking, and fishing. Many tourist towns surround them offering western life at its best. There is a forest visitors center at Pactola Reservoir where you can obtain maps and information on the area. It’s an outdoor paradise made for outdoor recreation.

2. Badlands National Parks

Badlands National Park

Covers 244,000 acres of beautiful colored rock formations known as eroded buttes and pinnacles along with the largest mixed-grass prairie in the United States. It’s the home to bison, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep to name a few. And although there aren’t hundreds of miles of hiking trails like in other national parks, the Badlands offer many incredible trails for all levels of hikers.

For detailed information on the park facilities and recreation visit my post on the Badlands National Park.

3. Crazy Horse Memorial

The largest statue in the world, Crazy Horse stands 9-stories high representing all Native American tribes. The statue is a sight to see and visitors also get to see how it was made at the Mountain Museum. The complex also includes the Indian Museum of North American where you can see the largest exhibits of the Native American culture.

4. Wind Caves National Park

Wind Cave National Park

The 6th Largest cave in the world, Wind Caves have a walk-in entrance to the caves for you to explore some of the 140 miles of passageways. The visitors center displays geology information on the caves as well as exhibits on the park’s plant and wildlife. Cave tours are offered year-round and dress warm since the temperature in the cave averages 54 degrees all year.

Note: Currently there are no cave tours at Wind Cave due to COVID however the rest of the park is open. Check their website for current details.

5. Custer State Park

This 92,000-acre park is one of South Dakota’s biggest gems. It has 3 scenic drives including Needles Highway, Wildlife Loop, and Iron Mountain Road. Together with the largest free-roaming bison herd in the United States and 4 stunning lakes make Custer State Park a place not to miss on your trip to South Dakota. Additionally, your kids will love seeing the burros along Wildlife Loop Road.

The park offers a great outdoor experience with hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, and wildlife viewing. Be sure to visit one of its visitor centers, the Wildlife Station Visitor Center, Custer State Park Visitor Center, and the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center, all offering different exhibits on the park.

6. Wildlife Loop Road

Burros in Custer State Park
Wild Burros in Custer State Park

This 18-mile road goes through the park and offers a great place to view wildlife. It’s like driving through the prairie with a chance to see bison, deer, elk, pronghorn, coyote, and many types of birds. However, my favorite animals along this route are the burros and prairie dogs. Both are so cute and an experience to see in the wild.

Note: All these animals are WILD and caution should be taken and please do not feed the wild animals.

7. Needles Highway Scenic Drive

Needles Highway in the Black Hills SD
photo courtesy of allblackhills.com

The scenic 14-mile road goes through Custer State Park surrounded by weird-shaped granite spires. It is known for the Needle’s Eye which is a 30’ high. You will experience its hairpin curves and its narrow tunnels which makes for a fun ride.

Note: This road is narrow, so caution is needed when driving larger vehicles. Trailers are not recommended on this road.

8. Drive Iron Mountain Road

This incredible 17-mile journey takes you through the beautiful scenery of the Black Hills from Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore. The curvy (314 curves in total) road features 3 one-land tunnels that display the faces of the presidents on Mount Rushmore.

9. Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake Custer State park
photo courtesy travelsouthdakota.com

Sylvan Lake is surrounded by mammoth rock formations and is known for its beauty. The 18-acre lake offers boating, fishing, and swimming. There are also several hikes in the area.

10. Some of Custer State Park Hikes

Hike–The Sylvan Lake Shore Trail is the most popular hike. It’s an easy 1-mile hike around the lake.

Hike—Black Elk Peak Trail is also known as the Harney Peak Trail (7-mile loop) to the Harney Peak Fire Tower.

Hike—Sunday Gulch Foot Trail—Goes behind the Sylvan Lake Dam. This steep hike drops 800’ within a mile. Steps with handrails help hikers especially on the way back.

11. National Museum of Woodcarving

With more than 70 displays from different woodcarvers, you can see a Disneyland animator’s miniature and life-size figures that move and speak along with miniature carved steam engines, a carousel, and many more.

12. Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary

Guided 2-hour bus tour on private land to see herds of wild horses.

13. Jewel Cave National Monument

Tour the 3rd largest cave in the world with more than 170 miles of mapped passages. Some of the tours can be strenuous because of the hundreds of steps after going into the cave by elevator. If you are unable to do this, they offer a 20-minute program for you to experience the cave. Other tours include a lantern experience where you carry a lantern along unpaved trails and yet another 3-4 hour tour which is very strenuous and you must wear a hard hat.

Dress warmly for any of the tours as the temperature in the cave is around 50 degrees.

Note: Jewel Cave tours are currently not operating due to construction on the elevator system. Construction is expected to be completed by June 2021.

Things to do Keystone

14. Mount Rushmore

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum carved into granite the faces (60’ high) of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These presidents were picked to represent the birth, growth, development, and preservation of this great country.

Mount Rushmore is a must-see attraction when visiting South Dakota.

15. Borglum Historical Center

Display at Borglum Historical Center
Display at Borglum Historical Center

Located in Mount Rushmore with 2 theaters showing a short movie about Mount Rushmore and Gutzon Borglum, sculptor. The museum offers the best views of Mount Rushmore. On display are all the carving tools used to create Mount Rushmore as well as other Borglum artwork. You can also take a walking trail from here.

16. Big Thunder Gold Mine

An underground tour of the 1890s gold mine along with panning for gold. There is also a museum with all the tools and equipment used for gold mining.

17. National Presidential Wax Museum

With over 100 lifelike wax figures including all 45 presidents (except Biden) displayed in historic moments in history. There is a self-guided tour explaining each exhibit. There is also a video on how they created the wax figures.

18. Rushmore Tramway Adventures

Take a chairlift ride with views of Mount Rushmore. You can also go down the mountain on a zipline or alpine slide for a more high-speed adventure. They also have a full rope course for climbers, there is something for everyone at Rushmore Tramway Adventures.

19. Rushmore Cave

Explore the Rushmore Cave and see the stalactite rooms and other limestone passages within the cave. The tour takes about an hour. Other attractions at this location include a zip ride, a roller coaster, a 3D ride, gem mining and so much more.

20. Centennial Trail

This 111-mile hiking trail runs through the Black Hills from Bear Butte State Park to Wind Cave National Park. You can access this trial in more than 30 places with parts of the trail open to motorized vehicles, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

Big Horn Sheep in the Badlands

Things to Do in Hill City

21. 1880 Train

An old-fashioned steam train takes passengers through the beautiful scenery of the Black Hills which the miners and pioneers once took. The 1880 Train was used in the filming of the TV show Gunsmoke.

22. Teddy Bear Town

Holds the record for the “largest Teddy Bear Collection” with over 9000 different teddy bears on display.

23. Circle B Chuckwagon Cowboy Music Show

Chuckwagon Display
Chuckwagon Display

Chuckwagon dinner and cowboy western show. Also has pony rides, wood carving demos, and a gunfight.

24. Museum at Black Hills Institute

Dinosaur museum with over 900 fossils and the original Stan T rex on display.

25. Black Hills Mining Museum, Lead

Museum dedicated to the story of the mining history in South Dakota. Take a mine tour and pan for gold.

26. The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs

The largest collection of Columbian mammoth bones to be discovered. Guided tours are given explaining the history and findings and they are still digging for more bones.

Things to do Rapid City

27. Bear Country USA

This is a drive-thru park featuring North American wildlife. It has one of the biggest collections of black bears in the states. Other animals include elk, mountain goats, wolves, and bison. There is also a walk-thru area of baby animals born there and other small animals.

28. Reptile Gardens

The world’s largest reptile exhibits with an indoor jungle with lizards, snakes, and parrots. They also have a 15’ crocodile on display. There is also an outdoor botanical garden with over 40,000 plants and flowers.

29. Museum of Geology

Museum featuring rocks, minerals, and ores from around the world. A triceratops is on display which is the state fossil. There is also a kid’s interactive section.

30. The Journey Museum and Learning Center

Numerous displays about the development of the Black Hills as well as collections about the pioneer life and Native American artifacts.

31. The Outdoor Campus West

This is a hands-on exhibit of the animals of western South Dakota as well as a 4600-gallon fish aquarium. There are also nature trails and hiking trails, most are handicap accessible.

32. Storybook Island

photo courtesy of storybookisland.org

A children’s small theme park established in 1959 and run by the Rapid City Rotary Clubs. The park is free but there is a small change for the train ride, the carousel, and the bounce house.

33. Private Cove Adventure Golf

Pirate themed miniature golf fun for the whole family and challenging too.

34. Dahl Arts Center

Home of the Cyclorama, a 180’ mural that tells the 200-year history of America. It also has 3 art galleries and a hands-on children’s section.

35. Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper & Cowboy Show

A western-style dinner with a show featuring the Fort Hays Wranglers. You will also get to see the film set from the movie “Dances with Wolves”.

36. Cosmos Mystery Area

A fun place to visit but also weird at the same time. Take a tour and stand on the walls and see a ball and water go upwards. Check out all the odd phenomena and see if you can figure out what is really happening at this cabin.

37. Firehouse Brewery Company

South Dakota’s oldest operating brewery located in the original Rapid City firehouse build in 1915. They offer a large variety of craft beers all made on the premised and a western menu. A great place to eat while visiting Rapid City.

38. Downtown Art

Art Alley, Sculptures project and city of Presidents (outdoor)

39. The City of Presidents

Life-size bronze statues line the streets of Rapid City of all the past Presidents of the United States.

40. Visit Rapid City’s Main Street Square

In the heart of the downtown area, special events happen throughout the year. During the summer there are free concerts every Thursday and movies under the stars. During the winter it becomes an ice-skating rink. Granite sculptures are also in the square inspired by the Badlands and the Black Hills.

41. The Back Hills Powwow

Every October Rapid City celebrates the Native American culture and features a native dance competition at the Black Hills Powwow.

Things to do Sturgis

42. Sturgis Bike Week

Sturgis bike week
photo courtesy of blackhillsbadlands.com

When visiting South Dakota, you must go to the famous town of Sturgis. Yes, this is the place where the motorcycle rally happens the first full week in August. Hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists arrive here each summer to celebrate bike week with drag races, concerts, motorcycle shows, motorcycle rodeo, and poker runs. It is the biggest gathering of its type in the world.

43. Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame

The museum features Harleys, Indians, and Triumphs motorcycle dating back to 1905. There are also exhibits of people and things that have made an impact on the motorcycle industry.

44. Bear Butte State Park

The northern end of the Centennial Trail is Bear Butte State Park. A volcanic laccolith (bubble) is located in the park and the Plains Indians regard it as a sacred site.

Things to do Deadwood

Saloon Sign in Deadwood SD
Saloon Sign in Deadwood South Dakota

44. Saloon Hop

Visit old-style famous saloons such as Wild Bill Bar and Saloon No10 where you can see the chair where Wild Bill was shot. You will really feel like you’re in the wild west.

46. Deadwood Distillery

What would the old west be without moonshine? Come get your moonshine tasting and see which one is your favorite.

47. Belle Joli Winery

Relax overlooking the 5 acres of vineyards ( in Sturgis) while enjoying South Dakota fine sparkling wines. There is also a tasting room in Deadwood.

48. Outlaw Square

Located in town on Main Street, this year-round venue offers ice skating, summer concerts and movie nights, craft fairs, family fun nights and so much more.

Also watch for the Wild West Characters roaming the streets of Deadwood.

49. Stagecoach Ride

Take a Stagecoach ride around town leaving from the Celebrity Hotel.

50. The Trail of Jack McCall

The play based on the trial of Jack McCall who shot Wild Bill Hickok in Saloon No. 10. This play has been running for almost 100 years in Deadwood when it began in the mid-1920s.

51. Adam’s House

Museum of the house of W.E. Adam and his Queen Anne Victorian house that his family lived in until 1936. The house has been restored and has artifacts of the upper-class lifestyle when the town of Deadhead was a mining town.

52. Self-guided walking tour of Deadwood

Pick up your brochures at the History and Information Center describing a self-guided tour of downtown Deadwood and feel like you’re walking through the old west!

53. Take a Brothel Tour

There were several brothels, (yes that’s what I said) in Deadwood. Today you can tour the Shasta Room and learn the history of prostitution in Deadwood and the Wild West where it existed from 1876 to 1980 when the last house was closed.

54. Days of ’76 Museum

A museum celebrating the original settlers of Deadhead and their dream of striking gold in the Black Hills. They also have an annual rodeo and parade. The museum has exhibits including carriages, firearms, Native American artifacts as well as Buffalo Bill Cody memorabilia.

55. Watch a Shootout

Several times a day you can experience justice in the wild west with a “shootout” at Outlaw Square. Afterward, you can even get to meet the gunslingers.

56. Boot Hill Cemetery Tour

Cemetery tours are given by numerous tour companies describing the lives of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Potato Creek Johnny, and Preacher Smith along with tales of the Gold Rush.

57. Broken Boot Gold Mine

Tour of the gold mine that operated from 1878 to 1904. In addition, you can also mine for gold.

58. Titanka: Story of the Bison.

An exhibit of how the bison and the Lakota people lived in the 1800s. There is a Native American village, and you can learn about the tribe’s way of life. There are 17 large bronze sculptures depict the buffalo jump.

59. Casinos

There are more than 10 casinos and resorts for all of you who like to gamble.

Things to do Spearfish

Spearfish Canyon SD
photo courtesy travelsouthdakota.com

60. Spearfish Canyon

A deep narrow gorge carved by the Spearfish Creek in the northern Black Hills. It’s known for its outdoor recreation.

61. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive

Take the 20-mile drive along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (follows US 14A) along the Spearfish Creek. The creek is very unusual as it freezes from the bottom up and flows south to north.

62. Hike Bridal Veil Falls

Hike to this 60-foot waterfall in the canyon.

63. Roughlock Falls State Nature Area

A 2-mile, handicap-accessible trail that goes to Roughlock Falls. The falls flow into Spearfish Canyon from Little Spearfish Creek.

64. Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

The 350-acre sanctuary houses more than 300 animals that were exploited or neglected. Guided 2-hour tours are available.

65. Spearfish City Park

Town park with picnic areas, playgrounds and outdoor recreation.

66. Spearfish recreation and bike path

This 7.5-mile trail runs along Spearfish Creek and is a great place for joggers, biking, and walkers.

67. D.C. Booth National Historic Fish Hatchery

One of the oldest fish hatchery in the country.

68. High Plains Western Heritage Center

Displays of the pioneer days and Native American history from 5 states including South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Nebraska. Displays also include ranching and rodeo as well as forestry and transportation and farm equipment.

69. Go ATVing

The Black Hills offers 650 miles of trails designated as off-road motorized trails. Pick up your maps at the Forest Ranger District Office in Custer, Spearfish, and Rapid City.

Things to do Sioux Falls

70. Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science

A cultural and entertainment center featuring art collections, a hands-on science museum, and a performing arts venue. The museum itself is in an old high school.  It also has a dome screen where they show films. In addition, traveling Broadway shows are performed here as well as musical and vocal performances.

71. Falls Park

Falls Park, Sioux Falls, SD
photo courtesy of experiencesiouxfalls.com

Falls Park has an observation tower 5 stories tall where you can view the falls, the Big Sioux River, and the downtown skyline. A visitors’ center is also located here. During the holidays from November to January, the area becomes a winter wonderful filled with lights.

72. Big Sioux River Recreation Trail

A 26-mile trail begins at Falls Park and goes through the city providing a loop for walkers, biking, inline skating, and joggers. The trail passes through McKennan Park where you can picnic. There is also a playground, wading pool, and bandshell as well as beautiful gardens with a bronze fountain.

73. Butterfly House & Marine Cove

Over 800 different types of butterflies are housed in a climate control area that you can walk around in as they fly freely all around. There are a waterfall and pond to add to the tropical atmosphere. Also featured are touch pools with sharks and stingrays in addition to aquariums of saltwater fish and coral.

74. Go to RibFest

RibFest is an annual event usually in late May/early June where BBQ comes to Sioux Falls. Everyone gets to eat great BBQ while enjoying music and entertainment for all ages. The attendees even get to pick the winner!

75. The Earth Resources Observation and Science Center

This facility acquires data on the changing earth. There is a 1 hour guided tour on the Landsat 8 satellite and the partnership they have with NASA.

76. Wild Water West Waterpark

Waterpark featuring a lazy river, 6-story tower with waterslides, a pool, and a falls play area. In addition, they also have go-karts, bumper boats, batting cages, paintball, volleyball, and miniature golf.

77. Sculpture Walk

Outdoor exhibits of sculptures displayed throughout Sioux Falls changing every May.

78. Siouxland Heritage Museums

This museum preserves the history of Sioux Falls.

79. Old Courthouse Museum

Housed in an old courthouse, this museum exhibits regional history.

80. Pettigrew Home and Museum

Exhibits are about the former senator Richard F, Pettigrew including some of his personal collections.

81. Sioux Falls Michelangelo’s

There are many statues throughout the city of Sioux Falls including replicas of Michelangelo’s Dave and Moses. Dave is displayed in Fawick Park near 10th Street and 2nd Avenue downtown and Moses at the corner of 29th Street and Summit Avenue.

82. Strawbale Winery

A straw bale constructed winery that reduces energy needs and recreates a controlled environment of the cellars and caves. Come relax, slow down, take a tour and taste some wine.

83. The Outdoor Campus

This hands-on education center has a 3000-gallon aquarium, hiking trails, a fishing pond, a butterfly garden, and tail-grass prairie.

84. Midco Aquatic Center

Indoor aquatic facility with 3 pools and offers water aquatics for the whole family. They have an Olympic size pool with diving boards, a recreational pool, a warm water pool, water slides, lily pad crossing, an outdoor splash pad, and a sun deck.

85. Great Plains Zoo

Zoo with over 1000 animals with many exhibits recreating the animal’s natural habitant including rhinos of Africa and Asian cats. There is also a train ride and a carousel that operates in season.

86. Delbridge Museum of Natural History

In the Grand Plains Zoo, there is a rare collection of animal mounts, some from vanishing species. The highlight of the museum is their mounted panda.

87. Museum Of Visual Materials

All displays by local artists, the museum features children’s creativity and has many exhibits including a Lego Creation Station, an imagination playground, and an art and craft corner.

88. The Fort Pierre National Grassland

Located in central South Dakota near the Capital is the Fort Pierre National Grassland. A combination of 116,000 acres of rolling hills and prairie flats it is home to numerous wildlife including deer and numerous birds including the owl.

89. Storybook Land, Aberdeen

A children’s theme park featuring nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The park has a section, the Land of Oz, which tells the story of the Wizard of Oz. The park also has a swimming area, miniature golf, go-carts as well as rides including a carousel, roller coaster, and balloon ride.

90. Children’s Museum of South Dakota, Brookings

This hands-on museum features fun exhibits for kids including shopping at a grocery store, a gym, a newsroom, learning all about building and construction, and a splash room. The outside has a full-size T-Rex and its baby, a prairie grass maze with tunnels and a fishing pond. It’s a great place to take the kids.

Things you will Only See in South Dakota

91. Wall Drug, Wall

Famous Wall Drug in Wall SD

Driving along I90 you will see signs for Wall Drugs hundreds of miles away. There are so many you will begin to look for them. They say all different things, but the one that made Wall Drugs famous said “Stop for Free ice water”.

It is one of the most visited places in South Dakota with 2 million people annually which all started as an ad campaign to make folks stop to “stretch your legs and free ice water”. Today they have shopping, a restaurant, a big yard with playgrounds for the kids, good ice cream and of course, free ice water.

92. The Corn Palace, Mitchell

Corn Palace in Mitchell SD

Concert venue and sports arena that is decorated differently each year with colored corn and grain all over it showcasing the South Dakota agricultural traditions. This tourist attraction gets over half of a million visitors each year.

93. Dignity of Earth and Sky, Chamberlain

A 50-foot statue of a Native American holding a quilt behind her back. This attraction is off the I90 rest area above the Missouri River.

94. Giant Prairie Dog

The 12’ tall concrete statue outside of Badlands National Park is the largest prairie dog in the world.

95. 1880 Town, I90 at exit 170 west of Murdo

Here lies a town that represents the era between 1880 and 1920. You see, Hollywood decided to make a movie in South Dakota and shipped several props however they decided not to go forward with it. All the props were left and original old buildings were added to make an interesting place to stop. It has become a town where they even have an old saloon in town with a “shootout”.

Army Corps of Engineers areas in South Dakota

There are six areas run by the Army Corps of Engineers in the state. These areas are popular especially in the camping community as these are beautiful, usually spacious camping sites that are inexpensive and sometimes free.

96. Cold Brook Lake

Consisting of a 484-acre lake for canoeing, wildlife viewing, beach and playground.

97. Cottonwood Springs Lake

An Army of Engineers facility 608-acre lake and park with a playground, swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and biking trails near Hot Springs. SD.

98. Cottonwood Campground

Located near Yankton, this 125-acre campground offers hiking, biking, fishing, boating and swimming.

99. Left Tailrace

A 66-acre campground with hiking, boating, fishing and biking in Fort Thompson.

100. Oahe Dam

This 880 Acre campground with cabins is near Pierre. Hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, boating are all available.

101. Old Fort Thompson

A 170-acre campground featuring hiking, biking, boating, fishing, swimming, and a playground.

I hope you enjoyed my list of 101 things to see in South Dakota. What are some of your favorite things to see in South Dakota?

For more information on things to see in South Dakota visit Travel South Dakota’s official website.

Picture of South Dakota state sign with trees

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8 thoughts on “101 Things to see in South Dakota”

  1. I have never been to South Dakota, but this really makes me want to visit. I want to see Mount Rushmore, but did not realize how many other cool things there are to do there. The 1880 Town sounds really fun to visit!

  2. WOW! There are so many things to do while visiting South Dakota! This is a place that is on my “bucket list” of places to visit one day. The winery and Mount Rushmore are just two places-of many- I would like see and visit. Thanks for a great post!

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