South Dakota is one of the most visited state’s known for its stunning natural beauty and landscapes that are both geographically and historically significant. As the former and current home to many of North America’s Native People, South Dakota has long held an important place in the heart of this country’s inhabitants, but today it is even more well-known for its more recent occupants, the towering faces of four of America’s great presidents carved into the stone of the famous monument Mount Rushmore.
Although Mount Rushmore steals the spotlight from most of South Dakota, the state is also home to equally impressive natural and man-made wonders. Popular attractions in South Dakota include national parks known for jaw-dropping vistas and some of the world’s most impressive cave formations.
Mount Rushmore National Park
Mount Rushmore, it’s one of the country’s most famous landmarks and it should definitely be at the top of your list of South Dakota attractions. The mountain is actually a massive sculpture carved into the mountainside featuring the faces of four of America’s most famous presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
Badlands National Park
South Dakota, like many states, has areas nicknamed “badlands,” which feature stunningly beautiful rock formations. The Badlands National Park is known for its eroded buttes, intermixed with sharp pinnacles and spires. The national park land has long held significance for regional Native American Tribes, and today much of it is protected as a wilderness and national park.
Jewel Cave National Monument
South Dakota is known for its exceptional landscapes and in addition to mountains, prairies, and forests, the state also has two of the world’s most stunning caves. Jewel Cave is the second longest cave in the world, at just over 157 miles of mapped passageways. Visitors can access the cave via a park service tour, of which there are three types one oriented towards history, one that uses candlelight exploration, and for the daredevils a spelunking tour.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park is South Dakota’s largest state park and it is also a wildlife reserve. Located in the Black Hills region. The park is famous for its herd of 1500 free roaming bison, as well as several other native species including elk, mule deer, mountain goat, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mountain lions, and feral burros. The most famous animals are the Begging Burros, about 50 wild donkeys that have become accustomed to begging for food from passing cars and people.
Black Hills National Forest
This National Forest covers over one million acres in southwestern South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming. The forest is mostly made up of ponderosa pine, aspen, bur oak, and birch grow in the wooded areas with grassland prairies in the lower elevations. The forest is also the home of Harney Peak, the state’s tallest mountain and the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains.
Top Things to Do in South Dakota
This magical theme park is a favorite of children and those that are still young at heart as it brings to life some of everyone’s favorite storybook characters. The popular attractions are the J&J Railroad Train, the Happy Dragon, and the Whily Bug Ferris wheel. Characters like Dorothy and Toto, Mother Goose, the Three Little Pigs, and many more give the park its theme.
Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a monument to the famous Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. Located not far from Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial employs a similar style carving a statue in human form from the mountain side. The final dimensions of the statue show Crazy Horse seated on a horse, standing 641 feet high and 563 feet wide.
In the city of Sioux Falls, visitors can stroll through this stunning park which is named for the cascading waterfalls in its center. The park also has a café, overlooking the waterfalls, an observation tower, and visitor center. Also on the premises is the now out-of-operation Queen Bee Mill which dates to 1881.
Mammoth Site is a museum and paleontological site near Hot Springs, South Dakota. It is an active paleontological dig site, which boasts the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world. Mammoth bones were found at the site in 1974, and a museum and building enclosing the site were established. The museum now contains an extensive collection of mammoth remains. The bones are displayed as they were discovered. Walkways allow visitors a close-up view of the fossils.
Normally quirky roadside attractions don’t work out to be the most visit-worthy destinations, but this massive palace made entirely of corn is an exception. The Corn Palace is located in the city of Mitchell and it receives more than a half a million visitors every year. It was built in 1921 and is redecorated and designed with fresh colored corn each year. Besides being a popular tourist destination, the palace also acts a venue hosting concerts, sports events, exhibits, and other events.
Things to Do in South Dakota
South Dakota most impressive attraction, Mount Rushmore, is relatively new in the comparison with the other works of art sculpted by eons of Mother Nature’s work. If you are the type of traveler that wants to explore history and nature during your journeys, or if you’re someone who just wants to see something that will knock you off your feet, South Dakota is a state that will certainly impress you.