Five Must-See Stops in South Dakota
Whether you’re a nature-lover, history-buff, gambler or thrill-seeker, South Dakota and its Black Hills will delight you — and it will do so in the most low-key and relaxing way imaginable. You won’t fight crowds or pay high prices. But you will relish every stunning view and historic site. Here are five of our favorites to check out in the great state of South Dakota.
Everyone’s heard of Mount Rushmore, but it’s one thing to see a photo of it and quite another to witness it in person. You approach the site along the Avenue of Flags, which is lined with 56 flags to represent our states, territories, commonwealths and the District of Columbia. As you get closer, the enormity and majesty of the sculptures becomes more and more apparent. A stop inside the Sculptor’s Studio illuminates how Guzton Borglum worked from 1939 to 1941 to create the masterpiece, using a 1/12 scale model.
About 30 minutes away, the Crazy Horse Memorial looms even larger. The four sculptures on Mount Rushmore are each about 60 feet high, while the Crazy Horse sculpture is planned to be 563 feet high. Although work began in 1948, only the head has been finished, but even that alone is more than 20 feet higher than the Mount Rushmore faces.
Tip: Don’t skip the educational movie at Crazy Horse Memorial; it illuminates the fascinating history of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and his family.
South Dakota’s National Parks
South Dakota is home to two national parks — Wind Cave National Park and Badlands National Park — and they’re pretty much opposite. At Wind Cave, you’ll be exploring some 145 miles of known underground passageways, which ranks it as the sixth longest cave in the world.
At the Badlands, you’ll drive through 380 square miles of wild terrain that was once called “hell with the fires burned out” by Lieutenant Colonel George Custer. Still, the erosion-shaped terrain is strikingly beautiful in its own way and well-deserving of an overnight visit at Cedar Pass Lodge. For those who love nature up-close, back-country camping is available. With so little light pollution, be sure to look up at night for incredible star gazing.
Tip: It’s a bit off the main road, but you’ll want to check out Roberts Prairie Dog Town to see these amusing critters popping in and out of the ground.
The Wild West
The town of Deadwood was founded in 1876 when prospectors came across a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold. Thus began the town’s wild history, full of characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
Today, you can still get your vice on here, thanks to the town’s casinos and many bars and saloons. But you’ll also find nice restaurants, guided tours and even historic re-enactments held throughout town during the summer.
Tip: Stay in the Bullock Hotel to experience true Victorian elegance.
Little House Legacy
If you’re a fan of the “Little House on the Prairie” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, then De Smet, South Dakota, is a must-see stop. Wilder’s books began in Wisconsin and took readers to Kansas then, finally, South Dakota. Today, you can tour homes the Ingalls family lived in and see the schoolhouse the children attended.
Tip: Reread The Long Winter, one of the best books in the series, before visiting, then stand on the inexplicably wide Main Street and imagine trying to cross it in a total whiteout.
All the Kitsch
Two well-known roadside attractions break up the long drive through South Dakota. The first is the Mitchell Corn Palace, which boasts an exterior that’s redecorated annually with 275,000 ears of corn to create a unique theme each year.
On the opposite end of the state, all signs point to Wall Drug — literally. Established in 1931, Wall Drug began as a struggling small drug store. That’s when the owners had an idea to put a sign up on the highway advertising free ice water. Today, Wall Drug has more than 300 signs leading up to its store — and the store itself is now a 76,000-square-foot tourist attraction known for its homemade doughnuts and incredible array of merchandise for sale.
Tip: Take the kids to the outdoor play area to get a photo opp on the giant jackalope.
You could easily spend a week — or more — in South Dakota and still have more exploring to do. You’ll hike, eat, drink, be amazed and maybe even try a hand or two at blackjack. And, if you’re lucky, you might just bring a little bit of that Black Hills magic home with you.
Reviews of Five Must-See Stops in South Dakota
South Dakota, Land of Infinite Variety
Spearfish Canyon #visitspearfish and dcboothfishhatchery.org are well kept secrets, as is #Center of the Nation/Belle Fourche, on your way to Devil’s Tower!!