South Dakota is home to some of the best national parks in the country. Free entry to these parks is available on certain days, but you’ll find plenty of other complimentary things to do on a South Dakota vacation to fill the rest of your time.
Be sure to check before you go to make sure entry policies haven’t changed and make donations when you can to non-profits.
1. Jewel Cave National Monument
It’s the third-longest cave in the world and has more than 180 miles of mapped passages. Jewel Cave is a national monument you’ll definitely want to explore. In 2019, the per-person fee was waved on these days: January 21, April 20, August 25, and September 28. (Current fee information, including free entrance days, can be found on the National Park Service's website for Jewel Cave.)
2. Black Hills National Forest
Over 1.2 million acres of forest and mountains make up the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming, allowing for endless opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and watching nature. You can discover streams, lakes, canyons, and unique rock formations in the Black Hills National Forest.
3. Mount Moriah Cemetery
Learn about some of the notables in South Dakota history, including Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, through a visit to Mount Moriah Cemetery.
4. Main Street Shootout
Head back to the Old West for a bit and enjoy live (and safe) gunfights several times a day on Main Street in Deadwood. The battles are with blank bullets, but the fun is all real.
5. Adams Museum
W.E. Adams founded a museum in Deadwood in order to preserve and display the history of the Black Hills region. This free museum – a donation is suggested – is now called the Adams Museum, the home of some amazing Black Hills treasures.
6. South Dakota Air and Space Museum
Visit the Ellsworth Air Force Base for a look into military and aerospace history at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. Admission is complimentary and the exhibits are supersonic.
7. Teddy Bear Town
Downtown Hill City has some fun shops to look through, but Teddy Bear Town is more of a museum where you can purchase things. It holds the Guinness World Record for the “Largest Teddy Bear Collection” with 9,000 different bears.
8. Civilian Conservation Corps Museum of South Dakota
While South Dakota worked to preserve the country’s national resources during the financially difficult 1933-42 period, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) emerged. The goal was not only to preserve resources, but to work with the thousands of young men who were contributing projects to Hill City and the surrounding areas. Learn about a "can-do" legacy at the CCC Museum.
9. Badlands National Park
This breathtaking national park is a must-see on the list of things to do in South Dakota. A car pass is only $15 for 7 days (or $30 for a year), but for the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service, free admission was given in 2016 on these days: January 18, April 16-24, August 25-28, September 24, and November 11. [Current fee information, including free entrance days, can be found on the National Park Service's website for Badlands National Park.]
10. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
This massive sculpture in a mountain of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln has become one of the most recognizable scenes in the United States. You can take the trail and explore the massive carving, museum, and interactive exhibits. There is no admission charge to visit Mount Rushmore, but there is a parking charge in the lot.
11. Museum of Geology
The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is the home to a wonderful geology museum that explores paleontology and mineralogy through gems, fossils, and skeletons. The museum also has an interactive kids zone.
12. Storybook Island
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, Storybook Island is open in Rapid City. Admission is free to this theme park which combines education with fun.
13. Dinosaur Park
You can also bring your kids to Dinosaur Park in Rapid City for free fun as the check out the Brontosaurus, T. rex, and other giant creatures sculpted here. It’s worth the walk up the hill to check out some amazing South Dakota views.
14. Downtown Art
Rapid City offers some unique opportunities to view fantastic displays of art with Art Alley, the Sculpture Project, and the City of Presidents. The downtown is like an open air museum. Be sure to leave plenty of time to walk around and explore.
Sioux Falls is another South Dakota city strongly supporting the arts. The SculptureWalk is an outdoor exhibit which displays sculptures downtown. Each sculpture remains for one year, at which time they are eligible for awards and purchase before the next group of sculptures are placed. Visitors have something new to see every year.
16. Siouxland Heritage Museums
Within the Old Courthouse in Sioux Falls, the Heritage Museum is a restored quartzite building from the 1800s. Explore three floors of exhibits from this region’s history.
17. D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery
The Booth Society uses the Historic National Fish Hatchery for cultural, educational, and recreational enjoyment in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
18. Spearfish City Park
This city park has enough to keep Spearfish residents and visitors busy with a skate park that’s nearly 10,000 square feet, a five-mile recreation path, ball fields, sand volleyball courts, tennis courts and more.
19. Roughlock Falls Nature Area in Spearfish Canyon
Nature lovers and photographers will love the breathtaking Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon. Walking paths and hiking trails lead to the falls that flow into Spearfish Canyon.
20. Wall Drug Store
You could probably spend a day at Wall Drug Store. Yes, there are things to buy in various stores, but there’s also a selection of restaurants – which offer five-cent coffee – a traveler's chapel, a mining and panning experience, and plenty of places for the kids to climb and explore. It’s no wonder Wall Drug is one of the most popular roadside attractions in the country. (Don’t leave without a donut.)