There is perhaps no other state whose beauty flies as under the radar as much as South Dakota’s. That may be a good thing for South Dakotans since it means their trails, canyons, caves, waterfalls, and lakes offer a serene experience yet to be discovered by the crowds. It’s definitely a good thing for you, the traveler in the know.
If you find yourself in The Mount Rushmore State surrounded by scenes like those below, we think you’ll agree.
Badlands National Park isn't just for hiking, camping, and photography — cycling in and around it is almost as otherworldly. There are buttes, canyons, pinnacles, and spires, all encompassed by the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway.
Pictured below are the falls of the Big Sioux River in Falls Park, Sioux Falls. Other features in the city's flagship green space include an observation tower, a cafe, and the remains of an old mill, making for a special escape in the middle of town.
If you're picturing the Black Hills as nothing but dense, rolling forests, you aren't entirely correct. The Cathedral Spires, part of the Needles formation of Custer State Park, seem as if they've been taken from the pages of some fantasy novel — in real life, they make for epic climbing.
The Missouri is the longest river in North America, and that leaves room for plenty of amazing sunsets. Part of its 2,341-mile flow cuts right through South Dakota (dividing East River from West River) before mixing with the waters of the Mississippi. Multiple lakes and reservoirs provide endless opportunities for water sports.
Mitchell, South Dakota, is home to The World's Only Corn Palace, the exterior adorned in decorative corn and other grains. Almost half a million people visit every year, and the building is home to exhibitions, concerts, and events like the annual Corn Palace Festival in late August. It's during this time every year that, apart from visitors gathering for live music, good food, and carnival rides, the palace itself gets adorned with new organic accoutrements and freshly redecorated.
You've never seen our national mammal like this. Watching 1,300 buffalo get herded by fearless cowboys and cowgirls is something unique for both your eyes and your ears — hearing 5,200 hooves hitting the turf, you'll think the earth is moving under your feet. The Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup is held each year at the end of September.
This particular scene may seem remarkable to outsiders, but sunflowers actually span the entire state. Roughly 875 million pounds are produced every year, making SD — not Kansas — the true "sunflower state."
It's one thing to tour Badlands National Park, it's another to go off on your own and explore its alien features and stark landscape day and night with nothing but your pack. Backcountry camping here doesn't require a permit, but you should definitely stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center before you head out. Expect to be rewarded with incredible scenery and unfiltered night skies.
The faces of Mount Rushmore were carved out of granite and touch 5,725 feet above sea level. But they're also only part of what visitors should expect to experience on a trip to the memorial — the surrounding trails and visitor center will greatly enhance your time here.
Few places have as strong a Native American heritage as South Dakota. Pictured is a wacipi, or powwow, where even visitors are urged to take part in song, dance, and storytelling. There are dozens going on every year; if you attend, be respectful and follow proper etiquette.
The Roughlock Falls Nature Area, where these falls can be found, is arguably the most photograph-worthy spot in the Black Hills. Surrounding catwalks make the falls themselves especially easy to navigate. When you're there, keep an eye out for the elusive American dipper — a bird that can swim underwater.
Located between 5th and 7th Streets in downtown Rapid City, Art Alley started out as a public arts project and has since gone viral. It's just one of the many ways South Dakota expresses its creative side.
On the western boundary of Badlands National Park and part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is Red Shirt Table, a table mountain roughly 10 miles long. The highest point in the Badlands is here, coming in at 3,340 feet.
Unique art like this can be found across the state thanks to artists like John Lopez and his undeniable skill with scrap metal. The bison has become a symbol of South Dakota's past, present, and future.
The 1880 Train, a 19th-century steam locomotive, still runs between Hill City and Keystone, South Dakota. Operating from May to October, it's a 10-mile ride, one-way, through the scenic landscape of the Black Hills.
The world's largest mountain carving in-progress rests in South Dakota's Black Hills, not far from the more celebrated faces of Mount Rushmore. The Crazy Horse Memorial was started in the 1940s and is still being worked on to this day.
Custer State Park has five lakes, with Stockade Lake being the largest (and most popular). With a swimming beach, hiking trails, and fishing, Stockade Lake is a natural stop on any Black Hills itinerary — the site of the region's first gold discovery is nearby, too.
All that prairie and mountainous wilderness makes for some pretty amazing stargazing. Yes, there are many hidden benefits to having a low population density.
Looking to experience an 1800s Gold Rush as authentically as possible? Head to Deadwood, South Dakota, as the entire town is on the National Historic Register. Its gaming halls are keeping it as alive today as they did 100 years ago.
Custer State Park is South Dakota's first and largest state park, comprising 71,000 acres in the Black Hills. In terms of wildlife, it's primarily known for its bison herd, though there are plenty of other animals that call the park home.
More than 180 miles of mapped passages make Jewel Cave the third-longest cave system in the world. It's 13 miles from the town of Custer in the Black Hills, and visitors can come year-round — just be prepared to duck between calcite crystals with your hardhat and headlamp.
This is one of those views you normally just wouldn't normally associate with South Dakota...which makes it all the more impressive. Find it in Spearfish Canyon. Apart from the obvious climbing and hiking opportunities here, the area is absolutely teeming with wildlife: eagles, mule deer, and even the occasional bobcat roam these hills.