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35 Unique Things to do in South Dakota

Badlands National Park rock formations in South Dakota
Beautiful eroded rock formations of the badlands in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Beautiful South Dakota is one of our favorite states to visit in the USA. 

Located in the Midwest, South Dakota has stunning landscapes, plenty of outdoor attractions, and urban things to do for all kinds of travelers. 

The natural beauty that you can find in South Dakota is just amazing: from the rugged peaks of the Badlands to the jaw dropping vistas from the Black Hills, there are plenty of tourist attractions in South Dakota for nature lovers.

Cultural travelers will enjoy the museums and other historical sites in South Dakota while families will love South Dakota sights such as the mammoth skeletons in Hot Springs and Dinosaur Park in Rapid City.

Also Read: South Dakota Road Trip Planner

Pigtail curves of Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota
Pigtail curves of Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota

When most people think of South Dakota they either think ‘flyover country’ or ‘the Mount Rushmore State’. 

However, both these nicknames sell the state short – South Dakota has much more than Mount Rushmore or the Badlands…

….Not to say that the Badlands aren’t extraordinary; in fact, we love them more than the Grand Canyon itself! Don’t believe us? Read our Badlands vs Grand Canyon post right here!

If you are in either of these camps, then you will be blown away by the sheer number and variety of these top attractions in South Dakota

Night sky while camping at Sage Creek in Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Night sky while camping at Sage Creek in Badlands National Park in South Dakota

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Top Things to do in South Dakota

Visitors often wonder – what is there to do in South Dakota?

From Mt Rushmore to Custer State Park and from Badlands to Crazy Horse Memorial, there are several interesting South Dakota sites for tourists.

Here are some of our favorite things to do in South Dakota on your next summer vacation.

Mt. Rushmore National Monument

What is South Dakota best known for? Mount Rushmore, off course! 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one of the best places to visit in the USA. Here you will find carved in stone the faces of 4 US Presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. 

The carved sculptures make Mt. Rushmore one of the most recognizable and famous landmarks in South Dakota.

Hike up the Presidential Trail for fascinating views of the Mt. Rushmore monument and see the Avenue of Flags to brush up US history. You can also spot wildlife on the trail including bighorn sheep, deer, and mountain goats. 

Do not forget to check out the Visitor Center and gift shop to see exhibits on how the monument was carved, learn more about the sculptor, buy souvenirs, and eat refreshing ice cream!

Mount Rushmore National Monument in Black Hills of South Dakota
Mount Rushmore National Monument in Black Hills of South Dakota

Badlands National Park

What is there to do besides Mount Rushmore in South Dakota? 

One of the most beautiful national parks in the USA – Badlands National Park is located right here! This extraordinary mixed grass prairie landscape eroded over years to create a variety of geological landforms.

The vistas here will leave you enchanted with their surreal formations. One visit to the national park and you will immediately understand why Badlands is such a popular tourist attraction. 

Enjoy the amazing badland rock formations from the Badland Loop Road or take up a hiking trail to explore the geological forms at close quarters. Popular hiking trails include Door Trail, Window Trail, and Notch Trail. 

Sunsets and sunrises are spectacular in the Badlands. When the stars come out at night, the fascinating landscape looks even more dramatic. 

Little wonder that these rugged lands are considered to be one of the most beautiful places in South Dakota.

Also Read: Badlands National Park Photography Guide

Views of the Badlands from the Badlands Loop Road
Views of the Badlands from the Badlands Loop Road

Custer State Park

Custer State Park located near Custer is one of the best places in South Dakota for multiple reasons. 

In Custer, you can experience amazing wildlife encounters, summer outdoor adventures, and spend time in nature. 

Popular things to do in Custer State Park include horseback riding, hiking, biking, scenic drives, swimming, and water recreation activities on the mountain lakes. Sylvan Lake is especially popular with tourists. 

Drive the Wildlife Loop Road scenic drive in Custer National Park to see burros, mule deer, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, bison, deer, and pheasants. The prairie dog town is also an amazing place to visit.

Also Read: Wildlife of South Dakota

You can either camp in Custer State Park or make the city of Custer or Hill City your base for exploring the park. 

Bison herds on Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park, South Dakota
Bison herds on Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park, South Dakota

Needles Highway

Needles Highway is one of the coolest things to do in Mt. Rushmore State. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Needles Highway is extremely popular with road trippers and thrill seekers.

The Needles that are present along the highway are a unique geological formation. They are made of sharp, jagged granite rocks that point straight up at the sky. Hence the name. 

The needles are formed by continuous weathering and erosion of the granite over the years. 

Needles granite formations on Needles Highway, South Dakota
Needles granite formations on Needles Highway, South Dakota

The Needles Highway is a spectacular road offering great views of the Needles, the dense forests of the Black Hills, and the South Dakota scenery. It has numerous vistas, sharp turns, and tight tunnels.

The highlight of the road is the Needle’s Eye, a unique rock formation with an opening shaped like an actual needle.

The 14 mile long spectacular drive takes about 60 minutes to drive at a slow pace and is definitely one of must visit South Dakota tourist attractions.

Needles formation on Needles Highway in South Dakota
Needles formation on Needles Highway in South Dakota

Iron Mountain Road

One of our top favorite South Dakota places to visit is the Iron Mountain Road in the Black Hills in western South Dakota. 

Also known as SD 16A, Iron Mountain Road is one of the most beautiful drives in America. 

When former South Dakota senator Peter Norbeck initially suggested Iron Mountain Road through the Black Hills, engineers said the road ‘couldn’t be built’.

Tunnel on Needles Highway in Black Hills, South Dakota
Tunnel on Needles Highway in Black Hills, South Dakota

What you see today is an incredible work of art, an engineering marvel, and an excellent ode to Peter Norbeck’s vision.

The 17 miles long road with its 3 pig-tail bridges and 3 rock-cut tunnels is one of the most beautiful places to see in South Dakota.

The last tunnel one the road perfectly frames Mount Rushmore and leaves most visitors awestruck.

Be careful to drive this road cautiously at low speeds; the road has sudden twists and turns due to its numerous switchbacks and is a favorite with bikers and motorcyclists.

Tunnel on Iron Mountain Road in Black Hills, South Dakota
Tunnel on Iron Mountain Road in Black Hills, South Dakota

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial should definitely be on your list of things to see in South Dakota. 

The sculpture shows the Sioux leader Crazy Horse riding a horse. This enormous sculpture is half complete and will be the largest sculpture in the world upon its completion.

Crazy Horse sculpture is the ‘other face in the Black Hills’. 

It was planned purposely as one of top sd tourist attractions to rival the popularity of Mount Rushmore and tell the story of the indigenous people of South Dakota. 

At the base of the sculpture, you will find a museum and visitor center dedicated to sharing the story of the Lakota Indians. 

The Memorial is a must see in South Dakota. It is a great place to learn about Crazy Horse, the Battle of the Little BigHorn, the Native American cultures and traditions, and the history of the Black Hills South Dakota sights.

Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota
Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota

Historic Deadwood

Historic Deadwood is one of the best places to visit in South Dakota. 

Deadwood is an old abandoned mining town. In its heyday, it was famous for its lawlessness and violence as a Wild West frontier town. 

Deadwood has an interesting history. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills during the 1870s Gold Rush and the mining town of Deadwood was established to support the operations.

Deadwood was then home to over 25,000 people including many popular figures of the American West including Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill.

Visiting Deadwood is a hit with those who love touristy ghost towns and Wild West attractions. Families especially enjoy the atmosphere and interactive activities at Deadwood.

Main Street of Historic Deadwood, South Dakota
Main Street of Historic Deadwood, South Dakota

Walking through Dead Wood is like stepping back into an era of adventure and intrigue. 

Visitors can attend a Main Street Shootout in the town. These live shows reenactments that depict the violence and adventure spirit of the American West are one of our favorite fun things in South Dakota. 

Most of the historic buildings are carefully preserved and house restaurants, bars, casinos, and souvenir shops. Deadwood is one of the best Instagrammable spots in South Dakota. 

Adams House Museum, with its beautiful Queen Anne style architecture, is one of the iconic Deadwood, South Dakota landmarks. Visitors can walk through the three floors on a guided tour and see a variety of educational and entertaining exhibits. 

The Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood is a highlight of the visit. Several legends of the Wild West including Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, are buried here. The cemetery is an excellent place to pay homage to the heroes of Wild West. 

Adams House Museum in Deadwood, South Dakota
Adams House Museum in Deadwood, South Dakota

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave in South Dakota is the third longest cave in the world and has over 200 miles of mapped passages. 

The cave and area surrounding it are preserved as a part of the Jewel Cave National Monument, one of the best South Dakota monuments.

The monument is one of the top South Dakota points of interest and visited by over thousands every year. 

Inside the cave, you can see formations like calcite crystals, popcorns, draperies, and flowstones on a guided walking trail. 

The formations are spectacular and different kinds of cave tours are available to see them up close.

We strongly recommend advance cave tour reservations  – minimum of 2-3 weeks in advance during peak season. 

Expect to spend a minimum of 3 hours at the national monument to see Jewel Cave. It gets cold in the cave so long sleeved shirts or jackets and closed toe shoes are a must.

Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota
Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota

Wind Cave National Park

Very few people realize that South Dakota has another national park beside Badlands – the underrated Wind Cave National Park.

The national park is located 10 miles north of Hot Springs and was actually the first cavern to be designated as a NPS site in 1903. 

Just like Jewel Cave, Wind Cave is also a complex and large underground cave system with excellent calcite formations. Wind Cave is most famous for its boxwork and intricate frostwork formations. 

Boxwork formations inside Fairgrounds Cave in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
Boxwork formations inside Fairgrounds Cave in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Visitors can choose cave tours depending on their fitness level. The national park has everything from easy walking tours for families to advanced spelunking tours for adventurers. 

At the Visitor Center, you can learn more about the geology of the caves and history of the area. The park also has hiking trails, campgrounds, and a variety of wildlife viewing opportunities. 

Just like Jewel Cave, we recommend advance booking for the tours. Wear cool weather clothes and close-toed shoes to get the best out of your visit.

The famous boxwork geological formations inside Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
The famous boxwork geological formations inside Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

The Mammoth Site & Museum, Hot Springs

Our favorite South Dakota things to do with kids? The famous Mammoth Site of Hot Springs!

The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs is a must visit for anyone with an interest in natural history, ice age mammals, or skeletons and fossils. 

The largest concentration of the remains of a variety of wooly mammoths as well as other ice age animals have been discovered at the site. It is the largest site of its kind in the world. 

Evidence suggests that the animals fell down the sinkhole when they came to drink water and were trapped with no way out. They died, leading to the large number of intact skeletons.

Fossilized skeletons at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota
Fossilized skeletons at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota

This is a working paleontology museum where kids can actually see paleontologists and naturalists working on the fossils found at the dig site.

The museum has complete preserved specimens including intact skeletons and tusks. The museum also has many interactive activities for children and is a great attraction for families.

Because of its uniqueness and educational opportunities, the Mammoth Site frequently ranks among the top 10 things to do in South Dakota for kids.

While you are in the city, also visit a natural hot spring for some rest and relaxation. After all, that’s where the city got its name!

Closeup of tusks of wooly mammoth at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota
Closeup of tusks of wooly mammoth at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota

Black Hills National Forest

Black Hills National Forest is one of the largest national forests in America. 

The preserve is 1.2 million acres large and spread over western South dakota and the northeastern part of Wyoming. 

Black Hill National Forest was once the sacred home of Native Americans and bisons. The indigenous people worshipped the ponderosa pine trees, the underground caves, and wildlife in the area. 

Today, the beautiful dense forest has been preserved as a national land. Visitors can drive through the vast expanse of the Black Hills and enjoy the views of rolling hills, wildlife, and cattle.

If you go at the right time during spring and summer, wildflowers bloom in the area and enhance the beauty of the Black Hills. 

Mountain goat in Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Mountain goat in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

In the forest, you will find diverse landscapes and a variety of geological formations. There are also a lot of hiking trails in the forest.

Many other attractions are also present in the Black Hills including Rushmore Cave in Rush Mountain Adventure Park, Needles formations, and the scenic Spearfish Canyon. 

Consequently, Black Hills are among top South Dakota things to do and see for a variety of visitors.

How to visit Black Hills National Forest?

Make Rapid City as your base and prep for a day outdoors to visit the national forest. We recommend filling up the gas before you drive inside the forest. Popular activities include biking, hiking, camping, wildlife watching, and scenic drives.

Also Read: 38 Best Things to do in the Black Hills, South Dakota

View along Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway in Black Hills of South Dakota
View along Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway in Black Hills of South Dakota

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

What to do in South Dakota in the fall? Head to Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.

Spearfish Canyon is a beautiful winding road that follows the natural route of the canyon carved by Spearfish Creek. The road is about 22 miles long and very scenic. 

The road is flanked by limestone palisades on both sides and shaded by the ponderosa pine trees of the Black Hills.

Some of the most spectacular pit stops along the byway include the 2 waterfalls: Bridal Veils Falls and Roughlock Falls. 

The views in the canyon are especially spectacular during fall when leaves change color. If you can, plan a trip during this time to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. 

Ranked among South Dakota’s top scenic drives, Spearfish Canyon is definitely one of top South Dakota vacation spots.

Spearfish Falls in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota
Spearfish Falls in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

Underrated Attractions in South Dakota

In addition to the above best of South Dakota attractions, the state also has many other lesser known tourist attractions including a sculpture of Buffalo Leap created by Kevin Costner and the Art Alley in Rapid City. 

These are also worth your South Dakota bucket list. Here are some of the state’s most underrated tourist attractions.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, one of the historical landmarks in South Dakota, is located in the city of Wall near Badlands National Park. 

This nuclear missile site is one of the best things to do in sd for military and warfare enthusiasts.

The Minuteman Missiles were the most important US nuclear missiles during the Cold War and were always on alert, ready to launch status for over 30 years. 

After their demilitarization, the last Minuteman II missile site was opened to visitors in South Dakota. The site consists of 3 different areas spread about 15 miles apart along I-90. 

Visitors can go on a guided tour of the Delta-01 Launch Control Room, see the Delta-09 Minuteman underground missile silo from above, and understand the history of the Cold War at the Visitor Center. 

Delta-09 Missile Silo at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota
Delta-09 Missile Silo at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota
Delta-01 Launch Facility at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota
Delta-01 Launch Facility at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota

Lewis & Clark Lake Recreation Area

Lewis & Clark Recreation Area located on the banks of the Lewis and Clark Lake on the Missouri River is a top South Dakota attraction. 

The recreation area has many hiking and biking trails, equestrian trails, campsites, beaches, boat ramps, children’s play area, and day use picnic tables. 

The lake and its bluffs are very beautiful and the well maintained area is a favorite with families looking to spend a fun day in South Dakota. 

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, South Dakota
Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, South Dakota

Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary

The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Black Hills of South Dakota is a must for anyone who loves horses.

The sanctuary is located near Hot Springs. The small herd of wild mustangs has grown to over 500 horses over time and they are free to roam and run wild over an area of 11,000 acres.

Visitors can take a 2-hour tour and even go off-road to view the herds of beautiful horses running on the prairies. The tour also includes information about Native American and Wild West history of South Dakota.

Update – Since 2020, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary has been closed to the public.

Black Elk Peak Trail

What is in South Dakota for hikers and outdoor explorers? The hike to the state’s highest point!

Previously known as Harney Peak, Black Elk Peak is the tallest peak in South Dakota. It is 7242 feet high and looks incredibly majestic. The peak is named after the Oglala holy man, Black Elk.

The area around the peak is known as the Black Elk Wilderness Area. A stone fire tower lookout built in 1938 by the CCC enjoys a commanding position at the top of the peak.

Hiking to the top of Black Elk Peak is on several visitors bucket list. Hikers can go a 7.9 miles long but easy uphill hike to the top of the Black Elk Peak and enjoy gorgeous 360-degree views from the top. 

Black Elk Peak in Custer State Park, South Dakota
Black Elk Peak in Custer State Park, South Dakota

The hike begins at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. The entire hike takes 4-6 hours round trip and can get moderately difficult in some parts.

We recommend starting early in the morning to reach the peak before noon. Carry sufficient water, trail snacks, and picnic lunch for the day for everyone in your party.

Several other hiking routes of varying difficulties also exist, find more information about them here.

Black Hills Central Railroad

The Black Hills Central Railroad is a scenic heritage railroad located amongst the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The route was originally built to support gold mines in the Black Hills and the railroad is the longest continually operating railroad in the US.

The historic route takes you on a trip between Keystone, the base for visiting Mt. Rushmore, and Hill City in an 1880 steam engine train. You can pick from open or closed cars.

You can start your trip from either end. Distance between the two stations is one hour and there is 15 mins of layover time between the return trip. The narrated round trip takes 2.5 to 3 hours and is 20 miles long. 

The ride on the vintage train is great fun for the kids. The track has sharp curves and is thrilling. You can see sights along the way such as Black Elk Peak, abandoned mines, and wildlife sightings. 

At the Hill City Depot, you will also find the South Dakota State Railroad Museum which has model railroads, exhibits, memorabilia, and photographs. 

If you are a railroad fan, then the Black Hills train ride will be one of your favorite activities to do in South Dakota.

Black Hills Railroad Steam engine, South Dakota
Black Hills Railroad Steam engine, South Dakota

Falls Park

Falls Park, located in downtown Sioux Falls, is one of the most beautiful waterfall parks in America. It is one of the best things to do in Sioux Falls.

The Sioux River falls over many tiers of red Sioux quartzite rock resulting in a majestic series of waterfalls. You can see the falls from several different observation platforms located throughout the park.

The park has several hiking and biking trails. Visitors can also climb over the surrounding rocks. You can also visit several historic buildings in the park such as the Queen Bee Mill and Horse Barn.

End your visit at the beautiful Falls Overlook Cafe. Inside you will find historic photos on the walls. This is a great place to grab a delicious ice cream!

Other things to do in the city including Outdoor Campus –  a fun learning environment, street art, restaurants, Sculpture Walk, Washington pavilion children’s museum, Old Courthouse Museum, Sertoma Butterfly House & Aquarium etc also make Sioux Falls one of the top vacation spots in South Dakota. 

Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Palisades State Park

At Palisades State Park, you will find an enchanting landscape of weathered Sioux quartzite formations. They line the banks of the Split Rock Creek and are about 50 feet tall. 

The panorama here is very scenic, making the state park popular with photographers, nature lovers, bikers, and hikers. 

Rock climbing is also a popular activity at Palisades State Park. Canoeing, kayaking, and fishing in the Split Rock Creek is also popular. 

The park is located near the city of Sioux Falls and makes an excellent day trip. 

Palisades State Park near Garretson, South Dakota
Palisades State Park near Garretson, South Dakota

Good Earth State Park at Blood Run

Also located near Sioux Falls, Good Earth State Park at Blood Run is an important cultural attraction in South Dakota. 

The park is located on the banks of the Big Sioux River and has been settled by various Native American tribes since the 17th century. 

Several archeological artifacts have been discovered throughout the park. Visitors can see them at the Visitor Center museum. 

Sturgis

Located in western South Dakota, Sturgis is famous for its annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The event is held every August and lasts for 10 days. It attracts thousands of biking enthusiasts from all over America. 

The Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame located in the city is also an excellent attraction for families. Here you can see vintage bikes, memorabilia, and photographs on display. 

Other attractions such as Old Fort Meade Museum, Bear Butte outdoor recreation area, breweries, and wineries also make Sturgis one of the best cities to visit in South Dakota.

Motorcycle museum and Hall of Fame, Sturgis, South Dakota
For Illustrative purposes only – Motorcycle museum and Hall of Fame, Sturgis, South Dakota

Native American Scenic Byway

What is South Dakota known for apart from Mt. Rushmore? Its rich Native American heritage. 

South Dakota’s Native American National and State Scenic Byway celebrates the culture and traditions of the indigenous tribes and is a must for cultural travelers. 

The byway runs from north to south in the central part of the state. It follows the Missouri River and has stunning views of the Great Plains prairie landscape and limestone bluffs. The views along the road are a photographer’s delight. 

Along the way you will find museums, cultural centers, and important Native American sites such as the Sitting Bull Monument. The byway is an excellent way to learn more about the tribes that call South Dakota home.

Teepees or tents of the Oglala Lakota and Sioux tribes at Badlands National park
Teepees or tents of the Oglala Lakota and Sioux tribes at Badlands National park

Incredible roadside attractions in South Dakota

Looking for unique things to do in South Dakota? If you love taking pics for the ‘gram and are into quirky roadside gems, then this list is for you!

These South Dakota highlights are located right along the road and are perfect to stop, relax, and spend some time before resuming your journey. 

Some of them like the Wall Drug have been around for several years while others such as the Dignity Statue are among the newest tourist spots in South Dakota. 

Here are our favorite roadside sites to see in South Dakota.

Sitting Bull Monument, South Dakota
For Illustrative purposes only – Sitting Bull Monument, South Dakota

Corn Palace at Mitchell

Famously advertised as the ‘World’s Only Corn Palace’, the Mitchell Corn Palace is a truly unique roadside attraction and one of South Dakota famous landmarks in eastern South Dakota.

The Corn Palace is located about an hour drive west from Sioux Falls along I-90. 

The building is built in Moorish Revival style of architecture. Its exterior is completely covered with beautiful corn crop art, corn designs, and corn murals.

The theme and murals change every year. Several different varieties and colors of corn are used to complete the Corn Palace.

The inside of the corn palace has a small museum dedicated to murals completed in corn, photos of previous years Corn Palace, and exhibits detailing the history of corn farming in the state.

Best part about this unique roadside attraction? The Corn Palace is completely free to visit!

Mitchell Corn Palace, South Dakota
Mitchell Corn Palace, South Dakota

Tatanka – Story of the Bison Sculpture

Since South Dakota has many impressive sculptures including Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, the Tatanka – Story of the Bison Sculpture is usually not on many tourists’ radar.

However this South Dakota roadside attractions has an intriguing history and is totally worth a visit.

This bronze sculpture is the third largest in the world and is located a short drive away from Historic Downtown Deadwood.

The sculpture depicts a Lakota Bison Jump. You can see 3 Native Americans on horses chasing a herd of 14 bison down a cliff. It shows the traditional way in which the Lakota Indians hunted the buffaloes. 

The sculpture was commissioned by Kevin Costner as a tribute to the bison and Lakota Indians after understanding their story during the filming of the movie ‘Dancing with Wolves’.

Visitors can go on a guided tour of the attraction narrated by a Lakota guide. You can also see ‘Dancing With Wolves’ movie costumes, making the attraction one of South Dakota places to see for Kevin Costner fans.

We recommend visiting the sculpture and the adjacent museum & gift shop to know more about the significance of bison in the life of the Lakota Indians.

Bison in Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Bison in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Petrified Wood Park

Petrified Wood Park is an amazing free roadside attraction located in Lemmon, South Dakota near the northern border with North Dakota.

Located in downtown and covering a whole block, this unique park features a variety of structures made from petrified wood.

The Petrified Wood Park also features a historical museum with exhibits narrating information about petrified wood and local history.

The park has spires, fountains, jail, buildings and other objects made from petrified wood. It also has a play area for kids and clean restrooms, making it one of unique South Dakota sites to see on your road trip.

Its located far off I-90 makes it a less crowded and off the beaten path site.

Enchanting views in Custer State Park, South Dakota
Enchanting views in Custer State Park, South Dakota

Chapel in the Hills, Rapid City

Chapel in the Hills is located in Rapid City, South Dakota. The Chapel is an exact replica of an 850-year-old Borgund Church in Norway.

The Chapel in the Hills is one of the hidden gems in South Dakota and visited by very few people. It is free to visit and one of the best free things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The Chapel has unique and interesting wooden architecture with shingles, bell tower, and other intricate details.

Dinosaur Park, Rapid City

Dinosaur Park located in Downtown Rapid City is one of the best free fun things to do in South Dakota for families. 

The park was built during the times of the Great Depression and has 5 of the earliest identified dinosaurs: Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus Rex in life-size concrete forms.

Climbing on the dinos is allowed and even encouraged, much to children’s delight. This park was built around 1937 and the giant beasts look great even today.

The park is located on a hill in the city and seeing the dinosaurs involves climbing up to the top but the views of Rapid City from above are worth the effort.

Besides the dinosaurs, there are several other things to do in Rapid City. Children love Storybook Island, a free family theme park filled with over 100 literary characters. 

Art Alley located between 6th and 7th Street adjacent to Main Street Square is filled with vibrant murals and street art. The Reptile Garden in Rapid City is very popular with kids of all ages. 

Rapid City also makes a great base for flying into the state and is one of the best cities in South Dakota to visit.

South Dakota has amazing wildlife viewing opportunities
South Dakota has amazing wildlife viewing opportunities

Laura Ingalls Wilder literary & historic sites

What to see in South Dakota for book lovers? Follow the legacy and heritage of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie children’s book series. 

The Ingalls family settled in De Smet, South Dakota. Here you can tour the Ingalls family home and visit the De Smet Discovery Center where you can see original family belongings and exhibits.

You can also see some buildings mentioned in the ‘The Little Town on the Prairie’ book including the Surveyor’s House. 

De Smet is located in eastern South Dakota, about 70 miles north of Mitchell.

In Keystone, South Dakota you can visit the house of Laura Ingalls’ sister, Carrie Ingalls. The house has been converted into the Keystone Historical Museum and has many exhibits about the family. 

Porter Sculpture Park, Montrose

Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose, South Dakota is the creation of artist and sculptor Wayne Porter. 

It is one of the best folk art displays in America and is filled with unique, quirky, and whimsical metal sculptures.

You can see over 50+ gigantic sculptures including a bull head, butterfly sitting on a hand, a snake, dragon, and more. The vibrant sculptures are among the best things to see in South Dakota.

Most of the sculptures are intricate, detailed, and accompanied by poetry or stories to give some context.

The sculptor lives on site and owns the property on which the park is located. It takes about an hour to wander around the area and see all the sculptures. 

Admission is $10 for adults, free for children under 12. The park is located 25 miles west of Sioux Falls on I-90 and definitely one of the cool things in South Dakota.

Sunset at Badlands National park in South Dakota
Sunset at Badlands National park in South Dakota

National Music Museum in Vermillion

Located in Vermillion, South Dakota, you will find one of the best music museums in the world. 

The museum is located on the University of South Dakota campus and has an extensive collection of over 15,000 musical instruments. 

Here you can find musical instruments from the Americas, Europe, and Asia. The collection has several historic and vintage instruments as well. 

This off the beaten path attraction of sd tourism is on the bucket list of music lovers the world over. 

Update – The museum is currently closed for renovations and expected to reopen for late 2021.

South Dakota Air & Space Museum

The South Dakota Air & Space Museum is located near the Ellsworth Air Force Base in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

At the museum, you can see a variety of bombers, fighter jets, missiles, aircrafts, and other air force memorabilia. The vast collection is impressive and leaves visitors awestruck with the American distinguishments. 

The museum is free to visit and one of the best things to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

Dinosaur skeletons in Bismarck, North Dakota
Dinosaur skeletons can be found at several places in the Dakotas

Museum of Geology, Rapid City

Visiting South Dakota with dinosaur crazy kids? Take them to the Museum of Geology in Rapid City. 

Located on the campus of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, this free museum is beloved by kids of all ages. 

You can see several complete fossilized skeletons of mammals found in the White River formation of South Dakota, marine animals living in the Missouri, and prehistoric beasts belonging to the Jurassic Age from the Hell Creek formation in the Great Plains. 

Kids can look at specimens like a T-Rex skull and a mosasaur. The minerals and gem collection is also vast and stunning. We recommend keeping an hour or two to see the exhibits. 

Wall Drug dinosaur near Badlands, South Dakota
For Illustrative purposes only – Wall Drug dinosaur near Badlands, South Dakota

Wall Drug Store

Located in the town of Wall near Badlands National Park, the Wall Drug Store is one of South Dakota’s most well known roadside attractions. The attraction has several catchy signs along I-90.  

Things to do include taking Old West style family photos, riding a giant jackalope, taking photos with a dinosaur, arcade games, and more. Visitors can shop for westren style boots and apparel, books, and souvenirs.

This is also a great place to stop and get a meal or an ice cream. Or stop for some coffee,Wall Drug has it all. 

Hiking on the Notch trail in Badlands National Park
Hiking on the Notch trail in Badlands National Park

Dignity Sculpture, Chamberlain

The Dignity Sculpture located in Chamberlain, South Dakota is one of the most striking roadside artworks in the country. 

The statue is located on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and is easily accessible via I-90. The statue is made of stainless steel and is 50 feet tall. 

The dignity sculpture honors the Lakota and Dakota people of the state and pays homage to South Dakota’s rich indigenous culture. 

The sculpture is lit at night and looks stunning irrespective of the time of the day. It is one of the top underrated places to go in South Dakota for art lovers.

Dignity Statue in Chamberlain, South Dakota
For Illustrative purposes only – Dignity Statue in Chamberlain, South Dakota

Skeleton Man Walking Skeleton Dinosaur & Original 1880 Town

This unique sculpture presents the most delightful discovery on any South Dakota road trip. The sculpture is located in Midland and is visible from the interstate. 

It is amazing to see the skeleton man leading a skeleton T-Rex for a walk. The attraction is located close to the Original 1880 Town, which in itself is another quirky attraction. 

This living history museum has a collection of over 30 buildings from the 1880s and countless antique relics and artifacts. Wander through the town and enjoy the fun activities they have for kids. 

While you cannot go near the base of the Skeleton Man walking Skeleton Dinosaur sculpture, to get a nearer shot take exit 169 while going west bound. 

And that wraps up our list of best things to do in the Dakotas.

South Dakota Road Trip is an amazing experience
South Dakota Road Trip is an amazing experience

How to plan South Dakota Road Trip

Now that you know all about the awesome South Dakota destinations, it is time to plan your trip to the state. 

One of the best ways to explore and travel in South Dakota is on a memorable road trip. Rather it is the only way to experience this amazing and unique state. 

Many of the top 10 South Dakota attractions lie along the Interstate and can be easily seen in one trip. 

Use our detailed travel guides below which include the South Dakota map of attractions to plan your trip now.

Further Reading to plan your South Dakota Travel

Ultimate South Dakota Road trip Itinerary

Mount Rushmore National Memorial Visitor Guide

Badlands National Park Visitor Guide

Things to do in Custer State Park

Crazy Horse Memorial Visitor Guide

You can also plan a trip from Chicago or Minneapolis to South Dakota tourist sites using our guide here: Minneapolis to Mount Rushmore Summer Road Trip

We hope you liked your post on the best things to do in South Dakota. Did we miss out on any awesome attractions? Let us know in the comments. 

For official visitor information and to know cool things about South Dakota, check the South Dakota Department of Tourism website.

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