10 Best State Parks in South Dakota

Despite its low profile, South Dakota has some of the best natural beauty and state parks in the entire country. It’s not just Mount Rushmore. It’s striking rock formations, the breathtaking rolling plains, the fantastic dense forests. To soak up some of the state’s most phenomenal beauty, check out these 10 state parks in South Dakota. 

Custer State Park, Custer, SD

Located outside of the small tourist town of the same name, Custer State Park is a marvelous park with rolling plains and striking mountains and rock formations that have attracted rock climbers and hikers for generations. The park is famous for its wildlife loop drive, in which drivers can cruise around the park and catch a glimpse of the bison herds, donkeys, other wildlife, and some of the most scenic views in the area. The 71,000-acre park offers many hiking trails of varying difficulty and scenery, so there is something for everyone at this magnificent and varied state park.

Lake Herman State Park, Madison, SD

Formed by the melting of glacial ice thousands of years ago, Lake Herman State Park is a favorite among visitors due to the many camping, boating, fishing, hiking, and skiing opportunities. The park is known for its wide, vast prairie and oak woodlands that are full of unique wildlife. There are over 70 campsites available at Lake Herman State Park, making it a top camping location in South Dakota.

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Palisades State Park, Garretson, SD

At only 157 acres, Palisades State Park is the second smallest state park in South Dakota but it is one of the best! The park features dramatic rock formations and large water formations. It is a mecca for rock climbers, swimmers, nature lovers, hikers, and campers. There are about 2.7 miles of walking paths at Palisades State Park, but the scenery can’t be missed! There are over 30 campsites here, as well as a lodge and six cabins. 

Newton Hills State Park, Canton, SD

With expansive and thick forests, Newton Hills State Park has top notch hiking trails. The unique, dense forest is located amidst a huge, sprawling prairie environment that is typical of Midwestern scenes. The forest is the setting of many local legends and tall tales about buried treasures, horse thieves’ hideouts, and cowboy adventures. The park is also popular with birdwatchers, as over 200 species of birds visit annually. There are many activities at the park like basketball, biking, bird watching, boating, camping, canoeing, cross country skiing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, horseshoes, paddleboarding, snowshoeing, swimming, or volleyball.

Bear Butte State Park, Sturgis, SD

According to local Lakota legend, the Bear Butte geographical landmark is a sacred site in which one day, the “bear” shaped mountain will rise. It is not only a place of worship, but also a place of recreation! Visitors come to bear butte to hike the several trails that vary in difficulty, as well as camp and fish. The park is also home to a large herd of buffalo that can be viewed around the base of the mountain. There are over a dozen campsites available, including horse friendly campsites. 

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Oakwood Lakes State Park, Bruce, SD

Oakwood Lakes State Park is between eight connected lakes that were formed thousands of years ago by melting glaciers. The park is a popular destination year-round, with hiking and swimming in the summer to ice fishing and cross-country skiing during the winter. Supported activities include basketball, biking, bird watching, boating, camping, canoeing, skiing, disc golf, fishing, hiking, horse riding, horseshoes, paddleboarding, snowshoeing, swimming, or volleyball. 

Spirit Mound State Historic Prairie, Vermillion, SD

Explored by the famous Lewis and Clark, Vermillion’s Spirit Mound State Historic Prairie has great historical significance, as well as recreational and geographic significance. Sioux tribes have legends of the spirit mound being inhabited by evil tiny humans with huge heads. Today, visitors can follow Lewis and Clark’s footsteps around the park and see what the famous explorers saw. The park offers hiking trails, as well as scenic picnic areas.

Hartford Beach State Park, Corona, SD

Hartford Beach State Park is located outside of the small town of Corona and is known for its beautiful wooded forests and serene lake. Rugged shorelines and rocky bluffs surround the lake, but it is still popular among campers and picnicking visitors. There are a wide range of activities at the park including bird watching, boating, camping, canoeing, disc golfing, fishing, hiking, horseshoes, paddleboarding, snowmobiling, swimming, or volleyball.  

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Fort Sisseton State Park, Lake City, SD

Fort Sisseton State Park is a favorite among local history buffs. The historic fort is now a popular park that visitors can tour to see the way of life over a century ago. Visitors can walk among the stone barracks, guard buildings, officers’ quarters, and more. The visitor center tells more about the history of the fort and the surrounding area. Activities at Fort Sisseton State Park include bird watching, boating, camping, canoeing, fishing, hiking, and snowshoeing. 

Roy Lake State Park, Lake City, SD

Roy Lake is known for its wonderful fishing, but there is so much more to do at this state park! There are plenty of hiking trails, swimming, boating, camping, and more for visitors to explore. Keep an eye on their calendar for their “Family Fun Days.” 

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