Editors' Picks: 20 of the Best Things to Do in South Dakota!

South Dakota is home to the amazing granite carving of Mount Rushmore (which took 14 years to complete) and the herds of free-ranging bison that graze throughout. Below ground, it's where you'll discover some of the world's most astounding cave systems. Author Laura Ingalls Wilder depicted a gentle side of her home state in her "Little House" books, and cowboy heroes like Calamity Jane captured our imagination with her Wild West antics when she lived here.

Despite being one of the least-populated states in the U.S., there's a lot to discover in South Dakota. Here are 20 places to start.

Custer State Park

Located in the famed Black Hills, this park offers a Wildlife Loop that provides a wonderful chance to gaze upon herds of bison, plus prairie dogs and other wild creatures.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Although this mountain sculpture is still technically under construction, the image of the great Native American warrior emerging from the rock is impressive.

Wind Cave National Park

Yes, the entrance gets a little windy, depending on the day. But the real interest lies within, with super-odd rock formations from eons past. There are candlelight tours available, which makes the experience extra-spooky. (East Custer)

The Oyate Trail

It's one of the state's most scenic highways, with many stops worth making. But more importantly, a short detour takes you to the site of Wounded Knee, where 300 Lakota were massacred in 1890. As one of our history's most painful chapters, it's worth a visit.


When gold was discovered in 1876, this town attracted all kinds of characters hoping to strike it rich. Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane once walked its streets; this recreation of the town is on the National Historic Register, and gives a good approximation of Wild West culture.

Mount Rushmore

It's one of the most popular attractions in America, and for good reason. There are a number of paths that provide different perspectives of the majestic rock carvings of four of our greatest presidents. (Keystone)

The Badlands

There are gorgeous rock formations, plenty of wildlife and a huge variety of things to see. Most visitors suggest taking your time to take in all the beauty of this unique part of the country.

The Corn Palace

The name says it all: an entertainment venue with a crop-oriented design. Since opening in 1921, the Palace has attracted thousands of folks who want to gaze upon its complex and "corny" design. (Mitchell)

Jewel Cave National Monument

It's one of the largest caves in America - and only a tiny percentage of it has yet to be mapped. The more adventurous types can book a spelunking tour through some of the undeveloped parts. (Custer)

Native American Scenic Byway

This beautiful drive takes you through a rolling grass prairie, dotted with sites and monuments sacred to the Sioux Nation. There are plenty of places to pull over for a picnic, or to do a spot of fishing.

Ingalls Homestead

Fans of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, like "Little House on the Prairie," will want to pay a visit to her original home. You can even camp inside a covered wagon on the property. And It's also where the beloved author and her parents are buried. (De Smet)

Mammoth Site

It gets its name for good reason: the fossilized remains of over 60 mammoths have been uncovered, dating back 26,000 years. The site lets you witness the excavation process of these giant Ice Age beasts. (Hot Springs)

Needles Highway

It was originally deemed "impossible" to construct - and after driving its 14 twist-y, turn-y miles, you'll know why. Still, the scenery along the way is pretty amazing - rock formations, lush forests, grazing bison and more.

Spearfish Canyon

Fall is one of the best times to visit this extraordinary spot. Have your camera ready: the changing foliage is offset by dramatic waterfalls and stands of pine trees.

Wall Drug

Since 1931, its been one of America's best-known roadside attractions. Besides shopping, there's fun in the Backyard, where you can take a kitschy photo with an animated T-Rex, mine for fossils and more. (Wall)

National Music Museum

Explore an amazing collection of almost 15,000 instruments - including vintage brass, a Stradivarius violin and a rare 16th century harp. Plus, they offer concerts. (Vermillion)

Go Skiing

You may not think of South Dakota for skiing, but there are indeed places in the Black Hills where you can hit the slopes.

Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo

Cowboy and Western culture is on full display at this event that's been popular for nearly 60 years. There are sheep dog trials, horse shows, bull riding, entertainment and more. (Rapid City)

The Wild Horse Sanctuary

There are few things more beautiful than the sight of horses running free across a wind swept prairie -- and this sanctuary offers the chance to see hundreds of mustangs via guided tours. (Hot Springs)

South Dakota Air and Space Museum

Explore vintage warplanes, fighter jets, and many unique artifacts, and the role they played in historic events, like the Berlin Air Lift and the Korean War. (Rapid City)

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