14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in South Dakota
Author Brad Lane has enjoyed traveling throughout South Dakota.
South Dakota offers tourist attractions and rugged natural beauty in the center of the country. From badlands jutting into the sky to National Music Museums, South Dakota offers several reasons to take a family vacation.
The outdoors is truly stunning in South Dakota, arguably drawing the most visitors. The Black Hills on the western side of the state define most outdoor adventures. Within these wooded acres, which supported Indigenous populations for thousands of years, are an array of places to visit, like underground caves and larger-than-life monuments.
The landscapes of South Dakota come with a unique history that adds to the experience of visiting. Other sightseeing destinations, like Deadwood, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Good Earth State Park, also expand on the history of the region.
Find your own story to tell with our list of the top attractions in South Dakota.
- 1. Mount Rushmore National Monument
- 2. Custer State Park
- 3. Badlands National Park
- 4. Falls Park
- 5. Crazy Horse Memorial
- 6. Wind Cave National Park
- 7. Mammoth Site
- 8. Deadwood
- 9. Spearfish Canyon
- 10. National Music Museum
- 11. Good Earth State Park at Blood Run
- 12. Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove
- 13. Old Courthouse Museum
- 14. Rapid City
- Map of Tourist Attractions in South Dakota
1. Mount Rushmore National Monument
Mount Rushmore National Monument is South Dakota's most prominent tourist attraction. Carved into the side of the mountain are the heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. The carving, designed by Gutzon Borglum, was begun in 1927, halted for several decades, and finally completed in 1991.
More than 400,000 tons of rock were blasted from the side of the mountain in its creation. The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center on the terrace overlooking the monument is a fun part of any visit. The 0.6-mile Presidential Trail departs from the terrace, allowing visitors to get a closer look at the monument. The monument is illuminated in the evening and accompanied by a patriotic ceremony.
While Mount Rushmore is often a defining feature of a South Dakota vacation, most people only spend about a half day at the monument. The Black Hills surrounding Mount Rushmore offer many more days to add to a vacation itinerary. To make the most out of the area, it's recommended to look into some of the best campgrounds near Mount Rushmore.
Address: 13000 SD-244, Keystone, South Dakota
2. Custer State Park
Custer State Park is one of the best state parks in South Dakota and covers a wide range of adventure terrain. A large herd of bison roams the peaceful landscape, encompassing a staggering 71,000 acres, and Granite peaks tower over the forests, lakes, and streams.
Scenic drives, like the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, provide easy access to the park with great views along the way. And several campgrounds within the park host visitors from around the world. For the more adventurous, there are trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
One must-travel route in Custer is the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail. This waterfront route leads around the rock-lined reservoir and has many side trails to explore. In the same area, hikers will also find the challenging trailhead leading up to Black Elk Peak, formerly known as Harney Peak, standing tall as the highest peak in the state.
Another top thing to do at Custer State Park is tour the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road in the southeast corner of the park. The best time to make this scenic loop is early morning or late evening when the resident bison are most active.
Address: 13329 U.S. 16A, Custer, South Dakota
3. Badlands National Park
The dramatic landscape of Badlands National Park consists of uniquely formed hills and pinnacles made from the erosion of clay and sand. A large herd of bison roams freely within the park, adding a unique element to the whole experience. This inhospitable scenery is strangely beautiful and one of South Dakota's most visited destinations.
Parking places and viewpoints line the Badlands Loop Road, which tours the scenic environment from the northwestern Pinnacles Entrance to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Changing vistas of rugged rock formations are the real appeal of this scenic route, as well as the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, one of the last remaining intact prairie landscapes in North America.
The Cedar Pass area is home to the park's eight designated trails. Routes like the Door, Window, and Notch Trails offer an easy hike into the challenging environment. Maps are available from park administration or from visitor centers. The best campgrounds at Badlands National Park include two within the park and several in the adjacent communities.
4. Falls Park
Falls Park is the centerpiece attraction of Sioux Falls in the southeast corner of the state. The namesake park encompasses over 120 acres and a picturesque scene where the Big Sioux River tumbles through the landscape.
This massive public park and popular place to visit offers several vantage points of the moving water, including a five-story observation tower. Other visitor amenities include paved hiking trails, picnic benches, and an Information Center. It's easy to spend the whole day at the tumbling park when the weather is nice.
And Falls Park is just the tip of things to do in Sioux City. The town has other outdoor landscapes to explore, like the Big Sioux River Recreation Trail. Sioux City is also home to several cultural attractions, and anyone visiting should also spend time wandering downtown.
5. Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial, north of Custer, has been a work in progress since it was begun in 1947. The head and upper body portion of revered Lakota leader Crazy Horse have been carved into this mountain, similar to the Mount Rushmore carvings just down the road.
The on-site Indian Museum of North America enriches any visit to Crazy Horse. The museum grounds feature several visitor experiences, including the Native American Education and Cultural Center. Visitors can access scheduled bus rides to the base of the memorial throughout the day to meet Crazy Horse face-to-face.
Address: 12151 Avenue of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, South Dakota
6. Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park, located just north of Hot Springs, is home to a huge karstic cave system, thought to be among the largest in the world. It was discovered in 1881 by a hunter who noticed a draft coming from a split in the rock. The cave contains a unique and delicate cave structure known as "boxwork," which is found in only a few other places in the world.
The only way to explore Wind Cave is through one of many guided sightseeing tours that take place nearly every day of the year. Different tours are available for different ability levels, with most routes following lighted and cement pathways installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
For those not interested in an underground tour, the above-ground area of the park is also very beautiful, with rolling hills and roaming bison. The Elk Mountain Campground at the national park sits among these above-ground surroundings and provides a less crowded experience than other campgrounds in the area.
7. Mammoth Site
The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs features several preserved Columbian mammoth bones. More than 60 mammoths, including three woolly mammoths, have been discovered at this site. Visitors can see partially uncovered mammoth bones shown as they were found, in a covered, climate-controlled building.
Guided tours are available, giving visitors a glimpse of the excavation process. Junior and Advanced Paleontology Classes are available for anyone interested in getting their hands dirty. The on-site Ice Age Exhibit Hall displays some of the fossils being found underground. Standard admission tickets are required to tour the site.
The Mammoth Site hosts all sorts of special events and weekly activities. Their event calendar includes things like family archaeology nights and Atlatl lessons. These programs typically take place throughout the summer. Tours of the dig site are available throughout the year.
Address: 1800 US Bypass, Hot Springs, South Dakota
Deadwood was a famous gold-mining town on the Frontier of the American West, spurred by the discovery of gold in the surrounding hills in 1875. Dense Black Hills still surround this blast-from-the-past destination, steeped in a rich history still seen on the streets.
Deadwood's Wild West origins are on full display and waiting to be experienced throughout the downtown streets. Some of the top attractions of Deadwood include reenacted shootouts on Historic Main Street, the Adams Museum, and the Broken Boot Gold Mine.
Mount Moriah Cemetery is another fun place to visit in Deadwood, serving as the final resting place for some of the biggest characters of the Wild West, including "Wild Bill" Hickok, who met his demise in a local Deadwood establishment.
The city still has a touch of its wilder days, but much of the fun is centered around families looking to enjoy a South Dakota vacation. The town does attract an evening crowd with several places to visit and things to do at night.
9. Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish Canyon is a beautiful natural area known for an abundance of ponderosa and spruce pines and stunning waterfalls from dramatic cliffsides. Popular roadside attractions and hikes in Spearfish Canyon include Bridal Veil and the Rough Lock Falls, and the Spearfish Peak and Little Crow Peak.
Any time of the year guarantees beautiful natural scenery along the 22-mile route. New color bursts forward in the spring until everything is aglow in Spearfish Canyon throughout the summer. However, the fall is arguably the best time to visit, thanks to the stunning change of color.
Just north of Spearfish is the geographical center of the United States. The city of Spearfish, the northern terminus of Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, is a great base camp, with a lively community and several places to spend the night. The nearby Spearfish City Campground is one of the best campgrounds in South Dakota.
10. National Music Museum
The National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion features thousands of American, European, and non-Western instruments from all over the world. The museum also covers a wide range of historical periods.
At this self-touted spot for music lovers, a small admission fee provides access to a wide variety of musical instruments, ranging from American electric guitars to German zithers.
The museum features over 15,000 instruments on display. A recent renovation of the museum space included several new display cases and a brightly lit gallery. Music aficionado or not, the museum offers a fascinating insight into the evolution of musical instruments.
Address: 414 East Clark Street, Vermillion
11. Good Earth State Park at Blood Run
Good Earth State Park is on the western side of the state and the outskirts of Sioux Falls. It has a deep history in the area despite its relatively new status as a state park. It's part of the larger Blood Run National Historic Landmark and occupies a lush area that once served as a thriving trading center and gathering place for the Oneota people.
The site is currently regarded as one of the oldest areas of human history in the country. Visitors today can learn about the culture and history of the area through a newly installed 11,000-square-foot visitor center.
The park also maintains over 650 acres of native habitat, including interpretive trails that lead to the Big Sioux River. These allow visitors to experience the environment that has hosted these Native American people for thousands of years.
Address: 26924 480th Ave, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
12. Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove
The Sertoma Butterfly House in Sioux Falls is home to hundreds of free-flying butterflies from all over the world. While the butterflies are the true highlight, Sertoma also features an extensive aquarium that is home to a variety of marine life in tanks and petting pools.
Popular exhibits and activities at the Butterfly House include the Pacific Tide Pool and Shark & Stingray Touch Pool, and the 3,600-square-foot indoor tropical garden that hosts the butterflies. The new Under the Dock exhibit illustrates in a fun way the wide world of aquatic life never too far away.
Visitors are also encouraged to check out weekly classes and events at the Sertoma Butterfly House, including yoga, meditation, and tai-chi in the garden. The Butterfly House and Aquarium is open seven days a week between 10am and 4pm.
Address: 4320 Oxbow Avenue, Sioux Falls
13. Old Courthouse Museum
The Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls is a restored 1800s quartzite building with three floors. The interior contains several interesting features, including murals on the walls showing life in an earlier era of South Dakota. All the museum exhibits relate to the history of the state and town.
Admission is free, although donations are accepted. Popular permanent exhibits at the Old Courthouse Museum include a replica of a 19th-century schoolroom and an artifact-filled gallery dedicated to the First World War.
Address: 6th and Main Street, Sioux Falls
14. Rapid City
Rapid City is a popular tourist destination within the Black Hills on the western side of the state. It's a common basecamp for those interested in exploring the area's monuments, like Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, within a scenic hour's drive. Rapid City is also nearly equidistant from Badlands National Park.
Rapid City has plenty of in-town attractions. Popular things to do include visiting Storybook Island and the Chapel in the Hills. However, the must-visit in Rapid City is Reptile Gardens, featuring a wide variety of animals and floral presentations.
The city has several restaurants and hotel options that support the generous summer traffic. Expect the highest prices during summer, but this time of year does have the warmest weather. Consider visiting in the fall for cooler weather and better prices.
Map of Tourist Attractions in South Dakota
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More Places to Visit in South Dakota: The things to do in South Dakota spread far and wide. You'll find plenty of culture in cities like Sioux Falls, and Rapid City. Outside of the urban areas, the national parks of South Dakota offer a range of outdoor adventures. For ideas on great places to pitch your tent or park your RV, see our article on the top campgrounds in South Dakota.