10 Very Best Things To Do In South Dakota – Hand Luggage Only


South Dakota is a pretty epic state to visit in the United States. Filled with primaries, national parks and the most gorgeous mountain ranges, South Dakota is perfect for those that love the great outdoors. Honestly, there are so many totally epic and best things to do in South Dakota that you’ll be spoilt for choice.

I’ve travelled all across the state and totally love how diverse the natural landscape is in this part of the United States. For instance, you can be meandering the heavy through the forests, or trekking the iconic Badlands National Park; I loved it.

So, to help you get the most out of your time visiting South Dakota, I wanted to share some of my favourite and best things to do in South Dakota. Have the best trip!

1.) Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Mount Rushmore

Perched within the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore is probably one of South Dakota’s most iconic places to visit.

In fact, Mount Rushmore is one of the most visited memorials in South Dakota. Around a 30-minute drive from Rapid City, it’s really easy to visit Mount Rushmore as part of a day trip in South Dakota, or a wider trip across the state.

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Mount Rushmore

After arriving at the huge presidential heads, make sure to follow the trails and paths that lead to one of the best viewpoints (right next to the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center.

From this point, you’ll be able to see the colossal mountain-carved sculptures of four former American heads of state. From Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt, to Abraham Lincoln. Over painstaking years, their heads were carved into granite on one side of Mount Rushmore which is said will last weathering for many thousands of years to come.

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Mount Rushmore

If you don’t drive or want a qualified guide, book this guided full-day tour of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills (direct from Rapid City).

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Rapid City

It’s a great way to explore the area, without any of the stress of navigating. Just be sure to book in advance, this tour fills up fast at peak times.

Book: Epic Mount Rushmore guided tour

2.) Sioux Falls

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Sioux Falls

Visiting Sioux Falls is one of the best things to do in South Dakota if you fancy a few days’ in a smaller US city. It’s got a little bit of everything but nothing too overwhelming. This all means it can be a totally relaxing trip.

Once here, make sure to explore Falls Park and follow the trails which are stunning on a sunny day. Oh, and don’t forget to visit the Old Courthouse Museum and the historic house of Pettigrew Home and Museum.

If they’re not your vibe, check out Benson’s Flea Market which sells anything and everything you can ever imagine.

The atmosphere is perfect for the whole family and great to explore for some souvenirs to go home with. With over 80 stalls and vendors, you will find antiques and collectables, antiques, bric-a-brac, local crafts, artwork, and more. It is situated on the Lyon Fairgrounds, Sioux Falls. Be sure to carry enough cash on you, not all vendors take cards.

Afterwards, head over to Phillips Avenue Diner which is a totally kitsch and informal spot for lunch or brunch. Their Elvis waffle is so tasty.

Fancy a drive and love music? Then head over to the National Music Museum in Vermillion. It’s around a 55-minute drive (south of Sioux Falls) and a perfect spot to stretch your legs.

Inside, the National Music Museum houses thousands of musical instruments and artefacts from the greats of the world. The instruments include American, European, and other continents’ musical instruments.

Plus, you might even spot instruments like Elvis Presley’s Guitar, didgeridoos, Italian violins, and many others. It is a must-see for any music lover and one of the best things to do in South Dakota if you’re heading south to Nebraska.

Read more: Best things to do in Badlands National Park

3.) Mammoth Site

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Mammoth

Just on the very fringes of the Black Hills, visiting Mammoth Site is one of the best things to do in South Dakota if you want to explore the state’s natural history.

You see, Mammoth Site was established to serve as a museum as well as the paleontological site for research where some pretty epic remains are viewable. Over the years, some remains have been uncovered on the site, including 61 mammoth bones, oxen, llamas, camels, wolves, and other animals. It’s literally a timestamp of what lived in this region thousands of years ago.

The site attracts scientists worldwide but also many other visitors, too. To this day, it remains the world’s largest site for mammoth remains and is well worth visiting in Hot Springs.

Best of all, the museum is open to the public as it showcases many discoveries around the site.

4.) Badlands National Park

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Badlands National Park

One of my favourite places in all of South Dakota, Badlands National Park is a perfect spot to explore on foot. With well over 200 000 acres to explore, it’s one of the best things to do in South Dakota if you love the great outdoors.

Though, don’t think that Badlands is just a place for geologists – the landscape is stunning and well worth visiting as you drive across South Dakota.

The enigmatic landscape includes vast hills and iconic pinnacles formed by eroded clay and sand over tens of thousands of years. Not only that, wildlife roams the Park, too. Just always be cautious of snakes in this region – they can be plentiful and love to sunbathe on rocks at dusk.

Pop by the visitor centre, drive the Badlands National Park Loop Road and ramble the Notch Trail. We love this area. To make things easier, book this Badlands National Park private tour – this way, you can get the lowdown on all the natural sites, without any of the stress of finding them.

Read more: Best things to do in Badlands National Park

5.) Custer State Park

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota

It might not be as well-known as some other state parks in the US, but Custer State Park happens to be one of the biggest parks in all of South Dakota.

The Park features a peaceful and unique landscape with different terrains that make it a totally gorgeous place to explore.

Without sounding totally cheesy, the deep forest, gorgeous lakes, and waterways make this is a totally serene landscape to see.

Trust me, visiting is one of the best things to do in South Dakota if you have an interest in hiking (or biking for that matter).

If you like a challenge, try hiking the trail leading to Black Elk Peak, the state’s highest peak. Alternatively, follow the Little Devil’s Tower Trail which is so gorgeous with the orange hues of the sunset.

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Tunnel

Oh, and don’t forget to head up to and through Needles Eye Tunnel in summer. It’s totally unique.

6.) Black Hills National Forest

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Lake

Now, the Black Hills National Forest is almost guaranteed to be at your stopping points in South Dakota. It’s colossal and stretches across over 1 million acres.

Not only that, the Black Hills National Forest covers a wide range of different terrains that make it the perfect stomping ground for any nature lover.

Trust me, the forest is filled with amazing wonders with scenic nature displays and great viewpoints such as Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore (which I mentioned above).

Best of all, the Black Hills is famous for providing outdoor recreation activities for all the family. You can head on a day trip to include hiking, fishing, horseback riding, etc.  Plus, with around 30 designated campsites, It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

Afterwards, don’t forget to visit the ongoing construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s the world’s largest mountain carving and a spot that is incredible to learn about.

Commissioned by Henry Standing Bear of the Native American Lakota people, it’s a site that is continually being built, relying solely on donations. I loved visiting.

7.) Spearfish Canyon

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Falls

Yes, I know it’s another spot in the Black Hills… but I couldn’t resist!

Spearfish Canyon is totally stunning and visiting is one of the best things to do in South Dakota. Located in spearfish, the canyon is filled with the most gorgeous Bridal Veil Falls, stunning cliff walls and the Spearfish Community Caves, too.

For a really great hike, follow the Devil’s Bathtub Trail (from this Google Maps point). Though don’t be fooled into thinking this trail is easy, it can be very tough and for the more experienced hikers. It’s the kind of route you can easily fall and slip, especially in wet weather.

Not only that, the whole canyon also has some spots you won’t want to miss. Sites like Rock Lock Falls and Spearfish Peak, along with eagles, and bluejays, call this area home.

8.) Wind Cave National Park

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Buffalo Byson

From the name, you would know this is the home of the famous Wind Cave, the world’s densest cave system. It’s incredible to see and one of the best things to do in South Dakota as you meander through the Black Hills region.

The Park has an above-the-ground area, which holds the largest natural mixed-grass prairie in the US. The grassland has wildlife roaming about freely. Some of the wildlife you can find include elk, coyotes, foxes, and bison.

The Park has over 30 miles of hiking trails, which makes it a perfect spot if you love to explore the epic national parks in the US.

For a great hike, follow the Lookout Point Trait to Beaver Creek. It’s a great way to explore the area, but always be cautious and respectful of bison. Remember, this is their home.

9.) Sylvan Lake

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Lake

Being one of the most famous lakes in the Black Hills Mountain Range, Sylvan Lake is a gorgeous spot to visit in South Dakota

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Black Hills

It’s one of the five lakes in the Custer State Park, and it has heaps of recreational activities for when you visit.

You’ll be able to try your hand at;  boating, fishing, swimming, and hiking, too.

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Tunnel

Oh, and don’t forget to take a peek at Doane Robinson Tunnel, stop off at Pactola Lake and the Harney Peak Fire Lookout Tower.

10.) Deadwood, South Dakota

Very Best Places To Visit In South Dakota Deadwood

Probably one of South Dakota’s most iconic Gold Rush spots, the historic city of Deadwood is well worth visiting whilst exploring the state.

Once here, be sure to stop off at the Adams Museum, explore the Broken Boot Gold Mine and rest up at The Bank Hotel. It’s the perfect stopping point as you’re driving west to nearby Wyoming.

Read more: Best things to do in Badlands National Park

12 Best Things To Do In Badlands National Park, USA


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