Are you planning a trip and need to know the best things to do in South Dakota? You’ve come to the right place! If you’re simply just thinking about a trip to South Dakota, after reading this article, South Dakota will officially be on your bucket list!
The Mount Rushmore State has so much to offer its visitors. Although Mount Rushmore and the Badlands are big parts of the South Dakota experience, there’s so much more for you to explore. From the state and national parks to dinosaurs and Native American cuisine, you’ll never find yourself at a loss for things to do in South Dakota while you’re there!
South Dakota has a rich and important history in the American West and as such, you will have opportunities to take a step back in time and explore what life was like in South Dakota in the past. While in the state, you will notice that there are rolling hills, grassy plains, semi-arid badlands, and mountains all within the state. South Dakota has a very diverse landscape full of breathtaking natural beauty and historic roads just waiting for your to explore!
Let’s get started! Which of these things to do in South Dakota will you do first?
45 of The Most Exciting Things To Do In South Dakota
Crazy Horse Memorial
This memorial can be found in the Black Hill of South Dakota. The giant monument depicts the Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. On site, there are several museum where visitors can learn about the land and the Native Americans through art and artifacts that show their history. You can visit the Indian Museum of North America, Sculptor Home & Studio, and the Native American Educational & Cultural Center.
The World’s Only Corn Palace
Are you ready for the most unique thing you’ll do in South Dakota? The World’s Only Corn Palace offers free tours where guides will take visitors around to explain the many corn murals at the site. It’s basically a tribute to both farmers and artists. Events such as dinner theatre and rodeos are held in the palace and they offer a range of food choices. If you enjoy stopping at obscure road trip sites like the world’s largest cowboy boot or the world’s largest frying pan, why not add the World’s Only Corn Palace to your list?
Wall Drug Store
Would you believe that more than 2 million people a year visit a drug store in the American mid-west? Well, they do! This drug store in Wall, South Dakota is just outside of the Badlands National Park and has played an important role in the state for nearly a hundred years. During the stores beginnings, the great depression had a hold on America and in an attempt to get visitors to the store, the owners offered travelers free ice water. To this day, you can still stop into the store and get a cup of free refreshing ice water. While you’re there you can buy food, clothes, souvenirs, and more.
Wind Cave National Park
Just a twenty minute drive south from Custer, you’ll find the Wind Cave National Park. Hiking, back country camping, and horseback riding all wait for you in this national park! Wildlife viewing is a big thing to do in the park. You can see a diverse range of birds, as well as bison and prairie dogs. Don’t be surprised if you hear elk bugles as well!
Big Thunder Gold Mine
This mining museum in Keystone, South Dakota has one of the coolest things to do in South Dakota! Built as a replica of an 1895 gold mine, they offer tours of the old goldmine and you can pan for your own gold while you’re there. Walk along the creek, see what it’s like underground in a mine, and if you’re lucky you’ll be going home with more gold than you came in with!
Dakota Discovery Museum
At the Dakota Discovery Museum in Mitchell, SD, you can find a large collection of historical information, artwork, and artifacts from western pioneers and Native Americans. Aside from the regular museum displays, you can find wagons and rooms set up as if they were still being used like they were many years ago. After the museum, there are restaurants, coffee shop, and bakery near by to grab lunch or a snack before you move on to your next South Dakota attraction!
Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village
Another interesting thing to do in Mitchell, South Dakota is the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. This archaeological site is open to the public and you are able to see what life was like for the Mandan tribe–the tribe that Lewis and Clark documented encountering in the early 1800’s. Children under 12 can dig for free for arrowheads! You can also walk through the teaching garden where you can learn about native plants that the people of the village used for food and medicine as well!
Black Elk Peak
This South Dakota peak is the highest natural point in the state. It’s just under four miles for Mount Rushmore and is topped by a fire tower where you have access to amazing views of the surrounding area. The hike up to the peak is a 7.1 mile loop trail that is ranked as easy-moderate and slowly gains elevation through the trail; you can expect it to take 4-5 hours round trip.
The Mammoth Site
Don’t miss this! You will be blown away by this site in Hot Springs, South Dakota. The Mammoth Site is one of the coolest things to do in South Dakota! This is a rare opportunity to visit an active evacuation site where more than 60 mammoths have been discovered. You will be fascinated by the items found and the information available at the site! Wooly Mammoths and Columbian Mammoths have been found together at this spot for the first time in history. There are also other animals and fossils found at the site, including: camels, llama, wolves, coyotes, mollusk, fish, giant short-faced bear, and more!
Bear Country USA
This drive through wildlife park is full of native North American animals is the perfect things to do in Rapid City if you’re an animal lover or if you’re traveling with kids! Seeing wildlife is one of the best things to do in Sear Country USA you can see bison, reindeer, black bears, elk, and other animals from the comfort of your own vehicle. There’s also places in the park for you to walk around and see smaller animals as well as baby bear!
Dinosaur Park is a must visit for everyone traveling with kids! The park is free and features many dinosaur sculptures in fun colors. When road tripping through South Dakota, a stop at the Dinosaur Park is just what the kids need to stretch their legs and run off some energy. The park is located in Rapid City which is one of the best cheap cities to visit in the U.S. for family travelers on a budget!
South Dakota Air and Space Museum
The South Dakota Air and Museum is in Rapid City, South Dakota and has over thirty vintage military aircraft from World War II to modern day. You can walk around and see the aircraft in the open air museum or you can head indoor to check out missiles, helicopters, military memorabilia and more!
Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum
If you’re going to be visiting Sioux Falls, the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum should be on your radar. Kids and adults both will love exploring this zoo and natural history museum. Flamingos, rhinos, tigers, penguins and many other beautiful animals call the zoo home. The zoo has many add experiences that you can book, from birding walks and up close encounters to after dark adventures and family camp outs, there is ton of fun to be had at the Great Plains Zoo!
This waterfall in South Dakota has had such a big impact on the Mount Rushmore State in the past and to this day. As such, it is one of the most interesting things to do in South Dakota. Native Americans would regularly visit the falls and they introduced them to European explorers. They have been important for recreation and industrial reasons since the founding of the city of Sioux Falls and long before. More than 7,000 gallons of water drop over the falls every second and it has been used to generate hydroelectric power. There are historical sites for you to explore and a restaurant overlooking the water as well!
Butterfly House & Aquarium
While you’re in Sioux Falls, make sure to swing by the Butterfly House & Aquarium. For those traveling with kids, it doesn’t get much better than a visit to this South Dakota attraction. You can walk around as hundreds of butterflies fly around you, learn about ecosystems, and search for your favorite fish in the aquarium!
Palisades State Park
If you haven’t added this unique state park to your list of things to do in South Dakota, you should! The Split Rock Creek runs through the park and there are rock formations that rise fifty feet or more out of the water. Aside from admiring the unique and beautiful natural features of the park, you can also camp, hike, fish, and more during your visit!
The Rushmore Cave is located in the Rush Mountain Adventure Park where you can also ride roller coasters, zip line, mine for gems, ride the Gunslinger 7D ride and much more. After your tour of the cave, stop by the Sparky’s Snackitorium for a bite to eat!
Storybrook Island is so much fun for kids! You can find playgrounds, statues of beloved childhood figures like Yogi Bear, 101 Dalmatians, Wizard Of Oz characters, and more. If you are road tripping through South Dakota, a stop at Storybrook Island to let you’re little ones run, play, and explore is a must!
Mount Rushmore National Monument
Mount Rushmore is definitely one of the most famous things to do in South Dakota. (They don’t call it the Mount Rushmore State for nothing) Doane Robinson, a historian who hopes that the monument would bring tourism to South Dakota. The monument was complete in 1941 and cost less than a million dollars to complete. Visiting the monument is free, however, keep in mind that you will have to pay for parking on site.
Museum of Geology
This lovely geology museum in Rapid City, South Dakota and is totally free! Perfect for those interested in paleontology, mineralogy, and geology, and for those traveling with kids. You can walk through the museum and see skeletons of dinosaurs, rare fossils from the Badlands, and enjoy the children’s area where they can have hands on experiences. If you prefer to take a guided tour of the museum, those are available as well.
Children’s Museum of South Dakota
What a relief it is to be exploring a new town and see a children’s museum. Sometimes children need the chance to learn, explore, and run in a safe environment and away from the weather. If you find yourself in Brookings, South Dakota when it’s raining or the temperature isn’t ideal, a visit to the Children’s Museum of South Dakota may be exactly what you need.
South Dakota National Guard Museum
For military and history enthusiasts, the South Dakota National Guard Museum is a must visit when in Pierre. The museum is dedicated to showing the public the heritage and the accomplishments of the South Dakota National Guard in both times of peace and times of war. A bonus to this museum is that admission is free!
Badlands National Park
Arguably one of the most beautiful things to do in South Dakota, the Badlands are a breathtaking natural area. The Badlands were long used for hunting ground by the native tribes in the area. Today, anyone can come to the Badlands and lay eyes on the stunning structures in the park. One of the most popular trails in the park is the 1.5 mile Notch Trail that involves walking in ravines and on top of the elevated portions of the Badlands, climbing a tall wooden ladder, and seeing amazing views. It is also likely that you may also see sheep, ram, chipmunk, and other wildlife as well!
Old Courthouse Museum
Located along the flat streets of Sioux Falls, the Old Courthouse Museum is full of super interesting artifacts and historical information. Old machines, children toys, motorcycles and other automobiles, and more can be found while walking through the museum. The interior of the historic buildings is something to marvel at in and of itself. In fact, a step into the bathrooms in the building will have you stepping into a historic and beautiful room full of marble and historic craftsmanship. There are a lot of informative museums in South Dakota and this is one of the very best!
Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center
You can find this cool little South Dakota museum in Chamberlain, right next to the Missouri River. They has a wonderful collection of artifacts and historical information. If you are going to be camping during your trip to South Dakota, you can find a campsite just a few minutes from the museum! The American Creek Campground has views of the Missouri River, water hookups, and electric hookups. It’s also a great place to fish or take a paddle board or kayak out on the water.
Museum at Black Hills Institute
If you find yourself in Hill City, South Dakota, consider stopping by the Museum at Black Hills Institute. It’s there at the institute that you can see everything that South Dakota is known for and good at. Meteorites, minerals, dinosaur skeletons and other geological finds can be seen at the museum. Admission is affordable and children under five get admitted into the museum for free!
The Dinosaur Museum has replicas of what different species of dinosaur would look like, as well as real dinosaur bones and fossils that have been found in South Dakota. There’s also a mirror maze and mini golf course on site. This museum is Rapid City is not only kid friendly, but dog friendly as well! Your little one get admitted into the museum for free and dogs are welcome as long they are on a leash.
Prairie Dogs Field
There are countless places in South Dakota where Prairie Dogs can be seen. One of those is on the outskirts of the Badlands National Park. You can see tons of holes in the ground where the prairie dogs live and play. You can even buy a cheap bag of food to feed the prairie dogs. Getting your picture feeding one of these sweet little animals is a fun and unique way to remember your time visiting South Dakota.
Reptile Gardens is one of the most fun things to do in South Dakota with kids! It’s an animal park just south of Rapid City in Colonial Pine Hills. You can see all sorts of reptiles and some other native South Dakota species as well. If you plan on visiting the the Dinosaur Museum, just head right next door to the Reptile Gardens! The zoo is huge and has actually won the Guinness Book of World Records award for being the largest reptile zoo!
The Journey Museum and Learning Center
The Journey Museum and Learning Center is so much fun! It is packed with fun for visitors of all ages. The museum has artifacts, fossils, and information covering the topics of archeology, Native Americans, geology, paleontology, and the pioneers of the west. Children under 5 get into the museum for free and the museum is well wort the price of admission.
South Dakota’s original 1880 Town has more than 30 structures and buildings. The horse from Dances with Wolves called the 1880 Town his home until 2008 and now he has a memorial on site. You can see many set props from Dances with Wolves, your little ones can get their own sheriff badges, watch rope tricks, get wagon rides, see Otis the Camel, and a herd of Texas Longhorns all at the 1880 Town.
Camp at the Nomad Dispersed Campground
Have you ever imagined camping on the edge of the world? Camping at the Nomad Dispersed campground should be on everyones list of things to do in South Dakota. (especially for those planning to camp all across the state!) The area is seriously beautiful and offers the most insane views and sunsets!
South Dakota State Capitol
South Dakota’s state capitol is the city of Pierre. Tours of the state capitol building are available. You can take a self guided tour using an activity booklet that you will follow along with as your tour progresses. Or you can take a guided tours of the capitol building as they are available daily, even on the weekends. However, make sure you book at least 48 hours in advance!
Wounded Knee The Museum
This is one of the most information packed museums in all of South Dakota. You can learn about the American Indian War, the impact that white settlers had on tribes in the region, the acts, battles, and events that lead Native land to be reduced smaller and smaller over time. Their museum isn’t the only thing that is super informational; the museum has a website that is so helpful and informative. Even if you don’t get to visit the museum, a visit to their website is worth your time.
Old McDonalds Farm
This attraction is conveniently located on Highway 16 between Rapid City and Mount Rushmore. At Old McDonalds Farm, you and your little ones can pet animals, take a pony ride, bottle feed baby animals, and watch goats cross the Billy Goat Bridge. There’s also feed machines where you can hand feed the animals. If you are visiting South Dakota in the fall, consider visiting Old McDonalds Farm during their amazing fall festival!
Custer State Park
The Custer State Park arguably the most beautiful location in all of South Dakota. (You can get a seven day pass to the park for $20/vehicle.) There’s tons of fun to be had in the park, a few of the most popular things to do in Custer State Park are to drive the Needles Eye Highway where you can drive through rock tunnels, drive the Wildlife Loop where you can see pronghorn, big horn sheep, elk, herds of bison and other animals, and visiting the beautiful lakes. Sylvan Lake and Legion Lake are both very popular within the park.
Rush Mountain Adventure Park
If you have plans to visit the Rushmore Cave, you might as well take advantage of the rest of the adventure park. The park is full of fun for adults and children both. There is a mountain coaster in the park that will take you winding down through the Black Hills. You can also enjoy their ropes course that has multiple levels for people of different ages, ride on the Soaring Eagle Zipride where you can sit ride a zip line while being seated, sit in a theatre for the Gunslinger 7-D Ride, and finish the day in the park by mining through dirt and sand to find your own gemstones!
Black Hills Caverns
South Dakota has tons of caves and caverns that can be explored by visitors. One of them is the Black Hills Caverns. It was discovered in the 1880’s by people seeking gold, but the Lakota Indians had located the caverns centuries before others. You can take tours of the caverns where you can see many cool natural formations, rare crystals, an underground wishing well, and learn about geology, chemistry, cave conservation, cave life, and the prehistoric era.
Cosmos Mystery Area
Have you ever heard of the Cosmos Mystery Area? It’s an intriguing and, well, mysterious, area in the Black Hills. In the 1950’s two college boy were looking for a place in the hills to build a cabin. Things were complicated though as everything was a little lopsided and just not in normal positions. The ground is unnaturally un-level, even when a level shows that things are level. Weirdest of all, there is an atmospheric pressure that can be felt pushing down on you while in the area. There is gem mining, a geode mine, and the mystery house where you can stand on the walls and watch balls roll uphills!
Drive Through The Black Hills National Forest
A drive through the Black Hills National Forest should be on everyones South Dakota bucket list! The area is breathtaking and full of stunning natural beauty. The forest has a diverse and rich cultural past and archeologist believe that the area has been used for around 10,000 years. After that, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and other Native American tribes used the Black Hills as a sanctuary. During the 1800’s trappers and fur traders began exploring the Black Hills. Today, we all have the privilege of driving through the Black Hills and experiencing their beauty for ourselves.
Rushmore Tramway Adventures
Located in Keystone, South Dakota, just two miles from Mount Rushmore, the Rushmore Tramway Adventures is an adventure park with loads of fun activities for travelers. You can ride the chairlift, soar down the zip line, climb on the treetop obstacle course, go hiking, and get views of the nearby Mount Rushmore. There’s also a jump tower, a tubing hill, and a place to grab food while in the park!
This paleontology company is dedicated to helping preserve fossils in the American west. You can go on Dinosaur Dig Site Adventure Tours (for kids over age 10) where you will be provided with tools and training on how to look for fossils and bones. If you find teeth, fossils, bones, etc.–you actually get to keep them for yourself and take them home with you! If you are unlucky on your dig, you can buy real teeth or fossils! All of the for sale items have been legally and ethically obtained from private land and there for you to take home!
Dakota Sunset Museum
If you find yourself traveling in northern South Dakota, consider swinging by the Dakota Sunset Museum is Gettysburg. This museum has won awards and has exhibits that have been around since the late 1800’s! There are more than 15,000 obituaries in the museum along with other family history information, so if you think you have roots in South Dakota, the research can be done at the Dakota Sunset Museum. You can see a general store, one room school house, a barbershop, big game collection, civil war collections, a 1870’s Native American dress, and the 40 ton Sacred Medicine Rock imbedded with human foot prints!
World Fossil Finder Museum
In the southwestern portion of South Dakota, you can find the World Fossil Finder in the town of Hot Springs. The museum is home to the largest Tylosaurus to ever be found in South Dakota, one of the earliest mastodons found in North America, and many other skeletons, bones, teeth, fossils, and more!
Are you ready to add these things to do in South Dakota to your bucket list? South Dakota fills its visitors with joy and leaves them in a better shape than that of which they came. The state has a special place in the hearts of many people around the world and I know you’ll love South Dakota as much as the others that have visited before you!
If you’re planning on a road trip through South Dakota with kids, this 7-day itinerary for South Dakota may help!
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