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The Best Places to Visit in South Dakota

Sep 20, 2023|

From the Black Hills and Badlands in the west to the Great Plains in the east, South Dakota offers a diverse landscape of mountains, river valleys, and prairies. If you've never ventured out beyond the West River or East River sections of the state, there's no better time than now to cross over the Missouri River and explore the Mount Rushmore State.

Try some deep-fried chislic in a local diner, take part in one of the state's annual festivals, or get some fresh air in one of South Dakota's many excellent parks. Let this South Dakota visitors' guide help you plan your trip around your home state.

Beautiful Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park

National park sites

Badlands National Park

Located in the southwestern part of the state and southeast of Rapid City, Badlands National Park features over 240,000 acres of eroded rock formations, mixed-grass prairies, and fossil beds. The Lakota people called the area home for hundreds of years and gave it the name we know today: mako sica, or bad lands. Go on a hike to get closer to the colorful pinnacles and buttes, or take a scenic drive along Badlands Loop Road, Route 240, and stop at the various viewpoints to take pictures of the unique landscape.

The park is home to wildlife that includes bison, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep as well as many species of birds, such as golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and burrowing owls. The park also features a Fossil Preparation Lab in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center where you can observe working paleontologists and learn more about the park's fossils from rangers. Badlands National Park stays open all year, although the main road may close in the winter due to adverse weather conditions.

Wind Cave National Park

Also in southwestern South Dakota and north of Hot Springs, Wind Cave National Park has one of the longest cave systems in the world. The park got its name from the strong winds that emanate from the main cave's natural entrance. Take a ranger-guided tour to explore the park's cave systems. Note that tours book up fast during the busy tourist season, so it's smart to reserve a cave tour well in advance.

Aboveground, the park offers more than 30 miles of hiking trails. During your visit, you could also see some of Wind Cave's wildlife, which includes a bison herd as well as elk and prairie dogs.

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial

There may not be a more famous site in South Dakota than Mount Rushmore. Featuring the heads of four presidents carved into the mountain—Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson—Mount Rushmore is the most popular attraction in the entire state. Mount Rushmore features the 0.6-mile Presidential Trail that gives you different perspectives of the presidents as you walk.

Take a self-guided audio tour to learn more about the history of the park and its creation. You can also visit Gutzon Borglum's Sculptor's Studio, which has a one-twelfth scale model of Mount Rushmore. Borglum worked on the project from 1927-1941. When he passed in 1941, his son took over the project until its completion.

Mount Rushmore

Top restaurants for South Dakotan cuisine

Chislic: Urban Chislic

Chislic consists of a protein, usually lamb or beef, that's grilled or deep-fried in cube form and then served with a dipping sauce. For some of the best chislic in the state, try Urban Chislic in Sioux Falls. The restaurant features a menu where you get to choose your own meat and then select from a large variety of rubs or dipping sauces. Try the fish with a creamy white barbecue sauce to taste a local favorite.

Kuchen: Tyndall Bakery

Kuchen is a cake-like pastry that happens to be the official state dessert of South Dakota, and the best place to sample it is at the Tyndall Bakery in Tyndall. This small bakery also offers kolaches, strudel sticks, cinnamon toast, and many other sweet treats.

Hot beef sandwich: Phillips Avenue Diner

Stop by the Phillips Avenue Diner in Sioux Falls for their take on the hot beef sandwich, which consists of roast beef served on white bread with gravy.

Annual events in South Dakota

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Held annually in the small town of Sturgis each August, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is among the state's biggest parties. With attendance figures of around half a million visitors, the rally is a must-see for motorcycle enthusiasts. The rally consists of rides, concerts, and various events. Attend the Mayor's Pub Crawl, present your facial hair at the Beard & Mustache Contest, and show off your tats at the Tuesday Tattoo Contest. Given the popularity of the event, it's wise to make your travel plans well in advance of the bike week.

Aerial view of Sturgis, South Dakota

Wild Bill Days

Wild Bill Days, held each June in Deadwood, celebrates Wild Bill Hickok. One of the legendary figures of the country's Wild West period of the 19th century, Hickok was a soldier, showman, and gunslinger who perished in Deadwood in 1876 as a result of a feud during a poker game. The Wild Bill Days festival features concerts, food and drink vendors, gold panning demonstrations, and a classic car auction.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant

This pageant pays tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the "Little House on the Prairie" books. Wilder's family moved to De Smet in 1879, and she remained there for several years as she became a teacher, got married, and started a family of her own. The pageant, held every summer in De Smet, portrays life out on the prairie as it used to be, with the main event a show held on an outdoor stage.

Vivint provides peace of mind while you're away

If you’re ready to explore South Dakota and want to make sure your home is protected while you’re away, Vivint has you covered.

Keep tabs on your home with live footage from one of our top-rated security cameras. Know who is coming and going with Smart Locks, and lock the door remotely if you forgot to do so before you left. Come home to a house that is the perfect temperature with a Smart Thermostat. Use Car Guard to keep watch over your vehicle whether it’s staying at home or transporting you around South Dakota.

Call us today at 855.822.1220 to speak with one of our Smart Home Pros to find out more about how we can keep your home protected.

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