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18 Most Beautiful Places To Visit In South Dakota

Sparsely populated and home to colossal granite sculptures, rolling prairies, some of the most unique geologic landscapes in the US, and a characterful former gold rush town that inspired an HBO series (Deadwood!) South Dakota is an endlessly fascinating state.

It’s also endlessly attractive, with some seriously gorgeous landscapes and natural attractions. From vast protected areas where wild bison roam to some of the most famous memorials in the country, here are my favorite places…

1. Custer State Park

Custer State Park South Dakota

Named after Lt. Colonel Custer, this unique area is South Dakota’s largest and first state park. Located in the Black Hills and originating way back in 1919, it’s a haven for both nature lovers and wildlife spotters.

Here, you can immerse yourself in seventy-one thousand acres of wonderful wilderness and go on scenic drives, explore the lakes, or camp out overnight. 

The landscapes here are beautiful, but in my opinion, it’s the wildlife that’s the biggest draw. Here, you’ll find wild roaming herds of bison, antelope, mountain goats, elk, coyotes, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, and super-cute prairie dogs, so I would highly recommend bringing your camera!

  • Visitors Centre Address: 13400 US-16A, Custer, SD 57730

My favorite highlights…

  • Staying in a luxury wooden lodge at the Custer State Park Resort, it was wonderful to wake up every day to the natural unspoilt wilderness every day.
  • Going on the 2 hour Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour and learning incredible facts about the animals and the history of the park along the way.

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2. Pinnacles, the Badlands National Park

Pinnacles South Dakota

Badlands National Park is a unique beauty spot and I love this place! The Pinnacles Overlook offers sweeping beautiful views and faces south, so it’s a great destination to visit at sunset. 

I recommend gazing wonderfully at the magnificent natural formations and trying to spot wildlife simultaneously! 

My highlights…

  • Going camping overnight in a tent and seeing the incredible sunsets and sunrises when the landscapes changes into a mix of different colors.
  • Driving to the Pinnacles overlook and capturing shots of the rugged peaks and deep valleys for my Instagram Gallery.

3. Deadwood!

Deadwood - best places to visit in South Dakota

Located in the Black Hills near Mt. Rushmore, this former Gold Rush town originated in 1874. It’s famous for inspiring the popular HBO series of the same name starring Ian McShane.

It’s a very interesting place to visit where history comes alive. Here, you can walk in the footsteps of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock and visit concerts, casinos, museums, and historic sites. 

Exploring the Old Town on a self-guided tour, the old Brothel, Saloon #10 Whiskey Bar, I thought the Midnight Star Casino were the most interesting. 

Dining on tater tots with herb onion gravy at the authentically style Jacobs Brewhouse & Grocer.

  • Exploring the Old Town on a self-guided tour, the old Brothel and the Midnight Star Casino were the most interesting and the Saloon #10 American Whiskey Bar.
  • Dining on tater tots with herb onion gravy at the authentically style Jacobs Brewhouse & Grocer.

4. Canyon Lake Park, Rapid City

Canyon Lake Park

Located right in the middle of Rapid City, this park consists of 29 acres and truly offers something for everyone. You can bring food and feed the ducks once the sun sets, picnic near the lake with your family, or sit by the lake’s edge and get your feet wet.

I recommend taking a stroll in the area, including four pavilions. You can also enjoy a playground, sand volleyball court, and paddle boats that you can rent if you decide to get in the water for a close-up view.

My personal highlights…

  • Having a picnic and a BBQ on picnic tables overlooking the lake.
  • Hiking the easy Canyon Lake Park Loop which took me past the lake and the best of the scenery.

5. Crazy Horse Memorial 

Crazy Horse Memorial

The funny thing about this memorial is that its creation has been in the works for decades, yet it is still not complete. That being said, the memorial offers a beauty unlike any other in many ways.

It’s a majestic memorial set against the Black Hills, and its beauty is eye-catching between the mountainous terrain and the acres of green trees! In my opinion, it’s the perfect attraction for people who love natural beauty and history.

My favorite highlights… 

  • Taking shots for my Instagram of the famous monument, in real life it’s just as jaw-dropping as I imagined!
  • After visiting the site dining on home-made Indian fry bread and refined beans at the nearby rustic chic Laughing Water Restaurant. Make sure you get a seat near the window!

6. Falls Park, Sioux Falls

Falls Park, Sioux Falls

If you love waterfalls, in my opinion, this is the place to be! Although Sioux Falls is South Dakota’s largest city, it doesn’t need skyscrapers or bright lights because even those things couldn’t compete with these gorgeous waterfalls, which all gravitate toward the Big Sioux River.

The park offers biking trails, observation towers, sculptures, playgrounds, a farmer’s market, and historic displays. If you love state parks, this place is a gem!

My highlights…

  • Taking videos of the cascading waterfalls, it’s an incredible sight when you’re there in person!
  • Sampling local produce at the Farmer’s Market. I highly recommend getting a jar of garden blend pickles from the Uptown Source Company.

7. Hill City, Black Hills National Forest 

Black Hills National Forest

Hill City is right in the middle of the Black Hills National Forest, and I think it’s adorable! There, you can do many fun things that will keep you busy for hours.

There are restaurants, museums, a winery, and a fun train ride.

While you’re out and about doing these things, you can enjoy the natural beauty all around you. Even if you’re sitting in a diner having something cool to drink, you’ll be able to enjoy your time there thoroughly.

My highlights…

  • Hiking the easy Cathedral Spires Trail which took me through a pretty forest before seeing the incredible Cathedral Spires close up.
  • Seeing the incredible Needle Eye Tunnel which we reached easily by car and then parked up close to take photos.

8. Lake Herman

Lake Herman - South Dakota

Located about an hour north of Sioux Falls, Lake Herman consists of a lake and a park. It is the perfect place to stop and have a picnic or relax by the waterside.

It is actually a small peninsula that extends out to the lake itself. Things to see and do include wildflowers, trails, old cabins, boating and kayaking, and some of the most amazing sunsets you’ve ever seen.

This is a great place to take your family for the day, and it even includes campsites you can use for those overnight camping trips you love.

My personal highlights…

  • Going jet skiing on the lake (there are rentals in the park).
  • Camping out overnight at the hipster friendly Uncle B’s Produce Farm, I loved sitting round the camp fire at night chatting to the other campers.

9. Lewis and Clark Expedition Area

Lewis and Clark Expedition Area

When you think of a recreation area, you often think of beautiful waters that you can boat and sail on, hilly terrains to enjoy and maybe hike on, and participation in many other outdoor activities, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition Area offers all that and more.

Located close to Yankton, the area is beautiful and is by far one of the most popular attractions in the entire state. This is the perfect place to visit to get away from it all and enjoy gorgeous surroundings and some physical activity.

My personal highlights…

  • Hiking the incredible Lewis and Clark Trail which took me through native reservations and beautiful coastal scenery.
  • Visiting the Dismal Nitch which is a pretty cove and the site where the Lewis and Clark once sheltered until a storm passed.

10. Mount Rushmore National Monument

Mount Rushmore

This is South Dakota’s most iconic tourist attraction, visited by millions yearly. The 60-foot-tall granite statues of President George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are some of the most recognized statues on the planet.

The only problem is that the photographs in magazines and on television never do this attraction justice. I personally think this monument alone is well worth a trip to South Dakota! 

My highlights… 

  • Taking Instagrammable shots and videos of the incredible Monument.
  • Dining at nearby Tally’s Silver Spoon which had rustic chic decor and a menu of regionally grown produce, I highly recommend the arugula pudding! 

11. Needles Highway

Needles Highway South Dakota

Winding through the Black Hills, this highway is stunning and a full 14 miles long. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the Cathedral Spires made of granite that tower above the road. One of those spires looks just like a needle, complete with the eye, hence the highway’s name.

You’ll never be bored driving along this highway between the mountains and the pine trees because it consists of some of the most extraordinary views you’ve ever experienced.

My personal highlights…

  • Stopping at the Needles Highway Scenic Overlook, the views of the winding road below were wow-inducing!
  • Exploring the incredible one-hour drive in a convertible car with the top down – the best way to explore!

12. Notch Trail, Badlands National Park

South Dakota

A fun attraction for the whole family, Notch Trail is 1.5 miles long and perfect for people of all fitness levels. You can reach a plateau by taking a man-made set of stairs and enjoy the occasional nesting bird that loves to hide in the area.

When you’re done with the hike, you’ll have a spectacular view of the White River Valley. However, if you’re afraid of heights, skip it! 

My personal highlights… 

  • Going on a self-driving audio tour which told us all about the incredible history of the park as well as facts!
  • Exploring the trail by E-bike, the views up close were incredible!

13. Roughlock Falls

Roughlock Falls

One of the things that makes this area a little unique is that it is filled with ADA-accessible sections, which means anyone can enjoy it anytime they like.

With quaint bridges, gorgeous waterfalls, and extraordinary scenery, not to mention forests, rock formations, and meadows, visiting Roughlock Falls should be on everyone’s bucket list.

The area officially begins at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge and has enough streams and greenery that you’ll likely want to stay much longer than you’d planned—and you are certainly welcome to do just that!

My highlights…

  • Taking the easy 2 mile Roughlock Falls Trail to the beautiful falls where I took shot and videos for Instagram.
  • Stopping at the nearby The Latchstring Inn which was a super-cute rustic lodge. I highly recommend the Canyon Nachos which came with a very tasty Homemade Red Chili sauce and black bean salsa.

14. Sage Creek Wilderness Area, Badlands National Park

Sage Creek Wilderness Area

A very remote area of Badlands National Park, this is an overlooked part, but in my opinion, it’s an area worth visiting. The area includes sunflower fields, lots of hilly green land, camping and hiking opportunities, and opportunities to view bison out in the fields.

Other animals you will likely see include prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, and snakes.

But if you want solitude and a place to go to help you relax and get away from it all, the Sage Creek Wilderness Area is where you want to be.

My highlights…

  • Camping overnight at the incredible Sage Creek Wilderness Area, waking up to the miles of unspoilt wilderness scenery was just incredible!
  • Spotting the incredible wildlife, I spotted super- cute prairie dogs, big horn sheep and lots of buffalo!

15. Spirit Mound Historic Prairie

Spirit Mound Historic Prairie

Located in Vermillion, this prairie covers 240 acres and has a fascinating history. For one thing, historians know it is one of the areas that Lewis and Clark visited on their epic journey, giving it a significant place in American history.

The sweeping vistas are nothing short of spectacular, and regardless of which section you visit, you will never get bored.

Interestingly, the Plains Indians were convinced that the Spirit Mound Historic Prairie was inhabited by “little people,” their name for malevolent ghosts or spirits.

My personal highlights…

  • Learning all about the site’s mysterious history from the various signs and then eating a picnic using a picnic table.
  • Hiking the easy Spirit Mound Historic Prairie Trail which was just over 2km in length and took me past the best scenery.

16. Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake - South Dakota

This sapphire lake is nothing short of stunning. Its trees, rocky shores, and beautiful scenery will make you want to stay forever.

It is located in Custer State Park and is surrounded by pine trees. It is the perfect place to visit if you wish to hike or enjoy the crystal-clear water.

When the hilly sidelines reflect onto the water, it is spectacular. If you love beautiful views and relaxing activities, visiting Sylvan Lake is something you won’t want to miss while in South Dakota.

My personal highlights…

  • Renting a canoe and exploring the peaceful waters, it’s a tranquil spot and the scenery is gorgeous!
  • Lazing around of the beach and going swimming, it was a sunny day and quite crowded but it was still a great experience.

17. Keystone 

Town of Keystone

Located just a few miles from Hill City, Keystone is tiny but amazing. With mountains and an old-fashioned lineup of stores and restaurants, it is surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest.

The town is tiny, with only 350 residents, even though it offers many things to see and do.

There is even a real steam train that takes you through the area and to the Black Hills, and a half-mile loop called the Presidential Trail allows you to enjoy some fantastic views of Mount Rushmore.

My favorite highlights…

  • Checking out the historic steam trains at the 1880 Train – Keystone Depot.
  • Exploring the Big Thunder Gold Mine, a historic goldmine I loved trying the gold and gem panning!

18. Wonderland Cave, Sturgis

Wonderland Cave, Sturgis

This gorgeous cave is 60 million years old and is just as unique as you think it is. Indeed a wonderland, the cave wasn’t available to white settlers until 1929, so many people have never heard of it.

Still, if you’re visiting the great state, you don’t want to miss it because it consists of dozens of rooms filled with various formations to enjoy—each one is more unique than the one before it! 

My favorite highlights…

  • Going on a guided tour around the caves and learning all about the history on how they formed over million of years.
  • Checking out the gift shop for unique souvenirs after exploring the caves.

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