Things to do in South Dakota – 10 Not to Miss Attractions

Written By: The Planet D

There are many things to do in South Dakota, it surprised us!  These South Dakota Attractions will tempt even the most jaded of travelers. From the Badlands to Mount Rushmore, it’s a well-rounded vacation destination or a great spot for a road trip in the United States.

If we were blown away with all of the cool things to see in South Dakota we know you will be too.

What to do in South Dakota

Did you know that South Dakota is home to one of America’s greatest monuments? And the landscape is also a lot more than just prairies and farmland. It’s a shame it doesn’t get more recognition. We’ve been to more famous destinations that have a lot less to offer.

But I have a feeling that is about to change and once you see all there is to see and do, I hope you are tempted to visit South Dakota too!

South Dakota Attractions Route

things to do in south dakota | maps
An Interactive map to all the best things to do in South Dakota

Click for the interactive map here

Starting from flying into Rapid City, we took a road trip around South Dakota to explore all the historic monuments and amazing landscapes.

1. Mount Rushmore National Historic Site  

What to do in south Dakota | Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore in South Dakota

Have you ever wondered where exactly Mount Rushmore was? I knew there was a monument dedicated to four American presidents but I never knew where it was. Well, now I know. It is definitely the king of the South Dakota attractions. And it is just as impressive in real life as it is in the movies.

The idea was to create a sculpture that would lure tourists to the black hills of South Dakota and four pivotal American presidents would do the trick. Construction began in 1927 on the four head of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. It was completed in 1941 and has been attracting millions of tourists each year ever since. Read all about Mount Rushmore here.

2. Badlands National Park

South Dakota attractions | Badlands National Park
Waking up early and watching sunrise at Widows and Doors was a highlight of the trip for us.

We had been to Alberta’s badlands and were mesmerized by its beauty. So we couldn’t wait to see the South Dakota Badlands because we heard they were outstanding.

Our morning started off with a 4:00 am wake up call to be out to the badlands for sunrise. It was worth the early rising for spectacular photographs. The rest of the day followed the loop road around the badlands looking at it from all different angles. There are easy pull-offs and spots to go for a hike throughout the park so take your time. Read more Badlands National Park Hikes and Things to do

3. Buffalo at Custer State Park

things to do South Dakota | See buffalo in Custer State Park
A Buffalo safari in Custer State Park is a must if you are in South Dakota.

At Custer State Park you can go on a buffalo safari to witness these magnificent creatures up close and personal. This is just something you must see in South Dakota. At sunset, we loaded into our safari jeeps in search of a herd and within minutes were surrounded by majestic buffalo.  Read more: Best Things to do in Custer State Park

There are approximately 1500 free-roaming buffalo (more accurately named bison). You can drive the loop on your own, but the safari jeeps will take you off-road for a closer view.

4. Needles Highway

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The Needles Highway
Needles Highway is a drive you don’t want to miss in Custer State Park in South Dakota.

The Needles Highway is located within Custer State Park and it is a beautiful drive. Constructed in 1922, it was designed to be one of America’s great drives. It was designed to drive directly into the enormous granite spires. At 14 miles long you can take your time to stop at every lookout to take in the mountain vistas and rocky outcrops.

5. Wild Mustangs

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One of the coolest things to do in South Dakota: See Mustangs running wild

Don’t you love horses? I especially love seeing horses roam free. They were meant to run and The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary lets them do just that.

Situated on 11,000 acres, the sanctuary is home to 600 mustangs. There are other horses roaming free as well. Many are rescued from abusive situations and are living out their days in complete freedom and happiness. You can take a bus tour through the sanctuary where you can get out and actually meet the horses face to face.

6. Crazy Horse Memorial

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Getting up close and personal with the face of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Did you know that South Dakota has another famous face carved into the Black Hills? Construction on Crazy Horse began in 1947 and it’s not scheduled to finish anytime soon.

The Lakota people wanted a monument to show that they too had heroes and Crazy Horse was one of them. He was one of the last of his people to give into the Americans and even though he had no intention of going to the reserves himself, he knew that his people wouldn’t survive unless they did.

So he finally negotiated a peace treaty to allow his people to come in and he would leave in peace. Instead he was double-crossed and stabbed in the back. The reason Crazy Horse is taking so long to complete is that sculpture Korczak Ziolkowski promised the Lakota people that no government funding would be involved.

It has been depending on public funding for more than half a century and his children and grandchildren have now taken over the project. Find out more history at the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Stay at

7. Deadwood

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Visit the town of Deadwood
The grave of Wild Bill in Deadwood, South Dakota.

It’s a kitschy gambling town, but visiting Deadwood is probably one of the most fun things to do in South Dakota. It’s where you can visit the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane and get an idea of what is was like back in the old west.

There’s a lot of history in this old gold rush town. It was truly the Wild West. A lawless town filled with gunslingers, gold seekers, and gamblers. Wild Bill was gunned down here while playing poker and many moments in history are re-enacted each evening on the streets. See more at Step into the Wild West of Deadwood.

8. Spearfish Canyon

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Community cave in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota.

If you thought South Dakota was just all prairies and farmland, thing again. There are many parks located around the state and Spearfish Canyon is a highlight. There are waterfalls and high limestone cliffs making for a beautiful drive.

Be sure to get out of the car though and take one of the many hikes, a highlight for us was going up to community cave for a bird’s eye view of the park.

9. Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave South Dakota
wondrous pictures of South Dakota

Take a guided tour through Wind Cave with a park ranger to see one of the largest karst cave systems in the world. What makes Wind Cave unique is boxwork formations can be found here which is rare throughout the world. Outside the cave, you’ll see more bison (buffalo), elk and rolling hills.

10. Mammoth Site

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We’ve been to dinosaur provincial park and we’ve witnessed many dinosaur bones, but Mammoth to tour an actual mammoth site is something different. Archeological digs are still going on and you can take guided tours through the active dig site or go on a self-guided tour.

South Dakota surprised and delighted us. We were blown away with all the things to do in South Dakota from its outdoor adventures to its national historic sites. This state is filled with rugged beauty complete with striking landscapes, quirky encounters, and unrivaled wildlife. If you are planning a trip to America’s west, make sure to add South Dakota to the top of your list.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

32 thoughts on “Things to do in South Dakota – 10 Not to Miss Attractions”

  1. We are planning something like this with our kids. Thank you for all of the great information. Can you say if it is worth us taking our trailer with ATV’s? Are there much opportunities for us to get out and use them? Thanks.

  2. A friend and I are planning a similar route. Just curious how long you spent? At this point we are planning 3-4 Days.

  3. I have a good experience of Spearfish Canyon because I have been there many of the times in my whole life to enjoy my holidays and have a spent spectacular time with my family and friends. In my point of view it is a best way to have great fun in this fabulous state.

  4. The only thing that I knew about it was Mount Rushmore. It was the lead photo you had for this post showing sunrise in the badlands that attracted me to this post. That scene was so beautiful.

  5. The Badlands of South Dakota is just the best for me. I like The Badlands of South Dakota too… I take a gander at about the states makes me need to visit much more. I didn’t understand there was such a great amount to find in South Dakota! The wild horses sound astonishin

  6. South Dakota seems like an amazing place to connect with nature! I love your photo of Spearfish Canyon and the beautiful contrast of colors in the photo of the Badlands. Thanks for all the cool quick facts and ideas.

    • Thanks Mary, glad we could give you a few good facts! The badlands are extraordinary. Certainly a photographers dream. Spearfish Canyon was a fabulous place to hike and enjoy nature.

  7. South Dakota is stubtle in its beauty, but one needs only look at the high plains and canyons to see the sweeping vistas, wonderful grasslands and hills, gorgeous sky and sunsets. It’s a place most folks don’t even know their is a “south” dakota. It is peaceful and grand. The cities are far and few inbetween and often not much is happening but Rapid City has grown greatly and the Black Hills has many surprises. I think everyone needs to go to SD at least once to see a true America. Of course, visit the The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, my bias 🙂

    • Well said Tilly, it’s true, South Dakota felt like a true American destination. I wish we spent more time in Rapid City, we had such an early flight out the next morning, we just went for a quick dinner and then straight to bed. But it looks like a cool town. The horse sanctuary is definitely a highlight for sure.

  8. Have yet to travel to North or South Dakota, but will have to make a point of doing an RV trip soon! Had no idea or heard of the Crazy Horse Face! Thanks for sharing the info and beautiful pictures!

    • An RV trip would be amazing. I think that is the best way to see South Dakota so that you can take your time to explore the parks. We hadn’t heard of Crazy Horse either, it’s gigantic and it has such an interesting story. Enjoy your trip when you go!

  9. The Badlands looks promising to see! It’s magnificent on the photo. I can’t wait to see it for real.

  10. I didn’t know all those great American attractions were located in South Dakota. I never though of visiting, until I read this article, great post.

  11. Woah! The Crazy Horse and Spearfish images are literally popping out of the screen 🙂 Lovely shots guys!

  12. Any place that’s called ‘The Badlands’ is a place that needs exploring! Every article I look at about the states makes me want to visit even more. Such a diverse and interesting country!

  13. Wow, some really really amazing things to do and see in South Dakota….
    The Badlands of South Dakota is simply the best for me. I like The Badlands of South Dakota as well…

  14. WOW! I have been to many areas of the USA, but never in South Dakota. The only thing that I knew about it was Mount Rushmore. It was the lead photo you had for this post showing sunrise in the badlands that attracted me to this post. That scene was so beautiful. The wild mustangs really intrigued me because I have such a love for horses. There is so much to see and I had no idea of the amount of great history that this state has. I will have to put it on my bucket list.

    • Hi Bob, glad we could give you a different perspective of South Dakota and so glad you liked our lead image. The badlands were outstanding and beautiful. You would love to visit the wild mustangs, they are incredibly regal. Cheers!