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, 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 the best and most beautiful places to visit in South Dakota…
1. Custer State Park – home to stunning protected landscapes and wild roaming wildlife
Named after Lt. Colonel Custer this beautiful area is South Dakota’s largest and first state park. 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 it’s the wildlife that’s arguably 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.
2. Pinnacles, the Badlands National Park – one of the most unique beauty spots to visit in South Dakota
This is a unique beauty spot to explore in one of the best areas to visit in South Dakota, the Badlands National Park. The Pinnacles Overlook offers sweeping beautiful views and faces South, so it’s especially a great destination to visit at sunset.
Gaze in wonder at the magnificent natural formations and spot wildlife at the same time.
3. Deadwood – inspiration for the very popular HBO series of the same name
Located in the Black Hills not too far from Mt. Rushmore, this is a former Gold Rush town originating from 1874. It’s famous for being the inspiration for the popular HBO series of the same name starring Ian McShane.
It’s a very interesting place to visit where history really 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.
4. Canyon Lake Park, Rapid City – one of the most beautiful places to visit in South Dakota
Located right in the middle of Rapid City, this park consists of 29 acres and truly offers something for everyone. You can bring some food and feed the ducks once the sun starts to set, have a picnic near the lake with your family, or just sit by the edge of the lake and get your feet wet.
You can also take a leisurely stroll in the area, which includes four separate pavilions, as well as enjoy a playground, sand volleyball court, and paddle boats that you can rent in case you decide to get in the water for a more closeup view.
5. Crazy Horse Memorial – a mountain monument under construction on privately held land
The funny thing about this memorial is that its creation has been in the works for decades yet it still isn’t complete. That being said, the memorial offers a beauty that is unlike any other in many ways.
It’s a very majestic memorial set against the Black Hills, and between the mountainous terrain and the acres of green trees, its beauty is definitely eye-catching. It is the perfect attraction for people who love natural beauty and history.
6. Falls Park, Sioux Falls – a stunning beauty spot to explore in South Dakota
If you love waterfalls, 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, among others. In fact, if you love state parks, you simply can’t miss this one because it is truly one of a kind. It is definitely one of the best places to visit in South Dakota and one you won’t forget.
7. Hill City, Black Hills National Forest – located in the heart of the Black Hills
Hill City is right in the middle of the Black Hills National Forest and is absolutely adorable. There, you can do tons of fun things that will keep you busy for hours at a time. There are restaurants, several museums, a winery, and even a fun train ride.
While you’re out and about doing these things, you can enjoy the natural beauty that is all around you, so even if you’re just sitting in a diner having something cool to drink, you’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy your time there.
8. Lake Herman – one of the most beautiful lakes in South Dakota
Located about an hour north of Sioux Falls, Lake Herman consists of a lake and a park, and it is the perfect area to stop and have a picnic or just relax by the waterside.
It is actually a small peninsula that extends out to the lake itself, and 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.
9. Lewis and Clark Expedition Area – an interesting area to explore for outdoor lovers
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. When you want to get away from it all and enjoy gorgeous surroundings and some physical activity, this is the perfect place to visit.
10. Mount Rushmore National Monument – one of the most famous attractions in the US
This is South Dakota’s most iconic tourist attraction and is visited by millions of people each and every year. The 60-foot-tall statues of President George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are carved out of granite and are some of the most recognized statues on the planet.
The only bad part is that the photographs you see in magazines and on television never do this attraction any justice. Indeed, this monument alone is well worth a trip to the beautiful state of South Dakota. It is without a doubt one of the most interesting and unforgettable places to visit in South Dakota.
11. Needles Highway – a spectacular drive through amazing South Dakota landscapes
Winding through the Black Hills, this highway is nothing short of stunning and is a full 14 miles long. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the Cathedral Spires made of granite that tower above the road, and one of those spires looks just like a needle complete with the eye, hence the name of the highway.
Between the mountains and the pine trees, you’ll never be bored driving along this highway because it consists of some of the most extraordinary views you’ve ever experienced.
12. Notch Trail, Badlands National Park – the most thrilling hike in Badlands National Park
An attraction that is fun for the whole family, Notch Trail is 1.5 miles long and therefore perfect for people of all levels of fitness. There is a plateau that you can get to by taking a man-built set of stairs, and you can enjoy the occasional nesting bird that loves to hide out in the area.
When you’re done with the hike, you’ll have a great view of the White River Valley, which is nothing short of spectacular, and the only people who shouldn’t attempt this trail are those who are afraid of heights.
13. Roughlock Falls – an idyllic setting and one of the best places to explore in South Dakota
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. Filled with quaint bridges, gorgeous waterfalls, and some 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 there much longer than you’d planned, and you are certainly welcome to do just that!
14. Sage Creek Wilderness Area, Badlands National Park – provides a unique glimpse into the beauty and all that the Badlands has to offer
A very remote area of Badlands National Park, this is an overlooked part but definitely an area worth visiting. Included in the area are sunflower fields, lots of hilly green land, camping and hiking opportunities, and opportunities to view bison out in the fields.
Other animals you are likely to see include prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, and even 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.
15. Spirit Mound Historic Prairie – a stunning and interesting place to visit in South Dakota
Located in Vermillion, this prairie covers 240 acres total and has a very interesting history. For one thing, historians know for certain it is one of the areas that Lewis and Clark visited on their epic journey, giving it a very important place in American history.
The sweeping vistas are nothing short of spectacular, and regardless of which section of it you visit, you are guaranteed never to get bored. Interestingly, the Plains Indians were convinced that the Spirit Mound Historic Prairie is inhabited by “little people,” which is their name for malevolent ghosts or spirits.
16. Sylvan Lake – a beautiful lake to explore in Custer State Park
This sapphire lake is nothing short of stunning, and its trees, rocky shores, and beautiful scenery will make you want to stay there forever. It is located in Custer State Park and surrounded by pine trees, and it is the perfect place to visit if you wish to spend your time hiking or just enjoying the crystal-clear water.
When the hilly sidelines reflect onto the water, it is nothing short of spectacular, which means if you love beautiful views and relaxing activities, visiting Sylvan Lake is something you won’t want to miss while you’re in South Dakota.
17. Keystone – a great town to visit which is located near Mount Rushmore National Park
Located just a few miles from Hill City, Keystone is tiny but amazing. With mountains all around it and an old-fashioned lineup of stores and restaurants, it is surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest. The town is certainly tiny with only 350 residents, even though it offers lots of things to see and do.
There is even a real steam train that takes you through the area and to the Black Hills, as well as a half-mile loop called the Presidential Trail that allows you to enjoy some fantastic views of Mount Rushmore. If you want to visit one of the most beautiful places to visit in South Dakota, visit the town of Keystone.
18. Wonderland Cave, Sturgis – an interesting place to explore and a great place to escape the heat
This gorgeous cave is 60 million years old and is just as amazing as you’re thinking it is. Truly a wonderland, the cave wasn’t available to white settlers until 1929, so a lot of people have never heard of it.
Still, if you’re visiting the great state of South Dakota, you don’t want to miss it because it consists of dozens of rooms filled with all sorts of formations to enjoy, each one more unique than the one before it. In fact, if you adore nature and want to enjoy some of the most amazing sites you’ve likely ever been exposed to, this is the attraction you need to visit.
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