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Why you should vacation in South Dakota

Updated on March 15, 2016

Listen to Jason Aldean's Fly Over States

Hey you, that's right, you sitting in Row 7 Seat C of that airplane way up there. Take a look out that window. You see that land under you? That's South Dakota, my home and the most beautiful state in the country.

We sure would like more people to visit our great state and see everything we have to offer. Here are just 5 reasons why you should check out our Great Faces and Great Places. Spend a little time here and you'll discover that South Dakota is much more than just a "fly over state."

A view from a tunnel on Iron Mountain Road

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. Nearly 100 years ago, a sculptor named Gutzon Borglum came to South Dakota to create an attraction that would draw visitors to the state. Borglum arrived in the Black Hills and found what he was searching for: A mountain of granite that would stand the test of time.

Millions of people have visited the Shrine of Democracy and millions more will continue for generations. It stands as a symbol of the principals on which our country was founded and offers hope and inspiration for future generations.

An on-site museum shares the stories of the brave workers who chiseled, hammered and detonated explosives to form the famous faces, displays the tools used to sculpt rock into a timeless masterpiece, and provides a history lesson to democracy itself.

The memorial also hosts a variety of musical performances and speakers throughout the year in its amphitheater, along with a world-renowned fireworks display on the Fourth of July. However, due to a combination of dry conditions and recent problems with mountain pine beetles, the memorial has canceled the fireworks shows the past few years.

The beauty of the monument is only equaled by the natural beauty of the surrounding Black Hills, which serve as the presidents home. For a unique photo opportunity of the memorial, take a drive along Iron Mountain Road, which features rock tunnels framing the presidents' faces. Perfect for photo opportunities.

If you are looking for a place to stay while visiting the memorial, the town of Keystone is an ideal vacation spot. Just a few miles from Mount Rushmore, the charming town offers a variety of gift shops, restaurants, family attractions and campsites. Plus, it is centrally located to other Black Hills destinations such as Custer State Park and Crazy Horse Memorial. The town also boasts some of the finest fudge and ice cream shops in the world (in my opinion).

A word of advice. Try to avoid heading up to the memorial on a foggy day. Due to the elevation, the presidents' faces can be completely shrouded in fog and visibility will be poor.


Plane: Rapid City Regional Airport is located 35 miles from Mount Rushmore National Memorial on Highway 44.

Car: Visitors traveling by car on I-90 should exit at Rapid City and follow U.S. Highway 16 southwest to Keystone and then Highway 244 to Mount Rushmore. Visitors coming from the south should follow Highway 385 north to Highway 244, which is the road leading to the memorial.

Badlands National Park

Mako Sica (bad land)

That's the term Native Americans used to describe this rugged, harsh wilderness in Southwestern South Dakota, encompassing more than 200,000 acres. The land, which originally held by the Sioux Nation of Plains Indians, are home to striking hills and valleys, cones, ridges, buttes, gorges, gulches, pinnacles and grass prairies in a barren yet beautiful landscape. Formed over millions of years, this once inland sea is constantly being reshaped by the forces of erosion.

The Badlands are rich with fossil beds and geologic deposits, and in ancient times beasts such as rhinos, horses and saber-toothed tigers called the Badlands home. Today, hikers and bikers are likely to encounter animals less fearsome such as bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets. Watch out for rattlesnakes while using the many established trails in the park.

It is advised that hikers and bikers have an adequate supply of drinking water, especially in the summer when temperatures can soar above 100 degrees, with very few opportunities to rest and cool in patches of shade. And to be mindful of not getting lost. Cell phone coverage can tend to be a bit spotty throughout western South Dakota.

Camping is allowed in the park and is recommended during spring and fall when temperatures are more mild. There is also a lodge within the park boundaries for those who prefer not "roughing it."

How would I describe what it is like spending a day in the Badlands, I would say, "It's as close as I'll get to actually taking a trip to Mars.


Badlands National Park is located 75 miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota.

By Car: Interstate 90 (I-90) is located directly north of the park and provides access to the Hwy 240 Badlands Loop Road. For those traveling west on I-90, take Exit 131 (Interior) and follow the signs directing vehicles south approximately three miles to the Northeast Entrance. For those traveling east on I-90, take Exit 110 at Wall, South Dakota. Follow signs directing vehicles south approximately seven miles to the Pinnacles Entrance.
State Highway 44 provides an alternate, scenic access to the park and intersects Highway 377 in the town of Interior. Follow 377 two miles north to the Interior Entrance.

By Plane: The Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP) is located approximately 70 miles (one hour), west of the park, off Highway 44. Car rental services are available at the airport.

Getting Around In the Park:

• The Highway 240 Badlands Loop Road, accessed from Interstate 90, is a two-lane, paved surface that takes you through the North Unit of the park.
• The Sage Creek Rim Road (590) is a gravel road that takes you along the north rim of the Badlands Wilderness Area. Road may be temporarily closed after heavy rain or snow.
• The Sheep Mountain Table Road is four miles south of Scenic, SD on Pennington County Road 589. High clearance vehicles are recommended. The road is passable under dry conditions only. Impassable when wet or snow covered.


Deadwood Main Street
Deadwood Main Street

HBO brings Deadwood's history to TV audiences

Deadwood's Old West legacy

Born from the thirst of gold, wealth, whiskey and gambling, Deadwood was established in the late 1800s in the Northern Black Hills. It’s history is filled with colorful and infamous individuals, such as lawman Seth Bullock, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Potato Creek Johnny. In 1929, Johnny found one of the largest gold nuggets in the Black Hills. Many of the town’s citizens, including Hickok, Calamity Jane and Bullock still reside in Deadwood at Mount Moriah Cemetery.

Today, Deadwood, listed as a National Historic Landmark, is a vibrant Old West town with upscale restaurants, casinos, convention centers and concert venues but its lawless and Old West heritage remains celebrated and preserved through brick-cobbled streets and restored architecture.

Have a drink and play poker at Saloon No. 10, where Hickok was shot in the back of the head by a lowlife named Jack McCall. Spend the night at the Bullock Hotel where it is rumored that the lawman’s ghost roams the hallways.

Plan your trip during summer when there are a variety of activities, festivals and rodeos to enjoy.

Featured summer events
June: Wild Bill Days features parades, fundraiser events and live music.
July: Days of ’76 rodeo. Known as the “Best Rodeo. No Bull.” The Days of ’76 Rodeo is nationally recognized as one of the best outdoor rodeos in the country.
August: Kool Deadwood Nights is a four day celebration of the days of the Oldies complete with music and vintage car shows.

In addition to the annual events, the town offers daily gun fight re-enactments on Main Street and bus tours of historic sites.

Map of Custer State Park


Where the buffalo roam, just don't pet them!

Hundreds of years ago, the American Bison roamed freely throughout the U.S. As the country expanded West, the bison were nearly hunted to extinction. The bison are no longer in danger of extinction but they no longer freely roam the Plains. However, at South Dakota’s Custer State Park visitors can enjoy seeing herds of bison roaming the park’s prairies.

The park is home to more than 1,500 bison, or more commonly called buffalo. Visitors can drive along a 20 mile Wildlife Loop where tourists can see the park’s herd, along with elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mountain lions and curious playful prairie dogs.

Tourists are advised to NEVER attempt to pet a bison. The animals may appear docile and slow, they are in fact surprisingly nimble and fast, and mother bison are very protective of calves. Nothing can ruin a vacation faster then getting gored by an ornery beast.

Although the bison are the stars of the Wildlife Loop, the wandering friendly burros are a park favorite. Bring a carrot and you’ll make a friend for life.

Best time to visit: Have a one-of-a-kind experience and attend the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup, which occurs every September. Watch as cowboys and cowgirls drive the herd of more than 1,000 park bison over the sweeping hills. The roundup harkens back to the untamed West when the mighty and noble beasts thundered across the Great Plains. Be sure to arrive early to ensure a good viewing spot.

For more information:
Custer State Park
13329 US HWY 16A
Custer, SD 57730
Park Headquarters
Visitor Center

Cathedral Spires along Needles Highway
Cathedral Spires along Needles Highway

Sturgis motorcycle rally

Do you like attending concerts?

Do you like scantily clad women and men?

Do you like beer?

Do you like riding your motorcycle on some of the most scenic roads in the country?

If you answered yes to all of the above, then make the yearly pilgrimage to the town of Sturgis in early August. Hundreds of thousands of bikers roar into the small town for the annual rally. The 10-day event features concerts from some of the top musical acts in the world, contests, burnouts, races, bike shows, organized charity rides, demonstration rides, stunt events and much more.

Hit the open road on some of the most scenic roads in the country, including Needles Highway, Vanocker Canyon Road and Spearfish Canyon. And take a day trip to Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

So much more

Well, that's five reasons why you should plan to come to South Dakota for your next family vacation. But there's so much more that I could mention. We have a palace made of corn, a nuclear missile site, a museum that is a working prehistoric mammoth archaeological dig, Wall Drug (look it up online) and some of the finest hunting and fishing opportunities west of the Mississippi River.

And, well, we're just nice people.


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    • hpedneau profile image

      Holly Pedneau 

      6 years ago from Princeton, West Virginia

      Very cool! I have always wanted to visit South Dakota, and one day I will. When that happens I will definitely use your suggestions when planning my trip! Great hub!


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