Last updated: 10:00 PM ET, Sat June 25 2022
Wild Buffalo roaming near the campground in the Badlands National Park South Dakota (photo via kwiktor / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

South Dakota

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Mount Rushmore National Monument in Rapid City SD
Mount Rushmore National Monument in Rapid City SD (photo via khyim / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

South Dakota is physically a land of contrasts, where its eastern farms and prairies gradually evolve into towering mountains and desolate landscapes in the western part of the state. The beauty and richness of the land continues to attract travelers seeking to explore both natural and manmade wonders and to learn more about the state’s role in our nation’s history. The Missouri River and glacier-carved lakes offer nature’s bounty to outdoor enthusiasts and sportsmen.

Mount Rushmore, the awe-inspiring mountain sculpture of four presidents, attracts about 3 million visitors every year. The national memorial is located about 23 miles southwest of Rapid City, known as the “Gateway to the Black Hills” for housing about 15,000 visitors each year in its many hotels and motels.

Within the Black Hills are six national parks, including Mount Rushmore and the Badlands National Park. The Badlands consists of 244,000 acres of desolate and striking rock formations emerging from grass prairies that are home to bison, big-horn sheep, deer and prairie dogs. Badlands National Park offers two campgrounds, although there are countless other campgrounds, RV parks and lodging within close distances.

One of the best known resorts is Sylvan Lake Lodge, located in Custer State Park in the Black Hills. The property opened in 1937 and features lodge rooms, a restaurant and rustic cabins. Other lodging in the Rapid City area includes many national brands, including Best Western, Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn, La Quinta and more.

Other popular tourist sites in the western part of the state include Wounded Knee: The Museum, located on Interstate 90 in the town of Wall, about five miles from the west entrance to Badlands National Park. The museum recounts the Dec. 29, 1890, massacre of an estimated 300 Lakota Sioux by the U.S. Army.

Wall Drug, once a small-town pharmacy, has grown into a huge western-style shopping attraction, thanks to strategically placed billboards -- “Where the Heck is Wall Drug?” -- along the major highways. The tiny drug store first started growing the tourist trade by offering free ice water, which it still does. The Corn Palace in Mitchell features Moorish domes and folk art murals made of corn and grasses, which are redesigned every year. The Corn Palace hosts basketball games, concerts and community events and is open to the public.

Deadwood, an old mining town, is the site of the last big gold rush in North America in the 1870s. The town was restored and now is a National Historic Landmark. Deadwood also is home to about 80 gaming establishments.

Most of these attractions can be easily strung together on a driving itinerary. The state capital, Pierre, is located in the center of the state and is about 200 miles from Mount Rushmore, 125 miles from Badlands National Park and 150 miles from Mitchell and the Corn Palace.

South Dakota also is a popular spot for anglers and hunters. The state offers nearly 30 species of fish, including walleye and trout, along with a pheasant and bird population numbered at more than eight million in nearly five million acres of public hunting lands. The most-fished species in the Missouri River and its reservoirs are walleye, sauger, Northern pike, channel catfish, white bass, small-mouth bass, large-mouth bass, Chinook salmon, tiger muskie and a variety of panfish.