The Best Things to do in South Dakota

The 25 Best Things to do in South Dakota

South Dakota might be most famous for the faces found on Mount Rushmore, but it offers so much more than that. From its Wild West history and Native American culture to its long list of national parks and natural gems, South Dakota is rich in unique experiences and attractions. 

Tick off top South Dakota attractions like Badlands National Park, where you can marvel at otherworldly formations, and Custer State Park to see a herd of free-roaming bison. This state is a nature lover’s dream destination, from the 1.25-million-acre Black Hills National Forest to the 109-mile-long George S. Mickelson Trail bike trail. A hike to the summit of Black Elk Peak is a must for hikers. 

Drive Spearfish Canyon Byway for a scenic look at the state’s most stunning waterfall landscapes, then head underground and join fascinating cave tours at two of the longest caves in the world. You can also visit the land of outlaws and heroes in Deadwood, then marvel at the world’s largest in-progress sculpture at Crazy Horse Memorial. 

It’s easy to get inspired in the Mount Rushmore State with its more than 77,000 square miles of pure natural beauty. To help you plan your next trip, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in South Dakota! 

Catering to all ages and interests, these top outdoor adventures, natural wonders, and family-friendly attractions are well worth adding to your South Dakota bucket list. Pack your bags and get ready for adventure in this beautiful state full of endless exploration. 

25 Fun and Unique Things to do in South Dakota 

1. Visit the Presidents at Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Best Things to do in South Dakota: Mount Rushmore National Memorial

When it comes to the best things to do in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is on most travelers’ lists. It’s here that you can come face to face with four US presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – as they overlook the state’s picture-perfect Black Hills. 

This famous mountainside sculpture took 14 years and $1 million to complete. It’s located about 25 miles southwest of Rapid City and was first carved back in 1927, with its final drilling taking place in 1941. Sitting at 60 feet tall, this is one of the must-see South Dakota attractions for any history fan. 

Follow the Presidential Trail to see the changing views of Mount Rushmore, with the 20- to 45-minute journey traveling through the ponderosa pine forest. You can also visit the Sculptor’s Studio to learn about the process of carving Mount Rushmore or view exhibits in the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center. 

If you want to avoid the crowds, the official website suggests visiting before 9 am or after 3 pm. With over two million people visiting Mount Rushmore each year, it’s also best to avoid June, July, and August and, instead, visit during the less-crowded months of May, September, and October.

See the Famous Mount Rushmore

2. See Ancient Fossil Beds at Badlands National Park

Must do things in South Dakota: Badlands National Park

One of the most stunning national parks in the United States, Badlands National Park is another one of the must-do things in South Dakota. It’s an oasis for nature lovers, featuring striking landscapes of buttes, canyons, pinnacles, and spires. 

Not only is this park home to 25- to 35-million-year-old fossil beds, but skeletons of three-toed horses and saber-toothed cats are among some of the many fossilized species that have been found here. In addition to its fascinating history, wildlife viewing is abundant, with its 244,000 acres home to American bison, black-footed ferrets, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs. 

You can start your journey in Badlands National Park at one of the visitor centers to pick up maps and enjoy museum exhibits, then visit the Fossil Preparation Lab to see paleontologists working on real-life fossils. Badlands Loop Road (or Highway 240) is the park’s most popular road, where you can catch a glimpse of the park’s most beautiful landscapes, while wildlife watching is common on Sage Creek Rim Road. 

For an overnight adventure, set up camp at one of the park’s two official campgrounds. Night Sky Viewings are a great way to view the dark skies, with park rangers and astronomy volunteers there to help you look through telescopes. In summer, there’s even an annual Badlands Astronomy Festival, which offers one of the most unique things to do in South Dakota!

Enjoy Hiking Through the Badlands

3. See Bison in Custer State Park

South Dakota Things to do: Custer State Park

Custer State Park is one of South Dakota’s natural gems, home to towering granite peaks, rolling plains, and clear mountain waters. It’s a family-friendly destination and hotspot for animal lovers, as it offers the chance to spot the free-roaming herd of 1,300 bison. If you’re an animal or nature lover, Custer State Park is a must on your South Dakota bucket list.

Spanning 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, this park is full of adventure. You can enjoy camping, hiking, biking, swimming, and fishing. Plus, the wildlife watching isn’t just reserved for bison – you can also see pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain goats, and a band of burros in this expansive park!

Located about 30 miles southwest of Rapid City, this park is also known for its scenic drives. Needles Highway is one of the most popular, as the 60-minute drive takes you through ponderosa pine and Black Hills spruce forests, meadows, and granite mountains. 

While Wildlife Loop Road is only 18 miles in length, the travel time varies depending on “wildlife jams” from the park’s various wildlife species. For the best viewing, take the journey in the early morning or right before sunset. 

If you prefer to explore on foot, follow the 1.6-mile Cathedral Spires Trail to see the famous needles of granite rock. Alternatively, opt for the unique 2.8-mile Sunday Gulch Trail (closed from November to May) to cross the stream while passing over large boulders past granite walls. All ages will love the 1-mile Sylvan Lake Shore Trail around the photogenic Sylvan Lake. 

Get Up Close with the Wildlife

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4. Transport to the Wild West in Deadwood

Unique Things to do in South Dakota: Deadwood

Historic Deadwood is one of the coolest South Dakota attractions. You can take a step back in time to relive the time of Old West legends like “Wild Bill” Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock. A National Historic Landmark since 1961, this 1870s gold rush town is a fun addition to your South Dakota itinerary. 

Soak up the Old West charm as you stroll past the historic storefronts, then catch one of the live reenactments on Historic Main Street from costumed characters. You’ll find informational plaques highlighting significant dates and locations, including a signpost showing the exact spot where “Wild Bill” Hickok was killed by Jack “Crooked Nose” McCall. 

Some of the most popular attractions include the Adams Museum and Adams House, with exhibits on the most notorious characters, while the Broken Boot Gold Mine offers underground tours and a chance to pan for gold. If you want to learn more about the historic miners and gold panners, head to the Days of 76 Museum, which also has an annual Days of ’76 Rodeo in July each year. 

The Tatanka: Story of The Bison, founded and operated by actor Kevin Costner, pays tribute to the bison that once roamed the area. Sitting high above the city, the Mount Moriah Cemetery is where to see the final resting place of many of Deadwood’s most famous characters (and offers stunning views over the Black Hills). 

Take a Walk Through Deadwood

5. Go Underground at Jewel Cave National Monument

Step into the enchanting underground world of Jewel Cave National Monument, the third-longest cave in the world. It’s one of the coolest things to do in South Dakota for all ages, offering a variety of fascinating cave tours where you can venture deep below the surface. 

Named after the crystals that line its walls, Jewel Cave features over 215 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. Ranger-guided tours are required to enter Jewel Cave, and it’s suggested to book in advance to ensure your spot because they sell out quickly. 

The most popular is the Scenic Tour, which explores various cave chambers and passages and climbs down 734 stair steps along a 1/2-mile loop. If you’re short on time, the Discovery Tour is a 20-minute ranger-led tour and a brief introduction to the cave and its cultural history. In summer, the Historic Lantern Tour is an adventurous option, taking you down an unpaved, rocky trail. 

The 1,279-acre park also has nature trails above ground, including the 1/4-mile Roof Trail and the 3.5-mile Canyons Trail, which travels through Lithograph and Hells Canyon. From here, you can spot recently reintroduced bighorn sheep in the historic area. 

6. Take a Scenic Drive Along Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

South Dakota Bucket List: Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

Dotted with limestone cliffs, rocky hillsides, and plunging waterfalls, the 19-mile Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is one of the most scenic drives in the US. Located in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota, it’s one of the best South Dakota activities for any avid nature enthusiast.

Recognized as a National Scenic Byway because of its natural beauty, this drive offers incredible views of Spearfish Canyon, a deep narrow gorge carved out by Spearfish Creek. You can hop out of the car and follow Spearfish Falls Trail, which guides you to the bottom of the canyon, or see if you can spot notable formations such as Split Rock, Victoria’s Tower, and Kissing Rocks. 

Located just under six miles south of its north entrance, Bridal Veil Falls is a must-see in Spearfish Canyon. This photogenic gem is the most accessible of the waterfalls in Spearfish and can actually be seen from an observation platform that’s open year-round. Tumbling down a rocky hillside, the 60-foot waterfall is best seen in spring when the snow melts.

If you want to see Spearfish Canyon draped in fall foliage, visiting between September and October offers one of the most spectacular things to see in South Dakota. However, the canyon’s landscape of Ponderosa pines, aspens, birches, and other tree varieties is photogenic year-round!

Explore Beautiful Spearfish Canyon

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7. Explore Roughlock Falls

South Dakota Things to do: Roughlock Falls

Also a notable pit stop along Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive, Roughlock Falls is a series of powerful cascades and rapids in the canyon. It’s said that pioneers traveling down the canyon used to lower their wagons down the drop by rough-locking the wheels to prevent them from rolling – hence the name Roughlock Falls. 

Considered one of the most beautiful natural attractions in the Black Hills, it’s a spectacular spot for photography and a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The area around this scenic multi-tiered waterfall is surrounded by vibrant flora and fauna and is a great spot for hiking, bird-watching, and picnicking. 

What to do in South Dakota: Roughlock Falls

You can explore the scenic area that includes several miles of well-maintained walking paths via decks and bridges. There are spots for trout fishing and wildlife watching, with a chance to spot the rare American dipper bird that can walk and swim underwater. 

Open year-round, the falls are most dramatic in spring because of the snow melting. However, fall offers a glimpse of the colorful changing leaves, and winter also offers a unique viewing opportunity. 

8. See Rare Formations at Wind Cave National Park

Unique Things to do in South Dakota: Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park was the first cave to be designated a national park in the US, home to the world’s largest concentration of rare box work formations. Encompassing over 33,000 acres of forest and prairie, this destination also features an abundance of wildlife. 

Join one of the tours to explore one of America’s oldest national parks. The Garden of Eden Tour is the least strenuous, offering an up-close look at beautiful cave formations such as box work, cave popcorn, and flowstone. If you’re looking for family-friendly things to do in South Dakota, the Natural Entrance Tour is moderate, with an excursion through a man-made entrance to the middle of the cave. 

In summer, you can join a Candlelight Tour to see the caves by candlelight or the Wild Cave Tour, which explores away from the developed trails. Alternatively, there’s an Accessibility Tour with an elevator into the cave. 

Above ground, it’s possible to spot bison, elk, and other wildlife roaming the prairie grasslands on the 30 miles of hiking trails. View the picture-perfect Black Hills scenery from the 1-mile Rankin Ridge Trail, see prairie falcons on the 1.4-mile Cold Brook Canyon Trail, or spot elk along the 2.6-mile Boland Ridge Trail.

9. Visit Falls Park in Sioux Falls

Fun Things to do in South Dakota: Falls Park in Sioux Falls

Sitting on the eastern border of South Dakota, Sioux Falls is the largest city in the Mount Rushmore State. While it offers plenty of must-see South Dakota attractions like its popular Falls Park, it still retains its small-town charm with friendly locals. 

If you only have time for one stop in this city, it has to be at Falls Park. The city’s namesake, it encompasses 128 acres along the Big Sioux River and features a series of cascading waterfalls. You’ll be amazed as you come face to face with the natural display at this park, which includes 7,400 gallons of water plunging 100 feet over the falls. 

You’ll find multiple viewing platforms where you can gaze at its splendor, including a five-story observation tower with 360-degree panoramic views of the falls and city skyline. There’s also a seasonal Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from May through October and an on-site cafe serving local farm fresh ice cream. 

Wander the downtown district of Sioux Falls to find a quaint area dotted with local shops and restaurants. If you’re a fan of art, make sure to stop and admire a few of the 50+ sculptures that are a part of the city’s popular SculptureWalk.

If you’re with the family, you might want to check out the Kirby Science Discovery Center in the Washington Pavilion or explore a unique habitat with over 800 free-flying butterflies at the Butterfly House & Aquarium. You can also meet hundreds of animals at Great Plains Zoo, such as tigers, giraffes, and rhinos, and see the award-winning snow monkey exhibit. 

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10. See the Crazy Horse Memorial

What to do in South Dakota: Crazy Horse Memorial

The work on the colossal Crazy Horse Memorial started back in 1948 and, once complete, will feature a tribute to the famous Lakota leader. Not only will it be the largest mountain carving in the state, but it will be the largest in the world!

The massive unfinished sculpture is located in the Black Hills, positioned at its highest point so you can see it from many miles away. It’s dedicated to Crazy Horse, the legendary Lakota warrior who died in 1877. 

South Dakota Things to do: Crazy Horse Memorial

It’s one of the coolest things to do in South Dakota if you want to learn about the rich history and culture of the region. The on-site Native American Educational & Cultural Center offers an array of unique educational opportunities through exhibits and hands-on activities, while the Indian Museum of North America features exhibits that reflect the rich history and culture of over 300 Native Nations. 

An array of cultural programs are offered here, including daily music and dance performances at 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 4:30 pm on the veranda. Since the memorial is about 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore National Monument, it’s often paired with a visit to nearby Mount Rushmore. 

11. Stroll the Main Street Square in Rapid City

Unique Things to do in South Dakota: Rapid City

More than just a gateway to South Dakota’s picturesque Black Hills, Rapid City makes a fantastic home base for exploration. Before you get out and tick off some of the most iconic South Dakota attractions, you can take a stroll along Main Street Square. 

This downtown area hosts around 150 events throughout the year, like free concerts, beer festivals, and family-friendly fairs. It’s a fun-filled public space popular in warmer months, but even in winter, you’ll find an ice skating rink all ages will enjoy. 

While Mount Rushmore is just 30 minutes away with its famous four faces, Rapid City’s downtown area also features 40+ life-sized bronze statues of American Presidents. For another dose of history, go back in time at the Journey Museum, which is filled with prehistoric fossils and Native American artifacts. 

Animal lovers can make a beeline for Reptile Gardens to meet the gentle giant Aldabra tortoises, while the massive brontosaurus at Dinosaur Park is the main attraction in the 150-acre Skyline Wilderness Area. For the 21 and up crowd, breweries like Independent Ale House, Lost Cabin Beer Company, and Miner Brewing Company allow you to toast your way through the city. 

12. Get on the Water at Lewis & Clark Recreation Area

Fun Things to do in South Dakota: Lewis & Clark Recreation Area

If you’re looking for outdoorsy things to do in South Dakota, the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area is a reservoir on the Missouri River. In addition to water-based activities like boating, swimming, tubing, and fishing, you can take advantage of the area’s hiking trails, sandy beaches, campgrounds, and cabins.

Located just six miles west of the city of Yankton, the 25-mile Lewis and Clark Lake is the centerpiece of this park. Water recreation is the biggest reason people visit this natural area, with a full-service marina offering boat slips, boat service, and fuel. You can even rent powerboats, fishing boats, and pontoons for a full day of fun on the water. 

Families will also love the numerous beaches, picnic shelter facilities, and trails in the park, as well as the opportunities for archery, disc golf, horseshoes, volleyball, and bird-watching. Cabins are perfect for those looking for a multi-day excursion. 

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13. Hike to Scenic Overlooks at Palisades State Park

Must do things in South Dakota: Palisades State Park South

Offering some of the most unique landscapes in South Dakota, Palisades State Park is lined with Sioux quartzite formations that extend to 50-foot vertical cliffs. The park is full of scenic overlooks where you can gaze at the fascinating formations and enjoy incredible views of Split Rock Creek carving through the gorges. 

It’s a popular spot with outdoor lovers, such as campers, hikers, and rock climbers, while history buffs can appreciate the history of the park’s natural features. In fact, geologists estimate the Sioux quartzite spires in Palisades State Park are about 1.2 billion years old! 

The best way to get up close to the otherworldly landscapes is to hike one of the four scenic trails that twist and turn throughout Palisades State Park. Along the way, you might see adrenaline-seeking rock climbers scaling and rappelling the towering cliffs and formations.

Located just a short drive northeast of Sioux Falls in the town of Garrison, Palisades State Park is actually one of the smallest state parks in South Dakota. However, it makes up for its compact size with its larger-than-life views. 

14. Go Horseback Riding in Black Hills National Forest 

Cool Things to do in South Dakota: Black Hilld National Forest

The Black Hills National Forest is a nature lover’s slice of paradise, home to enchanting rock formations, beautiful pine forests, incredible wildlife, and endless outdoor adventures. There is a lot to see in the 1.25-million-acre forest, but one of the most iconic experiences is horseback riding. 

You can embrace the western landscapes as you soak in the natural beauty, as the Black Hills National Forest offers plenty of vast areas to enjoy a horseback riding adventure. Rockin’ R Trail Rides is a good option for guided trail rides.

Fishing fans are also in luck, as the Black Hills National Forest is home to some of the best small-stream fly fishing in the world, with over 500 miles of streams to enjoy. Some of the best spots are Spearfish Creek, Castle Creek, Rapid Creek, Box Elder Creek, and Sand Creek. 

Climbing to the top of Black Elk Peak is another adventure option, as is a visit to top attractions such as the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower and the Gold Mountain Mine. Spearfish Falls is a popular natural wonder, and its plunging 80-foot waterfall a sight to behold!

See the Best Views of Black Hills

15. Cycle the George S. Mickelson Trail

Unique Things to do in South Dakota: George S. Mickelson Trail

If you’re looking for adrenaline-pumping things to do in South Dakota, you’ll love biking along the 109-mile-long George S. Mickelson Trail as it winds its way through the heart of the photogenic Black Hills. Stretching from Deadwood to Edgemont, it’s considered one of the best bike-riding trails in the country. 

You can rent gear or bring your own for this adventure, which follows a former railway line that has been transformed into a multi-use trail catering to hikers and bikers. You can enjoy this trail year-round, with the ever-changing landscapes featuring stunning views of the state’s scenic valleys, forests, rocky cliffs, and meadows. 

Wildlife watching is common, as deer, elk, and turkeys can often be spotted wandering through the hills. If you’re up for an off-trail adventure, you’ll find opportunities to enjoy rock climbing, hiking, bird-watching, and swimming at various points along the way. 

For a multi-day journey, stop at one of the charming nearby towns. Hill City, Deadwood, and Edgemont are just a few places where you can get out and explore. 

Enjoy a Bicycle Tour on the Mickelson Trail

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16. Do a Tasting at a Winery

Fun Things to do in South Dakota: Do a Tasting at a Winery

South Dakota might not be the first destination to come to mind for the term “wine country,” but there are, in fact, wineries worth visiting. You’ll discover there are plenty of fine South Dakota wines worth uncorking, with family-owned vineyards using locally sourced ingredients scattered across the state. 

In eastern South Dakota, the With the Wind Vineyard & Winery features a tasting room, a 784-square-foot wrap-around porch, and wines that are sold across the state. Tucker’s Walk Vineyard features fine wines made with cold-weather grapes, as well as experimental blends created with fermented fruits. 

For a taste of South Dakota-grown fruit and honey, head to Wild Prairie Winery, which also uses rhubarb, plums, cherries, and blackberries in its mix. Alternatively, Valiant Vineyards is the state’s oldest winery with a quaint bed and breakfast on-site. 

Over in western South Dakota and using the Black Hills’ fertile soil, Belle Joli Winery in Sturgis has award-winning wines and a five-acre vineyard. Rapid City is home to Firehouse Wine Cellars housed in a century-old building, while the family-owned Prairie Berry Winery offers views of Black Elk Peak from its patio. 

17. Dig Mammoths in Hot Springs

Must do things in South Dakota: Mammoth Site

The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs is an active paleontological dig site, offering one of the most unique things to do in South Dakota. Featuring the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the entire world, this iconic National Natural Landmark is a fun addition to your travel itinerary. 

The current mammoth count here is 61, with 58 Columbian and three wooly mammoths. It’s one of the top fossil interpretive sites in North America, where you can tour its history-filled indoor facility and view a captivating collection of Ice Age fossils. 

This unique attraction was discovered in 1974 when the landowner was in the process of building a housing development. While bulldozing a small hilltop, he found tusks and bone, with a complete skull with tusks attached being the prized find of the recovery efforts. 

Follow the self-guided tour to learn about the geologic history and see Ice Age creatures, including short-faced bears. You can also browse the array of mammoth fossil displays, where bones rest on sediment and appear in the same orientations as how they were found. Kids will also love the hands-on exploration, as the site has dirt-filled boxes with brushes to uncover bone replicas.

Take a VIP Tour of the Mammoth Site 

18. Climb the Summit of Black Elk Peak

Best Things to do in South Dakota: Black Elk Peak

Black Elk Peak is one of those must-do things in South Dakota if you’re a hiking enthusiast. The highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Pyrenees Mountains in France, its peak sits at an incredible 7,242 feet. 

From the top of South Dakota’s highest peak, you’ll be rewarded with impressive views of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming. There’s also a unique attraction at the summit, a stone fire tower that was built in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. 

Set in the Black Elk Wilderness area in the Black Hills National Forest, it’s one of the most popular sites in the state for outdoor adventurers. You’re spoiled for choice with more than a dozen hiking trails, which range from moderate to difficult, that lead to the top of Black Elk Peak. 

The most popular route is the 7-mile Trail No. 9, which starts near Sylvan Lake. While it requires paid entry into Custer State Park, it’s a scenic journey where you’ll find numerous spots to take a break and enjoy the view. The 7-mile Little Devils Tower Trail is another option, where you can also spot South Dakota’s famous Cathedral Spires along the way.

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19. See Wildlife at Bear Country USA

Unique Things to do in South Dakota: Bear Country USA

Animal lovers will want to add a trip to Bear Country USA to their South Dakota itinerary. Located in Rapid City, Bear Country USA is a unique drive-through wildlife attraction. From the comfort of your car, you can observe black bears, elk, cougars, and goats frolic in a pool, climb trees, and wander across the road. 

Home of the largest collection of privately-owned black bears in the world, it’s nestled on over 200 acres and surrounded by towering pines and rolling meadows. It’s a scenic setting where you can get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get up close to some of North America’s most beloved mammals. 

When you enter, you’ll take a leisurely three-mile drive through several enclosures to see the wildlife. Along with black bears, you might spot elk, reindeer, bobcats, Rocky Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and buffalo. 

To see the smaller animals (such as skunks, beavers, and groundhogs), you can hop out of your car and stroll along the Wildlife Walk area. There’s also an on-site gift shop, a main patio area surrounded by waterfalls, and a vendor selling burgers, hot dogs, and drinks. 

20. Capture Views of 4 Different States at Bear Butte State Park

South Dakota Things to do: Bear Butte State Park

Bear Butte State Park is a unique natural landmark commonly mistaken for a mountain. In fact, it’s one of several intrusions of igneous rock in the Black Hills. Dating back millions of years, this special state park is also considered sacred to many American Indian tribes who come here to hold religious ceremonies.

Mato Paha or “Bear Mountain,” is the Lakota name given to this site. Adventurous travelers can climb to the top of the summit, which rises over 4,000 feet, for stunning views of the surrounding prairie. This viewpoint is so impressive that on a clear day, you can see four states (South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska). 

The park features 9 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to challenging hikes, with various viewpoints offering picture-perfect vistas of South Dakota’s Black Hills that stretch on for miles. Fishing enthusiasts can get in on the action, too, with the 215-acre Bear Butte Lake offering opportunities to reel in the catch of the day.

Located near Sturgis in western South Dakota, it’s also a popular spot for biking, horseback riding, camping, and boating. After a day of exploration, you can unwind in one of the park’s several picnic areas that also offer scenic views of Bear Butte. 

21. Take the Kids to Rush Mountain Adventure Park

Families looking for what to do in South Dakota will want to put Rush Mountain Adventure Park at the top of their list. Offering hours of family fun, this crowd-pleasing attraction features everything from a thrilling mountainside coaster to a kid-friendly 7-D multi-sensory immersive experience that even parents will enjoy. 

Open from May to October and located just a short drive from Keystone, this adventure park has something for everyone in the group. You can explore Rushmore Cave, the closest cave to Mount Rushmore, fly like a bird on the Soaring Eagle Zipride, or test your bravery on the Wingwalker Challenge course. 

Little ones will enjoy sifting through the dirt in the Gemstone Mining area, while parents and kids alike will love shooting laser guns at targets in the Gunslinger 7-D ride. Designed for the littlest ones in the family, the Sky Types Challenge course has fun obstacles for tiny adventure seekers. 

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22. Marvel at Historic Aircraft at South Dakota Air and Space Museum

Best Things to do in South Dakota: Minuteman Missile Launch Facility

Just a short drive from Rapid City, South Dakota Air and Space Museum is set outside the main gate of Ellsworth Air Force Base. A popular destination for history buffs, it offers a unique look at aviation history, featuring one-of-a-kind historic artifacts as well as exhibits that give you a glimpse into the future of aerospace. 

The indoor and outdoor museum has more than 30 vintage military aircraft on display, with some dating back to World War II. Take the time to tour the grounds of this facility and read some of the first-hand stories of past military missions. 

You’ll find an extensive collection of artifacts and documents highlighting the history of the Ellsworth Air Force Base, the 44th Strategic Missile Wing, and the 28th Bomb Wing throughout the Cold War. Tours even offer a glimpse of the Minuteman Missile Launch Facility, where you can get a feel for what it was like during that time.

The museum is even housed in a piece of history, as the four aircraft alert hangars were where Air Defense Command fighters sat on alert, waiting to engage Soviet bombers during the Cold War. Inside, the four large galleries include artifacts highlighting the history of military and civilian aerospace achievements.

23. See Historic Musical Instruments at National Music Museum

If you’re a music fan, the National Music Museum in Vermillion should definitely be on your South Dakota bucket list. Founded in 1973 on the campus of the University of South Dakota, it’s one of the greatest institutions of its kind in the world. 

Step inside to discover world-class collections that include fine and historic instruments from a variety of different cultures and time periods. Spanning hundreds of years, it’s home to an incredible 15,000+ instruments. 

The museum has some of the best preserved and historically significant stringed instruments known to survive from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. You can get up close to priceless Italian violins or get starstruck by celebrity guitars, including instruments used by Elvis. 

Some of the featured highlights here are the Stradivari and Amati violins and Saxophones by Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. You can also see American Civil War brass instruments, C.G. Conn instruments, a contemporary Gamelan, and a Thai turned-log drum. You also don’t want to miss the Sergeant Pepper Lonely Hearts Club horn and the Bill Clinton saxophone.

24. Grab Coffee at South Dakota’s Most Popular Roadside Attraction

Best Things to do in South Dakota: Wall Drug

If you’re looking for unique things to do in South Dakota, take a drive along Interstate 90, and you’ll see a huge collection of billboards promoting a surprisingly cheap cup of coffee – for $0.05! It’s Wall Drug, one of the country’s most iconic roadside attractions in the city of Wall. 

From its humble beginnings back in 1931, Wall Drug has evolved into a massive 76,000-square-foot facility full of kitschy Americana. Located just north of Badlands National Park, it has practically everything – from free attractions and entertainment to food, shopping, and of course, cheap coffee! 

Come for the caffeine and free ice water and stay to explore, as this site is a maze of souvenir shops, clothing stores, and even includes a chapel and drug store. Say hello to the animatronic T-rex, then pick up wood-carved crafts from local tribes or leather cowboy boots. 

When hunger strikes, take a break at the Western Art Gallery Restaurant, which has buffalo burgers and famous maple donuts on its home-style menu and seats over 500. Before you hop in the car, the kids can pan for gold at the Backyard or cool off at the on-site splash park. 

Have Great Fun at Wall Drug

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25. Try Scuba Diving in a Landlocked State

South Dakota Bucket List: Scuba Diving in a Landlocked State

South Dakota might be in the middle of the US, but that doesn’t mean you can’t embark on a fun aquatic adventure. If you head to Pactola Reservoir near Rapid City and Lake Oahe just north of Pierre, you can join local divers for an excursion underwater. 

Offering one of the most unique South Dakota activities, Pactola Reservoir is the deepest reservoir in the state and is surrounded by a gorgeous landscape of rock formations. With easy accessibility to rental equipment, it’s a popular spot for scuba diving. 

Fun Things to do in South Dakota: Scuba Diving in a Landlocked State

While it’s cool to get up close and personal with freshwater creatures like turtles, frogs, and a variety of fish, the highlight here is seeing the remnants of a town that was flooded and now sits beneath Pactola’s surface. Pactola Reservoir is also a great place for swimming, fishing, and stand-up paddleboarding. 

Alternatively, Lake Oahe is a great year-round diving spot and one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the US. Stretching for over 230 miles up the Missouri River, the 205-foot-deep lake is home to a variety of aquatic life.

There you have it! The 25 best things to do in South Dakota. What’s your favorite thing to do in the Mount Rushmore State?

Planning a trip to South Dakota? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!


About the Author:

  • Charity De Souza

    Born and raised in Florida, Charity moved to London after college and caught the travel bug. She then traveled full-time as a digital nomad for over a decade, living in the UK, New Zealand, China, and Thailand.

    With around 60-ish travel stamps in her passport, her favorite memories include skydiving in Switzerland, eating sushi in Japan, island hopping in the Philippines, and camping overnight in the Sahara Desert.

    She’s now a freelance writer living in Portugal with her husband and son.

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