Why South Dakota Should Be On Your Bucket List

South Dakota

When you think of South Dakota, what’s your first thought? Maybe, Mount Rushmore, Little House on the Prairie or maybe even, snow and cold. However, South Dakota offers so much for any type of traveler.  History, camping, fishing, landmarks – you name it, South Dakota has it! 

Some interesting South Dakota facts:

  • South Dakota became a state in 1889
  • Nickname: The Mount Rushmore
  • State Capital: Pierre
  • Highest Point: Black Elk Peak ( 7,244 Feet)

Notable People from South Dakota: Bob Barker, January Jones, Tom Brokaw and Adam Vinatieri just to name a few. 

South Dakota has become one of our favorite states to visit and we decided to list just some of the many reasons why South Dakota should be on your bucket list! 

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Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls is so much more than just a stop on the way to Mount Rushmore. Sioux Falls has fantastic restaurants, an emerging art scene and its crown jewel is Falls Park. Covering 123 acres, Falls Park has a cafe, sculptures, farmers market, observation tower and, of course, the falls. Falls Park is such a great stop when you are in Sioux Falls. The Falls are gorgeous and it’s a great place for families. Parking is free and walking around such a great park is a lot of fun.

Falls Park
Falls Park

Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota

The Corn Palace has a distinctive and unique feel that includes exterior corn murals designed by local artists. Originally built in 1892, I was surprised to learn that several cities throughout the midwest had Corn Palaces. However, Mitchell’s Corn Palace is the only one to survive. The World’s Only Corn Palace of today was built in 1921 and concerts, as well as,  other events are still held here today. Exhibits inside highlight how important corn is to the area’s economy, plus demonstrates the amazing talent and time that it takes to decorate the Corn Palace every year. The Corn Palace does a great job planning for children by having many of the exhibits interactive.

corn palace
corn palace

Dignity of Earth & Sky Statue in Chamberlain, South Dakota

I was very much looking forward to seeing the Dignity of Earth and Sky Statue in Chamberlain, SD. I have to tell you, she did not disappoint! She was a gift to the great state of South Dakota in 2014 to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Completed in 2016, this is a must stop! There’s also a free museum on site inside the Welcome Center. The overlook of the Missouri River Valley really can’t be beaten.

Dignity of Earth and Sky

Badlands National Park in Interior, South Dakota

Badlands National Park is an amazing cross between being on the surface of Mars and sand castles! From the Lakota for “land bad”, the name stuck due to the arid, dry landscape. Everyone will love this National Park, but kids in particular really seem in awe of its colors and shapes. One of the many great things about the Badlands is that there is a wide variety of overlooks and trails. Door Trail is a great place for the family to hike and walk in this fascinating park. Panorama Point and the Yellow Mounds Overlook provide breathtaking views.

Tip 1:  If you just so happen to have a 4th grader on this trip, make sure to download a free entry pass to all of America’s national parks at the Every Kid in A Park website.  As most entry fees to our National Parks are $20 to $30 per vehicle, this pass will save your family a lot of money.

Tip 2: There are drops and sharp edges at Door Trail. If you have young children, be cautious if choosing to stop here. Also, rattlesnakes inhabit Badlands National Park so be aware of your surroundings. Additionally, it can be very hot in the summer – don’t forget sunscreen and water!

Take time to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and visit the Fossil Lab area. Also, don’t forget to bring your child’s Park Passport so that you can stamp it.

Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota

After visiting Badlands National Park, a stop at Wall Drug is a must. If you stay on the 240 Loop through the park, you’ll go right into the city of Wall and you can’t miss Wall Drug. Wall was affectionally known as “the geographical center of nowhere” and the owners of Wall Drug decided to offer free ice-water to all the travelers coming through the area. With that, Wall Drug became a must stop. Now, if Wall Drug doesn’t have it, you probably don’t need it (Ha!).  Wall Drug is a great place to stop to refresh, get a drink and pick up souvenirs. Also, you must take a picture on the Jackalope. What?! Yes, Wall Drug has a large Jackalope that your kids can get on while you take a picture. Wall Drug is a such a fun, kitschy place to stop and they still offer free ice-water.

Wall Drug
Wall Drug

Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota

Growing up, we all see pictures of Mount Rushmore and it’s featured in several movies. Seeing it in person, however, is such a great American experience. The history of Mount Rushmore is a fascinating one and you can watch a short film at the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center. The avenue of flags is impressive and your family will always remember the first time you saw Mount Rushmore together. If you have time, walk the Presidential Trail as it’s relatively short and gives you a different view of Mount Rushmore.

Without doubt, there are endless photo opportunities and this National Memorial has a great gift shop! The evening lighting ceremony is also special and, if you have time, you’ll be glad you stayed for it.

avenue of flags at Mount Rushmore
A mom, dad and two sons stand in front of Mount Rushmore

Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood is a great throwback to the days of the Wild West. There are regular re-enactments on Main Street that last 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye out for them, your kids will really enjoy it. While in Deadwood, a visit to Saloon 10 is a must. Yes, it’s still an active Saloon, but until 8 pm it’s kid-friendly. Go inside to see the alleged chair where Wild Bill was sitting when he was shot by Jack McCall.

The Historic Adams House and Museum offer tours and scavenger hunts for kids. Adams House is a fun look inside 19th Century life in Deadwood.

Naturally, there are lots of gift shops and there are still casinos. However, it isn’t in your face and the entire town is kid-friendly. In the basement of a souvenir store ( I know that sounds odd, but trust me) is the Deadwood Railway Exhibit. If you or anyone in your family is into trains, it’s pretty cool! This was the largest, most detailed model train set-up we have ever seen. It costs $1 to run the train for 10 minutes. Honestly, we aren’t too into trains, but we were instantly impressed!

Include Mount Moriah Cemetery in your plans when visiting Deadwood. Mount Moriah is where Seth Bullock, Wild Bill, and Calamity Jane are buried. Wild Bill Hickok was famously murdered in Deadwood during a game of poker. He was holding what is now known as “Dead Man’s Hand”. The cemetery is a little steep, but the grave sites of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are a pretty easy walk. To see Seth Bullock’s grave is a major hike and you need to be in pretty good shape to do it.

There is a small gift shop on the premises. Inside there is a lot of history of the cemetery and of Deadwood itself.


Deadwood Sign
Wild Bill Hickok's Grave

Drive Needles Highway

Needles Highway was very thoughtfully planned and it’s a fun drive that you’ll definitely enjoy. Completed in 1922, Needles Highway was thought to be impossible to build. Today, it’s open from April to October. 

Put on your favorite music, roll the windows down and enjoy this cool highway! You’ll be driving slow, but the scenery is amazing and there really isn’t another road like it in the states. 

The highway passes through two (narrow) tunnels that were blasted from sheer granite! These two tunnels are the Needles Tunnel and Iron Creek Tunnel. Make sure to get a picture of both! 

TIP: There are lots of curves on this road. If you or anyone in your party is prone to car sickness – take a dramamine before you go. 

Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota

If you enjoyed the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder or even just watched Little House on the Prairie, a visit to the Ingalls Homestead is a must when visiting South Dakota. 

The Ingalls family moved to DeSmet in 1879 and Charles Ingalls claimed his homestead in 1880. At the Ingalls homestead you can drive a pony cart, visit the one-room schoolhouse or make a jumprope. One of the highlights is the covered wagon ride since everyone can get a turn at riding or driving a covered wagon. 

Visiting the Ingalls Homestead is a real treat and kids will love visiting here! 

After walking around the homestead, visit the last house “Pa” Ingalls built and the school that Laura and Carrie attended near downtown DeSmet. There is a hands-on museum and several buildings your can tour. 

museum sign
little house

Custer State Park

Custer State Park covers more than 71,000 glorious acres. Tons of wildlife live within the park including,  bison, elk, coyotes, prairie dogs, pronghorns and bighorn sheep. Some of the more famous animals are the ‘begging burros”. They tend to approach cars “begging” for food, hence the funny name. 

Biking, camping, fishing and horseback riding are just some of the fun activities that you can do in Custer State Park.

Custer State Park has hills, lakes, wildflowers, spires and shades of blue, green and red that are unlike anywhere else. There are several campgrounds that offer cabins and showers as well. Going for a hike with your family will be a wonderful experience, but be prepared for wildlife! 


Custer State Park

Final Thoughts

We’ve been lucky enough to have visited South Dakota several times and every time there is something new to see and experience. Even visiting Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park has been different each time. 

Depending on where you live, South Dakota may feel like a hard state to get to, but a trek to and through South Dakota will be an amazing trip! Truly, it offers something for every traveler and every age. 

What would you like to see when visiting South Dakota? 

Travel Well, 


This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Gabby

    I honestly couldn’t say how excited I was to see the Ingall’s Homestead in your post! How did I not know this was a real place?? So much to see and do in South Dakota – now on my bucket list 🙂 Great read Nicole 🙂

  2. Lily

    I’d love to visit South Dakota and those amazing looking parks! I wish it was a closer drive from Chicago. Need to make it happen though! Thanks for your helpful post 🙂

  3. Amy

    Had no idea there was so much in this state! I’ve always wanted to go to the Badlands, but I had no idea what else the Dakotas had!

  4. Kay

    I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for either of the Dakotas. But…you’ve got me over here looking at flights now!

    1. Nicole Claesen

      Love it! I think a lot of people don’t realize how amazing South Dakota is. If you go, you won’t regret it.

  5. Andi

    I have always wanted to visit the Badlands in South Dakota! Your post shows me there are other great things to check out as well!

  6. Britt

    The views are so incredible! My husband and I are both BIG outdoors enthusiasts, so this totally appeals to us. Adding South Dakota to our bucket list!

    1. Anita

      Thanks for great post with lots of detailed information and nice photos I would love to visit Badlands National park. Happy travels!

  7. Paul O

    Amazing! So many cool things to see and do in SD. Gotta get there ASAP!

    1. Nicole Claesen

      Hope you are able to go, there really is an unlimited list of cool things to see and do.

  8. Jill Robbins

    This is on our family’s travel bucket list but I’m so excited to see some stuff besides Mt Rushmore – thank you!

  9. Tanya

    I have not been here since I was a kid! Need to get back here as a fam. Thanks for a great list!

    1. Nicole Claesen

      Thank you so much! I think South Dakota is such an underrated state. Hope you get to visit it soon

  10. Val

    As you said, I have seen the mountain Rushmore in a couple of movies but didn’t know the history behind it! Thanks for combining all the must-sees of South Dakota and such great photos!

  11. Sophie

    I’ve wanted to visit Badlands for some time now but I’d never heard of Custer State Park before… that’s now on my list too! I didn’t realise there was so much to do in South Dakota!

  12. Julie Espinosa

    Love, love, love South Dakota! We camped on the Ingalls Homestead for a couple nights and had a blast. One place we never made it to was Wall Drug. Gives us an excuse to go back 🙂 Excellent post!

  13. Heather

    I’ve heard so many positive things about South Dakota. I’m hoping that we can take a family trip there one of these days.

  14. Sharon

    It really does look like I need to add south Dakata to my travel plans. So many unique experiences in this vacation.

  15. Monica

    My family and I road tripped to South Dakota and it was one of the best vacations! We had no idea there was so much to do there. We did all that you listed plus we fed the prairie dogs. I want to go back to the Badlands. Those were incredible.

    1. Nicole Claesen

      Hi Monica! Family road trips are THE BEST! I think South Dakota is such an under appreciated state. YES on the prairie dogs, they
      are SO CUTE!

  16. Emily

    My inlaws went on a road trip through South Dakota and loved it. They thought it was so beautiful.

    1. Nicole Claesen

      It’s such a beautiful and unique state.

  17. Ashley

    I really love all your pictures. I will be adding this to my bucket list now. You convinced me.

    1. Nicole Claesen

      Hi Ashely! So glad it’s been added to your bucket list, you won’t regret it!

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