South Dakota will always hold a special spot in my heart as it was the location of my first solo trip. I had always wanted to see the Badlands National Park and decided that in the summer of 2012 it was time to stop wanting and start doing! I pack up my truck, grabbed my dog, Boomer, and headed out to one of the most awesome states I have ever been to!
Here are our top 10 stops in South Dakota:
1.Minuteman Missile Silo:
The Delta-09 Missile Silo is located off of 1-90 at exit 116. This silo is luckily inactive however this stop gives you a brief but comprehensive look back into the Cold War days. Missiles were buried throughout South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana as launching a missile from these locations was only “minutes” away to Russia. This site is pretty bare-bones, offering a self-guided cell phone tour. There is no fee for this tour and the site is open from 8am to 4:30pm. If you are looking for more information on the silos, there is a manned visitor center located at exit 131.
2.Deadwood, South Dakota:
Tumbleweed may not be bouncing down the streets of Deadwood but you can still get a sense of what it was like during the Old West. During the summer months there are daily reenactments (minus Sundays) with one of Deadwood’s most famous, Wild Bill getting shot at No.10 saloon. You can also pay your respects to the actual Wild Bill, who is buried at the Mount Moriah Cemetery located on the hillside of town. Be sure to check out the Midnight Star casino, which is owned by actor Kevin Costner. The slots were more friendly here than the other casinos located throughout town!
3.Sturgis, South Dakota:
Sturgis is located on the west side of the state and holds probably one of the most well-known motorcycle rallies. The motorcycle rally is held in early August each year and brings in people from all over to share their love for motorcycles. There are organized rides, music concerts (for 2014 they’ve got Lynyrd Skynyrd, Motley Crue and Trapt on the books), bike shows, tattoo contests and more! If you plan on going they recommend booking lodging early. Check out their site for more information
Image Credit: Rolando000
4.Wind Cave National Park
Known as one of the world’s longest caves, Wind Cave National Park, comes in at a whopping 140.47 miles long (226.06 km). Wind Cave was deemed a national park in 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt and was the first cave to be named a national park. This cave is unique as it has rare formations of calcite that look like honeycombs. There is a visitor center at the site and cave tours are offered for a fee.
It will be hard to miss Wall Drug while driving through South Dakota. Billboards and signs line the highways for miles advertising its location, even still offering a “free glass of water” for thirsty travelers, like they did back in the 1930’s. This roadside attraction is slightly cheesy, but worth a stop. Check out their 76,000 sq foot retail space which includes a backyard full of amusing treasures.
6.Mount Rushmore National Monument
Mount Rushmore is an American icon and a must do if you are in the area. Check out the stone carved heads of the former presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. While you visit the park you can get an up close view of the presidents while taking the Presidential Walk. In addition to getting a closer view, you can read interesting facts about each president on the interpretive signs along the way. Entrance to the park is free however there is a parking fee.
7.Custer State Park
General George Armstrong Custer may not have a huge fan club but he did contribute a lot to the history in the Black Hills. Custer State Park is a true gem with beautiful scenery. As summer comes to an end be sure to check out the annual bison round-up in late September. Here you will see 1000+ bison being collected for vaccinations and corralled for the winter months. I recommend bringing a camp chair, snacks and your camera if you attend this event. There is a fee for the park however it is generally waved on the round-up day.
8.Crazy Horse Monument
Although Mount Rushmore is impressive, I personally find Crazy Horse Monument more stunning. The monument’s size is massive in comparison to Mount Rushmore. All of Mount Rushmore can fit in the small spot behind Crazy Horse’s head. This is a privately funded sculpture that started construction in 1948 and is still under construction and probably will be for many years to come. Crazy Horse was a powerful leader in the Lakota tribe and was chosen by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to represent their tribe at this monument. Be sure to take the bus ride, for an additional small fee, to the base of the sculpture where you will get a better view as well as gain some additional knowledge from the tour guide.
Rated as one of the most scenic drives in South Dakota the Needles Highway is a visually stunning spot and highly recommend by Paws for Beer! Like most scenic drives it comes with a few driving challenges, however nothing should keep you from this drive! Note that this road has several rock carved out tunnels that could be limiting to some RV’s. The tall rock spires that line this highway gives the drive it’s beauty. We drove the highway in early fall and the seasonally changing colors were dynamite! Make sure you make a stop at the Eye of the Needle, a rock formation that looks like the eye of a sewing needle. Also stop at Sylvan Lake, where they have some dog friendly trails around the lake. The drive is free however some of the highway is in Custer State Park, which has a park fee.
10.The Badlands National Park
I saved the best for last! The Badlands National Park is located near Wall South Dakota. It is a smaller park, however, not to be overlooked. The park recommends that you allow for 2 hours for the driving tour, however Boomer and I took 5 hours. Your time there will of course depend on how often you want to stop for photos or go for a hike. You will most likely get to see some wildlife while in this park. While we were there we saw several herds of big horn sheep, bison and prairie dog colonies. This park is filled with fascinating buttes, pinnacles and spires while being surrounded by stunning prairie lands. There is a visitor center on the east side of the park, however you can enter from either the west or east side of the park. There is a fee for park entrance.
Have you ever been to South Dakota? Where would you go if you were visiting South Dakota?
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