You may have said to yourself when reading the title, “South Dakota, are you sure??” South Dakota is an underrated destination that everyone should make time to visit. It boasts incredible natural beauty, iconic attractions, and friendly people.
Rapid City is a regional airport serviced by most major airlines, and is the best place to fly in to start your vacation. It has a cute downtown and Main Street that is a throwback to the good ol’ days.
Black Hills/ Black Elk Peak
Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) is the highest point in South Dakota. It’s a beautiful and challenging 7.5 mile hike, but the views are well worth it. It’s located off Needles Highway and Sylvan Lake, which are both beautiful in their own right if you have time. Park at Sylvan Lake and take trail #9 to Black Elk Peak. The trail is round trip 7.5, and fairly steep. Dogs are allowed, but I would not recommend this trail for them- or inexperienced hikers and small children. Make sure you bring plenty of water (and your camera).
This is an iconic American destination that should be familiar to everyone. It was started in 1927, and features Presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. Fun fact: 90% of it was done with dynamite. Walk down the Avenue of Flags, and make the loop around the Presidential Trail for the best views. It can get pretty crowded on holidays and weekends, so try to get there early if possible.
The Badlands National Park is quite simply stunning. Its located about 45 minutes from Rapid City, and was named by the Sioux meaning “bad lands to cross.” It is a series of mountains and valleys that vary in color due to the mineral deposits in the area. Traveling across the park highway, there are endless amazing views and scenic overlooks. There are a bunch of great trails to hike as well- don’t miss the notch trail (about 1.5 miles) which looks like something out of a Star Wars movie. You need to be in good physical condition and able to climb to do this trail.
Wind Cave is a national park known to be the densest cave system in the world, as well as one of the longest. Above the cave you can see all kinds of wildlife, bring your camera and hopefully catch some buffalo.
Bear Country USA
OK, so I admit this is touristy but I loved it. It’s a drive thru safari, where you stay in the car and the animals roam. Try to visit late afternoon and the food truck will be by feeding the chubby bears which is so fun to watch. Do not roll down your windows, security will freak out.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse was an iconic Native American warrior who was known for fighting against the United States against encroachment into native lands. There is a currently a monument under construction with private funds on private lands dedicated to his memory. After entry, you can take a bus to the base for an additional fee, and certain days you can pay to take an hour long tour to the top.
South Dakota was incredible- if you are looking for history, natural beauty, or adventure, this is the place to see. I would encourage everyone to visit during the summer months, the weather can be quite unpredictable so make sure you bring water for the dry heat in the summer, and a jacket for the evenings. Plan to spend at least 4 days to a week here, and don’t miss the craft brewery scene. There is something for everyone, and best of all, its not crowded.
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