A mother lode of great attractions awaits your travelers in this truly monumental state

Whether your group is looking for eye-popping scenery, outdoor adventure, tribal culture or Western lore, South Dakota has everything an itinerary planner could want, and then some. Spectacular landscapes range from prairies and farmlands to rugged mountains and glacial lakes.

Though the epicenter for visitors is the thickly forested Black Hills, crowd-pleasing treasures flourish all across the land of Great Faces and Great Places.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, with its colossal sculpted heads of four U.S. presidents, is the iconic face of South Dakota tourism and a bucket-list attraction to be sure. Called the “Shrine of Democracy,” it dazzles visitors with its sheer size, artistic splendor and patriotic ideals. Groups touring the Black Hills will be wowed by another monumental mountain carving—a tribute to famous Lakota leader Crazy Horse. A work in progress since 1948, the Crazy Horse Memorial will eventually show the fierce warrior astride a horse. Its visitor complex features the fascinating Indian Museum of North America.

Custer State Park, not far from the Crazy Horse shrine, appeals to wildlife watchers with one of the nation’s largest buffalo herds. A recreation paradise, the sprawling wilderness playground offers hiking and horseback trails, plus four man-made lakes for fishing, boating and swimming.

Buffalo, along with deer, elk, pronghorn antelope and prairie dogs, also roam the grasslands at Wind Cave National Park, where cavern tours showcase glistening subterranean marvels. For more underground fun, there’s Jewel Cave National Monument, another Black Hills gem.

Wild West days come alive in Deadwood, an old mining town that preserves its history of gold, gaming and gunpowder. Tourists flock to the casinos, saloons and music venues, and revel in tales about Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and other colorful characters from America’s rip-roaring past.

Badlands National Park casts a spell on all who visit. Both barren and beautiful, the park presents a stark, eerie moonscape of deep gorges, jagged spires and bands of colorful rocks. Wildlife, from buffalo to bighorn sheep, abounds. Serving as a gateway to the Badlands, Wall Drug Store is one of America’s classic roadside attractions, offering a Western-themed ambience with shops, eateries and plenty of kitsch. Dividing the state in half is the mighty Missouri River, prized by recreation seekers for its four huge reservoirs, known as South Dakota’s Great Lakes. Sightseers in Pierre, the state capital, can visit Oahe Dam, the South Dakota State Capitol and South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate spotlighting the state’s history.

Numerous towns in eastern South Dakota appear regularly on tour itineraries. In De Smet, the “Little Town on the Prairie,” groups can visit homes that inspired Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. The Ingalls Homestead offers covered wagon rides, a one-room school session and hands-on pioneer activities. Watertown is home to another famous South Dakotan, artist Terry Redlin, one of the most widely collected painters of wildlife and Americana. The Redlin Art Center offers a video presentation and more than 160 of his original oil paintings.

Mitchell’s claim to fame is the Corn Palace, a folk art icon. Topped with whimsical onion domes and minarets, the Moorish-style building, decorated with murals made from ears of corn, pays homage to South Dakota’s agricultural heritage. Guided tours are available.

Sioux Falls, in the southeast corner of the state, is South Dakota’s largest city and packed with attractions and shopping possibilities. A new downtown eye-catcher is the Arc of Dreams, a massive stainless steel sculpture arching 70 feet above the Big Sioux River. Blessed with Great Faces and Great Places, South Dakota is a tour planner’s dream.

By Randy Mink