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South Dakota is smack dab in the middle of America’s heartland. While that term may connote rural communities and simplicity, South Dakota is anything but average. The state’s more than 77,000 square miles of land are as varied as they are breathtaking. From sprawling prairie lands and glacial lakes to dramatic mountains and striking geological formations, South Dakota boasts some of the most incredible natural wonders and famous attractions in the country.
Known as the Mount Rushmore State, South Dakota not only pays homage to America’s past, but also holds immense historical significance of its own. Famed Native Americans including Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull called South Dakota home, as did artists, writers and entertainers who shaped America’s culture.
Today, millions of people visit South Dakota to experience its stunning scenery, outdoor adventures, historic towns and distinct lifestyle that sets it apart from its neighboring states. There’s so much to see and do here, it’s nearly impossible to squeeze it all into one trip. The following provides just a glimpse of what groups visiting South Dakota can experience.
South Dakota is proud of its natural beauty, and visitors can experience it in every corner of the state. Groups can visit one of the six national parks and monuments within South Dakota, or venture to one of the 56 state parks and recreation areas showcasing the differing landscapes.
Thousands of people travel to South Dakota every year to visit Badlands National Park. The remarkable landscape features buttes, canyons, spires and pinnacles that span 244,000 acres. This geological gem is an archaeologist’s dream. Dozens of fossilized species were discovered here, including saber-toothed cats and three-toed horses. Black Hills National Forest, located in the western portion of the state, features over 300 miles of trails, dozens of campgrounds and two scenic byways. Groups can enjoy fishing, camping or horseback riding in Fort Pierre National Grassland. The 116,000-acre expanse consists of rolling hills, gently running creeks and flat grassland that seems to go on for miles.
Did you know South Dakota is home to the third-longest cave in the world? Jewel Cave National Monument has over 195 miles of mapped passages. Groups can take a guided cave tour to get a glimpse of the fragile formations and brilliant colors of the minerals within them. Afterwards, they can wander the nature trails in the park located above ground.
Groups traveling to South Dakota should not miss Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. This was where an arsenal of nuclear missiles was placed during the Cold War, and hundreds remain today. And, of course, no group trip to South Dakota would be complete without a stop at Mount Rushmore National Memorial to see the faces of four iconic American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
But let’s not forget about those South Dakota state parks you can explore. Custer State Park is a prime location to spot bison, bighorn sheep, elk and burros; while Big Sioux Recreation Area offers tons of activities for campers, canoers, bicyclists and hikers. Take in wonderful views of Lake Herman and observe wildlife at Lake Herman State Park or enjoy a picnic by the water at Hartford Beach State Park.
There are several well-known attractions in South Dakota and even more off-the-beaten path things to see. Groups will have no shortage of places to visit and activities to enjoy when they travel to South Dakota.
Groups can travel back in time at South Dakota’s Original 1880 Town, which features more than 30 buildings dating from 1880 to 1920. The buildings are filled with historical artifacts, photos and relics from the old days, telling the story of South Dakota’s rich past. History buffs will also enjoy a visit to Big Thunder Gold Mine, discovered back in 1892. The mine contains hundreds of rocks and minerals indigenous to the area. Groups can take a mine tour, explore the mining museum and even pan for gold.
Get a glimpse of Western life—and a treasured pastime—at the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center. Located in Fort Pierre, the museum includes mementos of Casey Tibbs, nine-time World Champion, as well as artifacts from trick rider Mattie Goff Newcombe and other rodeo royalty. Get a hands-on look at pioneer life at the Ingalls Homestead. Located on land Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family homesteaded, groups can ride covered wagons across the prairie, make corncob dolls and rope, drive a pony cart, pet farm animals and see wheat-grinding demonstrations. If you’re a fan of the Little House on the Prairie author, then you need to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes. Attend a class at the First School of De Smet, where Laura and Carrie took classes, or visit the home built by Pa in 1887.
Thousands of dinosaur fossils have been found in South Dakota. To honor some of the species that have been discovered here, Rapid City built Dinosaur Park, one of the original attractions in the area. See life-sized concrete replicas of prehistoric reptiles sitting on a ridge where dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods roamed. Want to dig up some bones of your own? Groups can sign up for dinosaur-digging tours, where you’re given the opportunity to dig for real fossils.
There’s no shortage of outdoor adventures to enjoy in South Dakota. Groups can take an ATV ride through the forests of the Black Hills with Black Hills Outdoor Fun; or go off-road in Custer State Park with Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours. With four reservoirs located on the Missouri River, South Dakota has countless options for water sports, including kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and sailing. Want to try your hand at rock climbing? South Dakota’s diverse landscape makes it a prime destination for climbers of all skill levels. There are also plenty of places to take a hike, with several trails weaving through woods, up rugged peaks or through prairie lands.
South Dakota has a rich culinary scene that pays homage to the state’s many heritages. Groups will find restaurants serving a wide range of cuisines as well as a nice selection of wineries and vineyards. No matter which region of the state you visit, you’ll find scrumptious delicacies to enjoy.
Rapid City, located in the Black Hills, has a casual yet cosmopolitan vibe and is filled with the dozens of elite eateries. Visit a Rapid City staple, Tally’s Silver Spoon, where you can savor “fine diner” options like bison and pheasant. Or sample dishes from Europe at Botticelli Ristorante Italiano or Wobbly Bobby British Pub. Quench your thirst with a Cherry Poppin’ Fizz or Summer In A Glass cocktail at Vertex Sky Bar, located on the 10th and 11th floors of the Alex Johnson Hotel. If you lean towards beer, head over to the Firehouse Brewing Company for a local craft brew. Groups don’t have to limit themselves to Rapid City. Great dining establishments are located throughout the Black Hills, from Deadwood Social Club in the north to Sage Creek Grill in the south.
Groups visiting Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city, will have lots of options for pleasing their palates. Munch on a board of charcuterie meats, cheeses and complements at Prairie Berry East Bank, or head to Bros Brasserie for something more substantial, like chicken and waffles or a crab cake BLT. Want your dinner with a side of scenery? Bring the gang to Falls Overlook Cafe. This restaurant is located on the east bank of the Big Sioux River and was once a hydroelectric plant. It offers spectacular views of the falls and features historic exhibits inside.
In the northeast section of the state, groups can sample everything from pheasant and walleye to bison and lamb, and dozens of other treats in between. Pheasant Restaurant & Lounge is a local favorite, mixing classic ingredients with modern flavors for an inventive twist. Soak in the exposed brick walls and funky art at Charley’s Restaurant in Watertown. Located on the first floor of the restored 1889 Goss Opera House, Charley’s is the perfect place for groups to grab a quick bite and a classy cocktail, or sink into a meal of pecan-crusted walleye or grilled swordfish. Satisfy that sweet tooth at SDSU Dairy Bar in Brookings, said to be the birthplace of cookies and cream ice cream. It features 60 rotating flavors, from grasshopper fudge to butter brickle.
South Dakota’s culinary adventures don’t stop at food. The state’s craft beer scene is booming, and distilleries and wineries are spread all over the place. Head to Spearfish and grab a seat in Crow Peak Brewing’s beautiful wood lodge, where you can sip on tasters of IPAs, porters, stouts and more; or grab some suds made with seasonal ingredients at Miner Brewing Company in Hill City. Wine lovers will revel in South Dakota’s dozen-plus vineyards. Enjoy a grape-stomping party followed by a wine tasting at Schadé Vineyard and Winery in Volga; or take in views of the Missouri River Valley at Valiant Vineyards Winery, South Dakota’s first winery.
With all the hiking, biking, kayaking and sightseeing in South Dakota, make sure you leave time to recharge for the next adventure. Where can you rest your weary head? There’s no shortage of options in South Dakota. No matter what kind of group vacation you’re looking for, there is an accommodation that will suit your gang. Spend the night under the stars at one of hundreds of campsites or cozy up next to a fire in a mountain cottage. If you prefer a traditional hotel, South Dakota is home to a range of well-known chains and local boutique establishments. There are plenty of lodging options throughout South Dakota for groups of all sizes.
Before and during your group trip to South Dakota, we recommend doing some research and planning to ensure everyone has a fun-filled experience. Here are some useful tips for coordinating your visit.
Get Help from the Professionals
With so many things to see and do in South Dakota, it’s difficult to know where to start and what to select. Let the pros at South Dakota’s Department of Tourism help. They can provide you with suggested itineraries, hotel recommendations and much more. You can also download any of their free visitor guides and maps to give you inspiration for your trip.
Get the Facts
Brush up on your knowledge of South Dakota to get the most of your visit. South Dakota has four distinct seasons, so be sure to check the weather to see what you can expect during your stay. To reach the many monuments, parks and attractions, driving is a necessity. Look up current gas prices, which are kept up-to-date on South Dakota’s website, and familiarize yourself with the laws of the road. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Make a Stop at an Information Center
South Dakota has several Interstate Welcome Centers along Interstates 90 and 29. These are great places to take a break from the road, pick up a brochure and maps, speak with a travel counselor and get up-to-date road and weather information. You can’t miss them, just look for the large stone teepees
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South Dakota is located in the middle of the country and is easily reached by car or plane. There are several major airports that serve flights to South Dakota, including Chicago, Denver, Orlando and Houston. Major airlines serve six cities in South Dakota: Aberdeen, Huron, Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Watertown.
Two interstate highways cross South Dakota, making it easy to traverse the state quickly and reach most major attractions. There are also many alternate routes and scenic byways to enjoy, and these should be experienced as often as possible.