From the splendor of the outdoors and all it offers to bustling towns, South Dakota aims to please
Often referred to as “the land of infinite variety,” South Dakota offers incredible natural beauty, along with attractions and places to discover no matter what area of the state you visit. Explore the waterways of the Missouri River in the central region and caves in the Black Hills in the west. Or learn about frontier history and Native American culture on the glacial lakes and prairies of the northeast region. Then there’s the southeast region of the state, where you can sample local wines, go fishing on more than 175 lakes or discover the exceptional art scene in Sioux Falls. Or, in other words, South Dakota lives up to its nickname and then some.
Here, we explore three of the state’s not-to-be-missed outdoor adventures.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Of all the memorable U.S. monuments, perhaps none is as iconic as Mount Rushmore, where the 60-foot faces of four great American presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln—are carved into the granite face of the Black Hills near Keystone, South Dakota. Representing the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country, Mount Rushmore National Memorial was started in 1927 and ended in 1941. Open year-round, the park includes a half-mile walking trail, museum, gift shop and dining room. Additionally, each evening, May through September, a ceremony is held in the park’s outdoor amphitheater, highlighting the making of this national monument with a video, flag ceremony, a salute to veterans and lighting of the memorial. More than simply an expression of the past, Mount Rushmore offers a promise of the future.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Honoring all North American Indians, Crazy Horse Memorial is located in the heart of the Black Hills of western South Dakota. The world’s largest mountain carving in progress, Crazy Horse is a depiction of the great Lakota warrior and when completed will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high. It stands as a reminder of the importance of reconciliation, respecting differences, embracing diversity, striving for unity, and appreciating life’s deeper meaning as it has always been represented in Native American cultural values. The Museums of Crazy Horse Memorial feature exhibits and engaging experiences for visitors of all ages in the discovery of Indigenous history and contemporary life. The museums include The Indian Museum of North America (including The Native American Educational and Cultural Center), the Mountain Carving Gallery and the Ziolkowski Family Life Collection. The Mountain Carving Gallery offers details on the next phase in the memorial’s carving, which currently is focused on Crazy Horse’s left hand, forearm, right shoulder, hairline, and part of the horse’s head and mane.
Needles Highway in Custer State Park
Filled with spectacular vistas of pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains, Custer State Park’s Needles Highway packs a lot of punch into its mere 14 miles. Located in the rocky landscape of southwest South Dakota and part of Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, it’s an adrenaline-filled adventure that never fails to uplift those who experience it. “ Named after the needlelike granite formations that seem to magically appear along the route, Needles Highway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922. (Note: If you prefer not to drive, tour buses are available.) Some of the area’s other standouts include, Sylvan Lake, which has served as a beautiful backdrop for films and weddings alike; Cathedral Spires Trail, a modern 1.6-mile trail; Needle’s Eye, an iconic formation and favorite of hardcore rock climbers; and Needle’s Eye Tunnel, a distinct formation in the granite. And should you find yourself not having enough time to do it all, book a room at the historic Sylvan Lake Lodge that features a beautiful double-peaked wooden ceiling, a stone fireplace and, of course, breathtaking views of Custer State Park.
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