This small state is relatively well known because it houses one of America’s most famous attractions—Mount Rushmore, the iconic mountainside carvings of some of the most celebrated presidents in United States history. However, there are some really great South Dakota attractions that are great for families (and even adults) as well.
Going to South Dakota without seeing Mount Rushmore is kind of like going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower or having a crepe or cheese. Definitely come by and visit the park. The $11 parking fee includes admission to the park and is good for 24 hours. There is no admission fee.
I recommend going during the day and then returning at night to see the mount when it’s all lit up.
There is a path that takes you really close to the mountain and allows for different viewing angles, and you appreciate the carvings a lot more when you’re this close and can actually see the textures of the tools used to sculpt the granite features of the former presidents. There is a cafeteria that serves surprisingly good food. If your visit has coincided with chillier temperatures, get a bowl of the bison chili. Super tasty, filling, and will warm you up from the inside. They also serve good hot chocolate.
If you want to see a mountain sculpture in process, you can stop by the Crazy Horse Memorial on your way to see the more well-known presidents. Between late May and mid-October, there is a laser show conducted on the carving of the popular Indian chief at night as well.
Nearby is Custer State Park. The park offers wonderful wildlife viewing include some very up-close encounters. A herd of bison roam free within the park and are not very shy or concerned about moving out of your way. There are many other types of wildlife within the park, but my favorite are the begging burros. These smart animals wait by a cattle guard. As your car approaches, they form a line in front of the road and surround your car when it’s stopped.
The burros will lick your windows and wait patiently for an offering of food. They are so patient, in fact, that you could be stuck there for quite some time; however, if you honk your car’s horn, they will move out of the way. It’s really a fun experience.
The park also offers fairly inexpensive campsites with a wide range of scenery: You can camp in the plains or among a pine forest, for example.
South Dakota is also home to many caves, including the fourth largest cave system in the world—Jewel Cave National Monument. So far they have discovered over 121 miles of subterranean landscape, and it is believed that may only represent one fourth of the actual size. There are a variety of tours depending on the level of your adventurous spirit, including a fun and challenging tour done with lanterns (provided by the park).
Another short drive to Rapid City, and you’ll find Bear Country USA. This is a fun animal park that you drive through. You will get close-up views of caribou, wolves, bison, including a rare white one, mountain sheep, and, naturally, a variety of bears. After you’ve driven through the park you’ll have a place to leave your vehicle behind so you can get additional views of some incredibly cute baby wildlife. The baby cougars were our favorite. They were so much fun to watch as they wrestled just feet from where we stood.
South Dakota attractions are perfect for those who love the outdoors and are looking for plenty of adventure. You’ll find everything from mild to wild and for visitors of all ages. When planning to see the Mount Rushmore State, you’ll want to spend at least 4 days to enjoy all it has to offer, but you can easily spend less or a lot more time here.
Have you been to South Dakota? What is your favorite place or activity?