South Dakota

The word “Dakota” comes from a Native American word for “friend” – and you’re sure to make new friends and a host of new memories in South Dakota. Known as the land of “Great Faces, Great Places,” South Dakota is home to some of America’s most treasured national parks and monuments. From the towering majesty of Mount Rushmore National Memorial to the scenic splendor of the Black Hills, South Dakota offers travelers the chance to experience America’s frontier heritage and pioneer spirit.

With 77,000 square miles of diverse landscape and just 814,180 residents, South Dakota is The Real America at its most pristine: open, unspoiled and untamed. There’s no better place to experience the American West, or to revel in the awesome expanses and magnificent beauty of the great outdoors.Custer State Park

Wild at heart
Perhaps no other image so clearly evokes America’s frontier past than the unforgettable sight of a herd of buffalo thundering across the plains. And there’s no better place to experience such spectacular scenes than Custer State Park, a 71,000-acre wildlife refuge that is home to 1,300 free roaming bison along with mountain goats, elk, antelope and more. The park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop Scenic Byway makes wildlife viewing easy, with panoramic views available from the Needles Highway, Wildlife Loop Road and the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.

Each fall, in late September or early October, visitors flock to the park to witness the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Round-up, when honest-to-goodness cowboys saddle up and move these mammoth beasts across the plains and into corrals. In order to maintain a safe and healthy herd, some of the buffalo will be sold, while the majority will be returned to the wild. Visitors can witness this annual rite of passage from marked viewing areas while also enjoying such down-home fun as pancake breakfasts, chili cook-offs and an arts festival featuring Western and Native American arts and crafts.

For more of South Dakota’s abundant wildlife, travel to the state’s northeast corner, where the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge offers nearly 22,000 acres of habitat for mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and 266 species of birds. So popular, in fact, is Sand Lake with bird watchers that the refuge was named one of the top 15 birding sites in North America by WildBird magazine.

The Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary is home to some 300 animals ranging from pigs and goats to such exotic inhabitants as African lions, tigers and bears. Located in Spearfish in the northern Black Hills, the sanctuary offers educational demonstrations and walking tours that recount how the various animals came to reside in the sanctuary and whether their species are endangered.

Gateway to adventure
South Dakota’s largest cities are situated in some of the state’s most picturesque areas, providing a convenient gateway to outdoor adventure. The state capital of Pierre (“Peer”) is found in South Dakota’s Great Lakes region, making it the perfect city from which to launch a host of boating, fishing and camping activities.  Sioux Falls – the state’s largest city – is found in the Southeast region, where the Big Sioux, Vermillion and Missouri rivers provide world-class fishing and recreational activities galore.

Rapid City, located in the Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes region, is famous for the life-sized statues of U.S. presidents that adorn its downtown area. It’s also the closest city to what is undoubtedly South Dakota’s premier attraction: Mount Rushmore.

Officially known as Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the 60-foot-high mountain carving of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s most beloved icons, appearing in countless films such as the Alfred Hitchcock classic North by Northwest and more recently, National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Yet it’s no secret why this awe-inspiring memorial attracts travellers from around the globe. The half-mile Presidential Trail around the mountain’s base affords spectacular views of the memorial, while the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and Museum features exhibits, photographs and artefacts. Mount Rushmore is open year round; during the summer months, The Sculptor’s Studio is also open, and every night a high-tech lighting show illuminates the evening sky.

Also gaining international renown is the Crazy Horse Memorial currently under construction 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. The massive granite carving honoring the Native American warrior will stand 563 feet high and 641 feet long when complete; until then, visitors can view progress on the memorial while taking in the exhibits of the Indian Museum of North America, which houses some 20,000 authentic Native American artefacts.

For active outdoor recreation, the Black Hills National Forest offers more than a million acres of tree-covered mountains and meadows teeming with wildlife. The forest’s 450 miles of trails are perfect for hiking and horseback riding in the warmer months and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the wintertime. The strikingly hued spires, pinnacles and geological formations of Badlands National Park, meanwhile, provide a colorful backdrop for camping, hiking and bicycling amid the diverse wildlife that call the park home.

For a subterranean adventure, visit Jewel Cave National Monument. Located near Custer, Jewel Cave boasts the second-longest cave in the world, with nearly 150 miles of crystal-lined passages. Then travel on toward Hot Springs and nearby Wind Cave National Park, where rangers lead tours of some of the park’s 132 miles of underground passageways, and antelope, bison and prairie dogs roam free aboveground in the park’s 28,000-acre wildlife park.

Exploring the past
Visitors to South Dakota have ample opportunity to explore the history and traditions of cultures and peoples past. The state’s Native American heritage is especially well-preserved: The ancestral home of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota tribes – known collectively as the Great Sioux Nation – South Dakota today is home to more than 62,000 Native Americans, making it the ideal destination for experiencing authentic Native American culture. Travel the National Native American Scenic Byway through the heart of the Great Sioux Nation. Visit the tribal lands and reservations of the state’s nine Indian tribes. Observe the ancient rituals and dances at a Native American powwow. Or visit the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center: Located in Chamberlain, the museum preserves the culture of the Lakota people and features a gift shop with distinctive native arts and crafts.

Follow in the footsteps of legendary explorers Lewis and Clark: Visit the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center near Yankton, then follow the Lewis & Clark Trail along the Missouri River to view other historic stops on the explorers’ route.

Experience what life was like for the early pioneers at Fort Sisseton Historic State Park. Located 10 miles from Lake City in South Dakota’s Glacial Lakes and Prairies region, the park is home to an 1864 frontier army outpost originally known as Fort Wadsworth. Today, costumed interpreters guide visitors on tours of the fort’s remaining historic structures, and each June the Fort Sisseton Historical Festival presents three days of frontier heritage including tomahawk throws, military encampments and black powder shooting demonstrations as well as chuck wagons, period dance instruction, pie baking contests and more.

In De Smet, travellers can immerse themselves in the pioneer life chronicled by Laura Ingalls Wilder in the popular Little House on the Prairie series of books. Visit the original Ingalls homestead – built by Pa Ingalls himself – go for a ride in a covered wagon and see what life was like in an 1880s schoolhouse at the First School of De Smet. Or visit in July, when the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant recounts aspects of the pioneer author’s life.

For a taste of life in a rough-and-tumble Gold Rush town, visit Historic Deadwood: The Wild West boomtown was a haven for gamblers and gunslingers such as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, who drew the “Dead Man’s Hand” of aces and eights and died at Saloon No. 10. Stop by Old Style Saloon No. 10 today to whet your whistle at the bar or try your hand at the gaming tables. Then visit Mt. Moriah Cemetery – final resting place of both Hickok and Calamity Jane – and the Adams Museum for more on Deadwood’s frontier history. Venture underground to learn about one of the great gold rushes of the American West at the Broken Boot Gold Mine. Or try your luck at the gaming tables: With 80 casinos and 3,000 slot machines, Deadwood and gambling go together today as much as they did in the 1880s.

South Dakota Department of Tourism
711 E. Wells Avenue, Capitol Lake Plaza
Pierre, SD 57501
Ph. 605-773-3301
Fax 605-773-5977