Things to Do in South Dakota
The southwestern corner of South Dakota has a surprisingly long and wonderful list of things to do. Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park are the big draws for many visitors to this part of the United States, but there is plenty more to keep you busy. In this post, we cover the best things to do in South Dakota near Rapid City.
South Dakota Itinerary
On this one week South Dakota itinerary, visit Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks, Custer State Park, and day trip to Devils Tower National Monument.
Badlands National Park
10 Great Hikes in Badlands National Park
15 Amazing Things to do in Badlands National Park (+ Photos & Map)
How to Hike the Notch Trail in Badlands National Park
One Perfect Day in Badlands National Park
The Castle Trail: One of the Best Hikes in Badlands National Park
6 Great Things to Do in Wind Cave National Park
Lookout Point Trail & Centennial Trail Loop | Wind Cave National Park
Custer State Park
Best Hike in Custer State Park: Little Devils Tower, Cathedral Spires & Black Elk Peak Loop
Custer State Park: Best Hikes, Best Scenic Drives & Best Things To Do
Complete Guide to Devils Tower: How to Plan Your Visit
The Perfect Devils Tower Day Trip from South Dakota
Yellowstone Road Trip
How to Drive between Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone
Yellowstone, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore: 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary
More Information about South Dakota
15 Great Places to Work Remotely in the USA
Best National Parks in the USA: 15 Amazing Parks for Your Bucket List
Best USA Road Trips: 18 Ideas for Your Next Big Adventure
Ultimate US National Parks List for 2022 (+ Printable Checklist)
Top Experiences in South Dakota
Badlands National Park. Badlands National Park is a highly underrated park in the United States. The colorful buttes, spires, and pinnacles create one of the most photogenic landscapes in the country. Bison and bighorn sheep roam the largest mixed-grass prairie in the United States. The sunrises and sunsets are magical, the hiking trails are short and sweet, and for those looking for more solitude, you can take your pick from a handful of backcountry experiences.
Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave National Park gets its name for its large, underground cavern and maze of passageways. What many people may not be aware of is that above ground, this park is home to one of the largest prairies in the USA, and with that comes amazing wildlife viewing opportunities
Custer State Park. Tucked away in the Black Hills of South Dakota is an unexpectedly amazing state park. Custer State Park, with its scenic drives, short but thrilling hiking trails, lakes and rivers, and plentiful wildlife, offers something for everyone.
Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one of the most famous landmarks in the United States. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, this national memorial draws 2 million visitors per year. Mount Rushmore is worth a quick visit, whether you are touring South Dakota or road tripping across the United States.
Crazy Horse Memorial. The Crazy Horse Memorial is currently under construction. When it is finished, it will depict Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing towards his tribal lands. The memorial will be the world’s second tallest statue, after the Statue of Unity in India.
Rapid City. Rapid City is the perfect place to stay at if you wish to visit South Dakota’s most popular memorials, monuments, and parks. In the downtown area, life sized statues of the nation’s presidents stand proud, along with prominent Native American artistry that line alleys and fill shops.
Jewel Cave National Monument. Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world with over 200 miles of mapped passageways. Similar to Wind Cave, you can tour the cave on a ranger-guided tour or hike the above ground trails.
Bear Butte State Park. This state park is located north of Rapid City. It is home to Bear Mountain or Mato Paha, the Lakota name given to this site. This mountain is sacred to the American Indian tribes who hold religious ceremonies here. In the park, you can challenge yourself by summiting Bear Mountain, or hike an easier trail around Bear Butte Lake. Fishing, boating, and horse-back riding are also offered here.
Needles Highway. The Needles Highway is a spectacular 14-mile drive through aspen forests, meadows, and large granite spires that shoot out of the ground. The highway has become one of Custer State Park’s most popular attractions.
Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is a 70-mile byway that includes the scenic drives in Custer State Park: Wildlife Loop Road, Iron Mountain Road, and Needles Highway. This road has been named one of the 10 Most Outstanding Byways in America.
Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a 20-mile-long road that weaves its way along Spearfish Creek. Along the drive, limestone cliffs that are 1,000 feet tall tower overhead. During the drive, you can stop at overlooks, waterfalls, and you have the option to add on a short hike.
Deadwood. Return to the Wild West where gold was all the rage and cowboys walked the streets. At the town of Deadwood, you can watch re-enactments of Old Western legends, learn how the gold rush shaped the town, and enjoy live concerts and parades. From Deadwood, there are also opportunities to hike in the Black Hills and see bison wander nearby fields.
The Mammoth Site. Be amazed by this paleontological site in Hot Springs, South Dakota where over 60 mammoths were uncovered in 1974.
Best Time to Visit South Dakota
Spring, summer, and fall are great times to visit South Dakota.
In the spring and fall, daytime temperatures range from the 50’s to the 70’s. Rainfall is more likely during the spring months, so if you want to drier weather, go in autumn.
Fall colors peak in South Dakota from late September into early October. We visited South Dakota the second week of October and fall colors were just past peak.
During the summer months, temperatures can be blazing hot in Badlands National Park. However, in the Black Hills, temperatures are more moderate, with daytime high’s reaching 80°F.
The winter months in South Dakota are very cold. Needles Highway in Custer State Park closes during the winter months due to snow.