South Dakota’s top attraction is Mount Rushmore, visited by more than 2.5 million people in 2021. So famous is this spot that South Dakota is officially nicknamed “The Mount Rushmore State.” However, SD is more than just the said landmark. Its location in the Great Plains makes the state the perfect place for outdoor adventures.
South Dakota has two national parks: Badlands and Wind Cave, one of the longest in the world. With such natural spots, it's easy to understand why the state is loved by those who want to fill their adrenaline cups. Up above the peaks, down below the caverns, South Dakota is always ready to deliver adventures.
10 Paddling Fun Along Missouri River
The Missouri River, the longest in the United States, passes through South Dakota. Thanks to this waterway, the state can still offer wet and wild adventures even though it’s landlocked. In this area, tourists can be like explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they paddle down the river. It’s a popular recreation spot so visitors can meet fellow boaters from the riverside to the reservoirs. Whether tourists want to have a leisurely paddle or score a catch, the Missouri River got them covered.
9 Atlantis In South Dakota?
South Dakota is landlocked, but tourists can also explore its underwater world through scuba diving, thanks to the Pactola Reservoir. The place is a popular fishing spot, but in its depths, there seems to be an Atlantis of some sort. At the bottom of the lake is a once booming town that flooded in the 1950s for a dam. Divers visit the reservoir to catch a glimpse of the town now filled with resident turtles and fish. The secret’s out: South Dakota is a charming diving spot.
8 Be Charmed By The Caves
Wind Cave is the first cavern designated as a national park. Why? It has rare boxwork formations and a rich prairie on the surface. It’s an adventure up above and so below. Inside, cavers will enjoy checking out unique formations that can only be seen in that part of the world. The prairie above, meanwhile, is so biodiverse it can be an outdoor lover’s second office. Another favorite among spelunkers is Jewel Cave National Monument, the third longest in the world, where exploration is always worthwhile. South Dakota’s underground is indeed enticing.
7 What’s Behind Mount Rushmore?
Most people are content checking out the faces of former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. The lucky ones are those who dared venture beyond this landmark. Behind it are some of the best climbing spots in the country: Emancipation Rock Formation and Garfield Goes To Washington. The former has quality granite, while the latter is considered classic. Whatever climbers choose to conquer, they will be put to the test, all the while enjoying stunning views only South Dakota can give.
6 Winter Wonderland
South Dakota is not to be missed when the snow starts to fall. For starters, its reservoirs don’t stop being an ideal fishing spot, even when they are icy. Ice fishing is popular in Lake Oahe, where an annual tournament tests anglers' skills. Snowmobilers are in for a treat, too, because the state has more than 1,500 miles of trails. With that, riders can enjoy having a winter adventure when they explore the prairie or the pine forest of the Black Hills. South Dakota puts the win in winter.
5 Conquer The Needles
South Dakota is home to Custer State Park, an enticing place where lush grasslands and rocky mountains meet. Here, another popular climbing spot waits for tourists ready to be challenged. The Needles are a group of spires, towers, and pillars, with their peaks serving as the best seats to enjoy the mesmerizing views of Black Hills. Even non-climbers can be in the presence of these rocks courtesy of the Needles Highway – 14 miles of scenic sights, 14 miles of wide smiles.
4 Hike The State’s Highest Peak
South Dakota’s highest point was named after Black Elk, a boy who envisioned a “shape of all shapes” that “must live together like one being.” Now, as before, Black Elk Peak is a place of visions: majestic, mesmerizing, and inspiring. The rocky peak is also home to an old fire tower, a reminder of the area’s rich history. That and the views of South Dakota and nearby states await tourists at the summit – it’s more than just a peak but a slice of heaven.
3 The Badlands Is Actually Good
The Badlands is the perfect place for nature lovers: it’s rugged yet lush. The national park is proud of its rock spires, pinnacles, canyons, and buttes, all waiting to be explored by curious tourists. Aside from the usual hiking and scenic drive, the park is a popular spot for stargazing and sunrise/set watching. Wildlife watchers will also have a field day in this landmark, thanks to its resident bison, sheep, prairie dogs, ferrets, and many more. The Badlands rocks, literally and figuratively.
2 Gemstone Hunting
Rockhounds will have a fun time exploring South Dakota. Its most famous gemstone is the remarkable Fairburn Agate, which can be found near the Black Hills and the Badlands. This uniquely colored gemstone will surely add personality to anyone’s collection. Even non-collectors will enjoy scouring for it on the agate beds of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland – a grassland with surprises. South Dakota is simply stunning wherever tourists look: up for the stars or down for some rocks and minerals.
1 Be Active Along Mickelson Trail
Bikers and runners who enjoy passing through tunnels will have a satisfying exercise along the George S. Mickelson Trail. This 109-mile trail is frequented by bikers, runners, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. Its flat trail makes the Mickelson an ideal place even for casual cyclists and runners. Much so that it is the location of Lean Horse 100, considered one of the easiest marathons in the country. Tourists should imagine this: they will break a sweat while enjoying the route's mountain views, lush forest area, and the beauty of the Black Hills. Indeed, nothing goes South in South Dakota.