A Local’s Guide: 5 Fun Things To Do In South Dakota

When most people plan a trip to the United States, states such as California, Hawaii, New York, Oregon tend to pop up first, but why not shake up the status quo and explore hidden gems tucked in America’s midwest? You’ll find diverse landscapes, ranging from farmland to lakes to cool dusty rock formations, as well as quirky western towns in South Dakota. Not convinced yet? Take a look at our list of 5 fun things to do in South Dakota, and start planning your adventure to this fascinating midwest state. 

1. Drive Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road

Road trip lovers will fall in love with the scenery etched across South Dakota, especially the epic jetting rock formations lining the 37-mile long Needles Highway and the 314 curves, 17 switchbacks, three pigtails, and three tunnels packed into the incredibly scenic Iron Mountain Road. You won’t even need music to distract you when driving these roads—the vistas rolling outside your window will be enough to captivate you!

There’s also the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park and Badlands Loop Road in Badlands National Park, which leads us to the next fun thing to do in South Dakota!

2. Explore Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park may not be the biggest park in the United States, but it definitely packs a punch when it comes to unrivalled views and adventure. The best part about this park—other than the dusty, unique rock formations—is its Open Hike Policy. That’s right. You can travel off the designated paths at your own risk! If staying on the path is more your style, choose from 7 different hikes. Our favourite is the 1.5-mile Notch Trail or the longest walk in the park: the 10-mile Castle Trail. 

There are three cycling trails: the 23-mile Sage Creek Loop, the 27-mile Northeast-Big Foot Loop, and the 17-mile Northeast Loop. Another option is to trade your car for a bicycle and cycle around the incredibly scenic 39-mile Badlands Loop Road. Drive this loop if you aren’t in the mood for exercise!

3. Check out the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell

The World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell is a can’t-miss attraction in South Dakota. The Corn Palace was built to highlight the state’s thriving agricultural climate. And now, 500,000 visitors flock to admire this architectural wonder yearly! This is an amazing feat for a small, midwest town of 15,000 residents. While you’re in Mitchell, you might as well check out the hiking and biking trails carved around Lake Mitchell. Why not turn your visit to the Corn Palace into a fun, adventurous day trip?

If you want to stay overnight in this quirky town, consider reserving a spot at Lake Mitchell Campground. There are some first-come, first-served sites too!  

4. Hike in Custer State Park

Go hiking, hiking, or horseback riding in the ever-so stunning Custer State Park! You’ll find a glimpse of prehistoric-like scenery here, such as spires jetting out of bright green grass, as well as shimmering bodies of water and bison herds. We recommended heading to Sylvan Lake and walking around the 1-mile Sylvan Lake Shore Trail or have a go at the more intense Black Elk Peak Trail.

Another fantastic activity is driving around the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road, which boasts of—as you may have guessed from its name—numerous wildlife! You’ll likely see bison, with the possibility of witnessing elk, bighorn sheep, whitetail deer, and more roaming their natural habitat. 

5. Go to the wild west in Deadwood

Dusted with wild-west history, Deadwood is a must-visit town in South Dakota. The former boomtown was once a thriving, bumping place, thanks to the Black Hills Gold Rush. During this time, the city had 25,000 people living here, but now it sits at 1,270 residents. Walking in Deadwood will have you feeling like you’ve hopped in a time machine and have travelled back to the crazy wild west. 

Well, there you have it: five fun things to do in South Dakota! But, before we go, we wanted to give a few shutouts to worthwhile attractions we haven’t mentioned yet: Mount Rushmore National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, and Good Earth State Park. We highly recommend considering these incredible places when you’re touring around South Dakota. 

South Dakota may not be at the top of everyone’s “Place to Visit in the United States” list. Still, it deserves to be considered due to its uniqueness, embroidered with hints of a more dangerous, thriving wild west time and carvings of prehistoric-like scenery!

Richard Campbell

Richard Campbell