South Dakota isn’t the most popular travel destination, but the natural beauty of the state is unparalleled. Sprawling forests, frightening river gulches, bubbling hot springs, vast plateaus, and open plains populated by herds of bison are just part of what's waiting for you. All sorts of artists have turned to the history and landscapes of South Dakota for inspiration, even going so far as to turn mountains into canvases. Native American history and culture is a popular focal point for art in the state. In all, South Dakota is a lightning rod of artistic expression.
Dignity is a 50-foot tall metal sculpture of a Native American woman standing proudly, arms outstretched and gazing off into the distance. The statue is lovingly, intricately detailed; the longer you look at it, the more subtle artistic touches you'll see. It’s one of the most powerful testaments to Native American culture and heritage in a state with a lot of competition in that department.
The Rapid City Dinosaur Park is an interesting look at the early era of paleontology in America. It’s filled with ‘life-sized’ statues of many famous dinosaur species, such as the stegosaurus. What’s more, the statues are all sturdy enough to climb! Your inner child or your literal child will both be right at home here.
The Hot Springs Mammoth Site is home to an ambitious archaeological dig. At the same time, it's a paleontology museum. These two features complement each other quite well. If the informational exhibits on prehistoric life aren't interesting you, the half-unearthed fossils in the ground surely will. The museum is always welcoming new traveling exhibits, so every trip is a new experience. What’s more, the Mammoth Site has a prime location in the Black Hills.
Between a winding cave network, gorgeous waterfalls, and excellent camping opportunities, there’s almost too much to do at the Black Hills. If you have the opportunity, you need to lay in the grass and look out at the stars; there’s minimal light pollution in this area and the view is amazing. The next morning, you can visit the parks and famous landmarks that dot the Black Hills.
Mount Rushmore is one of the largest mountain carvings in the world, immortalizing four of America’s greatest leaders in 80-foot tall towers of granite. The first thing to do at this spot is to take an Instagrammable shot of the sculptures, but there’s a lot more to Rushmore. The Record Room hidden behind Lincoln’s head is an important spot to visit, as it’s home to a collection of plaques detailing American history and telling the stories of those leaders on the mountain. The idea that this simple room will preserve a piece of modern history even in the event of the apocalypse is a powerful thought.
This is a palace dedicated to corn, rather than a palace made of corn. In a bid to attract farmers to plant their crops in the rich soil of South Dakota, the town built this museum dedicated to wheat, corn, and agriculture in general. The distinctive, Russian-style onion domes and the architectural flourishes that consist of thousands of corn cobs glued to the tower make the palace extremely unique. There's a lot of interesting things to learn at the Corn Palace, but the photos might well be your favorite souvenir.
If you count Alaska and Hawaii, the geographical center of the United States is an innocuous spot in the middle of South Dakota. The novelty of visiting the heart of the United States makes this spot easily worth a stop during your South Dakota trip. Additionally, it’s home to a simple monument, a poster board containing notes from other visitors, and several farms. If you’re looking for the perfect rest stop for a picnic, this is it.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is far from complete, but that’s part of its charm. The carefully chiseled, massive, completed face is an impressive sight on its own. The construction progresses a little further each year, and it's rare that you get to see something so impressive as a work in progress. Whenever you visit, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind snapshot at the progress of the construction.
A Lutheran reverend who visited Norway found the simple, historic Norwegian Chapels to be utterly enchanting. The Chapel in the Hills replicates their style with love and diligent attention to detail. When you visit the Chapel in the Hills, you get the inescapable feeling that someone picked up a piece of Medieval Norway and dropped it in the middle of South Dakota!
One of the simplest joys you can have in South Dakota is a relaxing drive down the Badlands Loop Road. A nice, slow drive with plenty of stops will treat you to a dozen distinct views of the iconic rolling hills and plains of South Dakota. The best time to be there is sunset: that's when the landscape explodes with bright, vibrant colors. In all, a drive down the Badlands Loop Road is the perfect activity to finish a day in South Dakota.