22 Really Cool Things to do in South Dakota (Besides Mount Rushmore)

Don't get me wrong, Mount Rushmore is really awesome, but you also need to include these attractions on your next trip to SoDak.

By: Jacquelyn McGilvray

Photo By: Bread and Circus

Photo By: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Photo By: Jacquelyn McGilvray

Photo By: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Photo By: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Photo By: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Photo By: Jacquelyn_McGilvray

Photo By: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Photo By: National Park Service

Photo By: South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Photo By: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Photo By: Kerry Liston/TrailLink.com

Photo By: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Eat Your Way Through Sioux Falls

For the abundant food scene in Sioux Falls, farm-to-table has always been a way of life and not just the latest trend. With a huge livestock industry surrounded by rich agriculture land, Sioux Falls has never had to go far to get good food. Today, third-party organizations like Dakota Fresh Food Hub and Neighborherds are making it easier for restaurants and consumers to source farm-fresh fare. To taste what the area has to offer, check out The Market, a combination restaurant and specialty grocery store. With a full-time cheesemonger and sommelier on staff, you’ve got to try the build-your-own charcuterie and artisan cheese boards. Pair it with a bottle of wine which you can buy at the retail price plus a $5 corking fee. Another must-try is Bread and Circus. Located in a refurbished warehouse, they serve handcrafted field-to-plate sandwiches, salads and soups, and a rotating selection of craft beers. The menu offerings run the gamut from vegan curries to Italian-style cured meats (like the "porkstrami" pictured above). M.B. Haskett Delicatessen is another popular eatery that focuses on seasonal dishes made naturally with limited processed food.

Go on a Sculpture Walk Through Sioux Falls

After enjoying the Sioux Falls culinary scene, stroll the downtown area and take in the artwork and sculpture. The Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk is the largest public exhibit of art in the country. Each year, more than 50 new sculptures are installed on the downtown sidewalks. Visitors can vote on which sculpture they like the best; the winning sculpture is purchased by the city for permanent display. Downtown Sioux Falls is also about to become the place for live music when Levitt at the Falls opens in 2019. This outdoor music venue located in Falls Park West will feature over 50 free concerts per year.

Visit a Hops Farm and See Where Beer is Grown

The farm-to-pint movement is gaining as much traction as the farm-to-table crusade. Hops grows best in cold climates where the summer days are long and evenings are a little chilly, thus making South Dakota ripe for hops farming. Hops put in the ground in early May will be 18-feet tall by June. The 6th Meridian Hops Farm in Yankton grows and supplies hops to brewers all over South Dakota and neighboring states. Visit 6th Meridian on the weekend, owners Ryan Heine and Michelle Donner give tours of their hops fields and processing system. After the tour, enjoy a hoppy beverage at their open-air beer garden and some tasty fare at Counterfeit Catering's food truck (Michelle is the chef). Live music is a frequent happening at 6th Meridian as well as special events like yoga amongst the hops.

Hunt, Fish, Camp or Just Chill on Lewis and Clark Lake

Located in the southeast corner of the state, with the chalky cliffs of Nebraska on the far side, the Lewis and Clark Lake Recreation Area (a Missouri River reservoir) offers something for everyone, no matter what time of year. In the summer, you’ll have your choice of almost any watersport, in the spring and fall enjoy the miles of bike trails, horseback riding, archery and even disc golf. In winter, ice fishing is possible if the weather is frigid enough. If you’re looking for a hunting or fishing guide, try Riibe Outdoors. Erin "Chummy" Riibe has been a professional guide for over 15 years in Alaska as well as South Dakota. He offers custom excursions including nighttime bow fishing in the warmer months, paddlefish "snagging" in October, waterfowl hunting in the fall, and turkey hunting in the spring. Riibe also offers youth (parents optional) fishing trips for the age 15 and under crowd.

Visit the World's Only Corn Palace

Take a walk through downtown Mitchell to see the 126-year-old Corn Palace (although the current building is only 97 years old, it was rebuilt three times). The building is adorned with naturally colored corn, grains and native grasses to create "a-maize-ing" themed murals. The murals are shucked every fall and replaced with a new theme. The Palace’s website lists all the themes for the past 126 years. They've included a wide variety of topics, such as the weather, rock music, the armed forces and mother goose rhymes. What’s inside the corn palace you ask? It’s an arena used for basketball games, stage shows, industrial exhibits, and high school proms and graduations.

Do a Tasting at a Winery

Wineries and vineyards don’t necessarily come to mind when you think of South Dakota but think again. Their wine scene is bursting in size and in flavor. The wineries in SoDak are mostly family-owned farms with the processing and fermenting done in their barn. Strawbale Winery (their tasting room building is constructed from straw bales) just north of Sioux Falls produces cold-climate grape varietals as well as a unique collection of fruit wines. Try the chokeberry wine, jalapeno wine or one of the brandy-infused wines. During the summer months, Strawbale puts on two big parties a week, Sangria Sundays and Summer Porch Thursdays with live music, food trucks, games and wine tastings. At holiday time, the winery offers helicopter rides that circle over Sioux Falls’ spectacular light displays. Other wineries on the east side of the state include: Valiant Vineyards & Distillery, Tucker’s Walk Vineyard, With the Wind Vineyard & Winery and Schade Vineyard and Winery.

See Miles and Miles of Sunflowers

If you’re visiting South Dakota in mid to late August, make a detour to drive past a few sunflower farms. The Dakotas are the top sunflower producers in the U.S. Come late summer when they’re all in bloom it is a breathtaking sight to behold sunflowers as far as the eye can see. To find the sunflower fields, stop at one of South Dakota Welcome Centers along interstates 90 or 29, travel counselors will know when the sunflowers are in full bloom and can help you map out a route to see them. If you prefer a guided tour, Beth Simonson with Hydeout Bed & Breakfast near Highmore takes visitors on tours of nearby sunflower fields. Another option is to contact a CVB in the area, they will likely have information on where the sunflowers are planted each season.

Be Awestruck by Dignity

When cruising I-90 through central South Dakota stop at exit 264. High on the hill above the Missouri River stands Dignity, a majestic 50-foot sculpture depicting a Native-American woman caped in a blue and turquoise star quilt. Next to Dignity is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Inside the Interpretive Center, learn about the Lewis and Clark, see the provisions they took on their journey, learn about the wildlife they encountered and how they survived it all. A 55-foot keelboat designed to resemble the boat used on their expedition juts out from the side of the building creating a balcony which provides beautiful views of the Missouri River and the cliffs beyond.

Learn About the Lakota

After seeing Dignity, head over to The Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center museum in downtown Chamberlain. The free, self-guided museum celebrates the Sioux nation and offers a fascinating glimpse into the Lakota culture. You’ll be intrigued by their history, their ingenuity with farming and hunting, and their strong family values and sense of peace that survived through their historic, devastating struggles. You’ll learn it all through art, artifacts and audio and visual displays that depict the proud heritage of the Lakota people. Also, save your souvenir money for this gift shop. It features a wonderful selection of unique and handmade items like jewelry, artwork, star quilts, books, baskets, pottery, prints and more.

Tour a Reservation

South Dakota has nine tribal governments. Visit one of their reservations to learn about the history and culture of the South Dakota's native people. You’ll find tribe members enjoy sharing stories about their history and culture, showing off their beautiful land and giving tours of historic structures (like this earthen home on the Lower Brule Reservation.) Call the tribe’s cultural office to arrange a tour. Pow-wows normally take place in the late summer. If you do get the opportunity to see a pow-wow, be respectful and learn the etiquette, it is a cultural ceremony, not a historical reenactment. Here are a few basic rules: Ask if it’s okay to take pictures before you pull your phone out; don’t let your toddler run loose amongst the ceremonial dancers; alcohol is not permitted at any pow-wow so don’t pack a cooler of beer; and if they ask for donations, be sure to contribute.

Get a 5¢ Cup of Coffee at Al’s Oasis

On I-90, just a mile or so on the west side of the Missouri River sits Al’s Oasis. You’ll know when you’re getting near it because Al's (like Wall Drug Store), has what seems like a couple of hundred billboards along the interstate. Al’s Oasis has been serving travelers good food since 1919, and in all that time they have not raised the price of a cup of coffee, it’s still just 5 cents. Have a slice of homemade apple pie with cinnamon ice cream to go with your coffee or try local delicacies like chislic (cubed meat) and buffalo burgers.

Get Another 5¢ Cup of Coffee at Wall Drug

A road trip through western South Dakota is not complete without a stop at Wall Drug Store. One of America’s most iconic roadside attractions, Wall Drug started as a tiny drug store in the 1930s and over time expanded into a 76,000-square-foot emporium. It is a place to pick up travel essentials, grab a good meal and you can let your kids burn some energy in the playground area. After you enjoy the 5-cent coffee, a buffalo burger, homemade donuts or one of their famous hot beef sandwiches, stroll through Wall’s art gallery and view original oil paintings and illustrations. The gallery is the largest privately owned art collection in the world. Don’t forget to get yourself a jackalope souvenir.

Go Back in Time and See a Cold War Missile Facility

During the Cold War, nuclear missiles were placed underground throughout the Great Plains. The Minuteman Missile field — located on the edge of Badlands National Park — controlled 150 ballistic missiles that were capable of reaching the Soviet Union in just 30 minutes (yikes, glad that never happened). The missiles were disarmed in the mid-90s and in 1999, the facility became the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Today you can tour part of the "peaceful prairie that once held the power to destroy the world" and see two of the missile launch sites. The visitor’s center is full of exhibits that explain the technology that made it possible and profile what life was like for the service men and women who worked at the site. Reservations are a must and can be made up to 90 days in advance. You cannot buy same-day tickets, so plan ahead.

See Bison (From a Safe Distance, of Course)

Today, many of the nine Native American tribes in South Dakota maintain bison herds. So, if you do visit a reservation, you may get to see a herd close up. You'll also find herds at Bear Butte State Park, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and Badlands National Park. If you’re going to be in the west side of the state at the end of September, make plans to see the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup. It’s an amazing sight to see a group of ranchers round up and drive a herd of approximately 1,300 bison.

Relive "Dances With Wolves"

Remember the scene in Dances With Wolves when Kevin Costner’s character, Lieutenant Dunbar gets his orders to go to the remote outpost of Fort Sedgewick — this is the room where that happened! Filmed throughout South Dakota, the state’s beautiful landscape served as the perfect backdrop for the movie. Today, film buffs can visit many of the movie's original sets. Only five miles from Rapid City, tour Fort Hays and see this room and more of the original set surrounded by a replica Old West village. Further east in Midland's 1880 Town, fans can view Dances with Wolves props including Dunbar’s sod house, tent and freight wagons. The Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center in Chamberlain is full of genuine artifacts and contemporary art, but it also uses a few of the movie's props to help illustrate the Lakota's rich history. Take the pretty drive to Spearfish Canyon's Roughlock Falls to see the backdrop for the movie's winter scenes.

See the Crazy Horse Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial is the world's largest mountain carving in progress. Construction of this massive memorial began in 1948 and has been going on ever since. When it's complete, it will stand 563 feet tall. Crazy Horse’s face alone is over 87 feet tall; the faces on Mount Rushmore are each about 60 feet tall. The monument is a tribute to Crazy Horse, a Lakota warrior and one of the most important Native American tribal leaders. The mission of Memorial is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians. The Memorial does not accept federal or state funding, it is financed by admissions and contributions. Other attractions located at Crazy Horse Memorial include the Indian Museum of North America, a cultural center, restaurant and gift shop.

Stay at Custer State Park

Probably one of the most popular state parks in the country, Custer State Park in the Black Hills is over 71,000 acres of breathtakingly beautiful scenery. Drive along the park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road to view bison, bighorn sheep and elk. Another way to get close up to a herd is to book a guided open-air jeep ride. There is a slew of other activities in the park including rock climbing, snowshoeing, boating, horseback riding and more. The park has nine campgrounds (yes, nine!), cabins, and five lodge-type hotels; the historic State Game Lodge, Creekside Lodge, Legion Lake, Sylvan Lake and the Blue Bell dude ranch.

Cycle the George S. Mickelson Trail

Stretching 109 miles through the Black Hills, the George S. Mickelson Trail contains more than 100 converted railroad bridges and four rock tunnels. The trail was built along a former railroad corridor, so its almost-level grade makes it family-friendly for bicycling, hiking, horseback riding or cross-country skiing. Dumont is the highest point and the 19-mile stretch from Deadwood to Dumont is the longest incline. There is little to no cell phone coverage on the trail, so before you hit the trail, designate meeting spots with your group in case you get separated.

Go on a Ghost Tour in Deadwood

The gold rush of 1876 brought all kinds of people to Deadwood. Pioneers and prospectors came seeking their fortune, along with lawless, unsavory types who brought murder, mayhem, brothels and all sorts of Wild West shenanigans. Today, the town is a law-abiding hamlet, but much of its original 19th-century architecture still stands. Deadwood is the only U.S. town to be named a National Historic Landmark because of its well-preserved collection of pre-1900 buildings. But with old buildings, come old spirits. Deadwood is alive with stories of its dead residents haunting present-day hotels, saloons and the famous Mount Moriah Cemetery, the final resting place of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. There are several tour operators that will take you to the top haunts and tell you all the chilling tales and lore. Deadwood also has its share of wineries and breweries to enjoy after a spirited tour.

Bike Through Sturgis

For one week in August, the normally quiet, small town (population 6,700) of Sturgis hosts a weeklong party for 500,000 bikers. Located just 11 miles from Deadwood, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally includes stunt shows, concerts, beauty pageants, coordinated rides to area attractions, and a plethora of other antics and events. Plus, it’s some of the best people watching you’ll ever experience. At other times of the year, you can catch a rodeo or a muscle-car gathering like the Camaro rally in June or the Mustang rally on Labor Day weekend. The Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame is open year-around; this must-see attraction has a wonderful collection of rare and antique motorcycles.

Dig Some Mammoths

Back in 1974, a housing development was being built in the town of Hot Springs. A heavy-equipment operator was excavating the land when he discovered what turned out to be a graveyard of mammoths. Today the site is not a housing development but The Mammoth Site museum, a home to more than 60 mammoth skeletons. In addition to ancient mammoth remains, you can see skeletons of a llama, camel, prairie dog, wolf, fish and giant short-faced bear. Visitors can view the remains up-close and even see what the mammoths would have looked like if they were still alive today. Junior paleontologists (ages 4 to 12) can learn about dinosaurs and dig for hidden replica fossils using real excavation tools.

Explore All Types of Nature at Badlands National Park

Millions of years of wind and water erosion gave Badlands National Park it’s outer-space-looking features. Explore the 244,000 acres of unique, rugged and varied geologic formations, everything from buttes, canyons, pinnacles, spires and prairie grassland. You’re also likely to see a wide range of animals, like bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, eagles and hawks. Enjoy the truly dark sky of this wilderness by joining a ranger-led Night Sky Program for stargazing. Accommodations are available in the park at Cedar Pass Lodge and Cedar Pass Campground.

Shop This Look