South Dakota National Parks South Dakota National Parks

7 Best South Dakota National Parks

If you are enthusiastic about exploring hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and complex caves, South Dakota is a perfect place for it. The place is rich in natural beauty, adventurous activities, and indigenous wildlife. This tourist attraction should be added to your bucket list soon.

South Dakota has a colossal network of state and national parks service sites designated by the US National Park Service. Wind Cave National Park is a great place to go underground, while Good Earth State Park is a great place to learn about native traditions.

Here is a list of the South Dakota national parks for suggestions on where to go on your next outdoor excursion.

Top 10 Best National Parks to Visit in South Dakota | USA - English

South Dakota has the highest number of tourists to the national parks of any Great Plains state. It’s where white Americans transformed Mount Rushmore into Tunkasila Sakpe Paha’s ancestral sacred mountain.

Let’s learn about the cultural and natural significance of each location.

7 Best South Dakota National Parks

1. Badlands National Park

The Badlands National Park is the first of several national park service sites in South Dakota. It spans about 242,000 acres in the southwestern region of the state. 

Deposition and erosion created the buttes and spires of Badlands National Park. Badlands National Park rocks deposited in the area for up to 75 million years. They began to erode 500,00 years ago due to wind and water erosion. 

South Dakota National Parks
Photo by Michael Alain on Unsplash

The granite spires and structures we see today formed in under half a million years. It’s also the country’s largest intact mixed-grass prairie. As the most visited national park in the Great Plains, Badlands National Park is a popular weekend getaway. Its closeness to Mount Rushmore attracts 3 million people every year. Unlike Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park in South Dakota preserves pristine natural stone formations and surrounding grasslands and fauna.

The United States Air Force has a bomb and gunnery range there. In 1929, the site was designated as a national monument, but in 1978, it was upgraded to a national park. Seeing these incredible landforms is, without a doubt, the prime reason to visit Badlands National Park. You may explore fossil beds, try to find wildlife, and admire the scenery by driving along Badlands Loop Road (South Dakota Highway 240).

Big Badlands Overlook, the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, and the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead are worthwhile stops. If you opt to spend the night in the park, another favorite activity is stargazing.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

2. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, as one might expect, exists to honor the 1803–1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition, which attempted to preserve historical, natural, and cultural resources in the United States.

South Dakota National Parks
By: U.S. Department of the Interior from Flickr

Pennsylvania, Montana, West Virginia, Washington, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky, South Dakota, North Dakota, Idaho, and Oregon are all part of this national historic trail. All of this adds up to almost 4,900 miles.

The route in South Dakota follows the Missouri River’s flow northwest across the state. While it would be impossible to walk the entire path, there are some spots of interest along the way that are worth seeing if you’re in the area.

September 2019 Park of the Month: Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

3. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

If you’re interested in the Cold War, make a trip to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Two facilities that were once part of the missile field are now houses at this historic location. This site tells the story of Minuteman Missiles, the Cold War, and nuclear deterrence up to this point. It is one of South Dakota’s most fascinating national parks.

South Dakota National Parks
By: diosthenese from flickr

Look for exhibitions about old technologies that made things possible, servicemen and women who performed their part, and world leaders who led the way. The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which opened in 1999, is one of South Dakota’s national park service sites.

The purpose of the website is to portray the significance and history of the Cold War, the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the arms race. It also aims to protect the country’s remaining Minuteman II ICBM system. The main office, the missile/silo launch facility, and the launch control center are all located here. These are the only remaining structures from a former nuclear missile base.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota - Full Tour (2019)

4. Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument is home to the world’s third-longest cave, with approximately 208 miles of recorded tunnels. Immerse yourself in delicate shapes and brilliant color flashes. One of the most well-known national monuments in the Great Plains, this gem welcomes visitors of all ages.

South Dakota National Parks
By: Murray Foubister from Flickr

The identified passageways go for almost 200 miles. However, the safeguarded property as part of the national monument classification is 1,273 acres. Authorities considered it a national monument in 1908.

The slow degradation of limestone induced by stagnant acid-rich water resulted in the formation of the Jewel Cave. During the elevation of the Black Hills, water forced fissures to emerge. Calcite crystals formed as a result of this natural process.

Tourists are welcome to visit the cave at any time of year. It receives about 77,000 tourist visits every year on average. A scenic tour (a half-mile walk through the cave’s scenic and paved sections), a famous tour (a candlelight tour that describes the cave’s first discovery), and a wild caving tour are the three options for visitors (exploring the undeveloped parts of the cave).

EXPLORING JEWEL CAVE | A South Dakota Hidden Gem

5. Mount Rushmore National Memorial

The most-visited National Memorial is Mount Rushmore, one of the significant landmarks in the National Park System. Visit Mount Rushmore if you want to see the stone faces of Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt for yourself.

South Dakota National Parks
Photo by Priscilla Gyamfi on Unsplash

One of the most well-known monuments in the United States is this national memorial. The Shrine of Democracy portrays four American presidents reflecting the country’s origin, development, and maintenance of democracy. The national memorial is also one of the Black Hills, South Dakota’s most famous tourist attractions.

The NPS is responsible for managing this property as one of the national park service sites in South Dakota. This project, which began in 1927, was spearheaded by sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Despite the hazardous conditions on the slopes, over 400 laborers assisted in constructing this sculpture. Every year, around 2 million people visit this memorial.

Mount Rushmore - The Shrine of Democracy

6. Wind Cave National Park

One of the oldest national parks in the United States is Wind Cave National Park, located in the southwest corner of South Dakota. Established in 1903, it predates the creation of the National Park Service. Wind Cave National Park protects undulating grasslands and forested hills above ground, but as the name implies, the underground attractions draw the most visitors.

South Dakota National Parks
By: daveynin from Flickr

President Theodore Roosevelt established the Wind Cave National Park as the 7th US National Park in 1903. A cave system was designated as a national park for the first time. Wind Cave boasts of being the world’s lengthy and most complicated caverns, as well as “barometric winds” at the cave entrance, created by temperature changes between the air above and below ground.

Wind Cave also has a unique type of crystal formation known as box work. Wind Cave is a one-of-a-kind, fascinating cave to explore. It is estimated that the Wind Cave National Park contains 95 percent of the world’s box work formations. Aside from the box work, frostwork is another prominent natural feature at Wind Cave.

Doing a cave tour is the best thing at Wind Cave National Park. These are led by park rangers and teach you how to tour the cave responsibly and appreciate its wonders. Elk Mountain Campground is the only main campground at Wind Cave. First come, first served at the 62-site campground. Hot Springs, SD (15 minutes south) and Custer, SD (25 minutes north) are the two closest towns, both of which have additional services if you require a motel or a dinner.

One of Wind Cave National Park’s most notable characteristics is its three-dimensional maze cave system. It has the world’s densest and sixth-longest cave system!

Wind Cave National Park

7. Missouri National Recreation River

The Missouri National Recreational River protects a section of North America’s longest river. It runs for almost a hundred kilometers and includes two areas of free-flowing water. Feel free to go on an excursion along this wild and untamed river to learn about its history. You can also take a tour of Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery and walk the historic Meridian Bridge.

South Dakota National Parks
By: Granger Meador from Flickr

This unit of the South Dakota National Park Service is shared with Nebraska. The 59-mile length of the Missouri River was included when the property was first established as a national recreational area. Moreover, a 39-mile stretch of river was added in 1991. Only two river sections have not been dammed or channelized, and this property is one of them.

The US National Park Service is in charge of the Missouri National Recreational River. Visitors can visit the visitor centers at Ponca State Park or Gavins Point Dam to learn more about the area.

River of Change: Missouri National Recreational River


There are seven national parks in South Dakota for anyone to explore. Aside from these, there are numerous state parks and recreational areas with preserved biodiversity and free-flowing hot springs. As a result, it is recommended not to litter or cause any damage to the rugged beauty of South Dakota while visiting these fragile formations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. What famous park is in South Dakota?                                                             

A1. Mount Rushmore: Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development, and preservation of this country.

Q2. Why is South Dakota so popular?                                                                     

A2. South Dakota is a paradise for anyone who loves the outdoors. We’re practically spoiled with natural beauty. Our iconic attractions include Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, and the Missouri River. On top of that, we have abundant state parks, lakes, and trails.

Q3. Why is Badlands National Park famous?                                                             

A3. Badlands National Park contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds, permitting scientists to study the evolution of mammal species such as the horse, rhino, and saber-toothed cat. From tiny shrews to 2,000-pound bison, the Badlands is home to many species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and butterflies.

Q4. What is the most beautiful park in South Dakota?                                           

A4. Badlands National Park. Boasting beautiful buttes, pinnacles, and spires, Badlands National Park stands brightly against the prairies of western South Dakota. Created by ancient deposits of sediments and minerals, followed by 500,000 years of erosion, the layered rocks of different colors lend to a stunning landscape.

Q5. What is unique about South Dakota?                                                                 

A5. South Dakota ranks 16th in size among the 50 states. It was the 40th state to join the Union in 1889 and encompasses 77,123 square miles, averaging 10 people per square mile. South Dakota boasts more miles of shoreline than the state of Florida and is the highest point in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.

Suggested readings:

Grasslands National Park

Explore The Best 11 National Parks In Texas

Closest National Park to Salt Lake City.

Things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park.


  1. National Parks in South Dakota are filled with interesting surprises. This is a great article that covers these parks to great details. The landscape is largely uninhabited and that gives the visitors ample space and leisure to explore these parks of South Dakota. Like the Badlands National Park that is so rich in fossil and that is a big draw for people of all ages!

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