7 South Dakota National Parks


If you are enthusiastic about exploring hiking trails, wildlife viewing, complex caves, South Dakota is a perfect place for it. 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.

south dakota national parks
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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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 the 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.

By: Murray Foubister from flickr

The identified passageways go for almost 181 km. However, the safeguarded property as part of the national monument classification is 1,273 acres. Authorities considered it as 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. Scenic tour (a half-mile walk through the cave’s scenic and paved sections), famous tour (a candlelight tour that describes the cave’s first discovery), and wild caving tour are the three options for visitors (exploring the undeveloped parts of the cave).

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.

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 is a 60-foot sculpture portraying 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.

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.

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 boxwork. 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 boxwork 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!

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 the history. You can also take a tour of Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery and walk the historic Meridian Bridge.

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.

Read about: Explore The Best 11 National Parks In Texas


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.

Suggested reading: Closest National Park to Salt Lake City.

Things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park.


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