South Dakota. South Dakota.

Awakening Wonder: South Dakota’s Top 19 Enchanting Locations

South Dakota, is a state known for its monumental feat of patriotically enriching history, some of the greatest natural sights known to mankind, and a mesmerizing ambiance. Settled right in the heart of the American continent, this place holds a special place in the founding structure of the American way of life.

Millions of tourists from all over the world very frequently visit South Dakota for an adventurous and thrill-seeking experience. Explore beyond the well-known landmarks of winding roads, running rivers, and rocky terrains in South Dakota, and discover a selection of captivating, lesser-known destinations handpicked just for you.

Delve into the heart of this land of infinite variety and prepare to be awestruck by the following hidden gems on your next journey.

1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Started in 1927 and finished in 1941, this feat of sculpture on Mount Rushmore is a symbol of patriotism and the preservation of the founding fathers of the United States of America. The monument features the carved figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln respectively, symbolizing the growth and expansion of the country.

An ode to some of the most crucial presidents of America that brought the country to the present glory it stands at. This monument has close to 2 million visitors a year and is often referred to as ‘the shrine of democracy’. Its vibrant energy and sunny scenery bring us to strongly stand with the fact that this is one of the most beautiful places to visit in South Dakota!

Mount Rushmore.
Source: Unsplash

2. Badlands National Park

Located in southwest South Dakota, this national park is known for its geological formations and wilderness. Badlands National Park was once considered a reserved area for the Oglala Sioux Indians and is now seen as a ceremonial sacred site rather than native accommodations.

There are 242,756 acres of sharply eroded buttes and pinnacles that give the valley a unique shape. The bands running through these hills are a result of sedimentation, looking ever continuous and parallel.

The whooping crane and the Black-footed ferret, both of which are a part of the endangered species list can be found wandering this part as protected species. The strange rock formations, wildlife, and heritage make The Badlands National Park an absolute pleasure to visit.

Badlands National Park Mountains.
Source: Unsplash

3. Custer State Park

This wildlife reserve located in Custer County is both South Dakota’s largest and first state park. Covering an area of around 71,000 acres. It is home to a herd of over 1,000 bison and various numbers of river otters, mountain goats, elk, mule deer, coyotes, and more.

Custer State Park is also home to various parks and falls further mentioned in this article. Memorable for its scenic valleys and drives, it boasts some of the most serene views of bison and greenery imaginable. Come check out this teeming wilderness enclave next time you are in South Dakota!

Bison in Custer State Park.
Source: Unsplash

4. Missouri River

This river being the longest in all of America, running through several states (one of these states being South Dakota) is a wonder to behold. A prime spot for fishing, kayaking, or just bison watching, the ethereal serenity of the Missouri River simply cannot be matched.

Here you can relax with your friends grab a beer and enjoy the scenic sunset, or simply sit on the dock with someone important to you and pretend you are in a cinematic scene. For the people who enjoy waterbodies and the constituting scenery, this river is an absolute must-visit.

Missouri River.
Source: Unsplash

5. Wind Cave National Park

Officially established by President Theodore Roosevelt, this national park was the first cave to be designated a park in the world and has many fun things to do and experience.

The most remarkable feature found in Wind Cave National Park is its boxwork formations that appear to be paper-thin, sharp protrusions on the ceilings of the cave. Formed out of calcite, 95% of the world’s boxwork formations are found in these caves.

Being the third longest cave in the United States, it runs a close 154.2 Miles and is one of the densest cave systems in the world. The reason it is called the wind caves is due to its unique ‘breathing quality’, meaning there is a constant flow of air in the caves equalizing pressure. A beautiful place indeed if you love out-of-the-box (work) geographical formations!

cave opening
Source: Unsplash

6. Crazy Horse Memorial

Located in Custer County black hills in South Dakota, this monument is still under construction. It is meant to depict Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, pointing to his native land on horseback, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski.

This unfinished stature is still one of the most beautiful places you could visit in South Dakota due to the precision of the stonework and surrounding hills, greenery, and wildlife. Once completed the Crazy Horse Memorial will become the second tallest building in the world, right after the Statue of Unity located in India.

Crazy Horse of the Lakota people was a supposed general taking up arms against the US federal government as a result of land encroachment. His spirit lives on through his fierce battle spirit and vigor. This is a wonderful landmark to visit if you are looking for beautiful places in South Dakota.

Crazy Horse Memorial.
Source: Unsplash

7. Sioux Falls

The most populated city in the state of South Dakota and home to some beautiful urban roads, cafes, restaurants, and even gorgeous parks. If you wish to find a beautiful place to see in South Dakota that is not based around its monuments and wildlife this is the perfect metropolitan city for you.

It is very mesmerizing to get lost in its winding roads. There are battle memorials as a reminder of the part South Dakota played in America’s heritage, and various historical and artistic museums.

Sioux Falls also holds various festivals such as the festival of bands, hosting over 40 bands every year, and the sculpture walks every summer because South Dakota is famous for its monuments and sculptures.

Art and music thrive in this city so it is the perfect place for cultural enthusiasts to enjoy.

Statue in Sioux falls.
Source: Unsplash

8. Lake Herman State Park

Famous for its beautiful lakes and views, this is a prime spot for camping and various other recreational activities such as fishing, swimming, hiking, and more. Formed by a melting glacier and over 1,000 acres of open land. With various facilities such as electric cabins and 72 campsites, it is perfect for a family getaway.

This is a prime bonding spot in South Dakota, loved by its inhabitants and tourists alike. The sunsets here are especially beautiful and a sight that will forever be ingrained in your mind.

Now, Lake Herman State Park is famous for its water bodies, saturated with crystal clear ponds and lakes they are all a marvel to look at and even take a dip in! Swimming is allowed and you can jump right into any lake you find desirable. Locally protected this state park is one of the most exuberant spots in South Dakota.

Lake Herman
Source: Unsplash

9. Needles Highway

Take a drive through this 14-mile-long highway constructed smack dab in the middle of a national park, and enjoy the thrilling scenes. Made as a winding road taking you through valleys and narrow corners, this thrill-inducing ride is known for its hairline turns and tunnels that make you feel like, you are driving through a utopian land.

With its various unique, needle-like, granite rock formations lining the drive, the name Needle Highway was given. Apart from these geological formations, you can also enjoy vivid wildlife and trees such as pine and birch. The Needles Highway road is closed to automobiles during the winter months, but it is always possible to just skip the drive and go on foot instead.

It is undeniably one of the most beautiful places to visit in South Dakota and does not consume that much time either. A short 14-mile drive that is accessible, easy, and gorgeous.

Needles Highway
Source: Unsplash

10. Rough Lock Falls

This misty waterfall will have you taking millions of pictures of the views around. It is the ideal place to come with your friends or even alone and take in the blissful ambiance of the trail. With a wood bridge to travel the waterfall by, you can get an up-close view of the sirenic waves, and the greenery around.

The name ‘rough lock falls’ comes from the way old pioneers used to get down the drop, they would rough lock their wheels to halt their carts from rolling down freely, and thus comes the name. A brilliant place to go wild trout fishing or spot an American dipper which can both swim and walk underwater.

Located beyond the Spearfish Canyon Lodge, it is acclaimed for its calm peaceful atmosphere. You can enjoy a very relaxed zen walk along this trail or even go for a swim if you feel like it!

Road leading to Roughlock falls.
Source: Unsplash

11. Sylvan Lake

A baby blue crystal lake parked on a sandy wonderland surrounded by pine trees and greenery, Sylvan Lake located in Custer State Park, black hills, south Dakota is an absolute delight and marvel to experience.

What is interesting about this location is that a scene from the famous movie ‘National Treasure: Book of Secrets’ was filmed here, depicting Sylvan Lake being right next to Mount Rushmore when it is, in fact, more than 5 miles southwest. This lake was created when Theodore Reder built a dam across Sunday Gulch Creek.

A scenic location where you can enjoy a multitude of activities such as camping, fishing, boating, and even rock climbing. If it is classic beauties of South Dakota, you are after, this is the perfect place for you to cruise a simple boat along its gilded surfaces. So, make sure you pay the Sylvan Lake a visit.

Sylvan Lake
Source: Unsplash

12. Keystone

Located in black hills south Dakota, this small town holds a quiet air of comfort that will remind you of your hometown community, the locals are friendly, the food is good, and the view is spectacular. A picturesque charming town known for its beauty, tranquility, and historic value.

With a land area of 2.86 square miles and a population of only 240 (2020 census), you would not expect Keystone to be the tourist hub it is, but due to the presence of Mount Rushmore, this small once-known mining town has now transformed into a tourist spot, inhabiting the millions of people that flock per year to see the democratic monument.

Despite the rock sculptures, this town has various museums, trails, and mines well worth exploring. Scenic and beautiful as well as a worthwhile destination on your trip to South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore in Keystone.
Source: Unsplash

13. Wonderland Cave Sturgis

Accurate to its name, wonderland caves are a wonder to behold with their intricate cave systems and beautiful rock and crystal formations. Known for its drip-shaped formations as well as aspects of geological formations such as boxwork, stalagmite, and others. Perfect for cave explorers and admirers of all things shiny.

It is an ideal location to bring your family for some underground fun, this is also a family-owned attraction, and with the caves being a little chilly. It is advisable to wear a jacket and some nice shoes so you have no risk of falling. Here, you will be guided through a 45-minute tour taking you through the wonders of this cave step by step, and afterward, you can stop by at the charming gift shop to pick up a few crystal souvenirs and remember your trip.

Source: Unsplash

14. Dead Wood

A city ironic to its name, thriving and beautifully surrounded by wildlife all around, as well as bustling roads and streets. Connected with gorgeous cafes, dotted with restaurants, and amicable people, this city in South Dakota is one of the most gorgeous places to visit.

Known for its parks, trails, and woodland clearings, there are an end number of activities to do in Deadwood such as cycling, hiking, rock climbing, and more. Apart from the vicarious beauty, this city also boasts a plethora of historical value, dating all the way back to the the late 18th century and the gold rush era.

An official national landmark historic district, it is home to 1,156 people and boasts an area of 12.77 km squared. Positively something to add to your checklist when and if taking a trip to experience the quaint side of South Dakota.

A Dead Tree.
Source: Unsplash

15. Old Courthouse Museum

Former courthouse of Minnehaha County, located in Sioux Falls South Dakota. The structure was transformed into a museum to preserve the rich historical heritage of the place. It was designed by Wallace L. as a prevailing example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture and has several testimonies to such, like its rounded arches and distressed stone structures. With brilliant and informative tours, this museum boasts a large number of historical collectibles that are purchasable at the gift shop, as well as 3 stories of monumental antique memory.

Operated by the Siouxland Heritage Museums Alliance, it also exhibits native American ancestral pieces of living, as well as memoirs of various South Dakota patriotic tokens. This museum is an ideal place to help people learn about the cultural and historical importance of natives in society among others. An educational visit that will further your perspective on South Dakota, it is a place worth checking out.

An old Courthouse.
Source: Unsplash

16. Spearfish Canyon

Another checklist item on our scenic and beautiful places to visit in South Dakota is the Spearfish Canyon where the fishes fly and so does the morale! A gorgeous canyon to lose yourself in, located in Spearfish South Dakota, and home to trails, waterfalls, and hiking paths.

The name spearfish is said to be derived from the Sioux settlement and their tendency to use animal and fish names to designate certain geological features. It is also largely based on spear fish creek which runs a total of 20 miles into the heart of the black hills south Dakota.

Spearfish Canyon is popularized for its various recreational activities and its flying trout fish. You can come to the creeks of spearfish and try to catch live trout with your own two hands! Overall, this is another environmental haven you should not miss out on.

Trout Fish.
Source: Unsplash

17. Mammoth Site

A museum dedicated to paleontology near hot springs in South Dakota, the mammoth site is based around an excavation site. Formed as a sinkhole and slowly filled with sediments and later excavated. To date, 61 mammoth remains have been found, and 3 woolly mammoths have also been extracted from this paleontological site.

Did you know that woolly mammoth tusks have been found to grow to around 16 feet long? This site is a harbor for scientific advancement and prehistorical zoology studies in helping us understand the flora and fauna of South Dakota better. The museum is dedicated to exhibiting these remains and sharing this cultural hub of knowledge with the world and South Dakota inhabitants alike.

Apart from mammoths plenty of animal remains such as llamas, coyotes, clams, snails, wolves, minks, ferrets, and such have also been found, making it an absolute educational exploration. You must partake in once if you wish to see remains of the great woolly mammoths.

Mammoth remains.
Source: Unsplash

18. Sertoma Butterfly House and Aquarium

Located in Sertoma Park, this exhibit is a different kind of beautiful, more specifically its appeal is its diverse animals and wildlife. Apart from scenic and landscape-based beauty, this is a great option if you are looking for something a little more (A)lively! With an in-house butterfly exhibit that stores over 800 butterflies along with a personal feeding section. Imagine being surrounded by butterflies from every section of the world.

The aquarium part of Sertoma Butterfly House and Aquarium is home to over a thousand species of coral reef and marine life along with a touch pool, Sertoma is also the only public saltwater aquarium and butterfly house in the entirety of Dakota. The Pacific tide pool lets you observe and even touch various safe species of marine life such as the starfish.

A great, fun-filled, experience for the whole family, make sure you do not miss the Sertoma butterfly house and aquarium in South Dakota.

Source: Unsplash

19. Air and Space Museum

A peek into South Dakota’s role in the Cold War against the Soviet Union as well as significant American milestones such as the Ellsworth Air Force Base and the 44th Strategic Missile Wing, the air and space museum in South Dakota is well-versed in information on defense personnel and offers tours of these patriotic symbols.

The arsenal South Dakota provided included bombers such as the B-52 Stratofortress, B-29 Superfortress, B-1 Lancer, and the B-36 Peacemaker. There were also intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the Minuteman and the Titan I. The museum is based on the 4 aircraft alert hangers in which Air Force command officers sat on high alert to intercept missions on a need basis in the Cold War.

Though the Air and Space Museum is open all year round, the tours of the Ellsworth Air Force Base and missile silo are closed until further notice. The Air and Space Museum in South Dakota is a very intellectually beautiful place in south Dakota that everyone should visit at least once.

Source: Unsplash


South Dakota is filled with many places, parks, trails, and waterfalls worth visiting for their innate beauty and wonder. If it is picturesque scenery and a treasure trove of historical knowledge you are after then, south Dakota might be the perfect place for you.

With its expansive cities and ever-growing peaceful, calm, and collected atmosphere, we are in constant awe of the experiences you can have here. It is of course well noted for Mount Rushmore which stands to be a symbol of democracy even today. But in a state as rich, 19 places are simply not enough, never the less we have found some of the perfect places for you to visit and compiled a concise list for your trip to South Dakota, we hope to see you there!

Last Updated on February 27, 2024 by Khushahal Malakar