This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you book or purchase through these links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.In the spring of 2018, I completed a major bucket list item of mine: visiting all 50 United States. Even a year later, I still get all giddy thinking about it! My last 5 states to visit were Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. I enjoyed my brief time road-tripping through “The Mount Rushmore State” and so I’m sharing this list of the top things to see in South Dakota along with where to eat!
Top Things to See in South Dakota
1 | Badlands National Park
Check out Badlands National Park. In my opinion, it’s different from most other US National Parks. Why? That I can’t exactly put my finger on. It looks different and has a completely different vibe.
It’s a winding, stunning drive through the park where you can stop to look at colorful mountains (also known as Yellow Mounds Overlook and Jungle on a Seabed).
See the impressive Sharps Formations…
and stop to admire (from a distance) the wildlife that call Badlands National Park home. You never know where they might be so keep your eyes peeled and also be careful when driving as they are often right there on the road!
Be sure to stop in at one of the visitor centers in the park. The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is open year-round (except for major holidays) and has an interactive exhibit, indoor theater, bookstore, and gift shop. There are even daily ranger programs from mid-June to mid-August!
2 | Wall Drug Store
A visit to Wall Drug while in South Dakota is just simply put, a must. Open since 1931 and located in the western city of Wall, the town of 800 people draws 2 million visitors each year!
Browse the many quirky stores or take advantage of the famous free ice water!
As I was exploring (with keen interest), I came up on this Traveler’s Chapel. Such a cool idea…Welcome Traveler!
3 | Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Of course, no trip is complete without seeing Mount Rushmore. Admittedly, this is the number one attraction I wanted to see in South Dakota!
The Memorial draws around 3 million visitors per year. The concept of South Dakota historian Doane Robinson and the work of architect and sculptor Gutzon Borglum, carving began in 1927 and was completed 14 years later in 1941.
I got really excited when walking down the Avenue of Flags. I could see Mount Rushmore in the distance but I wanted to see that grand, iconic visual.
The Avenue of Flags was initially a celebration of the United States’ Bicentennial in 1976 and was continued thereafter. There are 56 flags-one for each state, district, territory, and commonwealth of the United States. The names of each state can be found on the pillar upon which its flag is mounted. They are in alphabetical order so my state, Alabama, was first up!
Finally, I arrived at THE place. The Grand View Terrace!
The sculpture is so far away, yet so close and the enormity of it dawned on me. The sheer talent that went into its creation dawned on me.
In the quiet of the morning, it was yet another location that drew me into reflection. Reflecting on the history of those who have walked before me and are responsible for me standing in this very spot at this moment. Surreal.
The four American Presidents featured in the sculpture are (in order of their appearance from left to right) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Gutzon Borglum chose these four because he personally felt they represented the most important events in US history at that point in time.
I decided to get up close and personal (otherwise known as a zoom lens) with the carvings. The detail is amazing huh??
They are each 60 feet tall. I am 5 feet 6 inches tall so that is basically 11 of me standing one on top of the other to equal their height!
And just FYI, it feels like their eyes are ALWAYS on you like they’re tracking you! 😳
I thoroughly enjoyed (basically) having the place to ourselves. It heightened the experience for me. I also seem to have a knack for hitting popular attractions solo (you can see here how I had the entire 86th viewing platform of the Empire State Building in NYC to myself). But, if you are here in August or September, there is a trade-off with this evening program.
4 | Crazy Horse Memorial
After leaving Mount Rushmore, we drove straight over to see Crazy Horse. I became pretty fascinated with the whole story. We still don’t know when Crazy Horse will be completed; however, speculation is that upon completion it will dwarf Mount Rushmore. It is the world’s largest sculptural undertaking!
The first blast was on June 3, 1948. You can find the complete and very interesting timeline with photos here.
Oh and by the way…Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife when driving in and out of all of these monuments and memorials. You never know what you might see!
Left: Male turkey Right: Female turkey
I mean, you don’t want to miss turkeys in mating season, right? In the photo on the left, we have the male turkey chasing after the female. In the photo on the right, he proudly displays all his glory.
Spoiler Alert: He doesn’t get the girl. She was having none of his shenanigans.
5 | The Corn Palace
Just when I thought I had seen it all…this is why I shouldn’t think. 😜
The World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, is definitely different. Unique is probably a better word to describe it. Established in 1892 as a way to show the world that South Dakota had a healthy agricultural climate, the attraction draws over 500,000 people annually.
Every year, there is a different theme. When I was there last year in 2018, the theme (as you can see) was “South Dakota Weather”. The 2018-2019 theme is “A Salute to the Military”. The list of themes it has had over the years since it started is pretty interesting.
All of that corn…mind boggling isn’t it? If you can’t visit or are just curious, here’s the live feed of the Corn Cam! 😂
6 | Missouri River Overlook
After leaving Mitchell on our way to the Badlands, we stopped to see the Missouri River Overlook in Chamberlain, South Dakota.
Easily accessed right off the interstate, it has several things to see and do including a commemoration of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial (1804-2004).
If for no other reason, stop for the view…this view is so picturesque!
7 | Dignity Statue
Located in the same visitor’s center stop, be sure you see Dignity. Unveiled in 2016, it is a fairly new statue and was commissioned by Rapid City businessman, Norm McKie, and his wife. The McKies gave the statue as a gift to all the people of South Dakota.
Dignity represents the courage and perseverance of the Lakota and Dakota people of South Dakota.
8 | South Dakota Sunset
If the weather cooperates, find somewhere to watch a South Dakota sunset. It’s pretty fabulous especially when there’s snow on the ground. There are several places for an opportunity but I took this photo right off of Interstate 29 north of Sioux Falls.
Where to Eat
1 | Wall Drug Cafe
Not only is Wall Drug a point of interest, but I recommend eating in the Wall Drug Cafe too!
It is family-friendly and seats over 500 people. If you are there in the offseason like we were, you might have it all to yourself. Either way, it’s a really cool experience.
You can take a look at the menu to see what strikes your fancy, but I recommend the hot dog and fries. But no matter what…
you HAVE to get one of their homemade donuts. They are amazing and I highly recommend this Maple Donut!
2 | The Market
We found The Market online as we were almost to Sioux Falls and decided to try it out. They present a dining and shopping experience all-in-one.
They offer everything from seasonal specialties to a “Build Your Own Board” of cheese and charcuterie. Go home with one of their special wines or design your own gift basket to give as the perfect, thoughtful treat.
I was trying to decide between a couple of things but then my eyes landed on the Cranberry Turkey Sandwich with orange goat cheese, cranberry pecan sauce, and spinach on wild rice cranberry bread. Done. Yes, please! I paired it with a side of their Mac n Cheese. It was the perfect combination!
My friend Kim had the Pork Belly Sandwich with porchetta, arugula, Marcona orange gremolata, caper aioli on a ciabatta roll also served with Mac n Cheese. She loved hers too!
Pretty cool stuff, huh? Particularly having Mount Rushmore to ourselves! Definitely consider visiting in off-peak times for the best possibility of low crowds. It’s a surreal experience. I hope you enjoyed my tour of things to see in South Dakota and will consider taking your own tour in the near future!
Have you been to South Dakota? Do you have anything to add to my list? What was your favorite place to visit?
‘Til next time…