South Dakota may be best-known for its majestic memorial to the early presidents of the US carved into the face of Mt Rushmore in the Black Hills, but it has plenty of other great attractions to offer for visitors. With its glorious landscapes, wide open spaces, and national parks, South Dakota is the perfect destination for anyone who loves the great outdoors.
South Dakota is a rural state - the largest city, Sioux Falls is home to just 150,000 people, while the state capital, Pierre in the center of the state is no more than a small town. The majority of the state is untamed wilderness, the vast central plains of the continent spread out across a flat landscape that only rises in the west into the Badlands and the Black Hills. South Dakota is officially part of the American West, but as you travel through the state, you realize that in many ways it is in fact the gap between cultures rather than belonging.
There are so few people in the state that it is often a surprise when you meet other travelers on your way through the low country. Driving on the interstate from one city to the next can mean not seeing any other cars for hours. Sometimes, the only company that you have in South Dakota is yourself. It gives you an opportunity to think, and rediscover what you are looking for.
It is perhaps the empty nature of South Dakota that makes the Mt Rushmore sculpture even more remarkable. The 60 foot tall sculptures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln stare out from the side of a mountain over a breathtaking landscape. It is surprising to many people that these sculptures, which appear so timeless, were only begun in 1927 and finished in the 1940s. The carving of Mount Rushmore was intended to boost South Dakota travel, and it has succeeded. Millions of people travel to see the mountain, and it is one of the most instantly recognizable icons of the USA.
There are many South Dakota resorts in the Black Hills, and the state park that surrounds Mount Rushmore is a popular place for hiking and cycling thanks to its excellent climate and the variety of different South Dakota camping grounds that are on offer.
The main entry point for the Black Hills is generally considered to be Sturgis South Dakota, which hosts an annual motorcycle convention in the summer, when thousands of bikers from across the country converge on the town and begin a long tour through the national park past the main sights such as Mt Rushmore, the Crazy Horse sculpture, and Bear Butte.
For anyone planning their South Dakota vacations, the most important thing to consider is what you will do for the full duration of your stay. While Mt Rushmore and the Black Hills offer plenty of hiking opportunities, and there are a number of well equipped South Dakota resorts to stay in, younger children may well find that there is little for them to enjoy. With that in mind, a few days in the badlands close to Deadwood South Dakota may be a good idea.
Despite the worrying name and bleak appearance, the Badlands are renowned across the world as one of the best fossil gathering spots anywhere, and thanks to a number of hotels in the region, it has become possible for families to spend a few days dinosaur hunting as part of their South Dakota vacations, which is a great way of enjoying time together, and guaranteed to keep the kids interested while mom and pop wile away a few hours relaxing by the pool.
The best time to visit South Dakota depends on you. For most people, late summer into fall is the ideal time to come, as you get the combination of good weather and the breathtaking sights of the forests transformed into their autumnal hues of gold and brown. Summer is hot, and ideal for spending time on the beach, while in the deepest days of winter, the coast becomes bleak and stark, beautiful in its emptiness.