With a staggering 1.3 billion dollar economic impact in 2013 alone—a nearly 3% increase from the prior year—South Dakota is one of the country’s primary tourist destinations. In fact, tourism is directly responsible for a large percentage of the state’s incoming revenue and employment.
It’s easy to see why the state enjoys such a robust level of tourist traffic. Nestled between rolling Midwest farmlands and rugged Rocky Mountain ranges, South Dakota is a rich interplay of varying terrain, topography, vegetative growth, and pristine water reservoirs. From the precipitous spires of the Badlands National Park to the lush forests of the Black Hills National Forest, the state is a picturesque playground for those who appreciate the contrasts of nature in its purest form. And its breathtaking beauty runs even deeper—add a rich cultural heritage and history rooted in nineteenth-century American Indian settlements, and South Dakota’s widespread appeal is completely understandable.
A beacon for tourism, South Dakota is home to an abundance of attractions. Topping the list is Mount Rushmore, the awe-inspiring mountainside sculpture that has become a nationally recognized symbol of freedom and democracy, captivating more than two million visitors annually. Another popular sculpture is the constantly evolving Crazy Horse Monument, a labor of love that commemorates the state’s American Indian heritage. The Badlands and the Black Hills are magnets for nature lovers, while dozens of state parks afford plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreational activities. Adventurous types enjoy exploring the depths of such magnificent natural formations as Wind Cave and Spearfish Canyon. The town of Deadwood affords tourists an authentic feel for the delightfully raucous Old West mining towns that prevailed during the 19th century, complete with historic casinos. Each year, the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attracts more than half a million biking enthusiasts to the usually small, sleepy town.
And that’s just the beginning. The question isn’t “what’s to see in South Dakota?”, but what’s not to see. From cultural museums and festivals to eclectic shopping and dining to year-round outdoor sports, the state truly offers something for everyone. Explore our comprehensive tourism directory to learn more.
Top Tourist Attractions
South Dakota is loaded with fun and exciting attractions. The most popular attractions are Mount Rushmore, Black Hills and the Badlands but there are plenty of attractions that may not have the notoriety of those attractions but still offer some great fun and excitement. To check out all of the top attractions South Dakota has to offer check them out at our top attractions section.
- Mount Rushmore – South Dakota’s top tourist attraction, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, draws more than two million people each year. Located near the city of Keystone, the sculpture commemorates the first 150 years of American history.
- Black Hills National Forest – The Black Hills is a picturesque paradox. One minute you might be in the thick of a pine or spruce forest, and the next you’ll find yourself in a sprawling grassland alongside a sparkling lake. With its rich vegetation and challenging terrain, this famous mountain range is a haven for nature lovers.
- Badlands National Park – The breathtaking natural formations that make up the Badlands National Park offer 244,000 acres of dramatic gorges, towering peaks, and rolling prairies. They may look foreboding at first glance, but many herald the unique beauty, ancient fossils, and otherworldly atmosphere found in the Badlands.
- Deadwood – When an entire town is declared a National Historic Landmark, that says a lot about the richness of its history and heritage. Modern-day Deadwood is a charmingly restored Old West town, complete with authentic saloons, all-night casinos, and historic hotels.
- Sturgis Motorcycle Rally – Lying close to the Black Hills, Sturgis is a usually sleepy, quiet town that is transformed each August by the biggest annual motorcycle rally in the nation. The week-long Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attracts nearly 500,000 motorcycle enthusiasts.
Attractions We Recommend
You may or may not know about the attractions below, but if you don’t we highly recommend them if you can fit them into your travel plans. South Dakota has a plethora of unique attractions, some off the beaten path, that will make your trip to South Dakota one to remember. From a 40 foot dinosaur replica to a palace covered in corn, you’ll find a South Dakota attraction that will capture your attention.
Things to Do
While it may be tempting to just stand still and behold the breathtaking scenery, South Dakota is packed with hundreds of activities to keep you entertained for hours on end. Whether you’re fishing on the Missouri River, exploring a natural cave, visiting an exhibit of Native American artifacts, or shopping for the perfect souvenir to memorialize your trip, one thing is for certain: you’ll never find a dull moment in this historical, heritage-rich state.
Places to Stay
Planning a trip to South Dakota? One of the first—and probably among the most important—things you’ll need to do is choose a place to stay. The good news is, the state is packed with high-quality lodging opportunities to accommodate all traveling tastes and price points. We’ve compiled a comprehensive database of places to stay in all of South Dakota’s major cities, a majority of which are within close proximity of the most popular tourist attractions.