We made it to the Mid-west! It was a 4.5 hour drive from Fort Collins, Colorado to our first stop. Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. Most of South Dakota is flat fields, but the Western part has forests, lakes, mountains and LOTS to see! Here’s a list of our top 7 places to visit in South Dakota – all of which we visited this week!
7 Must-See Places in South Dakota
1. Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park has over 150 miles of explored cave passageways making it one of the longest cave systems in the world. We took a tour exploring a 2 mile stretch of the cave. At one point in the tour, the tourguide turned off the lights to show us what TRUE darkness really is. We couldn’t see anything, not even our hand in front of our face, it was wild!
Wind Cave got it’s name from the wind that flows in and out of the cave’s natural entrance. The wind changes direction (in vs. out) depending on the weather outside the cave and the barometric pressure. Meaning if the wind outside the cave is higher the wind will blow into the cave and vice versa. It has ‘box works’ on the ceiling which is a very delicate structure shaped like honeycomb. We haven’t seen anything like it in any other calves we’ve been to!
2. Custer State National Park
We were VERY surprised by Custer State National Park, There are several lakes, a beautiful scenic drive called ‘Needly Highway’ and unique rock formations. We hung out at Legion Lake for a while one afternoon to escape the heat. The lake was full of people swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding. Across the lake there was a small ledge that kids were jumping from. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it over the cliff jump but it looked like a blast!
One of the coolest parts of Custer State National Park is Needles Highway. It’s a 14 mile scenic drive and you pass through 3 small tunnels. Each tunnel is about 10ft tall and 9ft wide, so our van BARELY made it through! It’s a super beautiful place that we’d love to go back to soon!
3. Black Hills National Forest
Everything in this list is located in the Black Hills National Forest (except for Wall Drug). There’s 1.2 MILLION acres of protected land in the Black Hills – SO much space! There are tons of places camp, hike and see wildlife including: Buffalo, deer, goats and bighorn sheep.
We saw tons of baffle driving through Black Hills. They would be roaming around fields or cooking off in a local watering hole. You could easily spend a week exploring everything the Black Hills has to offer.
4. Mt. Rushmore National Monument
An American classic Mt. Rushmore is a carving of four American Presidents: George Washington (1st President), Thomas Jefferson (3rd president), Theodore Roosevelt (26th president) and Abraham Lincoln (14th president). These 4 presidents were selected by the sculptor because in his opinion, they represented the birth, growth, development and preservation of our nation. Each face is about 60ft high, meaning their nose alone is about 20ft tall!
5. Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial is projected to be the world’s largest carved mountain sculpture. When complete the sculpture will be 563ft high and 641ft long and is in honour of all North American Indians. The Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation doesn’t accept any federal or state funding, I’m guessing to keep full autonomy and be able to speak their truth.
The memorial has gift shops, museums, live shows and an educational centre. We weren’t able to spend much time there but there’s so much to learn about the Native American culture.
6. Badlands National Park
I recommend waking up early to drive through the park. That’s what we did and we were able to see TONS of wildlife and beat the crowds- win win! The rock formations were formed by water and have very distinguishable tan, white and red stripes. Sunrises and sunsets in the national park are breathtaking- the colour of the rocks is unforgettable.
We spent most of our time in the park stopping at overlooks and taking photos of animals. Our favourite was a family of goats walking and relaxing along the steep ledges of rocks.
7. Wall Drug
Last but certainly not least, Wall Drug. If you have ever driver on I-90 through South Dakota, you know there are signs for hundreds of miles telling you about Wall Drug. Honestly, it’s a great marketing tool because you are driving on this straight, flat highway for hours and you see sign after sign about Wall Drug and eventually you think ‘ okay, I need to see what all the fuss is about!’
Wall Drug is a series of souvenir sops, candy stores, museums and a cafe. We were only planning to take a short walk through but ended up staying for about 3 hours! We had a little competition to see who could buy the weirdest thing with 10 dollars, ate homemade pie and donuts and walked through museums and gift shops. It was surprisingly very entertaining!