Hit the open road and pack your snacks, it’s time for an epic South Dakota road trip! You’ll be in awe of the scenic drives, captivating history, and adventures that will leave you wondering why you haven’t gone sooner. We’ve visited South Dakota a few times now and fall in love with it a little more each time. The landscape is breathless and feels so different from anywhere else. Grab the family, and pack up the car, you’ll find tons to do while you’re there, but here are the highlights not to be missed.
Sylvan lake is a small, but gorgeous lake within Custer State Park. Cool and refreshing, it’s fun for playing, swimming, having a picnic, or walking around. You will need a state park pass to get in. It’s an unforgettable spot.
Custer State Park
There is a lot to see and do in Custer State Park! Take a scenic drive through the park (don’t miss the Wildlife Loop) and Needles Highway, track down the herd of bison, stop by the visitors centers for a deeper history, and visit some of the historic lodges while you’re there. There are many lodging options within the park, so that’s always where we stay when we visit.
This was probably the most expensive attraction in our time at South Dakota, but it was so worth it. Not only will your driver show you around the Custer State Park highlights, but you’ll get up close and personal with the bison herd. You’ll also learn a lot about the park, the area, and the history.
Lodges in Custer State Park
The historic lodges within the park deserve a specific call-out. Not only are they a great place to stay, but they also have fantastic restaurants with interesting and unique menu items. Look into Sylvan Lake Lodge, Legion Lake Lodge, and Blue Bell Lodge to find the right option for you.
If you’re staying in or around Custer, you’ll have to take a visit to Mount Rushmore. You probably don’t need more than a few hours there, but you’ll want plenty of time to take it all in, walk around, watch some of the videos, and of course, hit the gift shop and cafeteria.
Bear Country USA
If you’ve got kids, this one is a must! Bear Country USA is a wildlife park near Rapid City and you slowly drive through the park (in your own car) through sections of North American mammals like bighorn sheep, bison, wolves, bears, and more. At the end you’ll see the adorable cubs.
The Badlands are just a short drive from Custer, but you’ll feel like you’re in a different world and the sunsets and stargazing are some of the best. They have a great visitors center – with access to the working fossil lab and plenty of high-quality programing. There is limited lodging and one restaurant within the park. Hit some hikes before it gets too hot, because the shade is non-existent and you’re in a desert.
Depending on which way you are driving from, if you drive through Souix Falls, be sure to take a short walk through Falls Park to move your legs. It’s close to the downtown area and is a stunning stretch along the Big Souix River.
The Corn Palace is in Mitchell South Dakota, and is open year-round. It’s free to visit and has a lot of unique corn murals. Check the calendar, there are always events going on.
You might decide to skip out on this one, but it had to be on the South Dakota list and if you are in the state, you’ll see an endless amount of billboards so it’s hard to miss. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be helpful to break up the drive and has food, beverages, and plenty of gifts and souvenirs.
Crazy Horse Memorial
This statue is still under construction, but will be the tallest statue in the world when it’s done so even though it’s not finished, it’s still drawing crowds.
If you have animal lovers in your midst, Reptile Gardens is another fun spot to take the family. They have everything from crocodiles to tortoises to bald eagles and more! Go play on the playground after you’re done perusing.