Discover the Wonderful South Dakota National Parks » Savoteur

South Dakota is famend for its lovely landscapes, wealthy American historical past, and iconic locations. Its most well-known attraction, Mount Rushmore, typically will get all the eye. You could be stunned to listen to the state homes seven nationwide park websites. We are going to define the great South Dakota nationwide parks so you possibly can plan your journey.

Badlands Nationwide Park

Positioned in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands Nationwide Park options huge mixed-grass prairies between otherworldly striated canyons, pinnacles, and buttes. It’s a land of extremes the place summer time temperatures can surpass 100 levels Fahrenheit, but winters get bitter chilly. The terrain is rugged and lacks usable water sources. Accordingly, the Lakota individuals referred to as the realm “mako sica,” that means “dangerous lands.”

The Badlands is dwelling to one of many world’s richest fossil beds. Paleontologists have found fossils of ancestors to the fashionable horse and rhino throughout the park grounds.

Many guests come to see the striated rock formations and bison. The rugged terrain with striped layers appears like one other planet. Resulting from their mammoth measurement, bison draw your consideration. The giants can attain 6.5 ft in peak and weigh as much as 2,000 kilos. 

Many friends overlook the prairies. Nevertheless, tiny creatures digging beneath these sprawling grasslands are the important thing to the whole Badlands ecosystem. 

Look nearer between the tall blades of grass, and you’ll uncover prairie canine scurrying about and digging. With out them, the whole ecosystem may collapse. The extremes and contradictions are what make the park distinctive.

High Issues To Do

Badlands Nationwide Park is great whether or not you need a leisurely drive or an intense mountain climbing journey. Bear in mind, it’s a land of extremes.

Scenic Drives

Badlands Nationwide Park is simple to navigate, comprising two major roads. Badlands Loop Highway spans 30 miles throughout the park. The highway gives many overlooks and wonderful views of the grasslands and surreal rock formations.

Sage Creek Rim Highway spans 25 miles, delivering extra rugged views of the park’s grasslands. Though the highway is gravel, it’s well-maintained and appropriate for normal automobiles.


The park gives all the things from boardwalk strolls to difficult hikes alongside rugged canyons and piles. Its boardwalk strolls supply informational indicators and grand views, whereas the longer walks take you thru the center of the badlands.

Wildlife Watching

Badlands Nationwide Park gives a chance to see distinctive wildlife whether or not you discover by automotive or on foot. Guests recurrently spot bison, prairie canine, and bighorn sheep.


Resulting from its distant location, the park has little gentle air pollution. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Badlands Nationwide Park has a ranger-guided sky viewing program in its Cedar Move Campground Amphitheater.

Jewel Cave Nationwide Monument

Nestled underground, 13 miles west of Custer within the Black Hills of South Dakota, Jewel Cave Nationwide Monument is among the world’s longest caves. It has greater than 215 miles of mapped passages. 

Jewel Cave options many lovely constructions, together with calcite crystals, flowstones, draperies, frostwork, and cave popcorn. Many friends are mesmerized by the contrasting delicate formations throughout the huge cavern.

High Issues To Do

It’s doubtless not a shock, however cave excursions are the most well-liked exercise on the park website. Jewel Cave gives numerous excursions and mountain climbing on the floor.

Cave Excursions

Ranger-guided excursions are required to discover the cave. Excursions function on a schedule that varies by season. Rangers counsel you make reservations to safe a spot. Please go to the Jewel Cave Nationwide Monument website to confirm instances and availability.

The Discovery Tour is a 20-minute tour the place guests view the Goal Room and study concerning the cave’s pure and cultural historical past. These eager to see extra chambers can take the 1-hour and 20-minute Scenic Tour. You’ll climb up and down 734 steps in a half-mile loop. It’s rated reasonably strenuous.

In case you need one thing extra adventurous, strive the Historic Lantern Path. Company carry lanterns whereas exploring the cave alongside unpaved trails for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The cave hike is rated strenuous.

Lastly, Jewel Cave gives a Wild Caving Tour for the daredevils. The extraordinarily strenuous journey requires crawling by way of cramped areas, rock scrambling, and rope-assisted climbs. Company should put on a tough hat with a headlamp for this expertise.


Jewel Cave Nationwide Monument gives mountain climbing for many who choose to remain above the floor. The Roof Path is a straightforward 0.25-mile loop by way of a ponderosa pine forest. Canyons Path is a straightforward to average 3.5-mile loop by way of two canyons and open meadows surrounded by rugged cliffs.

Hell Canyon Path sits within the close by Black Hills Nationwide Forest for many who need a longer trek. It’s a average 5.3-mile loop.

Lewis & Clark Nationwide Historic Path

The Lewis & Clark Nationwide Historic Path spans practically 4,900 miles by way of 16 states and over 60 Tribal nations. It follows the historic Corps of Discovery, also referred to as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, within the early 1800s from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the Pacific Ocean.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark skilled a number of vital occasions in South Dakota. Additionally they found and documented numerous new South Dakota crops, animals, birds, and fish. 

Vacationers can expertise important websites and occasions of the journey by way of a South Dakota Highway journey. The Nationwide Park Service and state parks supply numerous alternatives to study concerning the expedition and discover parts of the historic path by automotive, bicycle, or boat. 

High Issues To Do

Listed here are a number of well-liked actions associated to the well-known journey.

Dangerous River Encounter

Lewis and Clark entered the Lakota homelands close to the Dangerous River. Tensions ran excessive, practically escalating right into a extreme battle. Guests can study extra concerning the occasion and the way relationships between settlers and the Lakota individuals advanced. 

Spirit Mound

The Spirit Mound sits within the Nice Plains, a distinguished hill surrounded by an open prairie. On the time, the area’s Plains Indians believed the mound housed evil spirits or little individuals. It’s a place the place you possibly can confidently observe within the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.

Lewis & Clark Bicycle Path

Guests can expertise a part of the expedition by bicycling on the Lewis & Clark Bicycle Path. The path takes you thru rural and concrete areas on blended surfaces, together with paved roads, bike paths, unpaved rail trails, and gravel.

Minuteman Missile Nationwide Historic Web site

For over thirty years, South Dakota’s Nice Plains hid an arsenal of greater than 1,000 missiles in plain sight. Lots of of rockets stay as we speak, a nuclear deterrent to forestall conflict. The Minuteman Missile Nationwide Historic Web site protects two launch management amenities that had been initially a part of the large arsenal.

Guests can study concerning the Chilly Conflict and the Minuteman Missile system. The park has a restored missile silo, museum, customer heart, and guided excursions. It is a chance to study extra about an important chapter of American historical past and the significance of worldwide cooperation.

High Issues To Do

The park’s two hottest actions are exploring the customer heart and taking a guided tour.

Customer Middle

The Minuteman Missile Nationwide Historic Web site Customer Middle incorporates reveals and movies the place you possibly can study concerning the intercontinental ballistic missiles and their position within the Chilly Conflict.

Guided Tour

Have you ever ever puzzled what it could really feel wish to have the power to launch a nuclear missile by urgent a button? The park gives ranger-guided excursions of a launch management facility. Please be aware all excursions require a reservation.

Missouri Nationwide Leisure River

The Missouri Nationwide Leisure River protects a 100-mile stretch of North America’s longest river in South Dakota and Nebraska. Discover the historical past of individuals, locations, and occasions alongside the Missouri River that influenced American historical past. 

High Issues To Do

Expertise the wild and untamed river as Lewis and Clark did on their expedition.

Water Path

The Missouri Nationwide Leisure River Water Path gives numerous entry factors. Paddle by way of a number of the final remaining pure stretches of the Missouri River. Be taught concerning the river’s historical past whilst you savor pretty woods and water views. 

Climbing and Biking

The Missouri Nationwide Leisure River has partnered with numerous federal, state, and native parks and communities to offer mountain climbing and biking alternatives alongside the river. Yankton Trails, Clay County Park, Ponca State Park, and Niobrara State Park are well-liked spots for rewarding hikes and bike rides.

Mount Rushmore Nationwide Memorial

South Dakota’s nickname is the Mount Rushmore State for a motive. The enduring landmark is the state’s hottest attraction, drawing over 2 million guests yearly.

Mount Rushmore Nationwide Memorial portrays the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The gorgeous granite sculpture is a tribute to the 4 legendary presidents and a reminder of our historical past.

High Issues To Do

Some guests shortly snap a selfie in entrance of the memorial and depart. Nevertheless, the park gives loads of issues to do.

Presidential Path

After strolling the patriotic Avenue of Flags and taking an image from the Grand View Terrace, hike the 0.6-mile Presidential Path to study extra concerning the monument’s historical past and achieve a better perspective.

Lincoln Borglum Customer Middle

Watch a 14-minute movie concerning the building of the memorial. Then, discover the artifacts and reveals within the customer heart. It offers you a larger appreciation of the efforts behind the masterpiece. Practically 400 individuals labored on the challenge, carving over 90% of the sculpture utilizing dynamite.

Night Lighting Ceremony

Some of the uplifting experiences in any nationwide park website, Mount Rushmore has a lighting ceremony every evening from late Might by way of September. The occasion features a ranger discuss, a brief movie, and the monument illumination. Army veterans come up on stage, and everybody sings the nationwide anthem. It’s a transferring tribute that stirs patriotic feelings. 

Wind Cave Nationwide Park

Hiding underground in southwestern South Dakota, Wind Cave Nationwide Park showcases honeycomb-shaped calcite formations or boxwork. It incorporates extra boxwork than that present in all different caves mixed. 

Scientists consider sections of the cave are greater than 300 million years outdated, making it one of many world’s oldest. Whereas taking a ranger-guided tour, you possibly can admire the boxwork, stalactites, and stalagmites.

High Issues To Do

Cave excursions are the principle attraction. Nevertheless, the park gives distinctive alternatives above floor as effectively.

Cave Excursions

The park gives numerous tour choices. All excursions are ranger-guided, with reservations beneficial. Wind Cave has a half-hour wheelchair-accessible tour, the place friends can see a cavern with boxwork.

Most cave excursions final an hour or longer and are considerably strenuous. Throughout summer time, the park has distinctive choices, together with the favored Candlelight and Wild Cave excursions. The latter requires crawling by way of tight areas and climbing steep grades.


Wind Cave includes over 30 miles of mountain climbing trails by way of grasslands and forests. Relatively than viewing the picturesque Black Hills surroundings from afar, you possibly can stroll by way of it.

Wildlife Watching

Whereas exploring the floor, hold a watchful eye for wildlife. Wind Cave harbors bison, elk, prairie canine, burrowing owls, badgers, and extra.


Wind Cave is within the strategy of changing into an Worldwide Darkish Sky Park. With a distant location and little gentle air pollution, the black sky is a canvas for the Milky Technique to reveal its treasures.

Custer State Park

Though not a nationwide park, Custer State Park gives an expertise on par with any nationwide park website. It has state-of-the-art customer facilities, wonderful scenic drives, enjoyable hikes, and unique wildlife. You’ll uncover alluring landscapes of pine forests, sprawling prairies, rugged mountains, and granite spires. The park additionally incorporates 4 lodges, every with a restaurant.

High Issues To Do

With its various landscapes and wildlife, Custer State Park gives many leisure actions.

Scenic Drives

Custer State Park boasts a number of the nation’s finest scenic drives. Three major roads take you thru the park. Every is excellent and gives distinctive surroundings. 

Iron Mountain Highway takes you thru tunnels that define the Mount Rushmore presidents like an image body. Needles Freeway showcases towering granite spires and aromatic pines, whereas Wildlife Loop Highway appears like a safari with the potential to identify wildlife round each flip.

Wildlife Watching

Custer State Park is famous for its wildlife. Guests recurrently spot animals, together with bison, prairie canine, burros, deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and mountain goats.


Like its various landscapes, the park delivers a myriad of hikes, from strolls to difficult treks. Sylvan Lake Shore Path is a 1-mile loop across the namesake lake surrounded by big granite boulders. Cathedral Spires Path guides you thru a lush pine forest to an space that includes towering granite spires. 

Different well-liked hikes embody Little Devils Tower and Black Elk Peak. Every yields breathtaking panoramic views.

Swimming, Fishing, and Boating

Custer State Park homes 4 tranquil lakes and a pond. Accordingly, water sports activities like swimming, fishing, and boating are well-liked. Company can hire canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards at Legion and Sylvan Lakes. Swimming is permitted anyplace within the park.

Buffalo Roundup

Every year in late September, the park holds a novel occasion referred to as the Buffalo Roundup. The park can assist about 1,400 bison. Yearly, they corral the bison, verify them for illnesses, and administer vaccinations—the park auctions off any surplus. Custer State Park’s Buffalo Roundup lasts three days and consists of leisure, meals, and humanities and crafts cubicles.

Plan Your Journey within the South Dakota Nationwide Parks

South Dakota is far multiple iconic landmark. The state has a wealthy American historical past, alluring landscapes, and plenty of out of doors leisure alternatives. Plan your journey and uncover firsthand why the South Dakota Nationwide Parks are so great.

This text initially appeared on Savoteur.

Scott and Julie weblog at Miles with McConkey. After practically 30 years, they took a leap of religion to depart the company world to get pleasure from a lifetime of journey and journey. They hope to encourage you to seek out methods to journey extra and luxuriate in life now.