22 Photos That Will Convince You to Travel to South Dakota Now


South Dakota is known as the land of “Great Faces, Great Places” for good reason. From east to west, sprawling prairies, farmland and glistening glacial lakes transform into mountains and rugged Badlands. One day you could be kayaking on crystal-clear Sylvan Lake, biking through spruce and ponderosa pine forests of Custer State Park, and taking in the majestic faces of Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial. One day later, you could be strolling the path Lewis & Clark once took at Spirit Mound and along the Missouri River while exploring the West. Scenic byways run through South Dakota and are one of the best ways to appreciate the state’s unique landscapes. Loop around wooden “pigtail” bridges on the mountainous Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, and pass through the lands of five Native American tribes as you follow the Missouri River on the Native American National and State Scenic Byway. Another popular route is Spearfish Canyon, a 22-mile stretch that passes by towering limestone cliffs, waterfalls and a rushing mountain stream.

Throughout this shifting scenery, history is ever-present. Gaze upon ancient fossil fields where prehistoric beasts once roamed, come face-to-face with U.S. presidents at Mount Rushmore, or walk in the footsteps of Native and Wild West legends such as Crazy Horse, Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. Between destinations, you might stop by one of several time-honored road stops, including the Wall Drug Store and its giant animatronic dinosaur. While South Dakota embraces the past, it is at the same time ever-evolving. Explore Sioux Falls' growing culinary scene at places like C.H. Patisserie, or stroll through the graffitied Art Alley in Rapid City. Wherever you go, South Dakota is ripe with moments that last a lifetime.

Feast your eyes on the images below, including selections from the annual Smithsonian.com photo contest, and discover why you need to make South Dakota your next travel destination.

An American Bison bull in Badlands National Park.
Scenic byways are one of the best ways to appreciate South Dakota’s varied scenery.
Known as Mount Rushmore, this mountain carving of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt represents the birth, growth, development and preservation of the nation. Each visage is 60 feet tall and expected to last 7 million years. (Cody Nations, Smithsonian.com Photo Contest Archives)
The Black Elk Peak Fire Tower looks out over Custer State Park.
Fall hikes are especially beautiful in the mountains. (Trevor Hawkins / South Dakota Department of Tourism)
Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park is renowned for its glassy waters. Canoes, kayaks and paddle boats are available for rent from a nearby inn. (South Dakota Department of Tourism)
The Missouri River flows towards Pierre/Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Lewis and Clark famously landed here more than 200 years ago. (South Dakota Department of Tourism)
Camping in Badlands National Park is an otherworldly experience. Fall asleep beneath a canopy of stars. (Erik Fremstad, Smithsonian.com Photo Contest Archives)
Afternoon bathes Badlands National Park in golden light. Millions of years ago, the park was an ancient sea floor. (Karen Alizzi, Smithsonian.com Photo Contest Archives)
Needle-like spires rise out of the Black Hills.
Dawn illuminates the Badlands. (Lidija Kamansky, Smithsonian.com Photo Contest Archives)
A longhorn sheep pauses on a mountain. (Kyle Fosse, Smithsonian.com Photo Contest Archives)
Learn about the heritage of South Dakota’s nine Native American tribes at a traditional powwow. (Mark Paul, Smithsonian.com Photo Contest Archives)
Once completed, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the tallest mountain carving in the world, rising 563 feet above the ground. ( South Dakota Department of Tourism)
The skull of a mammoth can be seen at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.
An 80-foot dinosaur welcomes visitors to Wall Drug Store, one of the world’s most famous roadside attractions. (Tony Webster / Flickr Creative Commons)
Enjoy a 5-cent coffee and homemade doughnuts at Wall Drug. (South Dakota Department of Tourism)
The World’s Only Corn Palace is another popular roadside attraction. Murals made from corn adorn the walls and change to reflect each year’s theme. (bl0ndeeo2 / Flickr Creative Commons)
Known as Deadwood, this 1870s gold rush town became a National Historic Landmark in 1961. Here, walk in the footsteps of Old West legends such as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. (Sharon Mollerus / Flickr Creative Commons)
Started in 2005 as a public art project, Art Alley is a living tribute to Rapid City’s creative community. Its murals and artworks are always changing. (Brandon Vizenor / Flickr Creative Commons)
Some 1,300 buffalo roam freely through Custer State Park. One of the park’s most anticipated events is the annual Buffalo Roundup, which takes place on the last Friday in September. (Bob Willis, Smithsonian.com Photo Contest Archives)
Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city, is home to more than 650 restaurants and has experienced a culinary boom in recent years.

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