With the weather warming up across the country, weekend trips and summer vacations are right around the corner. As you start planning your next getaway, add South Dakota to your short list of must-visit destinations.
Tourism is the state's second-largest industry, and it’s easy to understand why with all the rugged peaks, dramatic landscapes, charming small cities, cultural and historical sites, and outstanding national parks, forests, and recreation areas.
South Dakota is a paradise for history-buffs, campers, anglers, families, and anyone seeking an adventure they’ll remember for a lifetime. Check out our tips to plan your escape and bring home a story from the Mount Rushmore State!
Our Guide to Visiting South Dakota
With so many destinations and natural wonders, it’s tough to narrow down our list of signature features to visit during your trip. While challenging to choose only a few places, we recommend Black Hills National Forest, Badlands National Park, and Wind Cave National Park for a true South Dakota experience.
Take the drive of a lifetime and watch as the expansive prairies associated with this part of the country turn in to the Black Hills National Forest. Home to stunning views of the mountains and trees, Black Hills National Forest has 30 campgrounds, two scenic byways, 1,300 miles (2,092 km) of streams, 353 miles (568 km) of trails, and much more.
Badlands National Park is the next stop. For families with budding paleontologists, or any other enthusiast for that matter, this is the place to see where prehistoric creatures like mammoth, giant sloths, and saber-toothed cat roamed the land. Badlands is one of the world’s richest fossil beds.The park also provides the chance to see live animals, including bison, bighorn sheep, and black-footed ferrets. Make sure to visit the legendary Vampire Peak during your time at the park as well. The mountain was named for its two vampire fang-like spires, but the spires of consolidated ash have naturally eroded over time and the peak continues to lose height every year.
Rounding out the three stops on this South Dakota journey is Wind Cave National Park. Take in the lush grasslands and forested hillsides of one of America's oldest national parks, then see a whole different world below by touring the complex maze of passages and unique formations of the namesake Wind Cave.
Our top recommendations for campgrounds in South Dakota provide a base camp for trips to Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave, and more, while also offering some incredible outdoor and recreational experiences. Cold Brook Campground and Cottonwood Springs Campground are both new additions to Recreation.gov with plenty of lake-side activities and easy access to local towns and attractions.
Whether you’re an experienced angler, weekend wader, or even a first-time fisherman, Cottonwood Springs Lake provides a quiet opportunity to wet a line with the goal of reeling in largemouth bass, rainbow trout, or the variety of pan fish that call the lake home. Adults and children of all ages can also be found lounging on the beach, while canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and swimmers are a common sight on the lake. Other popular experiences in the area include a playground, local trails, wildlife viewing, and photography.
A short drive from the town of Hot Springs and some of the state’s main attractions lies another of the area’s preferred campgrounds – Cold Brook Campground. The campground is a popular destination for those looking to take a swim, canoe and kayak on the lake, or snorkel in the crystal-clear water. Cold Brook Lake offers a variety of lake-side activities to break up trips to monuments and parks, including hiking, biking, archery, and fishing.