Visiting Mount Rushmore has always been at the top of my list of sites to visit. Aside from how amazing the sculpture is, I love what it represents. I have always thought of it as a symbol of freedom and hope. Visiting this landmark was the reason I wanted to plan a trip to South Dakota, but it wasn’t the only reason I fell in love with the area. I honestly never realized how beautiful it is and how much there is to do there. I can honestly say that it is one of America’s best kept secrets.
There is far more to do in South Dakota than I have written about in this blog. These are just a few of my favorites to give you an idea of what a trip there might look like. If you decide to plan a trip, I suggest doing some research in addition to my suggestions to find attractions that fit your personality and travel style.
Mount Rushmore. It’s very inexpensive to visit Mount Rushmore, $10 per vehicle to park (or $5 for seniors). No reservations are needed to visit the memorial. You can spend anywhere from 30 minutes here to two hours. You may want to consider stopping by the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and watching the 14-minute film if time allows. If you feel ambitious, you can walk the Presidential Trail (0.6 miles long, 422 stairs), to get a little closer. They also have a small café and gift shop. At night they illuminate the monument. Check the calendar for a ceremony to the National anthem at night. It’s great to experience! If you are on a budget, you can see the memorial without even going into the park to walk around. There are plenty of nice pull off places with beautiful views. (https://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm).
Crazy Horse Memorial. The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills. It’s very similar to Mount Rushmore, but honors the Native American’s. The story behind this monument is fascinating! Cost for visiting Crazy Horse is more than Mount Rushmore, likely because it is privately funded, but it’s worth it. Cost is $35 for 3 or more people in a vehicle, $30 for 2 people in a vehicle, or $15 for 1 person in a vehicle. Your admission ticket includes access to three museums, view of the mountain carving from the wall of windows and the outdoor viewing veranda, live entertainment (offered a few times a day), and a laser light show in the dark. You could easily spend three to four hours at this site. You should start with the free movie about the history of the memorial. It honestly makes the visit more impressive. You can also plan to take a tour up the mountain to see it up close and personal for an additional fee. We did not do this because we did not plan our day in a way that allowed us to spend enough time. I would have liked to, tho. (https://crazyhorsememorial.org/)
Ruby House. If you are looking for an authentic western dinning experience and true western hospitality, a stop at Ruby House for lunch or dinner should be added to your itinerary. Ruby House is located in Keystone, SD. Its downtown location makes it a great lunch stop after visiting Mount Rushmore or Crazy Horse. Downtown Keystone is also perfect for a little shopping. (https://rubyhousekeystone.com/)
Iron Mountain Road. This is a 17-mile scenic drive. The driving is fairly difficult with a tremendous number of curves, including switchbacks. What makes this road so unique is the beauty of the drive. This road is known for herds of buffalo crossing the road, and many other forms of wild life. This road also features architectural structures (called pigtail bridges), and one lane tunnels that were built to showcase Mt. Rushmore. These tunnels frame Mt. Rushmore like a picture frame. (https://www.ironmountainroad.com/)
Chuck Wagon Dinner Show. Get a feel for the west with a Chuck Wagon Dinner show. You will have a choice to ride to the show on a saddle horse or on a real horse drawn covered wagon. You’ll enjoy a real cowboy music show performed by local cowboys and ranchers. Dinner consists of steak, sides, dessert, and iced tea or lemonade. Cost for his dinner show is $62 for adults and $45 for children (https://ridesouthdakota.com/rushmore-horseback-riding/chuck-wagon-dinner-show/).
Badlands. Badlands National Park is another beautiful scenic drive that also offers hiking trails. A must see! The cost to visit is $30 for private vehicles or $15 for an individual who is hiking or bicycling. This national park offers dramatic landscapes that are unique. (https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm)
Bridal Veil Falls in Spearfish Canyon. Bridal Veil Falls is a 60 ft waterfall, and the easiest of the three waterfalls in Spearfish Canyon. It’s not huge, but if you are in the area, it’s worth the stop. (https://www.blackhillsbadlands.com/places/bridal-veil-falls-spearfish-canyon).
Deadwood. Deadwood is a city in South Dakota known for its gold rush history. It’s really cool because it feels like the “Old West”, or like you are in a movie. The streets are lined with casinos, hotels, restaurants, and stores. (https://www.deadwood.com/)
Prairie Berry Winery. It’s always wine time! One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to find small wineries to sample local made products and enjoy the atmosphere. Prairie Berry winery does not disappoint.
Wall Drug. You will see signs for Wall Drug everywhere. This is a well-known tourist attraction that has been around for a long time. It’s mostly shopping and restaurants with a fun western feel.
Needles Highway. Needles Highway is another beautiful scenic drive that goes through Custer State Park. There is also a wildlife loop that I recommend. Just like the name suggests, this is a great place to see wildlife. We had a bison come right up to our car, best not to get too close as they are wild animals. Morning is the best time to take this ride because this is when animals are most active.
South Dakota is one of my favorite places that I have visited in the United States. The beauty and patriotism of the state is truly remarkable. The state is also known for their famous “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally”. This is a motorcycle rally held annually in Sturgis, that involves ten days and nights of riding, food, and music. We took a ride through Sturgis just to get a sense of what the area is like. I know many people that have gone to this rally and say it was an experience of a life time. We also stopped by Full Throttle Saloon as well. For anyone that doesn’t know what this is – it’s a huge biker bar showcased on reality TV for its many amenities, from zip lines to music stages. It was really fun to stop in for a drink. We loved Rapid City too. Rapid City is a vibrant city. On our trip, we were fortunate enough to get tipped off to the free concerts they do weekly downtown. It’s mostly locals that know about this and attend. The people were friendly and close knit. If you are looking for a trip that doesn’t involve a lot of crowds, you like to see a lot, and you appreciate the allure of outdoors, than South Dakota may be just the place for you.