South Dakota is the perfect spot for RVers. Full of open space and scenic byways, it feels like the state was designed for those who love the freedom of the open road. The ideal way to adventure here is with a vehicle that can take you anywhere. Whether you’re witnessing the incredible terrain of the Badlands or the man-made art of its famous monuments, a road trip will provide you with plenty of things to do in South Dakota. Here are some of our favorites!
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone
Of course this stop tops our list. The most famous of tourist destinations in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore still deserves a visit. Until you see it up close, it’s easy to forget the amazing artwork and engineering it took to carve such lifelike forms of the faces of four presidents into the side of a mountain. This Black Hills wonder features the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and pays tribute to the country’s birth, growth, preservation and development. Mount Rushmore attracts more than 2 million visitors each year, so expect crowds when you go!
Custer State Park
While you’re in the area for Mt. Rushmore, you’ll want to stop by Custer State Park. Sylvan Lake’s rocky shores are a sight to see. The park is one of the best places in the state to look for wildlife, including bison, pronghorn and prairie dogs. While you’re driving, be on the lookout for begging burros! These friendly donkeys got their name for how eager they are to approach park visitors looking for a handout of snacks.
Also in Custer County just south of Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial is a lesser known carved monument that’s still in progress. The sculpture in the Black Hills was started in 1948 and celebrates Native American culture. Currently it’s just a face carved into Thunderhead Mountain, but when it’s completed the monument plans to depict Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse riding off on his horse. There’s a scaled down statue of the final product of the project visitors can see on the memorial grounds.
Located inside Custer State Park, Needles Highway scenic drive deserves its own mention. This section of Highway 87 winds past the Needles’ granite pillars and spires and at some points, even through them! If you’re driving in an RV, look out for Needles Eye Tunnel: it’s an extremely narrow road cut into the granite. If you’ve checked your vehicle size and are feeling confident about your precision driving skills, head on through for one of the most unique wilderness drives. Make sure you check out the nearby rock formation for which the tunnel is named – it looks just like the eye of a needle!
For another sightseeing stop within close proximity to Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park is a natural wonder you won’t want to miss. On the surface it looks like another portion of prairie marked off to preserve, but the real awe-inspiring part of Wind Cave is underground. With 140 miles currently mapped, it’s one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. It’s best known for its unique honeycomb-patterned calcite formations known as “boxwork.” Inside, you’ll also find something called “frostwork” that looks more like a creature growing underwater on a coral reef than it does a geological phenomenon. Unlike most parks, you can’t explore this one on your own. You’ll need to take a paid tour with a guide to head down into the caves.
Badlands Loop Road, Badlands National Park
East of the Black Hills, the Badlands are perfect for RV explorers. One of the park’s main attractions is the road that runs through it. The Highway 240 Badlands Loop Road off of Interstate 90 takes you on a 31-mile drive past scenic overlooks and rock structures in the north of the park. It’s the only paved road in the park, but it will give you the perfect overview of the park that’s known for its colorful and rocky terrain. The park even offers an official “GPS Activity Adventure Book” at the Ben Reifel Adventure Center that will lead you to points of interest around the Badlands and educate you on the park and its history.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum, De Smet
For bookworms, this stop will be the highlight of the trip. Laura Ingalls Wilder authored the famous Little House on the Prairie children books that were adapted into a TV show in the 70s and 80s. The books were based on Wilder’s real life childhood growing up in an 1800s pioneer family on the frontier, including the family’s life as settlers in De Smet, South Dakota. In De Smet today, visitors can take a walk through the Ingalls family’s world at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum. Fans of the series can tour inside the home “Pa” Charles Ingalls built in 1887 and the school that Laura and her sister Carrie attended. This preserved pioneering town brings life to the pages Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote nearly a century ago.
Falls Park, Sioux Falls
Within walking distance of downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota is its namesake park. About 7,400 gallons of water rush over the quartzite in Falls Park every second. In the park you’ll find a visitors center, an observation tower, a cafe and the remains of Queen Bee Mill, built in the 1800s. It’s the perfect place for a picnic or a sunny afternoon walk.
Best Road Trip Stops in South Dakota
If you appreciate the great outdoors, blue skies and room to roam, then South Dakota is for you. Hop in the RV and get going!
Did this list of the best things to do on a road trip in South Dakota get you excited to hit the road in the Mount Rushmore State? Don’t forget to check out some of our other favorite RV destinations as well! Let us know what location you’d like to hear about next.