If you are seeking to unravel the secrets of South Dakota, then you are in for a treat. Here, you will discover a collection of hidden gems that only locals have access to. From secluded parks to historic sites and unique food joints, South Dakota is brimming with surprises that go beyond the well-trodden path of Mount Rushmore or Wall Drug. Let’s delve into the lesser-known corners of this fascinating state.
1. Exploring the Charm of South Dakota State Parks
Bear Butte State Park
Located near Sturgis, the Bear Butte State Park is an outdoor paradise that offers a serene retreat from the hustle and bustle. The park is home to the Bear Butte, a geological laccolith feature considered sacred by many Native American tribes. Hiking up the butte presents a rewarding view of the surrounding plains, while a walk around the lake offers opportunities for bird watching and fishing.
Good Earth State Park
Nestled in Sioux Falls, the Good Earth State Park is a nature lover’s dream. This park boasts of lush forest spread across 588 acres, and the Big Sioux River that meanders right through it. Here, you can explore the Blood Run Site, an area that has been occupied for more than 8,500 years, offering a glimpse into the region’s rich history.
Sica Hollow State Park
Venture into the northeast corner of South Dakota to find the Sica Hollow State Park, located in Sisseton. This park is steeped in Native American legends and folklore. The name ‘Sica’ means ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ in the Dakota language, stemming from the reddish, iron-infused water that flows out of the springs here.
2. History Unveiled: The Rich Past of South Dakota
Fort Sisseton Historic State Park
Located near Lake City, the Fort Sisseton Historic State Park is a must-visit for history buffs. Once a frontier army outpost, this well-preserved fort now offers a peek into the life of soldiers in the late 19th century. Its historic buildings, cavalry barracks, and officer’s quarters have been converted into museums, showcasing the fort’s intriguing past.
Old Courthouse Museum
Situated in Sioux Falls, the Old Courthouse Museum offers an immersive historical experience. Set in a beautifully restored 19th-century building, the museum displays an extensive collection of artifacts that tell the story of the region’s cultural, political, and social history.
South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center
Visit the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre to explore the rich and diverse history of the state. The center houses exhibits that span thousands of years, from the Native American tribes who first inhabited the area to the European settlers who arrived centuries later.
3. Culinary Delights: Food Joints Worth the Detour
Ben’s Brewing Co.
Located in Yankton, Ben’s Brewing Co. is a local favorite. This brewery offers a variety of craft beers brewed onsite, along with a menu of tasty pub grub. The laid-back atmosphere and live music make it a perfect spot to unwind after a day of exploration.
Nick’s Hamburgers in Brookings is a must-visit for burger lovers. Known for its juicy, hand-pattied burgers served in a classic diner setting, Nick’s has been a local favorite since it opened its doors in 1929.
Dempsey’s Brewery, Pub & Restaurant
Located in Watertown, Dempsey’s Brewery, Pub & Restaurant is a family-owned business renowned for its artisanal beers, wood-fired pizzas, and a wide array of appetizers. The historic building adds a touch of charm to the dining experience.
4. A Mix of It All: Unique Attractions Across South Dakota
Moccasin Springs in Hot Springs is a natural mineral spa known for its restorative and healing properties. Visitors can soak in the naturally warm waters, treat themselves to a massage, or enjoy a meal at the onsite restaurant.
Faulkton Elevator Mural
The Faulkton Elevator Mural is a gigantic artwork that adds a splash of color to the small town of Faulkton. Painted on a grain elevator, this massive mural depicts scenes of local history and culture.
Meridian Bridge Trail
The Meridian Bridge Trail in Yankton is a former double-decker steel bridge that has been converted into a pedestrian and bicycle trail. It offers stunning views of the Missouri River and is a popular spot for fishing, picnicking, and bird watching.
5. The Northern Hills: A Blend of History and Scenic Beauty
The northern part of the Black Hills is replete with Gold Rush history, Wild West legends, Native American religious sites, and rugged beauty. This region is also home to impressive scenic byways, hidden trails, and quirky towns waiting to be explored.
Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a breathtaking 19-mile stretch of US Highway 14A. Lined with spruce, pine, aspen, birch, and oak trees, this byway offers stunning views of the hills and the serene Spearfish Creek.
Located in Garretson, Devil’s Gulch is a ravine that holds historical significance. It is believed that the infamous outlaw, Jesse James, performed an impossible jump to evade capture at this site. Beyond its historical lure, Devil’s Gulch offers scenic beauty and hiking opportunities.
Thunderhead Underground Falls
While currently closed, the Thunderhead Underground Falls is still on our radar. It’s a waterfall located 600 ft inside a mountain, making it a unique natural spectacle. It’s definitely worth checking back to see if it reopens in the future.
6. The Southern Hills: A Fusion of Iconic Landmarks and Natural Splendor
The southern part of the Black Hills is home to iconic landmarks like Mount Rushmore National Monument and Crazy Horse Memorial. However, it also offers a wealth of natural attractions that are less known but equally captivating.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is undoubtedly the most famous attraction in the Black Hills. To avoid crowds, it’s best to visit early in the day. This iconic monument features the faces of four U.S. Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore.
Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial is another colossal sculpture carved into the face of a mountain. This ongoing project is dedicated to the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. Once completed, it will be the world’s largest mountain carving.
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park, located near Hot Springs, is known for its unique geological formations called boxwork and frostwork. It is considered one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. The park also offers hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and camping facilities.
7. Unforgettable Stays: Little Known Lodging Options
Hidden Hill Lodge
Hidden Hill Lodge near Roslyn offers a peaceful getaway. Nestled amidst glacial lakes on three sides, this lodge provides a serene setting, comfortable accommodations, and delicious meals.
Little Elk Cottage
Little Elk Cottage is a hidden gem where visitors can enjoy a cozy stay. The details about its location and amenities remain a well-guarded secret, adding to its allure.
8. A Dose of Unexpected History
Minuteman Missile Historical Site
The Minuteman Missile Historical Site offers a unique trip down memory lane. During the Cold War, it was a top-secret location. Now, it serves as a historical site where visitors can learn about the Minuteman Missile program and the history of the Cold War.
9. Unique Tours and Parks
PaleoAdventures offers a one-of-a-kind tour that most people don’t know about. Further details remain a mystery, adding to its intrigue.
Terrace Park is a unique, little-known park in Sioux Falls. The highlight here is the Japanese Gardens, offering a tranquil and picturesque setting right in the city.
10. South Dakota’s Underrated State Parks
Palisades State Park
Palisades State Park is an underrated gem in South Dakota. The park is known for its unique rock formations, which can be explored by hiking, boating, and camping. The Split Rock Creek adds to the stunning scenery of the park.
South Dakota has a wealth of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Whether you are a nature lover, history enthusiast, or foodie, this offbeat guide to South Dakota offers an array of experiences that go beyond the usual tourist trail. So pack your bags, and get ready to uncover the state’s best-kept secrets!