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Discovering South Dakota

Discovering South Dakota

Carved into a granite peak in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota, it’s been called the “Shrine of Democracy” ever since the phrase was coined during the 1930 dedication of George Washington’s head. His 60-foot-high visage was followed by the chiseled faces of three other U.S. presidents—Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt—in a herculean, 14-year project undertaken by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and a team of 400 workers.


South Dakota State Facts

  • Capital: Pierre
  • Population: 814,180 (2010 Census)
  • Nickname: The Mount Rushmore State
  • Bird: Chinese Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Dessert: Kuchen
  • Flower: Pasque
  • Animal: Coyote
  • Fish: Walleye
  • Insect: Honey Bee
  • Tree: Black Hill Spruce
  • Song: Hail, South Dakota
  • Sport: Rodeo
  • Motto: Under God the People Rule

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, so much a part of our national identity, is almost a cliché. But even the most jaded come away in awe of the carving’s sheer size, its artistic splendor and the lofty ideals it embodies. Most inspiring is the patriotic pageantry on summer nights in the amphitheater, when a ranger talk and stirring movie are followed by the playing of the National Anthem and floodlighting of the faces, stark white against the starry Dakota sky. Touched emotionally, many leave with a tear in their eye or a lump in their throat. Even as you depart, you’ll find yourself glancing back for one final look.

Mount Rushmore may be the face of South Dakota tourism and a must-see on any group itinerary, but hidden surprises abound within the state’s borders—and they’re not all in the popular Black Hills region. The astounding collection of rare instruments at a museum in Vermillion is the envy of music institutions worldwide. A tour of a Hutterite colony will remind you of Amish enclaves to the east. Admire the works of one of America’s favorite artists at his hometown gallery. Or how about sampling fruits of the vine at a South Dakota winery?

South Dakota, our 16th largest state, stretches 380 miles from east to west, from the tabletop flatness of the eastern farmlands to the forested hills and ranch country of the west. Dividing the state approximately in half is the mighty Missouri River, prized by outdoors-minded vacationers for its huge reservoirs, known as South Dakota’s Great Lakes.

In the eyes of many travelers and tour planners, South Dakota tourism is heavily weighted toward the Black Hills and Badlands National Park in the west. Besides the plethora of natural and manmade attractions, the region’s compactness is another plus. Most points of interest are within two hours of each other.

Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup

The fifth granite face in the Black Hills appears in the form of the famous Lakota leader Crazy Horse. The Crazy Horse Memorial, a work in progress since 1948, is the world’s largest mountain carving and eventually will show the fierce warrior astride a horse; a visitor complex features the Indian Museum of North America. At Custer State Park, a nearby crowd-pleaser, Jeep safaris venture into the backcountry for closeup looks at one of the nation’s largest publicly- owned buffalo herds.

In the southern Black Hills, near Hot Springs, groups can tour The Mammoth Site, a working paleontological site and museum, and mingle with wild mustangs at Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Not far away is Wind Cave National Park, which offers tours of the world’s fourth-longest cave system.

Rapid City (pop. 59,610), the state’s second largest city, makes a good base camp for touring the Black Hills and is 45 minutes from Mount Rushmore. Besides offering more than 4,000 guest rooms, Rapid City has a number of group-friendly attractions itself. The Journey Museum spotlights the natural history and culture of the Black Hills, with excellent exhibits on pioneer life, Sioux arts and crafts, and even a planetarium program in the theater. At a drive-through park called Bear Country U.S.A., groups can see a variety of wildlife, including elk, bison, wolves and black bears. Reptile Gardens is reputedly the world’s largest reptile repository.

Rapid City is 90 minutes away from Badlands National Park. Both barren and beautiful, the park presents a stark, eerie moonscape of deep gorges, jagged spires and bands of colorful rocks. Visitors may see buffalo, mule deer, pronghorn and prairie dogs.

The old Black Hills mining town of Deadwood, an hour north of Mount Rushmore, has emerged as a group tourism hotspot since small-stakes gaming became legal there in 1989. In the past two decades, more than $220 million has been invested in this quaint Victorian town tucked in a gold-filled gulch, making Deadwood one of the largest historic preservation projects in the nation. Old storefronts and warehouses are now casinos, restaurants and hotels.

Visitors to Deadwood, once known as the wildest and woolliest town in the West, discover brick-paved streets, intriguing museums and Main Street shootouts, not to mention parades, rodeos and other special events. Tourists can take underground tours at Broken Boot Gold Mine and visit the graves of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok at Mount Moriah Cemetery (Boot Hill).

The town’s newest pride and joy is Deadwood Mountain Grand, a casino, restaurant and concert hall that opened this past summer in a converted slime plant that processed gold ore. Musical acts have included Charlie Daniels and the Oak Ridge Boys.


Redlin Art Center

Tourist spots in Eastern South Dakota may not be as nationally famous, but there are treasures waiting to be discovered. In De Smet, the “Little Town on the Prairie,” groups can visit homes that inspired author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved “Little House” series. The Ingalls Homestead offers covered wagon rides and hands-on pioneering activities.

Watertown (pop. 20,237) is home to another famous South Dakotan, Terry Redlin, one of the most widely collected painters of wildlife and Americana. The imposing Redlin Art Center, a colonialstyle, four-story brick building supported by 24 granite columns, offers a video presentation and displays more than 150 of his original oil paintings.


The Aberdeen CVB can arrange tours of a Hutterite colony, offering groups a chance to meet the people of a self-sustaining farm community that makes its own clothing, crafts its own furniture and generates its own electricity. Visitors can witness the Hutterites’ farming operations, see their schoolhouses and watch them sew perfectly pleated skirts.

In the southeast, Sioux Falls, near the border with Minnesota and Iowa, is South Dakota’s largest city (pop. 156,500). Located on the Big Sioux River at the junction of I-90 and I-29, it’s the commercial hub for the whole region. Falls Park, near the downtown district, has a triple waterfall, five-story viewing tower and a summer sound and light show that presents the cultural heritage of Sioux Falls. Other attractions include Sertoma Butterfly House and Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History.

Corn Palace

Mitchell, an hour east of Sioux Falls on I-90, boasts one of America’s true folk art icons—the Corn Palace. Topped with whimsical onion domes and minarets, the Moorish-style building pays homage to South Dakota’s agricultural heritage and is decorated every year with interior and exterior murals made from corn, grasses and grains. Tours of the fanciful 1892 landmark, originally built for farmers to showcase the fruits of their harvest, are available.

In the state’s southeastern corner, on the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, is the National Music Museum, the premier institution of its kind. The global collection of some 15,000 musical instruments spans five centuries and represents virtually every culture and historical period. Rare items range from zithers and harpsichords to Stradivari violins and guitars.

South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center

Pierre, the capital of South Dakota, lies smack dab in the middle of the state. Prime options for groups in this delightful city of 14,000 include a Capital City Queen cruise that visits Missouri River sites associated with Lewis & Clark. Tours of the powerhouse at Oahe Dam show how the water in Lake Oahe is harnessed to generate electricity. ChrisaMari Vineyards invites groups to tour and taste. Other attractions in Pierre (pronounced “peer”) include the South Dakota State Capitol and South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center.

Aside from the awesome sights in this all-American state, a solid tourism infrastructure, along with a state tourism department providing an array of group services, makes South Dakota a tour planner’s dream. The state’s hefty “Group Tour Planning Guide” is a gold mine of information, offering a rich sampling of the potential routes and themes that can be mixed and matched to build the perfect tour in this land of Great Faces and Great Places.


Near Badlands National Park Visitors Center. Delicious meals, comfortable lodging plus unique gift shop with Native American crafts and souvenirs. Coach parking; open mid April to October.


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The epic American Indian story starts with the world’s largest mountain carving. Indian Museum, sculptor’s log studio home, art galleries, Indian artists, antiques, restaurant, gift shop, nightly laser show.

Black Hills|605-673-4681|

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Experience the history and Old West flavor of the Missouri River corridor. Native American culture, festivals, rodeos, pow wows, birding and attractions abound. Come for a stress-free adventure. Free Visitor’s Guide.


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The Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain preserves and promotes the arts and history of Sioux Indian culture. View beautiful artifacts. Free Admission.


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Relax along the beautiful Missouri River. Full-service resort featuring 99 rooms, indoor pool, pontoon rentals and walking path. I-90, Exit 260.


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Take your group on a backcountry Buffalo Safari Jeep Ride and see up-close one of the largest bison herds in North America. Ride horseback, and experience a Chuck Wagon Cookout with entertainment.

Black Hills|888-875-0001|

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National Historic Landmark. Final resting place of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. You’ll discover Western hospitality at 40 restaurants, 80 gaming halls and 1,500 guest rooms.


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Nestled on Mt. Roosevelt is a luxurious full-service lodge; opened in 2010! 140 guest rooms and suites, Las Vegas-style casino, incredible restaurant and sports bar, plus a breathtaking panoramic view of the Black Hills.


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Housed in the completely refurbished 1906 Homestake Mining Co., Deadwood Mountain Grand features a state-of-the-art casino, a 2,500-seat entertainment and event center, and an exceptional restaurant.


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World’s largest Borglum art exhibition. A must-see before going to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. Experience the awe of standing next to an actual size replica of Lincoln’s eye. Group discounts. Free Parking.


Experience Mitchell – Home of the World’s Only Corn Palace, Carnegie Resource Center, Dakota Discovery Museum, McGovern Legacy Museum, and Prehistoric Indian Village. Free tour planning services. Located on I-90.


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Visit the place where South Dakota history comes alive! Learn about our American Indian and pioneer history and the changes of the 20th Century. Discounted group tour rate.


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Customized tour planning, knowledgeable step-on guides and lodging at the memorial K Bar S Lodge. Secluded, yet easily accessible to area attractions – majestic view of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Rapid City|866-568-9748

Rapid City is centrally located to unique attractions, scenic drives and great memorials like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

Rapid City|800-487-3223

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“Absolutely the best tour and entertainment in the Black Hills of South Dakota.” Call or email today for your free Black Hills Promotional DVD.

Rapid City|888-343-3113|

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South Dakota’s largest city….abundant shopping, local flavor restaurants, vibrant downtown, accommodating hotels and the historic Falls Park! Need assistance? Tour itineraries, step-on-guides… we’ve got it! Free visitor’ packet!

Sioux Falls|800-333-7072|

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Fabulous family-friendly, full-service hotels featuring swimming pools, indoor waterparks, wonderful restaurants and lounges, fitness centers, and free high speed Internet access. Five locations in South Dakota: Aberdeen, Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and Watertown.


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Enjoy the home of Terry Redlin’s original paintings, the Mellette House, and exhibits at the historic Goss Gallery. Find adventure at Bramble Park Zoo. Free planning assistance.


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Vicky Engelhaupt

South Dakota Department of Tourism

1-800-952-3625 |


Dakota Bus | 605-642-2353 |

Grayline: Black Hills | 800-456-4461 |

Interstate Betroit Diesel | 800-348-3042 |

Windmill Truck Stop | 605-348-7070

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