Feat. Image credit: jjorstad, Pixabay

The words “South Dakota” usually conjure images of two things: Cold, and Mount Rushmore. And that’s too bad, because while there’s nothing wrong with either of those (well, maybe cold weather), South Dakota is really one of the coolest, most beautiful states – and one of the most underrated travel spots in the country. The Mount Rushmore state has everything from rolling prairies and grasslands, to waterfalls and prime outdoor activities, to wineries, bison burgers and zero income tax.

Much of Eastern South Dakota is mostly flat. While there are many great cultural attractions here (Sioux Falls), if you really want to see everything the state has to offer, drive westward. You may not see any people or civilization for hours at a time, but as you continue, the terrain will slowly and dramatically change before your eyes, from expansive flat prairies and grassland to the rugged and rolling hills of the West.

The Black Hills

The Black Hills have been considered sacred by the Sioux people for thousands of years. Dramatic, rock and rugged, these hills are enchanting and mesmerizing, not far from  If you’ve ever wanted to see bighorn sheep, elk and buffalo in their natural habitat, this is the place.  There’s a feeling of fulfilling emptiness, of the untamed wild that still looks the same as it did hundreds of years ago.  And believe it nor not, the Black Hills are actually some of the highest mountains east of the Rockies. Black Elk Peak, the highest natural point in the state, is 7,244′ feet in elevation.

Besides Mount Rushmore, there is also the Crazy Horse Memorial, a huge, unfinished monument that has been in progress since 1948. And don’t forget to check out Wind Cave National Park, home to one of the largest karstic cave systems in the world.

Spearfish Canyon, in the Black Hills National Forest, is a beautiful canyon filled with streams and water falls, including Bridal Veil Falls, which measures over 60 feet tall. The geographic center of the US (including Alaska and Hawaii) is just north of the town of Spearfish.

The Badlands

Badlands National Park is an absolutely incredible place, with some of the most dramatic, foreboding and still inspiring terrain on Earth. Eroded buttes, spires and red rocks reminiscent of the American Southwest dominate over some of the oldest, still undisturbed grasslands in America. And Devil’s Tower, the laccolithic butte and first National Monument, is just over the border in northern Wyoming.

Food and Drink

There’s no dearth of culture or culinary arts in South Dakota, either. You can definitely get your fill of bison burger and prime steak anywhere in the state (this is the Wild West, we’re talking about).  The wine scene is ever growing, with new wineries popping up everywhere from the Badlands to the prairies of the East. And if you want to try something a little different, such as berry or rhubarb wine, many of these wineries are known for their eclectic beverages.