Often thought to be a state in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota is in the American Midwest region and part of the Great Plains. It’s the 17th-largest state, but among the five least-populated and least-densely populated states. It also falls short when it comes to tourism, being in the bottom ten states for seeing visitors.
The Missouri River cuts through South Dakota and the landlocked state shares borders with Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
The state’s name comes from prominent tribal groups that have long inhabited the area. Sioux groups that live in the state are the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota. Nicknames include the Sunshine State, the Coyote State, and the official, but not so imaginative, nickname of the Mount Rushmore State.
The local culture is very much bound in the state’s history and heritage and the rural way of life. Numerous festivals throughout the year celebrate the state’s diverse heritage and traditions, with numerous pow wows held on Indian reservations, the yearly Buffalo Roundup, and Cinco de Mayo, to name just a few.
Mount Rushmore, with its looming presidential faces carved into the mountainside, is perhaps the state’s most iconic site. The Black Hills in general attract many tourists (relative to the overall tourist numbers visiting the state), and other famous places around South Dakota include Badlands National Park, the Mammoth Site, the Crazy Horse Memorial, the Little House on the Prairie, and Custer State Park.
South Dakota has the biggest petrified woodland in the world. The state also boasts the world’s only Corn Palace, the third-longest known cave on the planet, and the world’s biggest collection of rare formations known as boxwork. One of the state’s most unusual annual events is the Mashed Potato Wrestling Competition, held in Clark each summer.
Despite many people thinking that the state is pretty flat—it is, after all, part of the Great Plains—it actually has the USA’s highest point east of the Rocky Mountains: Harney Peak. The geographical centre of the nation is also located in South Dakota.
Step away from the typical US tourist trail and plan a trip to South Dakota. It’s time to discover the hidden gems in South Dakota:
1. South Dakota Air and Space Museum, Box Elder
Sitting right outside the gates of Ellsworth Air Force Base, close to Box Elder in the spectacular Black Hills, South Dakota Air and Space Museum is a terrific place for curious kids and adults alike.
Home to many exhibits and displays related to aviation and aerospace, budding pilots and astronauts will feel right at home here. There are hands-on and interactive activities to really help people get involved and have fun while learning more about space travel and flight.
The museum also remembers innovators and members of the military who helped America to progress over the years.
Collections include vintage aircraft and modern-day planes, missiles, survival equipment, breathing apparatus, and other pieces of technology. Stroll through the Aviation Hall of Fame and learn more about the people who defended and developed the nation. There are many inspiring and patriotic stories.
Artefacts, space vehicles, and other items are spread across indoor and outdoor viewing areas. There’s an onsite gift shop if you want to take a souvenir away to remember your visit, and various tours add another layer to your trip.
2. Nicollet Tower, Sisseton
For incredible views over South Dakota’s scenic landscapes, climb to the top of Nicollet Tower in Sisseton. Not only can you gaze in awe over the Sunshine State, but views also extend into neighbouring Minnesota and North Dakota.
Standing 75 feet tall, Nicollet Tower was constructed to pay homage to Joseph N. Nicollet, a French mapmaker who spent several years exploring and charting the prairies. The cartographer worked with indigenous people, striving hard to ensure that place names were accurately recorded according to Native American use. The final result was a large map of the area between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
At the bottom of the tower you can visit an interpretive centre and see the actual map. Learn more about the journey that Nicollet took and his encounters with local tribal groups. There is also eye-catching artwork depicting Nicollet’s travels and work along with detailed information about the local tribal culture.
The tower can be enjoyed all year round and there is no admission fee to climb to the top. You will, however, need to be feeling fairly energetic, as there are more than 90 steps to tackle!
3. Colonial House Restaurant and Bar, Rapid City
Toto, it’s time to visit fantasyland!
Rapid City’s Colonial House Restaurant and Bar features beautiful scenes from the Wizard of Oz. Large paintings adorn the walls, showing the journey down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy and the Munchkins, flying monkeys, and the devastating tornado.
Even if you’re not into the Emerald City, ruby red slippers, the Tin Man, or scarecrows, Colonial House Restaurant and Bar is a terrific family-friendly eatery in Rapid City.
An aura of nostalgia surrounds the establishment. Service is friendly and efficient, and the home-cooked food may well make you wish you could cram in another serving!
The family-owned restaurants specialises in dishing up hearty American comfort food, with dishes that soothe the soul as well as satisfying hunger.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, why not put a spring in your step and start your day with eggs benedict, muffins, caramel rolls, or a bagel sandwich? Tuck into a Log Cabin skillet to really keep hunger at bay.
The lunch menu includes fare such as burgers, sandwiches, pasta, pork chops, Atlantic cod, and salads. Come evening time, round off the day with a succulent sirloin steak, wild salmon, BBQ ribs, fried chicken, and more. There’s a great selection of desserts and wines, and kids can choose from the special children’s menu.
4. Porter Sculpture Park, Montrose
Weird, dark, bizarre, and curious are just a few words that could be used to sum up the roadside Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose.
Created by a local farmer-cum-artist called Wayne Porter, the collection contains more than 50 large metal sculptures, most of which have been painted and bright colours and many of which are rather macabre and odd.
Made from old and unused agricultural machinery, tools, railway equipment, and scrap metal, the sculptures are definitely very unusual.
Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice as you approach the site is a gigantic bull’s head, looming 60 feet in the air, flanked by skeletal mythical beasts. Explore further and you’ll come across oddities like an upturned hammer, a group of roaring dragons, a gigantic butterfly resting on a large finger of an oversized hand, a fish carcass sheltering under an umbrella, and a terrified person hurtling downhill on a sled.
Even stranger, however, is the partially dissected frog, the open-mouthed face with a hand growing from its head, a blue emaciated dancing woman wearing only a chain-link belt and necklace, and a jack-in-the-box who is crying bloody tears.
5. Giant Pheasant, Huron
From one set of gigantic sculptures to another, Huron’s Giant Pheasant is far less spooky than those in Montrose.
Perched atop a simple brick base, the statuesque bird overlooks the pretty James River Valley. Standing twenty feet tall and stretching for around 40 feet in length, the gigantic foul has the honour of being the biggest pheasant in the world.
It’s not just a whimsical sight, though—the Giant Pheasant is steeped in local legends too.
Folklore tells of a giant pheasant that once roamed the lands back in the 1880s when the early settlers came to South Dakota. It is said that the bird’s footprints created valleys and creeks, and that its colourful plumage streaking across the sky could easily be mistaken for a rainbow.
Swift in the sky and across terra firma, many people blamed the howling winds across the prairies on the whooshing of the wings of the huge pheasant.
Tales were plentiful, and many hunters tried to capture, or at least glimpse, the elusive bird.
A young boy happened upon the bird one day while out hunting with his father. Awed by the pheasant’s beauty, he could not bring himself to kill it. The grateful pheasant decided from that point on that he was tired of running across the prairie and soaring through the sky. Instead, he struck a hunting deal with the boy and vowed to stay still until the whole world had feasted their eyes on his glory.
Every year, locals release a pheasant to see which way he will fly, fulfilling both a promise made to the Giant Pheasant and to predict when the prime pheasant hunting season will arrive.
6. Big Sioux Recreation Area, Brandon
A local gem that people love to keep secret, the picturesque Big Sioux Recreation Area can be found a little way outside of Brandon. The under-visited recreation park has camping facilities, perfect for those who relish quality time in nature. It’s also a top spot for a day trip.
A beautiful river runs through the park and there are several marked hiking trails to explore.
In the summer months, walking, cycling, boating, canoeing, and fishing are terrific ways to get active. There’s a picnic shelter for lovely outdoor meals.
In the winter, the landscapes can be explored by snowmobile or hiking with snow shoes. A warming shelter offers comfort from the cold.
There’s a children’s play area, ideal for keeping younger visitors entertained for a while, and an old cabin that will appeal to fans of history.
7. McCrory Gardens, Brookings
Another place where people can marvel at Mother Nature’s creations, the McCrory Gardens are within South Dakota State University.
The lovely gardens cover 25 acres and the arboretum spans a further 45 acres. The complex contains hundreds of different types of trees, plants, flowers, grasses, shrubs, and herbs.
Not just an aesthetic delight, the gardens also seek to educate and inform people about the cultivation of native plants and the introduction of outside species that can adapt to the local climate and conditions.
The formal gardens display various themes and arrangements. Watch winged beauties flitting from flower to flower in the Butterfly Garden and the Hummingbird Garden. Inhale deeply in the Lilac Collection. Learn about diverse uses for plants in the Prairie Medicinal Garden. Let little ones run freely in The Children’s Maze. Stroll across the Great Lawn.
Several gardens follow colour themes, such as the Blue, Yellow, Red, and White Gardens, whereas others, like the Geranium Garden, Iris Garden, and Peony Collection, are dedicated to particular plant species.
Other enchanting gardens include the Cottage Garden, the Alcove Garden, the Rock Garden, the Floral Display Garden, the Waterfall Garden, the Mum Garden, the Woodland Garden, and the Sensory Garden.
8. Pease Creek Recreation Area, Geddes
An out-of-the-way park close to Geddes, Pease Creek Recreation Area covers almost 600 acres and provides convenient access to the Missouri River and Lake Francis Case. Offering a variety of recreational activities and facilities, it’s a nice place to spend a quiet few hours outdoors in the sunshine.
There are around three and a half miles of trails, suitable for different activities. Go walking, jogging, cycling, and horse riding through the woodlands and enjoy great views of the lake and its lush surroundings.
You’ll need a fishing permit if you want to try your hand at fishing in the lake. If you do cast your lines or nets you may catch walleye, bass, catfish, northern pike, and crappie. There’s an onsite fish cleaning station too, and a boat ramp makes getting into the waters easy.
In addition to a regular camping area with electric hookup points, keen equestrians will be pleased to find overnight spots for horses. Drinking water is available and there is a picnic shelter.
9. Prairie Edge Trading Co & Galleries, Rapid City
If you’re into shopping you should definitely add Prairie Edge Trading Co & Galleries to your South Dakota travel list. Located in Rapid City, it has what is probably the most extensive and appealing array of Native American goods throughout the state.
Treat yourself to some fabulous souvenirs or buy gifts for loved ones that are a bit different to the norm. There are beautiful pieces of artwork, native crafts, music, jewellery and accessories, a huge selection of books, and more.
Of particular interest are the ceremonial and traditional items, all made by indigenous people using age-old methods and techniques to showcase their culture. There are feathered headdresses, amulets, shields, bracelets, replica tomahawks, pipes, drums, beads, robes, dolls, ornaments, bags, blankets, and other items to catch your eye. All are steeped in symbolism.
The art gallery is well worth a peek, even if you have no intentions of buying anything. See nature, scenes of daily life, spirit beliefs, legends, folklore, and ceremonies vividly depicted through the visual medium.
10. Spokane Ghost Town, Spokane
If you love exploring long-forgotten and abandoned places where only the ghosts of yesterdays past roam the deserted streets, you’re sure to enjoy a trip to Spokane Ghost Town. It’s located just outside of Custer.
Previously a mining town, all that remains now are memories, haunting scenes, and whispers from the past.
Established in the late 1800s, the small town took its name from the much larger and more well-known city of Spokane in Washington. Once a thriving town with plenty of daily activity, its mine was operational and it was filled with life up until the 1940s. Today, however, it’s hard to imagine people shopping in the stores, children studying in the schools, and booming, clattering, and chattering coming from the mine.
When the valuable metals ran out, the mine was closed. Leaving the town folk out of work, they quickly departed. Some of the mine buildings later burned down and others were demolished due to be being found to be unstable or unsafe. Eventually, even the security guard stopped keeping a watchful eye over the town and left in the 1980s.
Since then, the town has been completely abandoned and left to decay into a former shell of itself. Only a few signs of previous life remain today, including the watchman’s house, the school, foundations, and some long-dead and rusty cars.
11. Everest Cuisine, Rapid City
A hidden gem for foodies, tuck into authentic Nepalese food in the heart of South Dakota’s Rapid City. It sure makes a change from typical American fare! Tibetan and Indian dishes can also be found on the menu.
Spices are imported, recipes that have been passed down through the generations are followed, and culinary traditions from the Himalayan region are carefully observed. The restaurant is highly praised by those who find it and eat there, and there’s a terrific selection for vegetarians to enjoy.
The members of staff welcome all diners with warmth, extending genuine hospitality to everyone that steps through the doors into the small and intimate restaurant. Prices are reasonable, dishes are tasty, and you can sample something a bit different to the norm when exploring the Coyote State.
If you just can’t make your mind up and choose from the extensive menu, sample a variety of dishes and select your favourite(s) from the mouth-watering buffet.
Alternatively, begin your repast with items like pakoras, samosas, and lentil soup, before moving on to chicken, lamb, shrimp, or vegetable biryani, tandoori chicken or shrimp, or one of many curries. Bhendi or chana masala, mixed vegetable curry, kadai chicken, goat curry, chicken or lamb korma, lamb saag, and muglai shrimp are just a few options to ponder.
Accompany your meal with one of the freshly made breads, including roti, naan, kulcha, and paratha, and sip on a lassi or masala tea while waiting for your order to arrive.
12. Spirit Mound Historic Prairie, Vermillion
A state park, Spirit Mound Historic Prairie is a sacred place for Native Americans. They believe that the area harbours wicked spirits. If you do visit this quirky place steeped in legends and lore, first and foremost do keep in mind that it is a revered site for indigenous people and treat the land and people with respect.
Okay, now that the serious stuff is out of the way, more about the park and its spirits!
Native American groups in the west have many tales about spirits, also often referred to as the little people. The spirits of Spirit Mound Historic Prairie are said to be arrow-wielding evil monsters with huge heads who kill anybody who tries to enter their territory.
Indeed, a tale is told today of a warrior group that was almost entirely obliterated by the spirits after going too close to the mound. Legends say that those who survived the spirits’ rage were left crippled for the rest of their days. Intriguingly, this story is only around two and a half centuries old.
Lewis and Clark, two famous explorers from past times, visited the top of the mound. They told stories about the devils who protected the area and learnt plenty from native groups.
Today’s visitors can follow a half-mile track to the peak—if they dare! Native prairie grass grows around the mound, and there is an abundance of insect life. The sounds of clacking and whirring fill the air; hopefully you won’t hear the whizzing sound of fatal arrows!
13. Devil’s Gulch, Garretson
From malevolent spirits to Satan himself, Devil’s Gulch is another scenic spot in South Dakota that has hellish connotations and legends.
The local folkloric tales, however, have nothing to do with the actual Devil; rather, they concern the infamous outlaw, Jesse James, his horse, and a giant leap. We’re not really sure how the gorge got its name, though.
A picturesque spot, red cliffs tower either side of the verdant valley, a gaping chasm cutting between the rocks, and a raging river running below.
As you stand here admiring the scenic splendour, imagine there is no footbridge spanning the ravine. Now, picture a desperate outlaw trying to evade capture, riding his horse like the wind to be confronted by a sheer 60-foot drop and a massive split in the earth. What should he do?
Legends say that the notorious Jesse James made his horse charge and jump across the 20-foot canyon, landing safely the other side to ride away to freedom. While there are many doubts surrounding the story it does, nonetheless, create more mystery and interest around the site.
14. Brant Lake, Brant Lake
Brant Lake is both the name of a large lake and the small city located close to the lake. The lake was given its name first, named after the brant geese that are often spotted in, on, and around the water. The city later took its name from the nearby body of water.
A beautiful lake that sees a small number of visitors, perhaps the greatest hidden gems are the sandy beaches that are dotted around the water’s edge. There are several patches of beach where you can relax and chill out in peace; if a few people have already beaten you to a beach simply move on around the water and you’re sure to find a spot that’s almost deserted.
The sparkling waters might entice you in for a swim in the warmer summer months; the refreshing water is certainly a great way to cool down in the hot sunshine. You can also have a go at fishing—maybe you’ll strike lucky and catch your supper!
15. Splash Central Waterpark, Huron
Another South Dakota destination that’s ideal for cooling down on a hot summer’s day is Splash Central Waterpark in Huron. A fun place to take the kids, it doesn’t tend to attract all that many people from out of town. Even better? You can have watery fun in the sun without needing to travel to the seaside or a lake.
Among the different pools is a huge 50-metre-long Olympic swimming pool. Practice your butterfly stroke in one of the eight lanes, show off your diving skills—try not to belly flop!—from the one- or three-metre diving boards, or simply tread water and splash around.
For thrills and spills speed down the many twists and turns of the open slide, or hop in an inflatable ring for the ride of your life on the Master Blaster Water Coaster. Alternatively, land with a gigantic splash after plummeting ten feet—in a mere two seconds! The Free Fall Drop Slide is sure to get your heart pumping fast!
Challenge your buddies to a race across the water-based obstacle course, watch the kids frolicking in the shallow kids’ pool, complete with an array of interactive features, and take it easy as you drift along the lazy river. The Sea Creature Water Walk is sure to test your skills.
16. LaFramboise Island Nature Area, Pierre
Another South Dakota destination that was visited by Lewis and Clark on their epic adventure, LaFramboise Island Nature Area is located in the state capital of Pierre. An island in the Missouri River, it can be reached by a bridge from the mainland.
Covered in rolling meadows and trees, the island is has lots of wildlife. It is a breeding ground at certain times of the year for the once-endangered bald eagle.
The island provides nice views across the water of the nearby areas. There are hiking and cycling trails to explore, and you can spend a peaceful day fishing in the river. Picnic areas are available too.
Today a lovely place for a day in nature, the island was referred to as Bad Humor Island by Lewis and Clark. They had, unfortunately, a stressful and edgy experience with a local tribal group, which led to their time on the island being tarnished. Hopefully you’ll have a much more pleasant time.
17. Battle Mountain Sanitarium, Hot Springs
Within the boundaries of the expansive Wind Cave National Park, Battle Mountain Sanitarium was once used as a medical facility for former soldiers. The hospital treated people for a variety of muscle and bone complaints, as well as for tuberculosis and similar conditions. It was thought that the mineral springs had therapeutic and healing properties and that the air conditions were ideal for chest complaints.
The health facility first opened in 1907, though it later changed to treat a range of general conditions in addition to its original goals.
It is a listed National Historic Landmark today, noted for its interesting architecture and historic use. The complex was built with a combination of Mission Revival and Romanesque styles, making it rather distinctive. The establishment was also constructed using a variety of materials, including pink sandstone, further adding to its arresting appearance.
The setting is scenic, and one can only imagine how soothing the site must have been for people in convalescence.
18. Anne Hathaway Cottage, Wessington Springs
Built to resemble the famous and striking Anne Hathaway Cottage in the United Kingdom’s Stratford-upon-Avon, South Dakota’s cute cottage is the only building in the American Midwest to feature a thatched roof.
Nostalgic, olde-worlde, and quaint, the cottage is a vision of loveliness. The white facades are crossed by brown timberwork, and large windows with small panes provide a view out to the well-tended lawn and manicured shrubs.
Although not as large as the original childhood home of William Shakespeare’s wife, it is still an impressive piece of architecture. It is also quite a novel sight to stumble across in South Dakota!
The beautiful gardens are accessible to the general public at any time during daylight hours. You must make an advance booking if you want to tour inside the house. For a true British experience, however, how about sitting down for high tea within the pretty walls?
19. Lake Vermillion Recreation Area, Canistota
South Dakota has numerous places of natural beauty, many of which are hidden gems, known only by the local community and travellers who have really done their research. Lake Vermillion Recreation Area is one such place to add to your itinerary.
Covering more than 510 acres, the lake is located within a 30-mile drive of the state’s largest city of Sioux Falls. Escape the city’s noise for a few hours, or longer, and spend a relaxing morning or afternoon at the pleasant Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
Plentiful fish swim through the glistening clear waters, making it a great choice for angling enthusiasts. Walleye, crappie, blue gill, and northern pike inhabit the waters, though do note that you will need a fishing license to fish here. Alternatively, make like a fish yourself and swim through the pristine waters. If you don’t want to get wet around the gills how about a nice boat ride instead?
Bask on the sandy lakeside beaches, cycle and walk around the water’s edge, admire the views from inside a kayak or canoe, have a go at paddle boarding, enjoy a picnic, and let the kids cut loose and let off steam at the play area. If you want to linger for longer, camping facilities are available too.
20. South Dakota Tractor Museum, Kimball
You really don’t need to be a farmer to appreciate South Dakota Tractor Museum, though a passing interest in agriculture might be beneficial.
Set within plain and ordinary warehouse buildings, South Dakota Tractor Museum tells the story of farming life on the prairie. See how farming practices have developed and changed over the years and learn how locals have lived off the land for a long, long time.
Brimming with exhibits, there’s more than just tractors to see here. There’s an extensive collection of farming tools and equipment from around the region and from different time periods. There are also objects of cultural interest.
See a variety of machines used over the years to plough the fields, making the land ready for the next crop planting season. Learn how crops were collected with combine harvesters, see hay-baling machines, and more. One of the most unique items is a hand-powered contraption for removing corn kernels.
Take a step back in time and visit a jail cell from the 1800s, a reconstructed rural schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and a room with lots of old furnishings, household items, and kitchen equipment from yesteryear.
21. Chapel in the Hills, Rapid City
Rapid City’s Chapel in the Hills is another of South Dakota’s unusual hidden jewels. You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that you’d somehow stumbled into Scandinavia when you first come across this small church.
Built in the 1960s by a Lutheran minister called Reverend Conrad Thompson, the Chapel in the Hills was designed to resemble an old Norwegian place of worship. The inspiration was the 1150 Borgund Stave Church in Norway’s county of Laedal in Sogn og Fjordane.
Rev. Thompson had lived in Norway for a while and had developed a penchant for the country’s charming and rustic churches. He especially loved the village church in Borgund. When he needed a building from which to broadcast his Lutheran radio show he decided to create a replica of the pretty Norwegian church.
His passion knew no limits, and he managed to acquire the original plans for the ancient Norwegian church in order to be able to make as accurate a copy as possible. The South Dakota south is made almost completely from wood, just like the original. A Norwegian master carver was brought over to assist with the interior features.
22. Termesphere Gallery and Museum, Spearfish
Spearfish Canyon is a popular biking spot, but don’t miss the Termesphere Gallery and Museum too when in the Spearfish area.
Head down the gravel track and you’ll come to an unusual dome surrounded by trees. Step inside and you’ll find a wonderful collection of termespheres. But what ARE termespheres? They are unique paintings in the shape of sphere, conceived by a local artist from the Black Hills. They are named after their creator, Dick Termes.
See things differently as you gaze upon an inside-out representation of the world, projecting outwards from one particular dot in space. The innovative creations certainly provide different perspectives and plenty to ponder.
The spherical pictures hang from a motor, which slowly causes the orbs to rotate. The museum usually displays anywhere from 30 to 70 of the 400+ termespheres created by Disk Termes.
Captivating and slightly hypnotic, the museum is sure to impress.
23. Press Start, Rapid City
Do something a bit different come evening time in Rapid City and check out Press Start.
Somewhere in the middle, it’s a place where a bar meets an arcade, blending to form what is commonly known today as a barcade.
Open until midnight during the week and until 2 am Saturdays, feel like you’ve entered a time warp as you lose yourself in the large collection of vintage games. It’s sure to spark a pang of nostalgia! Unlike in the classic arcades of your youth, Press Start serves a wide choice of alcoholic beverages (and soft drinks) to make your game-play experience even better.
Order a cool glass of beer, a fruity cocktail. Or a strong short and set the wheels in motion for a fun evening that’s a bit different to a normal night out on the town. With more than 200 machines to choose between, where will you begin?!
Escape the hungry ghosts in Pac-Man, fight for your (figurative and on-screen) life in Mortal Kombat, give the pinball flippers a workout, dodge the aliens in Space Invaders, and hone your Skee Ball skills.
24. Okaton Ghost Town, Murdo
There are several abandoned spots around South Dakota, often places that relied heavily on the mining industry or other industrial fields. If you love strolling through deserted towns where only whispers from times past remain, head to Okaton Ghost Town.
Situated near Murdo, Okaton was born at the turn of the 20th century, established as a dwelling place for people that worked on the railroads. When the industry changed, many people left for pastures new. The tracks eventually stopped being used altogether in the 1980s, leading the already diminished population numbers to dwindle even more.
Although an entrepreneurial local family, the Westlakes, attempted to turn the small town’s luck around and change it into a tourist attraction, people weren’t that interested in the five-street town. Like many others who’d gone before them, so too the Westlakes then packed up and moved on.
Spooky and eerie yet also attractive with a haunting appeal, Okaton Ghost Town definitely isn’t camera shy. Walk around and snap pictures of the old school, crumbling homes, collapsing fences, and the now-closed-up store. With no engines traversing the tracks, the railway lines are now overgrown. Old farm machinery is scattered throughout the area, the fields no longer needed for growing crops.
25. The Blind Lion, Rapid City
Another unusual nighttime gem in Rapid City, The Blind Lion isn’t the easiest of places to locate. And that’s part of its appeal.
Hidden away behind an unremarkable and rather dull door, with a sign that states it’s for employees only, The Blind Lion exudes all of the character of a secret speakeasy from the times of prohibition.
If you manage to find the entrance the cloak-and-dagger experience continues as you head down a staircase to be confronted by a heavy-set, and locked, vault-like door. You need to enter the secret code (easily available from members of staff—it’s not that secret after all!) to be able to push the door open and step into the bar.
A list of rules is displayed in the wall near the door. Wannabe patrons are advised to slow down and live in the moment, challenge their senses, and relax. They are also asked not to use cell phones inside the bar and not to divulge the passcode.
Inside, cocktails are mixed to perfection and delectable meals are served. Live music is a regular feature, and there’s a selection of board games to entertain folks like in the olden days.
26. Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Columbia
Established in the mid-1930s, Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge is an especially important area for bird life. The wetlands are home to various species of feathered creatures, with more than 260 types of birds recorded in the refuge. There are those that have made the area their permanent stomping (or flying) ground, and others that pass through during the migration season.
The large sanctuary covers almost 21,500 acres of wildlife-rich land. It is an important conservation and breeding area for numerous bird types. Indeed, it has the world’s largest breeding colony of Franklin’s gulls. (That will surely mean something to avid bird spotters! For everyone else, Franklin’s gulls are a type of small white gull that like to spend their summers in Canada and the northern US, heading off to Peru, Chile, Argentina, and the Caribbean islands for the winter).
The refuge also works hard to protect wildlife habitat. Numerous insects, rodents, reptiles, and other creatures live in the refuge too. Stretching expanses of grasslands and lush foliage perfectly complement the ponds, lakes, and river.
The wildlife sanctuary attracts around 75,000 visitors each year. This may seem like a lot, but it quickly seems paltry when compared with the three million people who take a trip to the state’s famous Mount Rushmore every year.
Consider too that around four million people visit the Statue of Liberty annually, approximately ten million people check out the Golden Gate Bridge every year, Disneyland Anaheim sees around 18 million visitors every year, and some 39 million visitors hit the casinos in Vegas in a twelve month period; 75,000 really doesn’t seem so many now! Be one of the few that visit this hidden gem and you won’t be disappointed.
Secret scenic spots, long-abandoned towns, places with rich legends, unusual museums, quirky sculptures and artwork, cool eateries and bars, and places to play can all be enjoyed when going off the beaten track in South Dakota. Go somewhere different for your next trip and discover offbeat South Dakota and its diverse under-visited gems.