South Dakota is loaded with famous attractions, from national icons like Mount Rushmore and the Badlands to cultural centers like Sioux Falls and Rapid City. But some of the most fun you'll have while driving across the state can be found in between these staples. From historic gold mines and whimsical sculpture parks to gravity-bending mystery spots and giant jackalopes, make the most of a trip by enjoying the fun to be had along the way! These curious and noteworthy roadside stops are really what make South Dakota great.
Since 1953, after two young men stumbled upon a crazy property where strange occurrences took place, the public has enjoyed an intriguing attraction that just might leave you a little wobbly and scratching your head. Since it’s only a quick ten-minute drive from Mount Rushmore, Cosmos Mystery Area is a great Black Hills stop, especially for those with young ones. Experience the gravity-defying, science-filled-yet-comedic tour through the mystery shack, where your guide will pour water upwards, stand on the wall, and demonstrate just how fascinating this vortex truly is. Cosmos is fun for the entire family, and most definitely worth taking an hour or so out of your Black Hills adventure. A gift shop and geode mine are also featured on the property, so you can leave your trip with some freshly found treasure of your own!
Belle Fourche, South Dakota, has been marked as the town closest to the center of the United States, so a stop for a picture with the Center of the Nation Monument is a must. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, the center of the nation shifted from Kansas to a spot just outside Belle Fourche. While the actual center is on private land 20 miles from the town, a giant compass rose was placed in Belle Fourche for visitors to pay tribute, take some pictures, and perhaps cross a geographical landmark off their bucket lists. A small museum and log cabin are located near the monument, as well as some walking trails for those wanting to extend their stay.
We all grow up learning about the rich American history of gold mining out West and the cities that were built around it, so why not take advantage of the opportunity to immerse yourself in the historical significance of the area and take part in the action firsthand? Learn all about panning for gold at Big Thunder, whether it’s on-site or by heading into the Black Hills with a panning expert. And, best of all, the policy is that you get to keep your treasure! The Mining Museum houses collections of historic equipment, and you can even sit down and enjoy a bite to eat while taking in a great view of Mount Rushmore. A trip to the Black Hills isn’t complete until you pay tribute to gold mining at Big Thunder.
After years of struggling to make ends meet, the Hustead family's drug store in Wall exploded with popularity from one simple idea— free ice water. They plastered vintage-looking highway signs around the area advertising to thirsty travelers, and before they knew it, thousands of people began stopping by each summer day. At Wall Drug, you can stop for an ice cream cone or some of that refreshing ice water that made them oh-so-popular. Today, tourists also find themselves lining up to take pictures with the miniature display of Mount Rushmore, the life-sized T. Rex, the giant jackalope (if you've never heard of a jackalope, it's a mythical creature that has the body of a rabbit and the antlers of an antelope), or even the hundreds of original oil paintings in the Western Art Gallery Dining Rooms. The old signs advertising Wall Drug Store are sure to pique your interest from miles away if you haven't already planned on stopping in, and a trip to this South Dakota gem is well worth your time.
Whether you like vintage cars, antiques, or 1950s diners, Pioneer Auto Museum is a great stop in South Dakota. Here, motorcycle, tractor, or car tours are offered to those wanting to learn about the historical pieces on the property. Or, you can take a self-guided tour and mosey through years of American history on your own. An old onsite prairie town includes a bank, gas station, school, and much more, so those not interested in old cars will still enjoy their time in Murdo. It might be unlike any other museum you’ve ever experienced, so be prepared to leave full of new facts, nostalgia, and an appreciation for the quirkier side of American history.
When a place bills itself as “The World’s Only Corn Palace,” you know it’s worth a stop. Since 1892, this landmark in Mitchell, South Dakota, has been attracting tourists curious about its fascinating history and changing wall art. A festival is held every August to celebrate the crop, and the building hosts everything from sporting events to concerts throughout the year. Anyone hungry for some corny fun in South Dakota has to stop at the Corn Palace to check out the wall art and get a picture with a smiling, human-sized cob of corn named Cornelius. The Corn Palace is free for everyone and entertaining for all ages.
With ten acres of unique sculptures to see, touch, and photograph, Porter Sculpture Park is a perfect place to pull over and stretch your legs. Wayne Porter has spent years adding his sculptures to the property, attracting tourists and news coverage of all kinds. Large, funky sculptures are spread across the park, including a huge bull, a dragon, and intriguing abstract figures and shapes. Spend time reading the poetry and stories that accompany each sculpture, and you might be inspired to create some unique art of your own! The park is truly a treasure that you’ll be glad you discovered on your way through the state.
While South Dakota's endless world-famous attractions draw in millions of visitors each year, the smaller scale gems are truly what make it a one-of-a-kind state. In every corner, you’ll find friendly people happy to share their knowledge and collections of art, antiques, and so much more. Isn’t that what the best road trips are all about?
In just a few hours, you can journey from the mighty Missouri river to the legendary Black Hills. Then, drift through Deadwood, roll through the Badlands, or parade past Mount Rushmore. There are many paths to each great place. Start planning for South Dakota - the ultimate American road trip.