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Get ready for an epic road trip through South Dakota! Whether you’re driving a car or an RV, you’re going to have an amazing time exploring the Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota.
Give yourself at least two to three days to experience everything on the list. Some attractions can take longer or shorter depending on how in-depth you want to explore at each destination.
10 Destinations for Your South Dakota Road Trip
Many of these attractions were featured in the South Dakota road trip video above. Destinations are listed in the order of our road trip in the Transit 4×4 Adventure Van.
1. The Mammoth Site
The Mammoth Site is a research facility where you can tour an active dig site of mammoth remains found in an old sinkhole. Depending on the time of year, you may see paleontologists digging and excavating on the 30 minute guided tour.
There is designated RV parking to accommodate larger rigs. Pets are allowed at The Mammoth Site. However, they must be in a pet carrier or carried on the portion of the tour through the dig site.
2. Wind Cave National Park
The good news is you don’t need to tour the caves to enjoy Wind Cave National Park. There are nature trails and plenty of wildlife viewing to keep your attention at the park. Bison and prairie dogs will be the easiest to spot on your way into the park.
Dogs are allowed on two nature trails: Prairie Vista and Elk Mountain.
3. Custer State Park
With over 70,000 acres of wildlife, camping, hiking and other activities in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is a great place to enjoy the outdoors. Drive the 18 mile Wildlife Loop Road to discover the wildlife that roam around the open prairie. We encountered a large herd of bison driving north on highway 87.
Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road are popular drives in Custer State Park. Make sure to check tunnel height restrictions before embarking on your journey. The camper van wouldn’t fit through a couple of the tunnels so Joe took the motorcycle on Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway. In his opinion, Iron Mountain Road was better for motorcycle riding.
4. Crazy Horse Memorial
Learn the history and story behind the world’s largest sculptural undertaking.
“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes also.” – Chief Henry Standing Bear
We did not visit the memorial, but we did get catch a glimpse of the sculpture in the granite mountain driving north on highway 385.
5. Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
The number attraction in the Black Hills is the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. Meet the four presidents carved into the mountain: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
There is no entrance fee to the memorial, but there is a $10 annual pass for parking. The parking pass came in handy when Joe took the motorcycle on a ride and used the pass to get in and out of the parking area.
Take a walk on the Presidential Trail to view the presidents from different vantage points.
Stay for the Evening Lighting Ceremony which takes place at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. between late May and September 30th.
6. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Learn about the Minuteman Missile program through the Cold War Era interactive exhibit and the film “Beneath the Plains.” There is no fee for the Visitor Center, however, there is a fee for the guided tour of the missile silo.
Reservations are highly recommended for the Launch Control Facility Delta-01 tour. Some tours book as far as eight weeks in advance during high season. If the tours are booked, check out the Training Facility Silo tour at South Dakota Air & Space Museum (see section below).
Did you know? As of 2015, there are 450 Minuteman III weapons in operation on the Great Plains.
7. Badlands National Park
Stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to plan your time at Badlands National Park. Make time to watch the short movie “Land of Stone and Light” to learn more about the landscape and the wildlife that live in the badlands.
One ranger recommended Saddle Pass Trail for a short but steep climb for beautiful views of the park. Although, we were told the best way to explore the area is to go off trail, which is allowed in this area.
Best sunset viewing is at Pinnacle Overlook and Panorama Point. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset at Pinnacle with bighorn sheep and bison sightings in the area.
8. South Dakota Air & Space Museum
Take a free guided tour of all the airplanes on display at South Dakota Air & Space Museum in Rapid City. Located on Ellsworth Airforce Base, this museum also offers Minuteman Silo Training Facility tours for fee. Background checks, performed on-site, are required for anyone who wants to go on the first come, first served tour.
9. City of Presidents: Downtown Rapid City
Take a stroll through historic downtown Rapid City to see the life-size bronze statues of the Presidents of the United States.
As of June 2019, there are 43 statues in the City of Presidents. You can download an online map to see the exact location of each statue.
10. Sturgis, South Dakota
Every August, the small town of Sturgis, South Dakota is transformed into a huge motorcycle rally. Being motorcycle enthusiasts, we wanted to make the pilgrimage to this famous town in South Dakota.
Joe rode the motorcycle from Rapid City to Sturgis via Canyon Road, Nemo Road and Vanocker Canyon Road. The town was fairly quiet for a Thursday afternoon in mid-June.
Where to Camp in South Dakota
We found free boondocking options throughout South Dakota. Learn more about boondocking.
For tips on finding free camping around South Dakota, check out our post on how to find dispersed camping on public land.