The Ultimate South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary: Where to Stop, What to Do, and More
South Dakota was made for road trips: There are scenic, paved roads that lead to national treasures, natural anomalies, perfectly preserved Wild West towns, and plenty of quirky attractions. Whether you're a history buff, foodie, or nature lover, this Midwest state delivers. Read on for the ultimate South Dakota road trip itinerary, including where to stop, what to do, and more.
The state's largest city and likely the place where you'd fly into, Sioux Falls is the logical starting point for a South Dakota road trip. If you're driving west, follow this route, but if you're heading east or flying into Rapid City on the western side of the state, flip it. Sioux Falls is an ever-growing and extremely walkable city with lots of incredible food options. Stay at the Hotel on Phillips for an example of the posh direction the city is headed. After checking in and exploring the nearby falls the city is famously named after, grab a happy hour drink on the PAve rooftop. Phillips Avenue Diner or Crave are the best spots for dinner, and make sure to enjoy a cocktail at The Treasury, an upscale bar conveniently located back at the Hotel on Phillips.
Must-see Stop: About an hour outside Sioux Falls, stop by the world's only Corn Palace in Mitchell, established in 1892 as a premier roadside attraction, for a look at the famous murals and a photo-op with a giant smiling ear of corn.
Wall Drug Store
Located just outside Badlands National Park and about four hours from Sioux Falls, this massive, 76,000-square-foot roadside attraction started from humble beginnings, with just the promise of free ice water to entice passersby. Now, there are signs lining hundreds of miles of highway and displaying the many offerings of the beloved shop. Wall Drug Store now sports giant dinosaur and jackalope statues, ample souvenirs, a shopping mall, an art gallery, a restaurant serving delicious homemade doughnuts, and, of course, free ice water for the roughly 20,000 people who stop in every day.
Badlands National Park
The surreal landscapes of Badlands National Park alone are worth the drive to South Dakota. From the rolling hills of the prairie lands protrude jagged spires that quickly expand to the horizon. The formations look like they could crumble with the slightest touch, but fear not, as they are solid and very fun to climb for all ages. Check into a cabin at the Cedar Pass Lodge for a night or two, and watch the sunset. The next morning, continue driving along the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway to glimpse wildlife such as bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs.
Deadwood and Rapid City
Make Rapid City your base for exploring Deadwood and the surrounding area, as the city provides hub-and-spoke-like accessibility to many of the places on this list. About a 45-minute drive from Rapid City, take a step back in time in historic Deadwood, with its Old West-style main street full of boutiques, restaurants, and charm — and yes, this is where the Hulu series Deadwood was filmed and where you can visit the graves of Wild West heroes like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane at Mount Moriah Cemetery. After role-playing as Billy the Kid, head to the Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City for the night. The city is set among the Black Hills, and the downtown area is a treat to wander through. The hotel's rooftop restaurant and bar, Vertex Sky Bar, is a nice spot for dinner. Another delicious spot is Murphy's Pub & Grill.
Must-see Stop: If you'll be spending a day or two in Rapid City, swing by Main Street Square, a public space that's home to family-friendly festivals, live music, a splash park in summer, and a rocking ice skating rink in winter. The Journey Museum & Learning Center is also worth a look, with exhibits highlighting the area's Native American culture and history as well as the Black Hills' dinosaur days.
Custer State Park
Leave early in the morning to enjoy the fresh pine air of Custer State Park, where herds of roaming bison regularly cause traffic jams (if this happens to you, just keep your distance, stay in your car, and get those cameras ready). Head to Blue Bell Lodge for a perfect few hours of horseback riding through fields of flowers and trickling streams in the surrounding forests. Then, grab a bite at the lodge's restaurant before heading to picturesque Sylvan Lake. After an afternoon of water activities, drive to Custer for a pint and dinner at Mt. Rushmore Brewing Company and Pounding Fathers Restaurant (open seasonally). Finally, cap off the day with some much-deserved shut-eye at Rock Crest Lodge & Cabins.
Must-see Stop: If time allows and you're heading from Custer up toward Mount Rushmore, make time to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, an impressive monument carved into the side of a mountain that's dedicated to the life and story of the famous Oglala Lakota chief. Stop by the on-site museum to learn more about the area's rich Indigenous American history and culture, then snap some photos of the massive (and still-under-construction) mountain sculpture.
On day four, it's finally time to see the Founding Fathers' faces carved into the mountain — the enormity of the sculpture is truly a sight to see. Under Canvas has set up camp near Mount Rushmore National Memorial (seasonally from early May to late September), so you can enjoy luxury tented accommodations that evening, along with on-site dining and camping activities.
The last day brings a scenic, 14-mile drive along giant granite spires. On this drive, there will be breakneck turns, hand-carved tunnels, and vistas that will instill the wonder of South Dakota and solidify the past five days of incredible adventure in your memory forever. Continue your road trip through Wyoming, Utah, and Montana, or stop here — the choice is up to you.