Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Falling for South Dakota

Autumn brings a variety of open-air options to the table for a trip to South Dakota. Powwow season is underway, the aspens and cottonwoods create a cacophony of golden fall foliage, and special events and festivals take place across the Mount Rushmore State.

Visitors to South Dakota will by no means be disappointed by an autumn visit. Milder temperatures and good weather make it an ideal time to get out and explore the state, as I was able to do last September as a guest of Shebby Lee Tours.

Rapid City

Rapid City’s City of Presidents project began in 2000 and is one of the largest publically owned arts displays in the country. I added an extra day to the beginning of my trip and was glad to have extra time to walk around the city to see the life-size statues of 43 of the presidents. The project is ongoing as new presidents are added.

While checking out the presidents, I took a detour between Sixth and Seventh streets to see Art Alley. Walking into the alley is like entering into an explosion of color. A mix of abstract, pop-culture influences or cultural graffiti covers every surface of the walls. The display is ever changing, too, as taggers come and add to the walls.

We also made a stop to see the Journey Museum and Learning Center, which tells the story of the Black Hills and is an exciting destination for anyone visiting the area. At the museum, visitors learn the story of the land, beginning with how the area’s landscape was formed, how the Native tribes of the area interacted with the land and, more recently, how gold mining affected the hills.

My favorite part of the museum was the Sioux Indian exhibits. Visitors can view many different examples of beadwork and other artisan touches on everyday items such as pouches and containers, as well as artistic and ceremonial objects.

South Dakota has strong ties to Native American culture, particularly Sioux culture. This is the 30th year for the Black Hills Pow Wow in Rapid City, one of the best-known powwows in North America.

Mount Rushmore

I was treated to seeing Mount Rushmore two ways by visiting the National Monument during the daytime and by watching the evening lighting ceremony. The evening ceremony was especially powerful because it told the story of Gutzon Borglum and his quest to carve the mountain, as well as the meaning behind the monument. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were chosen to appear in the carving for their contributions to preserve our nation’s liberty. The lighting ceremony is held each evening from the end of May through October 1, but the sculptures are illuminated each evening throughout the year.

This fall will mark the 75th anniversary of the monument; the facade was completed October 31, 1941, and the park is celebrating with special events through the rest of this year. One of these events will take place at the Journey Museum in Rapid City. Beginning July 2, the museum will feature a special exhibit titled “The Journey to Mount Rushmore.” The exhibit tells the story of the project from its initial design through the challenges Borglum and his son faced to bring the monument to completion. The exhibit is scheduled to run through October.