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South Dakota: Bad and Beautiful

You’ll never forget the sights of South Dakota.

From the striking geological wonders of Badlands National Park to the lush landscapes of the Black Hills, South Dakota offers a rich blend of breathtaking nature and deep-rooted history. Here, you can venture through scenic trails, delve into the compelling stories of Native American heritage or savor the vibrant local culture found across historical towns.

Enjoy as you discover the attractions and hidden gems that make South Dakota a prime destination for groups seeking adventure, education and moments that resonate through time.

Black Hills

The Black Hills region is known for its lush, forested landscapes, immersive Native American history and a variety of outdoor adventures set against picturesque settings. Encompassing 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains that extend into Wisconsin, the Black Hills have long been regarded as a sacred sanctuary by Native Americans.

The heart of the region is in two massive, monumental carvings: Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.

“Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress,” said Calley Geigle, global travel and trade representative for Travel South Dakota. “The mountain depicts a Lakota warrior and features museums centered around Native American heritage.” The adjacent Wind Cave National Park is famous for its complex and honeycomb-like formations and its educational group tours.

The 110-mile George S. Mickelson Trail — which traces the abandoned railroad track connecting Edgemont to Deadwood — welcomes hikers, cyclists and cross-country skiers alike. Groups with a love of the outdoors can also head to Spearfish Canyon, where they can hike to waterfalls or participate in photography tours.

“What’s great about the Black Hills is that everything is in such a close driving distance that visitors can experience so much without the long driving time,” said Geigle.

With a history that traces back to the 1800s, the ranching town of Belle Fourche is home to one of the oldest rodeos in South Dakota, the Old West Tri-State Museum and even real dinosaur digs. An hour away is Hill City, historically connected to the timber industry and home to the Black Hills Central Railroad, which whisks visitors away on historic steam train rides.


Deadwood is a living testament to the fervent spirit of the Wild West. Founded in the 1870s, this historic town swiftly rose to fame during the gold rush, luring fortune-seekers and legends alike.

“Deadwood is a National Historic Landmark that offers year-round gaming, events, outdoor recreation, shopping, dining and attractions,” said Amanda Kille, marketing and sponsorship director for the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

At the very heart of its historic charm is the Historic Main Street, where groups can witness reenacted shootouts, and the Broken Boot Gold Mine, where visitors can literally walk in the footsteps of the original miners. Visitors can also stop by the Mount Moriah Cemetery, “Wild Bill” Hickok’s final resting place.

For a deeper insight into the history of Deadwood, there’s also the Adams Museum and Historic Adams House, the Deadwood Brothel Museum and The Days of ’76 Museum to learn about Deadwood’s gold rush history. For those intrigued by the culture of the native Bison, the Tatanka: Story of the Bison exhibit showcases the creature’s significant role in the region’s ecology and history.

“Deadwood events, attractions and live entertainment options offer group discounts, which make it easy and cost-effective for a planner to add them into an itinerary,” said Kille. Throughout the year, visitors can enjoy dozens of free and ticketed events, including concerts, classic car shows, comedy shows, rodeos, bull riding, and even monster truck and snowmobile races.

The town is also home to several guided historic tour options like buses, open-air tours, walking tours and ghost tours. “You can add in the flavor of Deadwood and South Dakota with a moonshine, whiskey, wine or beer tasting,” Kille said.

As the sun sets on Deadwood, visitors can try their luck at local casinos — a type of entertainment that has been enjoyed in the town since 1876. “Visitors can also have a drink in a saloon, go ice skating at Outlaw Square or listen to a live band,” said Kille.

Custer State Park

Easily accessible from nearby cities like Rapid City and Mount Rushmore, the 71,000-acre Custer State Park is the perfect getaway for groups searching for an escape into nature.

Scenic drives, like the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, are the highlights of a visit here, but visitors can also enjoy camping and swimming within the park. Off the beaten path, groups will find plenty of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, including the one going up Black Elk Peak, South Dakota’s highest point.

Groups can also rent boats, kayaks and paddleboats at Sylvan Lake or climb the Harney Peak Fire Tower for 360-degree views of the park. At the Custer State Park Visitor Center and the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center, groups can participate in interpretive and educational programs, have an informal chat with a naturalist or join guided nature walks.

For those eager to witness the grandeur of the park’s fauna, there’s the Buffalo Safari Jeep tour, which takes visitors to areas they wouldn’t be able to visit otherwise.

“Guests load up in an open-top jeep with their own personal safari guide and drive through the park,” said Geigle. “What is unique about this experience is that the guides will take the jeeps right to where the buffalo roam while sharing little-known facts about buffalo and the steps the park takes to properly manage the herd.” These tours are available for pre-booking for groups through Custer Resorts.

Badlands National Park

Stretching across 244,000 acres of rugged terrain, Badlands National Park is renowned for its distinctive geologic formations that narrate Earth’s ancient history.

“Badlands National Park boasts a maze of spires, buttes, pinnacles and canyons,” said Geigle. “It’s truly a place you must experience to fully grasp the natural beauty.”

A network of hiking trails unveils the park’s many hidden corners, from gently undulating paths to challenging terrain that rewards you with breathtaking views.

“There are many trails, but we especially recommend the Doors and Windows Trail for group tours, as there is an easy, accessible boardwalk to an amazing view,” said Geigle. “The 39-mile Badlands Loop Road is accessible by coach, and visitors can see designated viewpoints, wildlife and amazing scenery right from the comfort of the coach.”

The park offers guided and self-guided walks that allow for wildlife watching and scenic drives to discover the lesser-known parts of the park. For those with a passion for paleontology, a visit to the Fossil Preparation Lab allows visitors to engage with paleontologists working on Badlands fossils.

For an intimate and educational exploration, groups should consider joining a guided tour led by knowledgeable park rangers for fascinating stories and insights about the park’s geological and cultural history.

As twilight descends, the park transforms into an astronomer’s paradise, offering stargazing adventures that are nothing short of magical.

“Because the Badlands are away from any light pollution, viewers get extremely clear skies,” said Geigle. “The National Park Service has star-viewing programs every evening from spring to fall, perfect for a late-night activity after a great day of touring.”

The annual Astronomy Festival in the summer and the Badlands Observatory in the nearby town of Quinn attract many groups as well.

“Visitors can view the night sky using professional equipment to see the moon, galaxies, comets and stars with the help of knowledgeable guides,” Geigle said.

Sioux Falls

As the state’s largest city, Sioux Falls is known for being a charming city and gateway to the Great Plains.

“Some even describe us as ‘the pink city’ from the city’s natural quarries of pink quartzite rock sprinkled throughout roads and buildings,” said Jackie Wentworth, tourism sales manager for Experience Sioux Falls.

Art in all forms can be found throughout South Dakota’s largest city, including “sculpture, music, theater, visual installations and more,” said Wentworth. “The more contemporary experiences can be explored in the heart of the historic downtown, and then groups can head to the outskirts of the city to learn about the first Native American inhabitants and agricultural history of the region.”

A must-visit here is the beautiful Falls Park, home to small, charming waterfalls and host to numerous annual events, including the much-anticipated Winter Wonderland.

“Falls Park is a blend of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, cultural elements and historical significance,” Wentworth said.

Located in a region with a deep historical and cultural background, Sioux Falls is also home to the Old Courthouse Museum, the Museum of Visual Materials and the Sioux Empire Medical Museum. The local Stockyards Ag Experience is an interactive space that highlights the impact of agriculture on South Dakota.

Aside from the popular attractions, Sioux Falls has an array of lesser-known spots that group travelers would truly enjoy. The Butterfly House and Aquarium is a peaceful retreat that showcases both vibrant aquatic life and delicate butterflies, and Good Earth State Park is an amazing place to stretch your legs on nature trails while learning about the Native American history of the land. Sioux Falls also celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month every April, a lively event filled with jazz crawls, camps and concerts for an immersive musical experience.

Wentworth also recommends the SculptureWalk, which features an ever-changing display of over 100 outdoor sculptures and works of public art, as well as the Levitt at the Falls, which hosts over 50 free concerts between May and September.

“Another unique experience for groups is BronzeAge Art Casting, a local foundry making one-of-kind items through iron pours, metal fabrication, welding and more,” she said.