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State Spotlight: South Dakota

With rugged, timber-covered mountains in the west and tallgrass prairies in the east, South Dakota enjoys an illustrious diversity of natural environments. Throw in the mighty Missouri River and a number of otherworldly landscapes in the center of the state, and you have one of America’s most fascinating destinations for outdoor adventures.

South Dakota is perhaps best known for the Black Hills region in its western reaches, and this thick, forested mountain landscape never fails to delight visitors. Groups can get their fill of thrills at the area’s Rushmore Tramway Adventures or enjoy local wildlife on a buffalo safari at Custer State Park.

Further east, Badlands National Park presents completely different scenery, full of craggy canyons and rose-colored rock. In Pierre, the Missouri River affords opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and diving. And in the northeast corner of the state, Sica Hollow State Park features incandescent plant life and blood-red waters.

Whether your travelers enjoy easy hikes or high-adrenaline adventures, the outdoors of South Dakota will keep them fascinated for days.


Adventures at Mount Rushmore

Any group spending time in the Black Hills is going to make time to stop at Mount Rushmore. After everyone has had a chance for some photos and exploration, though, adventure lovers can head to the nearby Rushmore Tramway Adventures, where numerous experiences await.

Rushmore Tramway was built almost 15 years ago and consists of a series of two-person gondolas that carry passengers to the top of a hill to get a unique glimpse of Mount Rushmore from about two miles away. But that’s only the beginning of the visit. After taking the tram ride, groups can split up to experience other attractions on the property that offer a variety of thrills.

The newest element of the tramway complex is the Aerial Adventure Park. That treetop complex features ropes courses of varying degrees of difficulty. Visitors can choose to end their trip with an 800-foot zip-line ride back to the foot of the hill or take an alpine slide for an exhilarating experience on solid ground. The gondolas offer a more peaceful way to make the return trip.


Buffalo Safari

Set amid the dramatic scenery of the Black Hills, Custer State Park is the natural pride of South Dakota, with more than 71,000 acres of protected land. Visitors to the park can see numerous species of wildlife, including elk, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. But the park is perhaps best known for its 1,300 free-range bison.

Groups might see bison there or on a drive through the park. But to get the most out of the Custer experience, outdoors and animal lovers should join the park’s Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour. Guides take participants off road in modified safari vehicles to sections of the park off limits to other visitors. Along the way, riders see dozens of buffalo and learn about their role in South Dakota history.

After the safari ride, groups can extend their experience with an old-fashioned hayride through the park that takes them to a secluded canyon where they have a chuck-wagon dinner and live musical entertainment. During the last week in September, the annual Buffalo Roundup event features hundreds of buffalo, as well as an arts and food fair.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.