From the impressive Mount Rushmore, where four presidents are a famous monument that embodies the nation’s spirit to the unique Crazy Horse rock carving, these landmarks in South Dakota are two of the most impressive.
The midwestern state in the USA is home to stunning natural scenery, from rolling prairies to the dramatic Black Hills National Forest. The Black Hills in South Dakota also has many other ambitious sculptures and statues. Here are 15 landmarks in South Dakota to tick off your to-see list.
- 15 South Dakota Landmarks
- Famous Landmarks in South Dakota
- Historic Landmarks in South Dakota
- Natural Landmarks in South Dakota
15 South Dakota Landmarks
Famous Landmarks in South Dakota
1- Mount Rushmore
If any site in the US deserves the overused description “iconic landmark”, it would be Mount Rushmore.
Gutzon Borglum’s sculpture of four Presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln), audaciously carved into the top of the granite mountain, is probably the most famous unfinished sculpture in the world.
Begun in 1927, it was paused in 1941 when such grand gestures started to take a back seat to the war.
Borglum’s original plan included the Presidents’ upper bodies.
Since the war, this South Dakota landmark has been almost a spiritual pilgrimage for Americans.
Promotional campaigns showed families driving their Studebakers to see the presidential heads, 18 m high, chosen by Borglum as symbols of American greatness.
Later campaigns to add the heads of John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were dismissed.
The granite cannot support another head. Besides, whatever your politics, this is a work of art.
Seeing Mount Rushmore, one is impressed because it is such a famous scene, but also because (as one tourist remarked when I visited) “The photos don’t do it justice.”
Seeing it “live” is a far more powerful experience than seeing it on countless travel brochures, parodies, or even the climactic scene of “North by Northwest” (one of Hitchcock’s best and best-known finales).
Mount Rushmore is at 13000 SD-244, Keystone, SD 57751.
2- City of Presidents
The centre of Rapid City, 37 km from Mount Rushmore, is a charming, rustic town, full of Native American galleries, cafés, and a U.S. President on every corner.
Kennedy is outside the Radisson hotel, holding hands with the young JFK, Jr. Lincoln is with Tad, his second son.
Jimmy Carter smiles and waves.
Dubya gives the thumbs-up.
Nixon is in one of his own well-known poses: seated, with his fingers together, like a James Bond villain plotting a dastardly scheme.
Cast in bronze, all 42 past Presidents are landmarks on the streets, in all their glory.
They are all out in the open, so it is perhaps odd that nobody has been defaced. No peacenik has sprayed “No War” over Dubya’s back.
No militant conservative has painted a moustache on Bill Clinton. Here at least there is respect for the office of President.
Other than that (and one incident in the past where a drunk driver smashed into Harry Truman, forcing his reconstruction), staff at the Presidents Information Centre, just next to the statue of James Monroe, say that the statues have been mostly untouched since the project began in 2000, though some caring souls have been known to leave hats or scarves on them in the winter.
The statues, all life-size and lifelike (though Ronald Reagan, as usual, isn’t totally convincing), are the work of four local sculptors.
Rapid City, South Dakota’s second-largest city (with some 60,000 people), calls this gallery “The City of Presidents”.
Washington DC might have something to say about that, but then, even DC probably hasn’t immortalised Millard Fillmore or James K Polk in bronze.
There are still plenty of corners to be occupied and Donald Trump will have one when he finishes his tenure.
3- Custer The Buffalo
While Rapid City has presidents, Custer has buffalo (or bison, to be more accurate). These are to the US northwest what kangaroos are to Australia.
Life-size sculptures saluting the animals appear all over the Black Hills region.
But in Custer (not far from Mount Rushmore), they take this artistry to another level.
In May each year, bronze bison are unveiled, South Dakota landmarks guarding the street corners.
These are canvases for paintings by local artists, as their bodies display various Western scenes and landscapes.
As with a regular buffalo auction, the artworks are “corralled” and auctioned in September each year.
The buffalo sculptures are in Custer.
None of the region’s buffalo sculptures are quite as dynamic or as intricate as the sculpture in the outdoors section of Tatanka, a small museum dedicated to buffalo, just outside the legendary Western town of Deadwood.
The sculpture, by Peggy Detmers (from the nearby arty town of Hill City), was commissioned by movie actor/director Kevin Costner, who brought the bison back into everyone’s attention with the Oscar-winning “Dances with Wolves”.
Like the movie, the sculpture depicts a buffalo jump, in which Native Americans would chase bison into a deep sinkhole.
In this busy and violent sculpture, three riders chase 14 bison to their doom, just as Costner did in the movie (onscreen, at least).
The sculpture alone is a stunning South Dakota landmark worth the museum’s ($7.50) admission price, which is just as well because there isn’t much else to see.
The money goes to a good cause: Costner, the museum’s founder, who never really recovered from The Postman.
The Tatanka sculpture is at 100 Tatanka Dr, Deadwood, SD 57732.
5- Crazy Horse Monument
For this traveller, Mount Rushmore, for all its grandeur, suffered because I saw it a day after Crazy Horse.
Here is one of the strangest landmarks in South Dakota and, indeed, the entire country, as well as perhaps the most ambitious.
This statue of the Native American warrior Crazy Horse, riding into battle, is also being carved (like the faces of Rushmore) into a granite mountain.
Started in 1948, it still has a long way to go.
The visionary sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, declaring his love of free enterprise, refused government funding, working on it with second-hand machinery until his death in 1982.
The project has been continued by his family, with the help of donations, entrance fees and a large staff, some of whom run the Native American museum, set up to complement the sculpture near the foot of the mountain.
Despite its unfinished state, Crazy Horse is already an incredible site.
Crazy Horse’s 87.5-foot-long (26 m) face, finally unveiled in 1998 (on the fiftieth anniversary of the project), is considerably larger than all the Rushmore faces put together. When completed, the sculpture will be 195 m long and 172 m high.
So when will that happen? The current phase is four to nine years and artists are working on the completion of the hand, start of the horse’s mane, 40’ of hair on Crazy Horse on both sides, right shoulder and elbow.
The work-in-progress is already an astounding site, drawing scores of visitors.
Crazy Horse Memorial is a 501c3 nonprofit charity run by a governing board, management and staff, including members of the sculptor’s family.
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Historic Landmarks in South Dakota
The small town of Deadwood has a population of about 25,000 and offers an opportunity to live life as it was in the days of the Old West.
Deadwood is surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the Black Hills, which was most famous during the days of the Gold Rush.
Many original 19th-century structures still stand in the historic town today, and tourists can partake in a variety of wild west activities.
Reenactments of western gunfights on Historic Main Street, the Broken Boot Gold Mine, and the Adams Museum are just a few of Deadwood’s main attractions waiting to be explored.
Also, when visiting Deadwood, be sure to check out the Mount Moriah Cemetery, where Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and other illustrious figures of the American Wild West are buried.
Deadwood is in South Dakota 57732.
7- National Music Museum
The National Music Museum has been operating since 1973 on the campus of the University of South Dakota and is highly regarded as one of the finest museums in the world.
The museum has over 15,000 musical instruments from all around the world, including European, African, Asian, and non-Western instruments.
It exhibits rare and extraordinary instruments including an 18th-century grand piano, unique German wind instruments, and some of the finest Italian stringed instruments, that can all be found nowhere else in the world.
The museum’s growing collection will be even larger, thanks to a 16,000 square feet expansion scheduled for 2021.
This expansion will also include a new store, a concert hall, and office space.
Students of the university can participate in internships, a study of historical instruments, and concert hall performances.
National Music Museum is at 414 E Clark St, Vermillion, SD 57069.
8- Good Earth State Park
Good Earth State Park is one of South Dakota’s newest state parks, opened just a few years ago.
The park is a part of the Blood Run National Historic Landmark and is one of the oldest examples of long-term human settlements in the United States.
It is the most significant Oneota cultural site in the Midwest to date and unlike any other Oneota site in the world.
The Oneota and other Native Americans before them chose this land for its proximity to the Big Sioux River, fertile plains, and abundant wildlife.
It was also a major trading hub for the indigenous peoples from the 1300s until the 1700s.
The visitor’s centre of the park offers information about the cultural and historical significance of the site.
Also, well-maintained hiking trails wind across the park’s grounds, presenting magnificent vistas, and excellent opportunities for outdoor activities.
Good Earth State Park is at 26924 480th Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57108.
9- The World’s Only Corn Palace
The World’s Only Corn Palace, also known as The Corn Palace, is a massive multi-purpose events centre originally built in 1892.
The current Corn Palace, constructed in 1921, is the third structure to occupy the site.
Local artists use corn as their medium to create elaborate murals both on the exterior and interior of the building.
Every year, a new set of murals are painted over the old ones.
With over a century under its belt, it has become a household name, bringing in more than 500,000 people annually.
In late August, the palace hosts a festival to mark the end of the growing season and the harvest.
In addition to the yearly corn festival, the palace has hosted numerous other events over the years and continues to do so now.
You can come to the Corn Palace any time of the year to enjoy a show or maybe a sports event.
The Corn Palace is at 604 N Main St, Mitchell, SD 57301.
10- Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
This site was established in 1999 to illustrate the defence of the United States during the Cold War.
There were almost a thousand nuclear missiles stored here, and there are still hundreds of them.
There are three facilities: a visitor centre, Delta-01 Launch Control Facility, and the Delta-09 missile silo.
You can learn more about the Cold War and Minuteman Missiles at the visitor centre, and then follow this up with a ranger-led tour of Delta-01, or the Delta-09 missile silo to experience an actual nuclear missile in action.
Daily tours are available except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year holidays.
To safeguard the historic sites and for the safety of visitors, each trip is limited to six people and a park ranger.
Minuteman is at 24545 Cottonwood Rd, Philip, SD 57567.
11- Old Courthouse Museum
The museum is a fantastic place to discover local history while wandering through the beautifully restored three-story quartzite structure that dates back to the 1800s.
Inside is a variety of unique features, such as murals depicting South Dakotan life from a bygone age.
Everything on display at the Old Courthouse Museum has something to do with the history of the town and the state in which it is located.
The popular permanent exhibits of the museum include a recreation of a 19th-century schoolroom and an artifact gallery showcasing items from the First World War.
The museum also includes a gift shop where visitors may purchase affordable Dakota-made items for every member of the family.
The Old Courthouse Museum is at 200 W 6th St, Sioux Falls, SD 57104.
Natural Landmarks in South Dakota
12- Wind Cave
There are roughly 150 miles (240 km) of passageways in Wind Cave, making it the third-longest cave in America and the sixth-longest cave in the world.
The cave network is not only lengthy and complicated, but it contains numerous interesting formations and a wide range of minerals.
One of the cave’s unique features is the beautiful boxwork structure, which is possibly the finest example of boxwork in the world.
If you want to explore the cave, Park Rangers lead guided tours through it.
Wind Cave National Park was one of the first national parks established in South Dakota.
You can hike 30 miles (48 km) of trail, or camp on the vast 28,000 acres (11,300 ha) of mixed-grass prairie where native wildlife such as elk, buffalo, prairie dogs, deer, antelope, and black-footed ferrets roam.
The national park is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts.
Wind Cave is in Wind Cave National Park is in Custer County, South Dakota.
13- Jewel Cave National Monument
Jewel Cave is the world’s third-longest cave with a distance of nearly 200 miles (321 km).
True to its name, it’s also one of the most beautiful caves in the world, home to sparkling crystals and other fascinating rock formations.
You can go on guided tours provided by the National Park Service to explore portions of the passageways.
There’s a visitor centre that provides information about the cave and its surroundings.
If you want to stay above the ground, hike along the Roof Trail near the visitor centre or the 3.5-mile (5.6 km) trail which winds through Hell and Lithograph Canyons.
Jewel Cave National Monument at 11149 US-16 B-12, Custer, SD 57730.
14- Badlands Loop Road
For those who like to enjoy scenic views, the Badlands Loop Road provides a picturesque drive across Badlands National Park.
This 370-square-mile park is surrounded by the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, one of the remaining fully untouched grasslands in the country.
The park features 244,000 acres of steeply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires intermingled with the largest protected mixed grassland in the country.
Mountain climbing and backcountry camping are popular activities in this region.
Badlands National Park also has one of the world’s largest collections of animal fossils from the Oligocene Epoch.
Wildlife can frequently be spotted within the boundaries of the park by visitors.
Badlands National Park is 75 miles (120 km) east of Rapid City, South Dakota.
15- Mammoth Site
This site has the biggest concentration of mammoth remains in the world.
There have been roughly 61 mammoth fossils unearthed in the site, including three woolly mammoths, with the majority being from the North American Columbian mammoth.
Fossils of various Ice Age animals have also been unearthed here, as well as different species of plants.
The museum offers self-guided tours and paleontology classes.
For a fee, visitors can participate in Ice-Age educational programs as well as educational workshops and events for children.
Mammoth Site is a paleontological site and museum at 1800 US-18 BYP, Hot Springs, SD 57747.