Is your road trip passing through South Dakota? You’ll need a few pit stops to stretch your legs or grab some grub. I’ve traversed the state enough times to have some favorite stops to recommend.
Favorite road trip stops in South Dakota
1. Wall Drug
After a thousand signs along the interstate telling you to stop, how could you not? Don’t skip this kitschy, fun place. Take your requisite photo on the jackelope, wait in line for the divine doughnuts, and buy the bumper sticker.
Where: 510 Main St., Wall
2. Reptile Gardens
An epic roadside attraction if there ever was one, Reptile Gardens puts you up close to snakes, alligators, tortoises and many more. You’ll spend a few hours here, especially if you attend an animal show. Admission does apply.
Where: 8955 US-16, Rapid City
3. Dinosaur Park
This is more of a nostalgic pit stop than anything. The seven giant dinosaur sculptures have been towering over Rapid City since 1936. Snap your photos at this quick stop before moving on.
Where: 940 Skyline Drive, Rapid City
Related post: 17 Fun Things To Do In Rapid City
4. Art Alley
If you want a quick stop to stretch our legs, Art Alley is a great option. Stroll this block-long alley to see the colorful murals and artful tags that are begging to be in your Instagram feed. It is free to visit.
If you want to make it a longer pit stop, stroll around downtown Rapid City looking for all of the statues of presidents.
Where: 599 Seventh St., Rapid City
5. Chapel of the Hills
It’s a bit of a drive through neighborhoods to find this hidden architectural gem, but it’s worth it. Chapel of the Hills is a wooden replica of Borgund stavkirke, which was built around 1150 in Laerdal, Norway.
There’s also a small museum and prayer trail. It’s free to visit, and donations are accepted.
Where: 3788 Chapel Lane, Rapid City
6. Cosmos Mystery Area
Wacky optical illusions mess with your sense of balance at Cosmos Mystery Area. This isn’t a quick stop since you have to take a guided tour (especially if you have to wait for the next one to start). It can be a little hokey with the stories about about hot spots causing the gravitational pull to change.
Where: 24040 Cosmos Road, Rapid City
7. Mammoth Site
This active dig site is fascinating to visit, even with older children. You’ll learn about the 60+ Columbian and woolly mammoths that have been found there, plus other interesting creatures.
You can roam around after the tour and visit the exhibit hall and gift shop.
Where: 1800 U.S. 18 Bypass, Hot Springs
8. Evans Plunge Mineral Springs
This place has been around for ages and it still is a hit with kids. You may even feel a bit of nostalgia if you visited when you were young.
If you haven’t visited, Evans Plunge is an indoor/outdoor pool with waterslides. It’s naturally warm thanks to thermal mineral water spring.
Where: 1145 N. River St,, Hot Springs
9. Mount Rushmore National Monument
Possibly the most iconic monument in the Midwest, Mount Rushmore is totally worth a stop. If you have a few hours, there are informative museums and hiking trails…and if you ask my kids, ice cream to purchase.
If you’re short on time, you are able to spot the monument from pull-offs soon the road.
Where: 13000 SD-244, Keystone
10. Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center
Located next to a former gold mine, the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center is part-history museum, part-geology, and apparently, part-putt putt. Just kidding. It’s not at all a putt-putt attraction, though I hear there’s a hole-in-one guaranteed there.
Where: 160 W. Main St., Lead
11. “Dignity of Earth and Sky”
This 50-foot-tall stainless steel statue of an indigenous woman is a sight to behold. She represents courage, preservation and wisdom among the Lakota and Dakota tribes. Plus, it’s FREE to visit.
Where: Near Chamberland off Interstate 90.
Parks in South Dakota that are worth the stop
12. Badlands National Park
Most national parks are worthy of at least a day, and I’ll venture to say Badlands National Park falls into that category.
And did we only stop momentarily to take in the sweeping view and then continue on our road trip? Yes.
If you’re short on time, too, drive the Badlands Loop Road along Highway 240 for spectacular views and possibly some wildlife spotting. Estimate about two hours or less for the drive and stopping.
Where: East of Rapid City
13. Custer State Park
There’s a lot to see here, but if you want just one place to go, make it Sylvan Lake. There’s a beautiful hike around the lake.
Not that you really want to drive even more, but Custer has a wonderful Wildlife Loop. You may be able to get out of the car to interact with the famous begging burros.
Where: 13400 US, US-16A, Custer
14. Falls Park
If you have time to do only one thing in Siooux Falls, stop at Falls Park to admire the waterfalls. If you have time to do two things, definitely add an ice cream pit stop in there at Falls Overlook Café.
Of course, there’s more to do there and Siouxland Families has the scoop.
Where: Sioux Falls, between North Phillips and North Weber and what would be about First through Fifth streets
15. Wind Cave National Park
Where: 10 miles north of Hot Springs
During non-COVID times, you can take guided cave tours. Short on time and/or have impatient young kids? Take the Natural Entrance Tour since it has the least amount of standing and listening. Also, layer up. It gets cold down there.
Besides the cave, you’ll spot wildlife there. We saw bison, prairie dogs and a coyote.
16. Storybook Island
Call it a quirky, free attraction, call it a park. Storybook Island is a one-of-a-kind pit stop that allows families to stretch their weary legs. Inspired by fairytales and cartoons (many that are, ahem, trademarked), Storybook Island features playground structures and scenes that will keep kids busy for at least an hour.
Where: 1301 Sheridan Lake Road, Rapid City
Recommended South Dakota restaurants
17. Buffalo Burger and Bun Co. (Custer)
If you want a burger to tell your friends about, get in line at Buffalo Burger and Bun Co. I had the best hamburger in South Dakota there.
18. Firehouse Brewing Co. (locations in downtown Rapid City and in Hill City)
Firehouse Brewing Co. is an excellent combo of pub food and brewery, plus, it’s family-friendly. Both locations have great outdoor seating, but if I had to pick a location, it’s more scenic at Firehouse SmokeJumper Station in Hill City.
19. Purple Pie Place (Hill City)
I can’t say pie is something I often seek out, but the homemade goodness at Purple Pie Place is worth the side trip. And you can’t miss it, the building is literally all purple.
20. Harriet and Oak (Rapid City)
If your road trip stop is on the early side of noon, get your caffeine and pastry fix at this charming coffee shop in downtown Rapid City. Try the ham and cheese pasty (it’s like a very tasty Hot Pocket).
21. Armadillo’s Ice Cream Shop (Rapid City)
If you want ice cream, this is the place to go. You’ll likely find a line snaking around the block at this downtown Rapid City ice cream shop.
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