Travel Guide: South Dakota
I recently had the privilege of joining my friend Kyle on a trip to South Dakota. Kyle is an insanely respected photographer and instagram influencer. His work often means traveling around the world on behalf of major brands and campaigns, so when the South Dakota Tourism team asked him to come to their great state, I jumped at the chance to tag along.
Every state has a tagline and South Dakota’s, or “SoDak” is known as the state of “Great Faces, Great Places.” Although the tagline commonly refers to iconic Mount Rushmore, it certainly applies equally to the amazing, fun, thoughtful, and hospitable South Dakota Tourism staff that hosted us throughout the week.
South Dakota is an ideal state for road trips and camping, small town stops, and outdoor adventure. There is so much to take in, especially “The Great 8.”
Crazy Horse Memorial
Wind Cave National Park
Custer State Park
Badlands National Park
Upon arrival to SD, we drove to Prairie Berry Winery and Miner Brewery for a welcome reception. Not only was the beer delicious, we were greeted with charcuterie boards, bacon topped brownies, and delicious flatbreads. Our welcome to the great state even included gift baskets filled with SoDak gear, wine, blankets, water bottles, stickers, confections, and travel notebooks.
After touring (and sampling) our way throughout the winery, we headed to Mount Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. The next morning, we woke early to go back to Mount Rushmore, before the daily crowds arrived. We learned all about the history, the time it took to complete the monument, and even sampled amazing ice cream with breakfast.
From there, we headed to Crazy Horse Monument for an exclusive tour to the top of the arm. Did you know all four presidents from Mount Rushmore could fit into Crazy Horse? It’s that big! We had time to explore the grounds, shop the merchants, learn about the cultural history of the tribes in the area, and explore the college at Crazy Horse before lunch.
After lunch, we headed to the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary for a private tour. There are over 700 wild mustangs that call the Wild Horse Sanctuary home. It was amazing how close the horses would get to us and how many allowed us to touch them. Driving through the reservation, we had the unique privilege and timing to witness part of the assembly and preparation for the annual rain dance by one of the tribes in the area. It is a very sacred and emotional event and a rite of passage in their culture.
After heading from the Black Hills to Custer State Park, we were treated to a dinner at the State Game Lodge. I indulged in the Elk Osso Bucco…incredible! We experienced a sunset buffalo jeep safari ride after dinner. Our driver was not only hilarious, but also a ton of fun. (Although there was one scary descent from a hill incident involving a branch where nearly everyone gasped and looked back at me, thinking I died!) I would definitely recommend this experience.
I was able to check off a huge item off my bucket list as well, with a helicopter ride in the Black Hills over Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Needles Highway. The aerial views are an experience unlike any other!
We headed to Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park for sack lunches on the rocks. Sylvan Lake was featured in the film National Treasure and is an incredibly beautiful area. You can kayak, hike, camp, picnic, or even watch a lakeside wedding here.
I had to cut my trip short to head back to work, but can’t wait to get back to South Dakota and explore the Badlands, Wall Drug, Deadwood, and Spearfish Canyon!
-South Dakota is also home to the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year!
-If you’re visiting in September, be sure to check out the annual Buffalo Round Up in Custer State Park. This event is celebrated with crowds and picnics, and you can watch all the buffalo be corralled to be counted and checked for pregnancies. Photographers and tourists all around come in to see this!
South Dakota is filled with tons of outdoor adventure, awe inspiring monuments, natural elements, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and countless great faces and places. I am so grateful for the adventure!
Have you been to SoDak? I’d love to hear what’s on your must see and do list!