The Spirit of America

KOA camping in South Dakota

Majestic mountain carvings, rolling prairies, sky-piercing granite needles, glittering lakes, lofty river bluffs and endless wide-open spaces greet visitors to South Dakota. Once inhabited by Plains Indians, fur traders, cowboys, miners and pioneers, it is the state of Great Faces and Great Places. And it’s the state of hospitality, hard work ethic and a never ending supply of activities.

This is South Dakota, the Mount Rushmore State, located in the heart of America’s western frontier. Visitors discover a world of unusual landscapes, colorful history, American Indian culture, outdoor adventure and old-fashioned hospitality.

The Missouri River splits the state almost in half. Glacial lakes and prairies occupy eastern South Dakota, rolling hills and river shore cover the central and southeast sections of the state, and badlands, buttes and mountains form as you go west.

South Dakota is home to America’s Shrine of Democracy – Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which hosts nearly three million visitors per year. The majestic 60-foot faces of four U.S. presidents gaze out over South Dakota’s Black Hills. This national treasure represents critical times in American history. From the Grandview Terrace, visitors get spectacular views of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. For a closer view, visitors can walk the half-mile Presidential Trail, which loops along the base of the mountain. The impressive Lincoln Borglum Museum contains interactive interpretive exhibits. Mount Rushmore is the anchor of a thriving tourism industry in South Dakota. In 2004, visitors spent an estimated $752.2 million in the state. Other top visitor destinations include the colossal Crazy Horse Memorial mountain carving, now in progress, which can be seen just 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. Crazy Horse is the largest sculptural undertaking ever – on a scale with the Egyptian pyramids. When completed, it will tower 563 feet high, 641 feet long and be carved in the round. Visitors can watch history in the making as drilling and blasting continue on the sculpture.

Both Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse are located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. “Paha Sapa” the Lakota call them, “hills that are black” because a thick forest of pine and spruce trees cover the slopes making them appear black from a distance. Besides world class visitor attractions, the 1.2-million-acre Black Hills National Forest offers endless opportunities for both expert and novice outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors enjoy rock climbing, hiking, biking, horseback riding and camping amidst stunning scenery. Find mountain meadows, deep canyons, cascading trout streams and clear, clean lakes. Harney Peak, the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies, stands 7,242 feet tall in the heart of the wilderness.

South Dakota is also synonymous with motorcycles, in the form of the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. When more than 500,000 folks converge (mainly on motorcycles) on this 6,000 person town in the northeastern Black Hills, you know it must be the first half of August. The rally brings all types to the state, practically doubling the state’s population overnight. It’s become a staple piece across the state, with folks welcoming the riders, and the noise they bring. The Rally is quite a spectacle, but is quite safe.

Moving east from the Black Hills, Badlands National Park appears across the rolling plains. Millions of years of wind and water erosion have carved steep cliffs, saw-edged spires and colorful grassy-topped buttes which form a strange and beautiful landscape that tells the story of earth’s history. The 244,000 acre national park contains the skeletons of ancient camels, three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats and giant rhinoceros-like creatures. Today, mule deer, pronghorn, coyotes and prairie dogs have the run of the park and can often be seen by visitors. The entire park is open to hiking.

The World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead in De Smet also attract thousands of visitors annually. South Dakota is also known as the nation’s capitol for pheasant hunting, attracting nearly 100,000 visitors who travel to the state to hunt pheasants each fall.

Plenty of other attractions pay homage to the Great Sioux Nation in South Dakota, such as the Akta Lakota Museum in Chamberlain and the Wounded Knee Museum in Wall.

Visit for South Dakota travel information and travel specials. Call 1-800-S-DAKOTA for a free Vacation Guide.