South Dakota is in the north-central United States. This state, mainly rural, is home to only over 900,000 people, with few large cities with strong economies. Keep reading to discover the largest cities in South Dakota, ranked by population, total area, and economic impact.
Largest Cities in South Dakota by Population
South Dakota is only the 46th state by population but still features some large cities.
|Rank||City||Population (2022 Estimate)|
The largest city of South Dakota by population, Sioux Falls, is in Minnehaha County, in the state’s southeastern corner. The city is near the borders of Iowa and Minnesota, making it a regional hub in the Upper Midwest.
As of the 2022 estimate, Sioux Falls has a population of approximately 202,078. The city’s population has steadily grown, fueled by a strong economy. Between 2020 and 2022, Sioux Falls’ population increased by 5% in two years. The city also has a relatively low population density compared to major U.S. Cities. With 2,387/sq mi, the low density contributes to a good quality of life.
Sioux Falls, like many cities in the United States, has become increasingly diverse in recent years. The city has seen growth in its Hispanic, Asian, and African-American populations, contributing to a more multicultural and vibrant community.
The city is also home to a younger population, with hundreds of students from the University of Sioux Falls and Augustana University.
Sioux Falls’ high quality of life, low cost of living, and excellent public amenities contribute to population growth.
Rapid City is located in the western part of South Dakota, United States. It is the second-largest city in the state, after Sioux Falls, and serves as the county seat of Pennington County. The city is also close to Wyoming’s border.
According to the 2022 estimate, Rapid City had a population of approximately 78,824 people. Its population grew over the past two years, with an increase of 5.5% between 2020 and 2022. The city has a large land area, which results in a population density of 1,356.58/sq mi, contributing to a good quality of life.
Rapid City’s population has many ethnicities, with a significant Native American presence. Rapid City is close to several Native American reservations, including the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. This has led to a vibrant cultural scene and the incorporation of Native American traditions into the local culture.
Rapid City also has a large military community with the nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base and Army National Guard Base. The presence of the base has contributed to the city’s economic stability and the growth of its aerospace and defense industries.
Aberdeen is situated in the northeastern region of South Dakota, near the James River. It is approximately 125 miles (201 kilometers) northeast of the state capital, Pierre. It serves as the county seat of Brown County and is a prominent hub within the region. The city’s location is crucial for commerce, education, and healthcare services.
As of the 2022 estimate, Aberdeen has a population of 28,210 residents. This population seems small, but makes Aberdeen the third-largest city in South Dakota by population. Contrary to Sioux Falls and Rapid City, the city’s population is slightly decreasing after losing 1% of its population between 2020 and 2022. Aberdeen has a small population density of 1,725.19/sq mi. It varies within different areas in the city.
Like much of South Dakota, Aberdeen has been experiencing an aging population, with a significant portion of its residents being older adults. This trend has implications for healthcare and senior services in the city.
To compensate, Aberdeen tried diversifying its economy beyond agriculture and manufacturing. The city increasingly emphasized the healthcare, education, and technology sectors. This diversification has brought in a more diverse range of professionals and residents.
In addition, it is also home to around 2,000 students from Northern State University.
Largest Cities in South Dakota by Total Area
South Dakota ranks as the 17th biggest state in the country. But unlike the state, its cities have relatively small land area.
The largest city by area in South Dakota is Scenic, with 134.2 square miles (347.6 square kilometers). The fourth-largest is Okaton, with 29.8 square miles (77.2 square kilometers). Because these ghost towns have no inhabitants left, they will be included in the table for reference but not developed in depth in the following paragraphs.
|Rank||City||Total Area (Square Miles)|
|1||Scenic (Ghost Town)||134.2|
As the largest city by population, Sioux Falls is also the largest by total area, with 81.2 square miles (210.3 square kilometers). Countrywide, it is only the 109th largest city by total area. Its land area has allowed for both urban development and the preservation of natural landscapes.
Sioux Falls experiences a continental climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are warm and humid, with average temperatures in the 80s to low 90s Fahrenheit (around 27-33°C). Winters are cold and can bring snowfall, with average low temperatures in the mid-10s to single digits Fahrenheit (around -9 to -15°C). Spring and fall provide mild and pleasant weather transitions. Sioux Falls can also experience severe weather, including thunderstorms and tornadoes, especially during the spring and summer.
Sioux Falls and its surroundings also boast several natural attractions and parks.
Falls Park is the most famous one. Located along the Big Sioux River, which flows through the city’s heart, the park features a stunning waterfall from which the city derives its name. This river and waterfall have significantly shaped the city’s history and provide a scenic backdrop to many parts of Sioux Falls. It’s a popular spot for picnics, photography, and outdoor events.
Residents can also enjoy the Big Sioux River Greenway. This scenic trail system follows the Big Sioux River through the city, providing biking, jogging, and peaceful walking opportunities. The Greenway offers stunning views of the river and its surrounding natural beauty.
But there are also other attractions to visit in Sioux Falls. Located just outside of Sioux Falls, Great Bear Recreation Park offers year-round outdoor activities, including skiing and snowboarding in the winter and hiking and mountain biking in the summer. It’s an excellent place for outdoor enthusiasts.
North of Sioux Falls, residents can enjoy the Big Sioux Recreation Area. This state park provides camping, fishing, hiking, and birdwatching opportunities along the Big Sioux River.
Rapid City, with its 55.1 square miles (142.7 square kilometers), is the second-largest city by total area. The city is known for its surroundings, including rolling plains and picturesque valleys, within the iconic Black Hills region.
The city experiences a semi-arid climate with distinct seasonal variations. Summers in Rapid City are generally warm and dry, with average high temperatures in the 80s and low 90s Fahrenheit (around 27-33°C). Winters can be cold, with average lows in the 10s and 20s Fahrenheit (-7 to -2 °C), and the area occasionally experiences heavy snowfall.
Rapid City is nestled against the eastern foothills of the Black Hills, a mountain range renowned for its rugged beauty and cultural significance. The city’s location offers residents and visitors access to various outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and skiing. This ancient mountain range is home to several iconic landmarks, including Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Custer State Park.
Located about an hour east of Rapid City, Badlands National Park is famous for its striking landscapes, rugged terrain, eroded buttes, and colorful canyons. It’s a paradise for hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, and photographers. Residents can also enjoy the Big Sioux River Greenway. This scenic trail system follows the Big Sioux River through the city, providing biking, jogging, and peaceful walking opportunities. The Greenway offers stunning views of the river and its surrounding natural beauty.
Canyon Lake offers a serene escape for residents and visitors within the city limits. It’s a popular spot for boating, fishing, picnicking, and enjoying scenic views.
Rapid City also boats an attraction that visitors are unlikely to see anywhere else. Dinosaur Park features life-sized dinosaur statues perched on a hilltop, offering panoramic views of the city and the Black Hills.
In addition to these natural attractions, Rapid City’s historic downtown area is known for its art galleries, restaurants, and cultural events. The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, one of the largest motorcycle gatherings in the world, takes place nearby, attracting motorcycle enthusiasts from around the globe.
Rapid City is a getaway to Mount Rushmore, one of the most iconic landmarks in the country. Located only 23 miles (37 kilometers) southwest of Rapid City, the landmark is within the Black Hills National Forest and easily accessible by car.
Mount Rushmore is renowned for its colossal sculptures of four U.S. presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These are carved into the granite face of the mountain. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum conceived the idea for the monument, and work began in 1927. The carving process involved painstaking precision and took 14 years to complete, concluding in 1941.
Mount Rushmore is a symbol of American democracy and leadership. Each president on the monument played a significant role in the nation’s history.
- George Washington: The first President and a Founding Father.
- Thomas Jefferson: The author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President.
- Theodore Roosevelt: Known for his contributions to conservation and as the 26th President.
- Abraham Lincoln: The 16th President, known for his leadership during the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Activities and Experiences
The primary attraction is, of course, the massive carved faces of the presidents. A large viewing platform provides an excellent vantage point for photographs. When walking up to the monument, the pathway is lined with flags from all 50 states. Several hiking trails offer different perspectives of the monument and the surrounding landscape.
Visitors should stop by the visitors center, which offers exhibits and information about the monument’s history, the sculptor Gutzon Borglum, and the carving process. The Sculptor’s Studio, near the visitor center, displays tools and models used during the carving process.
During the summer, a nightly lighting ceremony takes place at the monument, featuring patriotic music and the sculpture’s lighting.
Mount Rushmore is a symbol of American history and a testament to human achievement and determination. It attracts millions of visitors worldwide yearly and is an essential stop for anyone exploring the Black Hills region, including Rapid City.
With 17.2 square miles (44.5 square kilometers), Spearfish is the third-largest city by total area. Located in the northern part of South Dakota, the city is known for its beautiful natural surroundings and proximity to the Black Hills region.
The city experiences a semi-arid climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are typically warm, with temperatures averaging in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit (20s to 30s Celsius). Winters can be cold, with temperatures often dropping below freezing, and the area receives moderate snowfall. The fall season in Spearfish is mainly celebrated for its vibrant foliage, drawing visitors to witness the stunning autumn colors that blanket the Black Hills.
The city is located in a valley surrounded by the iconic Black Hills. This picturesque setting places the city amidst rolling hills and towering peaks, offering residents and visitors breathtaking views of the natural landscape.
The town is situated at the northern end of Spearfish Canyon, a deep and rugged gorge carved by Spearfish Creek. The canyon is renowned for its stunning limestone palisades, cascading waterfalls, and lush vegetation, making it a popular destination for hiking, rock climbing, and outdoor enthusiasts.
Spearfish Canyon is the city’s crown jewel regarding natural attractions. South of Spearfish, this canyon is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Spearfish Creek carved the deep and rugged gorge. It offers dramatic cliffs, waterfalls including Bridal Veil Falls and Roughlock Falls, and various hiking opportunities. It’s particularly stunning in the fall when the foliage turns vibrant shades of red and gold.
In addition, the area surrounding Spearfish offers many opportunities for outdoor activities like fishing, mountain biking, skiing, and snowmobiling.
Spearish is also home to the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery. This facility is a must-visit for those interested in wildlife conservation. It offers educational exhibits and a chance to see various fish and aquatic life species being raised for release into regional waters.
Largest Cities in South Dakota by Economic Impact
|Rank||City||Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2021|
|1||Sioux Falls||19,752 million|
|2||Rapid City||7,565 million|
Sioux Falls, the largest city by population and total area, also has the largest GDP. The city serves South Dakota as its economic hub. With a diverse and growing economy, Sioux Falls is home to key industries and major employers.
Sioux Falls is a regional healthcare hub with several major hospitals and medical facilities. Sanford Health and Avera Health are two of the largest healthcare providers in the city, contributing significantly to the local economy. They are also some of the largest employers in Sioux Falls, offering a wide range of job opportunities in the healthcare sector.
This has not only attracted healthcare professionals but has also made advanced medical care more accessible to residents.
Finance and Banking
The financial sector is a prominent industry in Sioux Falls. The city is known for its favorable banking regulations, which have attracted numerous financial institutions and credit card companies to establish a presence here. Wells Fargo, Citibank, and Capital One are some of the major players in this sector. They are also significant employers.
Retail and Trade
Retail trade plays a significant role in Sioux Falls’ economy. The city has a thriving retail sector with numerous shopping centers, malls, and restaurants. Retail giants like Walmart, Hy-Vee, and Target have a strong presence in the area.
The retail sector continues to expand, with new shopping centers and entertainment options. This has made Sioux Falls a regional shopping destination, attracting visitors from neighboring areas.
Manufacturing industries, including food processing, electronics manufacturing, and machinery production, contribute to the city’s economic diversity. Companies like Raven Industries and Smithfield Foods operate manufacturing facilities in the region.
Smithfield Foods operates a meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, making it one of the largest employers in the manufacturing sector.
Rapid City is the state’s second-largest city by GDP and serves as the economic and cultural hub of the Black Hills region.
The tourism industry heavily influences Rapid City’s economy. This is due to its proximity to popular attractions like Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and the Badlands National Park. The city offers visitors a wide range of accommodations, restaurants, and entertainment options.
Rapid City has experienced steady growth in its tourism industry, with an increasing number of visitors exploring the Black Hills region. The city steadily invests in tourism infrastructure and marketing.
Healthcare is another major industry in Rapid City. The city has several medical facilities, including the Rapid City Regional Hospital and Monument Health, which serve the local community and the broader region.
As the largest healthcare provider in the region, Monument Health is one of the city’s largest employers, offering a wide range of healthcare services and job opportunities.
The education sector also plays a significant role in the city’s economy, with institutions like the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and Western Dakota Technical Institute contributing to education and research. These institutions also foster collaborations with local businesses and industries.
The local school district, Rapid City Area Schools, is one of the largest employers in the city, providing education to students in the area.
Retail and Services
Rapid City boasts a diverse retail and service sector, with shopping centers, restaurants, and entertainment options catering to residents and tourists.
Ellsworth Air Force Base
Located just east of Rapid City, Ellsworth AFB significantly contributes to the local economy. It employs thousands of military personnel and civilians and has a substantial economic impact on the region.
While tourism remains a cornerstone of the economy, Rapid City has diversified its economic base by attracting businesses in other sectors, including technology, manufacturing, and education.
A diversified energy company headquartered in Rapid City, the Black Hills Corporation is a major player in the energy sector and provides jobs in various fields.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © keeweeboy/iStock via Getty Images
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