What is South Dakota Known For? 5 Things South Dakotans Love About Themselves

Flag of South Dakota against blue sky
© Millenius/Shutterstock.com

Written by Katie Melynn Wood

Published: January 22, 2024

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Did you know that the amazing state of South Dakota is home to six national parks? With a population of around 895,000 people and an area of over 77,000 square miles, this state has plenty of natural beauty to take in. South Dakotans celebrate the history of their state, including many discoveries related to its earliest formation. Whether it’s a dig site showcasing prehistoric fossils, historic towns and businesses, or monuments to leaders in American history, South Dakota is known for its historic preservation. Even the geology of the land tells a story. Here are some things that South Dakotans love about themselves and their beautiful state.

5 Things South Dakotans Love About Themselves

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is known for its amazing geology, which allows visitors to see the formation of the land through the rock layers.

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This National Park is a true treasure for nature lovers who are interested in everything from animals and plants to geology to prehistoric fossils. Badlands National Park covers around 244,000 acres and has places to camp, hike, drive, stargaze, and more. Astronomy is a popular pastime at the Badlands because the night sky is so dark and offers fantastic views of the cosmos. Even if you do not have experience or equipment, you can join a guided tour through the National Park Service.

Badlands National Park is also home to a fossil preparation lab. Because the site is home to so many fossils, not to mention the fascinating history of the land chronicled through geology, it is a prime location for researchers to work. During a visit, you can go on your own fossil hunt or take a guided tour through the lab at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is centered on a colossal sculpture carved into the granite in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota

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One of the most famous things that South Dakotans love about themselves is their Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Here you can get up close with the larger-than-life figures of four amazing presidents carved into stone in South Dakota’s Black Hills region. Mount Rushmore National Monument features the busts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Carved over 14 years from 1927 to 1941, Mount Rushmore memorializes American ingenuity and work as much as it does the historic significance of the four Presidents.

The Black Hills also have cultural significance to Indigenous American tribes. 21 tribal nations collaborate with the National Park Service to preserve the history and access to the area surrounding Mount Rushmore. A carving of Lakota leader Crazy Horse is now underway in the Black Hills.

Historic Deadwood and Wall Drug

deadwood street view during snow

Deadwood, South Dakota gets plenty of snow in the winter.

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To experience what life was like in South Dakota during the gold rush of the late 19th century, visit Deadwood, South Dakota. This town on the western side of the state combines the history of the Wild West with modern amenities and activities. You can see the graves of famous figures such as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock. Later in the day, ski down one of South Dakota’s premier slopes. Winter is a great time to visit this part of South Dakota.

Wall Drug is another spot that is a famous attraction in South Dakota. This store dates back to the 1930s. Much of its appeal to visitors today is in how well it showcases that history. It began as a humble spot for travelers to stop for free water, a tradition that they continue today. If you are traveling across South Dakota, a visit to Wall Drug will allow you to travel the same route and the same way as tourists have for almost 100 years. if there’s one thing that South Dakotans love, it’s their state’s rich history.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Calcite formations in Jewel Cave, South Dakota

Jewel Cave features calcite formations.

©Abir Anwar / CC BY 2.0 – Original / License

One of the coolest places to visit in South Dakota lies underground. Jewel Cave National Monument has more than 200 miles of underground passages and caverns mapped. There are countless more still waiting to be discovered and explored. There are four different cave tour routes available, all guided by a knowledgeable park ranger, at various levels of difficulty.

This is a great place to visit to learn more about the formation of the fascinating rocks of South Dakota. Some of the oldest geological formations in the state formed as early as 2 billion years ago. Jewel Cave formed as a result of acidic groundwater moving through slowly beginning around 40 million years ago.

Prehistoric Mammoths

You can see an active dig site at Hot Springs, South Dakota.

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This South Dakota history predates even the earliest tribes of people living in the region. The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs was discovered in the 1970s when a housing development began construction. The team unearthed mammoth tusks and other fossils. Today, as many as 60 mammoths have been discovered. The site is one of the leading locations for mammoth research in the world. You can visit to see the researchers in action, tour the dig site, and learn more about mammoths at the interpretive displays.


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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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