“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
‘Wild’ isn’t exactly the word that pops to mind when you think of traveling to the Midwest, but if the thought of wild places only invokes images of megafauna in Yellowstone or mountains in Alaska, perhaps it’s time to shake up your perspective and get to know the untamed side of South Dakota – and we’re not talking Sturgis.
For your next adventure vacation, consider the natural wonders and rowdy legends of this sparsely-populated, sprawling state rich in culture, a fascinating history, and celebrating a stunning landscape. Not sure what to expect? That’s half the fun, but here are eight things we think you shouldn’t miss on your big escape to The Mount Rushmore State.
8. Wild and crazy tourism stunt: Mount Rushmore National Monument
Started in 1927, this 60-foot high memorial was originally dreamed up in order to promote South Dakota tourism. The project took over 400 workers 14 years to build, as the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln were carefully chiseled into the fine-grained granite. The sculptors climbed 506-steps every day, and, thankfully, there were no fatalities during construction. Why those presidents? Well, these iconic gents represent the first 130 years of American history, some of the wildest times in the United States.
7. Wild and crazy bike route: The Mickelson Trail
This 108-mile biking and hiking trail follows the breathtaking route of the abandoned Burlington Northern Railway, stretching through the heart of the Black Hills from Edgemont to Deadwood. Whether you’re pedaling the rolling terrain or exploring tunnels and side trails along the way, South Dakota’s premier rails-to-trails pathway opens travelers of all modes to a whole new world of wilderness. Keep an eye out for wildlife!
6. Wild and crazy frontier town: Deadwood
In the 1870’s, when Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his men discovered gold near present-day Custer, South Dakota, hopefuls flooded to the settlement of Deadwood, a lawless, unofficial town located on land that belonged to the Lakota people. What followed the Black Hills Gold Rush was an influx of debauchery, gamblers and prostitutes, brothels and saloons, opium and gunfights. The likes of Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, and Calamity Jane were well-known in these parts. Nowadays, you’re welcome to saddle up to the bar at Diamond Lil’s for a Bootlegger Tea and take a gander at the Dances With Wolves memorabilia showcased around this legendary establishment.
5. Wild and crazy wildlife reserve: Custer State Park
South Dakota’s first and largest state park boasts over 71,000 acres of free-roaming bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, coyotes, prairie dogs, bald eagles, mountain lions, mountain goats, and the famous “begging burros.” A drive down one of the park’s scenic roadways will get you up-close-and-personal with these friendly, feral mammals.
4. Wild and crazy “world beneath the prairie:” Wind Cave National Park
Get ready for superlatives! One of America’s oldest national parks, Wind Cave spreads majestically across 33,847 acres of the world’s largest remaining natural mixed-grass prairie. As bison and elk graze above ground, below exists one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world. Famous for its collection of calcite formation, boxwork, Wind Cave boasts 95 percent of the world’s known boxwork, while frostwork and popcorn also dazzle explorers in this sixth longest cave in the world.
3. Wild and Crazy Horse Monument
Under construction since 1948, the Crazy Horse Memorial honors Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. In 1931, Henry Standing Bear wrote a letter to the sculptors of Mount Rushmore asking for Crazy Horse to be included. There was no reply, but Standing Bear did not relent, saying “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.” With much persistence, permission was granted by the US government for land designated to the epic sculpture. Should the undertaking ever be completed, the final dimensions would be 641-feet wide and 563-feet high. It would thus be the world’s largest sculpture. Now, that’s wild and crazy!
2. Wild and crazy storytelling: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Her name was Wilder and her stories were semi-autobiographical: a young woman growing up on the Great Plains of South Dakota who came to be loved by little girls a hundred years later and beyond. An American literary icon, Little House on the Prairie and Wilder’s other tales are wild and crazy in their own right, inviting the armchair traveler to journey with her through a time when churning butter was the grocery story alternative and log cabins were more than just a romantic weekend-getaway destination.
1.Wild and crazy luxury: South Dakota’s relaxing side
Curious to create your own South Dakota story but don’t want to sacrifice the comforts of the ritzier, glitzier mountain towns and more well-known destinations? Lucky for you, South Dakota offers some fine places to indulge in ultimate gourmet fare and divine accommodations. Whether you’re savoring the char-grilled elk chop steeped in wild mushroom gravy at the Sylvan Lake Lodge or melting into bliss as you get a hot stone massage at the Deadwood Mountain Grand, days adventuring in the wilds of South Dakota can always be balanced with the opposite of wild and crazy found in restful abodes and delicious, locally-sourced cuisine. Or you could check out Sturgis…