South Dakota Exploring

In July we took a road trip to South Dakota for my cousin’s wedding. Neither of us had ever been to South Dakota before, so we decided to take advantage of it and be total tourists for the couple of days we had there.

Today I am sharing my top recommendations for places to see if you have the chance to visit. I should preface this by stating that I am not a history buff, and I am an animal lover. Derrick is the history guy, and we both enjoyed everything we did!

Bear Country USA

Our favorite place even with the historical sights was actually Bear Country USA. It is the perfect place for families, couples or animal lovers of all kinds! I have been the Zoo more times than I can count. I have even gone to the Zoo in other states. This was far better than just a Zoo! Coming from Colorado, you see a ton of wildlife in the mountains, particularly in Rocky Mountain National Park. I thought this would be similar to that, but I was wrong!

Bear Country USA is a place where you can drive through different animal habitats that are all completely open! You stay in your car as you follow a one way path through each animal’s territory. Of course you aren’t allowed to roll down the window and pet the animals, which is a lot more tempting than it may seem. I would definitely recommend bringing your camera, as you have a ton of opportunities to get some amazing wildlife shots! The animals have a ton of open space to roam around as they please. The bears always have the right of way int he bear habitat, so sometimes you will be stuck in a traffic jam until they decide it’s time to move. I loved that opportunity to be stopped and really get some great pictures!

At the end of the tour through the big animal habitats, you can visit all the babies. This was more like a normal zoo where you would get out and walk around. The babies were all so adorable, and it was hard to not want to take one home as a souvenir. Our dog Jax would love a brother or sister!

Mount Rushmore

My next favorite place we visited was Mount Rushmore. It didn’t really hit me how amazing it was until we walked up to the balcony and really took it all in. The carvings are mind blowing, and they were set above this incredible amphitheater.

From the balcony spot you can see the 60-foot carved figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln that were started in 1927 and were finished in 1941 . Surrounding it are views of the Black Hills of South Dakota. As you walk up to the mountain area, you walk through flags of all over.

They also have a visitor center, restrooms, snack areas and more. It’s a great place for families, and provides an opportunity to get out and stretch your legs if you have been on a longer road trip. Of course, you can get some great pictures that will always help you remember just how incredible this work of art really is.

Crazy Horse Memorial

We heard mixed reviews about the excitement of this memorial, but we decided we wanted to see if for ourselves. It was a fairly short drive from Mount Rushmore, and I’m glad we did it because it was a place that was more than just a carving. This place stands to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians. Of course, the carving is not finished yet. The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion.

Crazy Horse Memorial is also in the beautiful Black Hills. This is also a great place to bring your family. They have so much to do there, you can easily spend a few hours walking around and taking it all in. Their visitor center is full of Native American artifacts, arts and crafts. They also have an on-site restaurant if you are hungry. We didn’t have time to stop and eat, but they offer a variety of comfort foods and are a privately-owned business with royalties to Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

We didn’t get to stay through the evening, and I would love to see it some day. Once it gets dark, you can watch “Legends in Light,” the multimedia laser-light show. It is presented nightly from Memorial Day weekend through late September. Derrick’s favorite part was getting to take an actual rock from the carving home. He has it proudly displayed in our home, and I have to admit, it is pretty cool having a piece of history like that.


The final place we stopped on our short trip was the Historic Deadwood. It was named by early settlers after dead trees were found in its gulch. he entire city is designated as a National Historic Landmark District because of the well preserved Gold Rush-era architecture.

It offers casinos, breweries and wineries, live entertainment, tours, shopping and more. While we were there we soaked in all of the history and walked around all the little shops in the area. We also visited the spot where Wild Bill Hickok was killed and ate lunch across from where they give Ghost Tours at the Bullock Hotel. 

Overall, it was a very fun quick trip. We loved getting to explore areas we had never seen before and getting to dive into a little but of the history of South Dakota. Of course, it had the best ending with watching my beautiful cousin get married up in Nemo. If you’ve ever been there before, what was your favorite part?

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