South Dakota Bucket List: 38 Best Things To Do in South Dakota This Summer

Sturdy Bison Stands in Wind Cave National Park

I grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. After one road trip, you’ll see why my parents moved us here in the mid-’90s.

The Mount Rushmore State” offers endless opportunities for adventure, from exploring awe-inspiring caves and parks to admiring breathtaking scenic views. Its rural, its remote, and still has the spirit of the West. 

Here are the top things to do in South Dakota while you’re driving across the state on your epic summer road trip.

The Best Things To Do in South Dakota

South Dakota Landscape

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History buffs will uncover a treasure trove of attractions when crossing the state line. At first sight, you’ll be surprised by how rural the state is. If you’re driving into the western part of the state, you’ll be greeted by the Black Hills. If you’re driving in from the eastern side, you’ll be greeted by fields of corn, soybeans, and sunflowers.

South Dakota has some of the best national parks in the country, making it the perfect state for your summer road trip. 

It is home to sacred Native American sites and various museums where you can explore and learn about the “olden days.” I think it’s important that we take a moment to acknowledge the nine Tribes that consider South Dakota their home.

1. Wind Cave National Park

Boxwork in Wind Cave

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Theodore Roosevelt established Wind Cave as the eighth national park in the United States, making it the first cave to receive national protection

Wind Cave National Park is one of the world’s longest and most complex caves, with over 150 miles of explored passages. Given that, you may consider it worthwhile to book a guided tour of the cave to ensure you get the most out of your trip.

If staying above ground is more your speed, the park has more than 30 miles of hiking trails, offering the opportunity to see bison, black elk, and other wildlife. For a more immersive adventure, you can also catch a ranger-led wildlife-watching tour.

Do you find the night sky fascinating? Well, prepare to experience it in a whole new way from the park. Since this South Dakota attraction is far from major cities, it’s an ideal location for stargazing.

2. Badlands National Park

Scenic view at Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA.

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Badlands National Park hosts the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the U.S., so visitors can enjoy the natural scenery and wildlife while exploring this authentic Wild West wonderland.

In addition to its prairies, Badlands National Park is known for its labyrinth of spires, canyons, buttes, and pinnacles, which formed over 75 million years ago.

Take a drive through the park on Badlands Loop Road. Along the way, be sure to stop at various points of interest, such as Big Badlands Overlook, Prairie Wind Overlook, and Yellow Mounds Overlook. The Bigfoot Pass Overlook includes a picnic area, making for a great spot to break for a picnic lunch.

3. Custer State Park

Black Elk Peak South Dakota

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Custer State Park is a true gem among South Dakota’s “Great 8 Iconic Landmarks.” Sprawling across 71,000 acres, this park offers opportunities to take in the captivating beauty of the surrounding terrain.

The park is most famous for its herd of bison that roam freely through the grassy plains.

It is also known for having the highest point in the Black Hills—Black Elk Peak. You can hike to the lookout tower

A visit to Custer State Park isn’t complete without a scenic drive along the Wildlife Loop Road. This route showcases the region’s landscapes and provides opportunities for up-close wildlife encounters.

4. Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Sunset over Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, U.S.A.

Image Credit: jovannig/

Gracing the Black Hills of Keystone, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is a must-see attraction. Four famous faces are carved into the granite mountainside: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. This iconic landmark draws over two million visitors annually.

Don’t forget to stop by the visitor center, where you’ll find a museum, a bookstore, and information on Mount Rushmore’s history, including the monument’s construction and the artists who created it.

If you visit in the evenings during the summer months, Mount Rushmore is illuminated with memorable lighting featuring patriotic music and a flag-lowering ceremony.

5. Crazy Horse Memorial

Up close view of Crazy Horse Statue, in summertime, in front of monument in the distance within the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Image Credit: TopFloor/

One of South Dakota’s quintessential attractions is the Crazy Horse Memorial, a massive mountain sculpture still being carved in the Black Hills. This monument honors one of the most revered Native American leaders and warriors in history. When completed, it will be the largest mountain carving in the world, standing 641 feet long and 563 feet tall.

In addition to admiring this impressive work of art from afar, you can explore the on-site Indian Museum of North America to get a deeper understanding of Native American culture and history.

To make your visit to Crazy Horse Memorial even more remarkable, consider attending one of their special events organized throughout the year. 

6. The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs

Mammoth Site Close-up.

Image Credit: kwiktor/

The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs offers a unique perspective on history and paleontology. It boasts the world’s largest concentration of mammoth remains, giving visitors a glimpse into life during the Ice Age.

As an active paleontological excavation site, you can witness firsthand how scientists work to uncover and study fossils. Guided tours provide insight into how these specimens are found and what they teach us about prehistoric times.

When planning your trip to the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, be sure to stop by the Information Center first for tips on getting the most out of your visit.

7. Old Courthouse Museum

Summer Aerial View of Sioux Falls, The largest City in the State of South Dakota.

Image Credit: jjbooma/

The Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls is the perfect destination for anyone interested in learning about the region’s natural and cultural histories. Housed in a beautifully restored 19th-century quartzite building that originally served as a courthouse, the museum houses three floors of exhibits dedicated to regional history.

At the Old Courthouse Museum, you can explore fascinating relics spanning from colonial times to modern-day Sioux Falls. There are Native American artifacts, pioneer-era items, and displays detailing South Dakota’s role in key moments in United States history.

The museum store also offers unique and affordable Dakota-made items that add an authentic touch to your trip souvenir collection.

Admission is free.

8. South Dakota Air and Space Museum

Propeller Airplane

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The South Dakota Air and Space Museum gives you the opportunity to tap into your love for aviation. Located just off I-90 in Rapid City, this museum boasts over 30 indoor and outdoor aircraft on display.

A primary attraction at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum is its outdoor air park. Here, you’ll find a vast collection of historic military aircraft from different wars, including World War II.

Admission to the museum is free.

9. Black Hills National Forest

Cathedral Spires in South Dakota

Image Credit: keeweeboy/

The Black Hills National Forest is a breathtaking expanse of forests, caves, mountains, and grasslands covering more than 1.2 million acres in South Dakota and parts of Wyoming.

The forest offers various activities, such as camping, hiking, and wildlife watching. There are also plenty of sightseeing options, such as a scenic drive along Iron Mountain Road.

The forest’s two most popular rock climbing spots are the Needles and Sylvan Lake. Both areas have established climbing routes with bolted anchors and fixed protection. However, you’re responsible for bringing your own gear, and it’s best to be somewhat familiar with fundamental climbing techniques before taking to the mountain.

10. Jewel Cave National Monument

A geological formation of rocks near Custer, South Dakota.

Image Credit: CheriAlguire/

Jewel Cave National Monument is the third-longest cave system in the world and offers you the chance to explore stunning crystal formations and unique geological features.

You can book a guided tour to ensure a more immersive experience. The tours tend to sell out quickly, so plan ahead and book in advance. 

11. Spearfish Canyon

Surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest, Spearfish Creek is a fly fishing paradise and holds one of the finest populations of wild rainbow trout in the Black Hills.

Image Credit: adifferentbrian/

Spearfish Canyon is a 19-mile-long canyon stretching from Spearfish to Cheyenne Crossing. You’ll find towering limestone cliffs, cascading waterfalls, dense forests, and miles of hiking trails.

Spearfish Canyon’s wildlife is as diverse as it gets, with mountain goats and eagles alongside other bird species living in the area’s rugged terrain.

In winter months, skiing and snowmobiling are popular activities at the nearby ski resort, Terry Peak Ski Area, which is just outside of Deadwood and Lead in the Northern Black Hills.

12. Falls Park

Falls Park along the Big Sioux River in Sioux Falls South Dakota.

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Located in Sioux Falls, Falls Park is a must-visit destination when you’re traveling to South Dakota. It’s a good place to stop and stretch your legs.

This 128-acre park has waterfalls created by the Big Sioux River as it flows through the city center.

In addition to taking in the views of the falls, you can explore the walking trails. There’s also an observation tower that provides views of the park from above.

13. Deadwood

Deadwood Street View

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Deadwood is a historic town in South Dakota that you don’t want to miss. The bustling downtown district, known as Historic Main Street or Historic Old Town, is home to unique shops, restaurants, and casinos that will entertain you for hours on end.

Do you have a passion for history? You’ll love visiting Mount Moriah Cemetery, where iconic figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried.

Outdoor enthusiasts are also well-catered in and around Deadwood. For instance, take a scenic drive across the border into Wyoming to see Devils Tower or head out for a day on the northern terminus of the 109-mile George S. Mickelson Trail. If winter sports are more your thing, you’ll enjoy skiing at the nearby ski resort.

Just north of Deadwood, visitors can hike to the Friendship Tower at Mount Theodore Roosevelt. This is a tribute to President Theodore Roosevelt by his good friend Seth Bullock.

14. Sylvan Lake

Beautiful Sylvan Lake

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The stunning Sylvan Lake is nestled in Custer State Park and offers you breathtaking views of the Black Hills. Theodore Reder created the lake in 1881, and to this day, it remains one of the park’s most recognizable attractions.

During the summer months, you can enjoy swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, or hiking.

15. National Music Museum

Music museum

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The National Music Museum was made with music lovers in mind. It’s located on the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, and it’s one of the largest institutions in the world dedicated to musical instruments. The museum boasts over 15,000 extraordinary instruments, ranging from rare violins to pianos from the 16th century.

The building itself is a beautifully restored Carnegie building, which adds even more charm to your visit.

Admission to the National Music Museum is free. 

16. Mitchell Corn Palace

Mitchell Corn Palace in South Dakota

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If you’re looking for a unique and quirky attraction in South Dakota, the Mitchell Corn Palace should definitely be on your list. Built in 1892 to showcase the state’s agricultural success, it’s now decorated with intricate corn murals—an impressive sight!

The building itself is mostly brick and concrete, but there are large wooden sections that can be filled with crop art. Inside, you’ll find even more corn murals and learn about the fascinating history of the place.

It might sound like an odd attraction, but the Corn Palace has been visited by some notable people over the years, including Theodore Roosevelt and even Elvis Presley!

17. Good Earth State Park

Black tailed prairie dog

Image Credit: wollertz/

Just southeast of Sioux Falls, Good Earth State Park offers wild prairies, light forests, hilly inclines, and gradual slopes that make for excellent trails.

It’s a nice place to check out that isn’t too far from the city.

18. Children’s Museum of South Dakota

Child starting soap bubbles

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Located in Brookings, the Children’s Museum of South Dakota boasts an array of hands-on exhibits and hours of engaging entertainment.

Inside the museum, kids can explore the water room, build structures in the building station, and create their own meals at the cafe exhibit. And don’t speed past the “Under the Hood” exhibit, where you can design and build vehicles using recycled materials.

With everything from science experiments to art-making stations available, there’s no shortage of imagination-sparking experiences to be had.

19. Lewis & Clark Recreation Area

St. Charles, Missouri, USA: Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail marker sign on a rustic wood post. The trail follows the Corps of Discoverys route across the western United States.

Image Credit: EWYMedia/

The Lewis & Clark Recreation Area offers plenty of outdoor activities, with the 1.2-mile Gavins Point Nature Trail offering a scenic journey through the area’s flora and fauna.

If you like camping, the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area has 418 campsites and 19 rental cabins. Along with several recreational facilities, you can take advantage of the park’s full-service marina or relax along its sandy beaches.

The history buffs will appreciate how this park is connected with the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

20. Ingalls Homestead

Chuckwagon On The Prairie

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If you or anyone you’re traveling with is a fan of the Wilder family, Ingalls Homestead is a must-visit location in South Dakota. This historic homestead is located near De Smet and offers an authentic demonstration of pioneer heritage through various hands-on activities.

One of the most unique activities at Ingalls Homestead is the chance to camp out through the night on the prairie, just like Laura did in her books.

Camping on the site is an intimate adventure, as there are only four covered wagons, one bunkhouse, a few RV sites, and some tent camping options available.

21. Bear Butte State Park

Bear Butte And Bear Butte Lake

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Bear Butte State Park is located near Sturgis, South Dakota. Established in 1961, it features a fascinating geological laccolith.

Many Native American tribes consider the geological feature sacred and frequent the location for religious ceremonies.

It is a great place to hike.

22. Dignity: of Earth & Sky

Dignity Statue, I-90 Rest Area at Chamberlain, South Dakota

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Dignity: of Earth and Sky is a remarkable 50-foot sculpture in Chamberlain, South Dakota. It pays tribute to the Native American women belonging to the Lakota and Dakota Nations, showcasing their rich cultural heritage.

The statue’s dress, leggings, and moccasins are patterned after traditional Native attire from the 1850s.

The Dignity sculpture overlooks the Missouri River at a rest area and Welcome Center in Chamberlain and is visible even while driving on I-90.

People flock here yearly to marvel at its intricate details that capture the essence of South Dakota’s Indigenous people.

23. Adams Museum

Deadwood, South Dakota

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The Adams Museum in Deadwood, South Dakota, showcases the Old West’s rich heritage and the people who significantly shaped it. You can explore exhibits on General George Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, and Calamity Jane, among many other famed names.

A highlight of visiting the Adams Museum is its beautifully restored Victorian mansion. You can take a self-guided tour through each room to see what life was like for wealthy families during this period. 

24. Petrified Wood Park and Museum

Road through Black Hills in South Dakota USA, Iron Mountain Road

Image Credit: Quasarphotos/

Sorry, the image above is actually of a tunnel along Iron Mount Road.

The Petrified Wood Park and Museum in Lemmon takes up an entire city block and is built entirely out of petrified wood, fossils, and stone. You can wander through the park to see locally gathered petrified wood formations and other geological specimens of interest.

In addition to the outdoor displays, the free museum showcases a collection of historical artifacts and antiques from the town’s past.

Open year-round, this stop provides insight into life in small-town America during earlier times.

25. McCrory Gardens

Welcome to South Dakota road sign

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Located on the South Dakota State University campus in Brookings, McCrory Gardens is a bit of a hidden gem. This oasis features a 25-acre botanical garden and a 45-acre arboretum showcasing diverse plant species.

You can explore the beautiful scenery at your own pace to learn more about the plants and their histories.

You can catch some awesome events depending on when you plan your visit.

26. Storybook Island

American Buffalo

Image Credit: wollertz/

One of the must-see attractions in South Dakota, especially if you’re traveling with young children, is Storybook Island.

This admission-free theme park boasts over 100 sets based on popular fairy tales and storybooks, including Cinderella’s Castle and Alice’s Wonderland.

Founded more than 60 years ago by Merle Gunderson and Rapid City Rotary Club, Storybook Island offers plenty of opportunities for little ones to climb, slide, crawl, jump, and play on playground equipment.

27. Reptile Gardens

Gold dust day gecko licking the juicy red fruit of a green cactus close-up.

Image Credit: TheWorldTraveller/

Reptile Gardens is home to a vast variety of reptiles, including crocodiles, tortoises, lizards, frogs, salamanders, and bugs, as well as poisonous and nonvenomous snakes from all over the world.

One of the most unique attractions in this location is its famous skydome. 

In addition to the skydome, you can check out their botanical garden and Prairie Dog Town or visit the Gator and Crocs arena.

28. Porter Sculpture Park

Sunflower field

Image Credit: iofoto/

Created by local artist Wayne Porter, this park features over 50 larger-than-life metal sculptures that are both thought-provoking and whimsical. You’ll find everything from giant bugs to a towering dinosaur park at this quirky attraction.

One of the most popular sculptures at Porter Sculpture Park is the “World’s Largest Bull’s Head.” This massive sculpture stands 60 feet tall and weighs over 25 tons. Another must-see sculpture at Porter Sculpture Park is the T-Rex.

The park is only open seasonally, so visit their website before planning a stop.

29. Butterfly House & Aquarium

Feeding butterflies in the butterfly house

Image Credit: FlexFlex/

One of the top attractions in Sioux Falls is the Butterfly House & Aquarium.

This destination invites you to explore a tropical conservatory filled with over 800 free-flying butterflies from around the world. 

The Butterfly House & Aquarium also boasts 12 aquariums featuring marine fish, jellies, and corals. It’s a perfect way to learn about different sea life species while watching their movements through crystal-clear tanks.

30. Rushmore Tramway Adventures

Young Man Riding On Zip Line.

Image Credit: Corepics/

A definite favorite attraction in South Dakota is bound to be Rushmore Tramway Adventures, located near the Mount Rushmore National Monument.

This thrilling adventure park is sure to satisfy the adrenaline junkie in you. You can ride the alpine slide down the mountain, jump off a tower, or fly through the treetops on a zipline tour. One of their newest attractions is Pinnacle Zipline, which provides lots of exhilaration as you zip over a mile of forest at speeds over 40 mph!

If you’re looking for something more relaxing, take a scenic chairlift ride and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding Black Hills.

31. Termesphere Gallery

Wind Cave National Park

Image Credit: zrfphoto/

Located in Spearfish, South Dakota, the Termesphere Gallery is a must-visit attraction for art and math enthusiasts.

This unique gallery displays the works of local artist D. Termes, who paints on globes called Termespheres. Each Termesphere is a revolving three-dimensional optical illusion that creates its own closed universe.

Open year-round, you can marvel at the intricate designs of these extraordinary spherical paintings. 

32. Bear Country USA

American Black Bear Sitting

Image Credit: cybernesco/

Bear Country USA is a wildlife park that offers you the opportunity to drive a 3-mile loop through natural enclosures and see North American mammals up close. From bison and elk to wolves and black bears, there’s a diverse range of animals to spot during your journey.

While the Black Hills don’t (typically) have wild bears anymore, Bear Country USA gives you the opportunity to see them up close.

33. Evans Plunge Mineral Springs

Historic bridge, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Image Credit: zrfphoto/

Evans Plunge is one of the oldest tourist attractions in the Black Hills. Established back in 1890, it features a naturally spring-fed pool with water that remains at a constant temperature of 87 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.

If mineral springs and natural hot springs appeal to you, Evans Plunge should definitely be on your list. It boasts warm waters and a rich history as part of the Hot Springs National Historic District.

This attraction offers one of the best things to do in South Dakota.

34. Big Thunder Gold Mine

Man finding gold nuggets

Image Credit: jeffbanke/

Located in Keystone, Big Thunder Gold Mine has been in operation since 1892 and offers a guided tour of its underground tunnels.

The museum features fascinating exhibits about the Black Hills’ mining history and even offers gold panning opportunities if you’re eager to try your hand at striking it rich.

35. Black Hills Balloons

Hot air balloons over hay bales sunset landscape

Image Credit: Veneratio/

With more than 30 years of flying experience, Black Hills Balloons is the only hot air balloon operator in the area, and they offer incredible views of the Black Hills region.

During your flight, you’ll gain perspective on how vast and beautiful the American heartland truly is–from South Dakota to Wyoming and as far as the eye can see.

Even though it can be nerve-wracking to sit in a basket thousands of feet above the ground at first, rest assured that Black Hills Balloons prioritizes safety for all its passengers.

36. WaTiki Waterpark

Rapid City, South Dakota, USA

Image Credit: eunikas/

If you are looking for a fun and refreshing way to cool off on your South Dakota trip, head to WaTiki Indoor Waterpark in Rapid City. Trust me, your kids will thank you.

This water park is the largest indoor attraction of its kind in the Dakotas and is newly renovated with 30,000 square feet of slides, lazy rivers, activity pools, and an arcade – perfect for a summer road trip.

With a mission to save water and be more environmentally friendly, WaTiki asks that you B-Y-O-T (bring your own towel) when heading out for some fun at their facility. If you do happen to forget one, towels are available for purchase.

37. The National Presidential Wax Museum

Keystone, South Dakota, is the closest city in the Black Hills to Mount Rushmore.

Image Credit: Quasarphotos/

The National Presidential Wax Museum features over 100 lifelike wax figures of all 46 U.S. presidents. Each figure has been posed to illustrate memorable milestones from American presidential history.

You can take a journey through time and learn about defining moments in U.S. history as you see realistic wax sculptures in dramatic settings. From George Washington to Joe Biden, each president is represented with great detail, including their clothing, facial expressions, and mannerisms.

38. Wall Drug

Wall Drug Store view

Image Credit: YAY_Images/

Anyone who has driven anywhere near South Dakota has seen the famous Wall Drug signs dotted along the interstate. Yes, it is absolutely worth the stop.

Check out the cute shops, grab some ice cream, take some pictures, and then be on your way. You’ll be able to say you’ve visited this iconic roadside attraction. 

Where indicated, images courtesy of

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Ashlee Fechino

Ashlee Fechino is an outdoor recreation and travel writer sharing the best-kept secrets that aren’t in your typical guidebook. Her goal is to inspire people to travel with a sense of adventure by sharing hidden gems across the U.S. and beyond. She is married to an expat Argentine, Pablo. They camp in their Aliner often and love wandering the world. Follow their latest adventures on Instagram @thehappinessfxn.


  1. Destiny on April 13, 2023 at 6:03 pm

    I am making my way through all 50 states, currently on #32 and full disclosure I’ve been not exactly anticipating South Dakota, but I’m impressed! There really is a lot of beauty there and this blog post is so helpful in planning my trip!

    • Ashlee Fechino on April 14, 2023 at 8:31 am

      You’re going to be surprised! The Black Hills are incredible. Have fun on your 50 state journey. What a great life experience. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Samantha on April 13, 2023 at 3:31 am

    You never really hear about South Dakota. Saved this for later, because this place looks INSANELY awesome!! Wind Cave National Park looks super unique, too!

    • Ashlee Fechino on April 13, 2023 at 6:20 am

      Hi Samantha – thanks for saving. You HAVE to visit. You’ll have a great time! Thanks for reading. Enjoy your summer.

  3. Marilyn on April 13, 2023 at 12:07 am

    An extensive list of choices to explore and enjoy South Dakota. Wind Cave sounds amazing with 150 miles of caves. However the stargazing caught my interest. And Spearfish Canyon natural environment sounds wonderful.

    • Ashlee Fechino on April 13, 2023 at 6:19 am

      Hi Marilyn – I grew up in the Black Hills. There is so much to see and do if you love outdoor adventures. Have fun visiting. All of the places you listed are wonderful. Have a great summer.

  4. Michelle on April 12, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    Your post is extremely comprehensive, with so many terrific ideas of things to do in South Dakota. I haven’t been back to South Dakota since I was a teenager but I would like to visit again and check out the Badlands again or take a hot-air balloon ride over the Black Hills

    • Ashlee Fechino on April 13, 2023 at 6:18 am

      Hi Michelle – thanks for reading. You’ll have to go back as an adult. You’ll have the best time!

  5. Shreya on April 12, 2023 at 11:39 am

    Wow, South Dakota has so much to offer! I’ll have to add this to my list for sure!

    • Ashlee Fechino on April 13, 2023 at 6:17 am

      Thanks for reading, Shreya. Have a great summer.

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