Of course Gutzon Borglum?s enormous National Monument is a huge draw card. With over three million visitors a year, the four Presidential figures tower nearly 6,000 feet above the Dakota landscape and are a sight to behold. Representing the birth, expansion, preservation and development of the United States, the carvings were completed in 1941 and continue to captivate visitors from around the world. While visiting the monument is free, there is a charge for parking at the facility, and additional tours come at a cost. However, it is just as worthwhile to walk some of the trails and visit the various displays and museums on site to get a feel for the scale of the project and its rich history.
Rushmore is not the only majestic peak in the Dakota Badlands. Nearby Custer State Park is home to the Needles Highway, a spectacular drive that winds up and through surreal granite spikes and peaks. Similarly, the Iron Mountain Road travels through the beauty of forested hills, and glimpses of Mt Rushmore can be had through several of the tunnels carved through the rock faces. Further into the valley all manner of wildlife wait to be discovered, from great lumbering Bison to elegant Pronghorn antelopes. Gregarious burrows and sprawling prairie dog towns can be seen from the Wildlife Loop road, and explored at your leisure.
If an urban environment is more to your tastes, Rapid City is nearby and there is plenty to do both there and in the surrounding towns. Rapid City is home to Ellsworth Air Force Base, which houses the 28th Bomber Wing and their B1-B aircraft. Just outside the facility is the free Air and Space Museum, with an impressive collection of aircraft on display outside and a fascinating series of displays chronicling the base?s history indoors. A tour can be booked at the museum which will take you through the base to one of the silos used to train crews for the Minuteman II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Replete with a replica missile inside, the tour gives an insight into the Cold War era and the tensions of the day.
For the more active, the Watiki Water Park is a great way to spend an afternoon. This completely indoor complex boasts three waterslides, a kid?s playground and lazy river ride and can be enjoyed in any weather. Grown-ups can soak in the hot tub, or splash down one of the slides alongside kids of all ages. There are concessions and an on-site bar for refreshments, and to maximize your fun the attached resort offers rooms which look out over the pools.
Just beyond Rapid City, Deadwood is a taste of days gone by. This wild-west themed town has embraced its heritage, recreating the look and feel of the gold rush mecca it was. Numerous bars and saloons pay homage to the wild men and women who were drawn by the promise of gold in the Black Hills and visitors can relive some of that excitement in casinos or as witnesses to shootouts in the street! The town showcases its history everywhere, and visitors can buy a drink in the bar where Wild Bill Hickock was shot or walk the streets that Calamity Jane made a name for herself on.
Nearby Sturgis is another town nestled in beautiful surrounds but with an entirely different appeal. While Sturgis is home to the Fort Meade military base, with historic ties to the forces engaged at Little Bighorn, its real claim to fame comes about once a year. The Sturgis Motorbike Rally happens every August, and is the largest event of its kind in the world. Over seventy years old, this rally sees bikes and riders come from far and wide to celebrate everything about motoring on two wheels. With concerts, trade displays and thousands of enthusiasts, Sturgis is a must-do stop for the bike lover.
While some states boast theme parks or metropolitan centers of millions, you would be hard pressed to find such diverse and interesting attractions as the ones in South Dakota. With fun for all the family, it is a great place to plan your next vacation.