best national parks south dakota

7 Best National Parks in South Dakota

There are seven National Park Services in the state of South Dakota. The state has two National Parks – Badlands and Wind Cave. The rest of the national park services consist of a breathtakingly beautiful National Recreation River and National Historic Trail as well as a National Historic Site and two National Monuments. So, whether you are into caves or carvings or history, hikes or heritage, Mount Rushmore State has a national park service to suit your interests. Ready to embrace the state’s wild wonders? Here’s our list of the best national parks in South Dakota.

7 Best National Parks in South Dakota

1. Badlands – National Park

Badlands National Park is 244,000 acres of protected mixed-grass prairie where wild animals roam, for instance, bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets. The national park also contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Its rugged beauty and landscape of eroded buttes, saw-toothed divides, gullies, and colourful strata draws visitors from around the world. In fact, around one million campers, hikers, backpackers and fossil enthusiasts visit Badlands National Park every year.

best national parks south dakota

2. Wind Cave – National Park

Wild Cave is a national park in South Dakota for wildlife lovers. Here you’ll find bison, elk, and other wildlife roaming one of the last intact prairies in the United States. But below this prairie, you’ll find Wind Cave, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. This warren of underground passages is home to boxwork, a unique formation rarely found elsewhere. President Theodore Roosevelt established Wind Cave as a National Park in 1903 and it was the first cave in the world to earn national park designation. It is one of the oldest national parks in the U.S.

3. Jewel Cave – National Monument

Located 13 miles west of Custer, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Jewel Cave the 13th national monument on the 7th of February 1908. Jewel Cave is the third-longest cave in the world with over 208 miles (335km) of mapped and surveyed passages. Its maze of passages and underground wilderness is the perfect place for curious explorers. Jewel Cave’s formation goes back about 360,000,000 years ago and when you visit the cave you can see ancient formations such as flowstones and stalactites and stalagmites.

best national parks south dakota

4. Minuteman Missile – National Historic Site

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site protects two facilities that were once part of a Minuteman Missile field. This significant Cold War site once covered the far western portion of South Dakota from 1963 through the early 1990s. The two facilities are the Launch Control Facility Delta-01 with its corresponding underground Launch Control Center, and Launch Facility (Missile Silo) Delta-09. Delta-09 is one of two places in America where the public can view a Cold War era missile silo. There is also a Minuteman Missile Visitor Center. The site tells the story of Minuteman Missiles, nuclear deterrence and the Cold War.

5. Lewis & Clark – National Historic Trail

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail extends for some 4,900 miles (7,900km). It is the third-longest National Historic Trail after The Trail of Tears in North Carolina and the California Trail. Stretching from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon, the trail commemorates the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 to 1806. Lewis and Clarke were American explorers and soldiers who set off to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country after the Louisiana Purchase. In South Dakota, the trail takes in Big Bend of the Missouri, Bad Humored Island, Fort Pierre and it incorporates the Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail.

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6. Missouri – National Recreation River

The Missouri River is the longest river in North America. Two free-flowing stretches of the Missouri River make up this national recreation river in South Dakota. There are loads of things to do in the beautiful spot. Grab your binoculars and enjoy some bird watching. Take to the water and go boating, canoing or kayaking or cast your line and go fishing. You can also enjoy scenic hiking routes, pitch a tent for some cool wild camping and even enjoy the beauty of the Missouri National Recreational River from the comfort of your own vehicle by taking a road trip along the byway.

7. Mount Rushmore – National Memorial

Mount Rushmore is one of the most famous monuments in America. The monument is located in Keystone, South Dakota. It is carved into the rock of the Black Hills. This mountain range rises from the Great Plains of North America. The carving is dedicated to four past Presidents of the United States. It features the faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Just over two million people visit Mount Rushmore each year making it one of the most visited national monuments in America.

best national parks south dakota

Melanie May

Melanie is an intrepid solo traveller, endlessly curious about people, places and food. She is a fan of slow travel and loves exploring the world by mouth, discovering a culture through its food. Having backpacked her way around the world she turned her wanderlust into a career and is now a full-time travel writer.

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