What is South Dakota known for?
South Dakota is known for its rolling hills, fertile farmland, natural resources, and national parks. South Dakota is also known for its Native American heritage and popular tourist attractions such as the Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the Crazy Horse mountain carving.
We all know South Dakota is famous for Mount Rushmore, but what else is there? A lot. For one, South Dakota is home to one of the most well-known Native American tribes. South Dakota also has stunning landscapes and hidden subterranean depths.
There’s even a spot where over five dozen prehistoric giants were unearthed. In this article, we’ll learn more about these things (and more!) that make South Dakota famous.
- What is South Dakota Known For? These 25 Things!
- 1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- 2. Crazy Horse Memorial
- 3. The Badlands National Park
- 4. The Missouri River
- 5. The Big Sioux River
- 6. The Black Hills
- 7. Wind Cave National Park
- 8. Black Hills Gold
- 9. The Black Hills National Forest
- 10. Custer State Park
- 11. The Split with North Dakota
- 12. Pierre, South Dakota
- 13. Sturgis, South Dakota
- 14. Deadwood, South Dakota
- 15. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- 16. Rapid City, South Dakota
- 17. Hot Springs, South Dakota
- 18. Native American Tribes
- 19. Wounded Knee Creek
- 20. The World’s Only Corn Palace
- 21. The Coyote State
- 22. The South Dakota State Bird
- 23. The South Dakota Flag
- 24. The Mammoth Site
- 25. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
- FAQs About Famous South Dakota Things
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What is South Dakota Known For? These 25 Things!
1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
The most famous of all South Dakota’s landmarks, without a doubt, is Mount Rushmore. The sculpture depicts George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Mount Rushmore draws over 2 million visitors per year! South Dakota got the nickname “The Mount Rushmore State” because of this monument.
2. Crazy Horse Memorial
Several miles southwest of Mount Rushmore stands another giant sculpture. This one depicts Oglala Lakota leader Crazy Horse. Commissioned in 1948, the statue is still a work in progress, although the face of Crazy Horse has been completed. Once completed, the Crazy Horse mountain carving will become the second-tallest statue in the world. The tallest is India’s Statue of Unity.
3. The Badlands National Park
Another of South Dakota’s most famous attractions covers 244,000 acres in southwestern South Dakota. In contrast to the plains in much of the rest of the state, the Badlands National Park contains rugged mountains, canyons, and other rock formations. Many prehistoric fossils have also been found on the territory of this national park.
4. The Missouri River
This river played a vital role in the journey of Lewis and Clark as they explored the territory of The Louisiana Purchase. It runs down through the center of the state, with the western two-thirds of the state on one side and the remaining third on the east.
The river provides a source of hydroelectric energy. It’s also a popular place for boating and fishing.
❓ Trivia Time: What states does the Missouri River run through?
5. The Big Sioux River
This river is a tributary of the Missouri River. It flows out of eastern South Dakota, joining the Missouri in the southeast corner of the state. At times, the Big Sioux River experiences severe flooding.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed an elaborate flood control system between 1955 and 1961 to help counter this natural disaster.
6. The Black Hills
After the Badlands, one of South Dakota’s most popular tourist attractions is the Black Hills. This isolated mountain range covers roughly 5000 square miles of southwestern South Dakota. Black Elk Peak, the tallest peak in the range and the state’s highest point, towers into the sky, standing 7,244’ tall. It is also the highest peak in the United States east of the Rockies.
❓ Trivia Time: What states are the Rocky Mountains in?
7. Wind Cave National Park
An extensive cave system can also be found in the Black Hills. One of the most remarkable places is the Wind Cave National Park. This cave system has the honor of being the first cave in the world to be designated as a national park. Wind Cave National Park was also the sixth place in America to be recognized as a national park.
8. Black Hills Gold
During the frontier years, miners and prospectors poured into the Black Hills hoping to strike it rich. A jeweler who came along with the prospectors gained fame for his work, leading a specific style of handmade jewelry known as Black Hills gold.
This style incorporates grape clusters and vine shapes. It also alloys gold with other precious metals to create pink, green, and yellow hues. Another boast of this design is that no two products are exactly the same.
9. The Black Hills National Forest
This national forest contains not just the Black Hills, but much of the surrounding countryside as well. In all, it encompasses an area of 1.25 million acres. Black Hills spruce trees, the official state tree, grow here.
In addition to the Black Hills, this national forest contains South Dakota’s Elk Mountains and the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming, also known for its rugged western beauty. The forest, and the many sites within it, is a popular place for outdoor recreation of every sort.
10. Custer State Park
Another of the many popular tourist attractions in the Black Hills is Custer State Park. Named for Lt. Colonel George A. Custer, the park spans more than 71,000 acres of mountains and prairies.
A wide variety of wildlife lives here including buffalo, coyote, elk, and cougars. Although this park bears Custer’s name, the most famous site associated with the Union officer is in Montana, which is known for Custer’s famous “Last Stand.”
11. The Split with North Dakota
South Dakota and North Dakota were once one Dakota Territory. However, in February of 1889, President Grover Cleveland had the territory split in two. In November of that same year, under President Benjamin Harrison, they both became states.
President Harrison is said to have shuffled the papers, leaving it a mystery as to which state was admitted to the Union first. To this day, it remains a bone of contention in the friendly rivalry between North Dakota and South Dakota.
12. Pierre, South Dakota
Usually, a state capital is one of the largest cities in the state. This is not the case in South Dakota, though. Situated in central South Dakota, Pierre is the ninth-most populated city in the state! As of 2020, the population was just over 14,000, making it the second-least populous capital city after Montpelier, Vermont.
13. Sturgis, South Dakota
This city in western South Dakota may not be in even the top 10 most populated cities in South Dakota, but it may be the most famous. The town is practically synonymous with motorcycles thanks to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Biker gangs such as Hell’s Angels and others have been known to frequent the rally. However, the greatest “danger” may come more from the normal dangers inherent to riding a motorcycle, especially when compounded by thousands of attendees.
14. Deadwood, South Dakota
While Sturgis’ bark may be worse than its bite, there’s no denying the notoriety of this Wild West boomtown. The town began as a mining town and had no shortage of gunfights, corrupt officials, and all the various vices of the Wild West. One of the peaks of notoriety came with the murder of legendary gunman Wild Bill Hickok.
15. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Sioux Falls in eastern South Dakota has the highest population of any city in the state. As of 2022, estimates put the population at over 200,000. As such, the Sioux Falls area accounts for 30% of the entire state’s population. Sioux Falls has a wealth of museums, galleries, and cultural attractions, including a Japanese garden offering a taste of the Far East in the Old West.
16. Rapid City, South Dakota
After Sioux Falls, Rapid City is the largest city in South Dakota, with a population just under 75,000. Located towards the western edge of the state, it is a major hub for exploring the Black Hills, the Badlands, and other popular tourist attractions in the area.
Rapid City has the nickname “City of Presidents.” This is because of the life-size bronze statues of each of the United States Presidents scattered throughout the downtown area.
17. Hot Springs, South Dakota
This small city in the southwestern corner of the state was named for the thermal springs in the surrounding area. The city serves as a jumping-off point for exploring the area, especially the Wind Cave National Park. Visitors can enjoy attractions such as a dip in the springs, a game of golf, or even a hot-air balloon ride!
❗ Fun Fact: New Mexico is known for hosting a huge hot-air balloon festival every October in which hundreds of balloons take to the skies!
18. Native American Tribes
The most famous tribe from present-day South Dakota, the Sioux, was actually a confederation of several sub-tribes. This group included the Oglala, the Blackfeet, the Hunkpapa, and several others. Before the 1700s, the Mandan and Arikara also lived here, but the Sioux historically dominated the territory from then on until the coming of white Americans.
19. Wounded Knee Creek
This area of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Oglala Lakota County is best known for the tragic Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. It is said that the bones and heart of Crazy Horse were buried here after his death in 1877. A small monument now stands here as a memorial to those killed in the massacre.
20. The World’s Only Corn Palace
Mitchell, South Dakota is home to the one and only Corn Palace. Despite its royal name, the Corn Palace serves as an event hall. Various gatherings take place throughout the year including concerts, sporting events, and even a rodeo.
The original palace was built in the late 1800s. At that time, various “grain palaces” sprouted up across Great Plains states as promotions of the local crops and agriculture.
21. The Coyote State
The largest populations of these wild dogs live around the Missouri River and in the Black Hills. The abundance of coyotes in the state and the significant role they play in the mythology of local Native Americans led South Dakota to adopt the coyote as its official South Dakota state animal. From this, it also got the nickname “The Coyote State”
22. The South Dakota State Bird
The ring-necked pheasant represents South Dakota as the state’s official state bird. This species is not native but was introduced in 1908. Since then, the population flourished. Pheasant is known for its delicious meat and is considered a delicacy in South Dakota and the other states where it is found.
23. The South Dakota Flag
The South Dakota state flag has an interesting backstory. The flag went through several transformations before reaching its present form. At first, it featured the Great Seal of the State of South Dakota. Within the ring of the seal, a banner featuring the state motto: “Under God the people rule” stood above a landscape symbolizing the state.
The flag had an image on the reverse side of a golden sun surrounded by the phrases “South Dakota” and “The Sunshine State.” Since this flag first flew in 1909, the flag combined both sides into one. The current flag features the seal surrounded by sunbeams. “The Sunshine State” was also replaced with “The Mount Rushmore State.”
❗ Fun Fact: Oregon is known for being the only state with a double-sided flag.
24. The Mammoth Site
This site near Hot Springs, South Dakota is the site of an incredible discovery of the remains of 61 mammoths! The mammoth remains were first unearthed in 1974.
The discovery of this treasure trove of fossils led the landowner to donate the land for non-profit and research uses. Now a museum stands on the site, offering visitors information on local archaeology.
25. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
Another treasure of South Dakota’s natural beauty is this road in western South Dakota. Majestic limestone cliffs tower above the winding road flanked by forests and streams. Side canyons along the way make for excellent day hikes and a variety of other outdoor recreational activities, such as biking, can be enjoyed here as well.
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FAQs About Famous South Dakota Things
So, what is South Dakota known for? Majestic natural beauty, lofty mountain monuments, a rich history, and much more! We hope this article has helped shed some light on the Sunshine State!