South Dakota

South Dakota the Beautiful

See these seven scenic marvels as you traverse throughout the Mount Rushmore State

South Dakota is filled with plenty of natural wonders. While you may want to head to the most popular places like the Badlands, there are many other places to set out and explore. If you are looking for some unique places in the state, you will definitely want to add these hidden locations on your next travel itinerary.

Needles Highway, Custer State Park / Sharon Mollerus / Flickr

Needles – Custer State Park

One of South Dakota’s most impressive rock formations is along the Needles Highway. For 14 miles, you can travel throughout Custer State Park as the winding road takes you past the Needles. These granite formations have eroded over the years, and have left several majestic spires jutting up into the sky. The Cathedral Spires are one of the most popular spots, and you can usually find rock climbers testing their luck on the cliffs.

Needles Highway, Custer State Park / Sharon Mollerus / Flickr

While you might think these are just jagged edges in the sky, every formation has a unique appearance from pointed tips to large towers. One notable spot is called the Needles Eye because of its resemblance to the sewing apparatus. In addition to the Needles, you will find yourself among some gorgeous scenery with the thick pine forests and magnificent mountains. You don’t even have to get out of your car since most Needles are visible from the road.

Steve Elliott / Flickr

Sunflower Fields – I-90

South Dakota is home to some of the most beautiful sunflower fields in the United States, and it is actually one of the top producers of these flowers in the country. If you are looking for endless fields of these gorgeous yellow flowers, then you need to make a trip on I-90. In a state filled with flowers, this is one of the top spots to view these happy yellow plants. Throughout July and August, you can see miles of sunflowers in the state. You will also see plenty of photographers vying for the best shots during the summertime.

Roughlock Falls / Austin Matherne / Flickr

Roughlock Falls – Black Hills

Are you looking for an easy walk to see a spectacular waterfall? You will definitely want to check out the Roughlock Falls. These waterfalls are just a two-mile hike for one of the natural wonders of South Dakota. This nature area is tucked into the Black Hills. While you are on the trail, you will hike past some of the best views, and you can see why this is a popular spot in the state. The trail starts at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge and will travel past the tall aspen trees, unique rock formations, and flower-filled meadows. This trail has another excellent feature — it is ADA-accessible so that everyone can view these natural treasures. Once you get to the falls, you can get an up-close look at the rushing water and native wildlife. You might not want to leave, but unfortunately, the park is only open during daylight hours.

Cascade Springs, Creek, and Falls /

Cascade Falls – Hot Springs

Cascade Falls is not only a scenic wonder, but it is also one of the most pristine lakes in the state. This spring is the perfect spot for swimming as the water maintains a constant temperature of 65 degrees. The crystal clear watering hole has been a popular swimming spot for over a century. Cascade Falls flows over the waterfalls and originates from two miles upstream, so you are always swimming in clean water. Not only is the water clean, but you cannot find a more peaceful spot to swim with the relaxing sounds of the falls.

Spearfish Canyon / Justin Meissen / Flickr

Spearfish Canyon

Many people believe that Spearfish Canyon can rival the Grand Canyon in beauty. Spearfish Creek cuts deep into the land and has carved out some unique geological formations. Like many natural wonders in South Dakota, you can see plenty of rock spires and peaks along the canyon. Many visitors hike throughout the canyon or spend the night camping under the stars. If you love to fish, you will definitely want to check out this location. Since the creek is not artificially stocked, you can try your hand at catching wild brown and rainbow trout. Spearfish is another spot filled with magnificent waterfalls, including the Roughlock and Bridal Veil Falls. While some South Dakota spots are popular only during certain times of the year, Spearfish Canyon gives you spectacular views all year long. If you think that Spearfish Canyon looks a little familiar, it was the filming site for the 1990 movie Dances with Wolves.

Bear Butte / Neeta Lind / Flickr

Bear Butte

Located near Sturgis, Bear Butte is one of the most magical places in the state. Not only is it beautiful, but it is a sacred spot for many Native Americans. Bear Butte towers over the landscape at 1,253 feet. From the top of the butte, you can take in the entire view of Bear Butte State Park. When you are there, you are walking in the footsteps of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. The Cheyenne tribe believes that a prophet, Sweet Medicine, was given special directions at the top of the mountain. If you are looking for the best views, you can travel along the 3-mile trail that will take you to the top of the mountain. For those planning to hike, it is steep, and caution should be exercised while on the path.  You will see several tobacco pouches and prayer cloths on the trees left as offerings. Make sure to leave these articles in their place as they are considered sacred and should be left undisturbed.

Devil’s Gulch /

Devil’s Gulch – Garretson

Devil’s Gulch is a quiet spot to relax and the basis of an urban legend. Jesse James was said to jump over the gulch on horseback to evade pursuing lawmen. However, the ravine is around 18 feet from side to side, so some people have disputed that claim. While you are marveling at the legend, you can also enjoy the scenic beauty. The lake is said to be bottomless, as a line once sunk to the depth of 600 feet without hitting the bottom. Whether the James legend is true or not, you can discover points of interest, including the Devil’s Stairway and Devil’s Falls.

There’s more to South Dakota than the national parks. You should get out and explore these natural wonders of the Mount Rushmore State. 

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