University of South Dakota National Music Museum
On our way out of Kansas, our family stopped at the National Music Museum on the University of South Dakota's campus. The National Music Museum has an extensive collection of musical instruments, including more than 14,800 American, European, and non-Western instruments from a variety of cultures and time periods. Being big Johnny Cash fans, we were thrilled to see his guitar and June Carter’s. The vast selection of unfamiliar instruments was fascinating. An audio-tour was included with the very reasonable price.
- Address: 414 E. Clark Street, Vermillion, South Dakota 57069
- Metered parking
- AAA discount
*Currently closed for renovations - reopening planned for 2021
Palisades State Park
With only one night at Palisades State Park (30 minutes outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota), we did not get to explore this unique park as much as we would have liked. Our campsite was at a prime location on the rushing waters of Split Rock Creek with great views of the rose-colored Sioux quartzite formations.
If hiking after a rainstorm, be prepared for copious amounts of sticky, black mud. A popular vacation spot - reserve early for weekend dates. Cabin rentals are available.
- Address: 25491 485th Avenue, Garretson, South Dakota 57030
- Open year round (although showers/flush toilets turned off from October 1 through April 30)
- Palisades State Park entrance fee: $8/vehicle
Laura Ingalls Homestead
As fans of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, our family wanted to learn about her life in the Dakota Territory during the late 1800's. Although you can see most of Ingalls Homestead in a couple of hours, we spent a leisurely day on the 160-acre property. Out of all the activities --driving a covered wagon, touring a one-room school house, playing a pump organ, making corn husk dolls and rope, riding a pony -- the very favorite was playing in the two barns full of kittens!
We camped on the property for $10 per night which included access to the bathrooms and hot showers. With strong prairie winds, definitely stake and tie down your tent. (Our practice at the Outer Banks, North Carolina, paid off). RV camping is available with electric and water hookups. The dump station is located in the parking lot. For a unique camping experience on a family road trip, the covered wagons looked like fun.
- Address: 20812 Homestead Rd, De Smet, South Dakota 57231
- Admission: $15/person 5 years and up
World's Largest Pheasant
Heading to the Badlands National Park, we planned for few unusual stops on our South Dakota road trip. Located in the town of Huron, we discovered the 28-foot World's Largest Pheasant. This 22-ton fiberglass and steel pheasant pays tribute to Huron's place as a prime pheasant hunting destination. Keep a sharp look out, and like us, you might see an actual ring-necked pheasant.
- Address: Hwy-14, Huron, SD 57350
The World's Only Corn Palace
Established in 1892, the Corn Palace was initially used to demonstrate that South Dakota had a viable climate for agriculture. However, the World's Only Corn Palace now also attracts 500,000 tourists each year to view these one-of-a-kind corn murals. Each year there is a new design and theme, featuring naturally-colored grains and grasses.
- Address: 604 N Main Street, Mitchell, SD 57301
- Hours: Memorial Day through Labor Day 8am - 9pm; rest of the year 8am - 5pm
- Restrooms available
Dignity Statue & Missouri River Overlook
Heading west on I-90, our family stopped at the Chamberlain Information Center for a break to stretch our legs. For those in larger vehicles, there is plenty of parking with extra large spaces for RVs and trucks. However, it is worth the stop alone for the chance to view the magnificent 50-foot tall Dignity statue, honoring the indigenous people of the Dakotas, as well as to enjoy the mighty Missouri River overlook.
- Address: Chamberlain, South Dakota, located between exits 263 and 265 on Interstate 90
Murdo Drive-In (Lunch)
A long day on this part of our family road trip, we fueled ourselves up at the casual eatery, Murdo Drive-In. With cooked from scratch meals, this was not a fast food stop. But we weren't in a hurry. Decide between grass-fed burgers, broasted* chicken, tacos, or hotdogs and finish up your meal with ice cream - you can't go wrong. *FYI: Broasted -a method that combines pressure cooking with deep frying.
- Address: 212 Kennedy Ave, Murdo, SD 57559
- Hours: Summer season (mid-May through August) 11am - 10pm daily
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park remains a favorite camping spot of our South Dakota family road trip. Even if you only have a few hours, definitely make time for this other worldly experience. With only a few hours, you can stop by the visitor center and pick up a Junior Ranger booklet. Don't forget to watch the 20-minute film. A short hike at Door Trail and then a scenic drive along the Badlands National Park loop will give you a taste of this alien landscape and opportunity for wildlife spotting.
With more time (and no fear of heights), the Notch Trail is highly recommended. Our family spotted a fawn tucked into a nook in one of the cliff walls and enjoyed the great views of White River Valley. If you spend the night, the rangers give stellar programs - the dark skies were amazing for night sky viewing.
- Badlands National Park Entrance Fee: $30/7-day pass (or a $80/year for annual National Park Pass).
- Hiking: Carry hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, appropriate footwear, and plenty of water.
- To help stay cool, tie a damp bandana around your neck.
- Junior Ranger program
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
One name, but there are three parts to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site: Minuteman Missile Visitor Center, Delta-01 Launch Control Center, and the Missile Silo Delta-09.
Minuteman Missile Visitor Center
If possible, begin at the (free) Minuteman Missile Visitor Center, where exhibits and a park film explain the ballistic missile defense system and where it fits in the story of the Cold War. You can even touch a piece of the Berlin Wall, a symbolic reminder of the distrust between the United States and Soviet Union during this time period.
- Address Visitor Center: I-90 exit 131, Philip, SD 57567
- Junior Ranger program
Delta-O1 Launch Control Center
A trip to the ranger tour of the Delta-01 Launch Control Center was worthwhile to us. A nondescript ranch house hides the below ground launch control that remotely commanded ten missiles. Our knowledgeable ranger gave an interesting historical account of the Cold War era and the daily operations of the launch control center. Advance reservations only (minimum 90 days) --- summer month tours fill 8 weeks in advance.
Each participant on the Delta-01 tour must be able to physically climb two 15-foot ladders unassisted in the event of an elevator failure. Limited to six participants per tour.
- Address: I-90 exit 127, Wall, SD 57790
- Admission Fee Delta-01 LCC: $12/adult; $8/youth (6-16); under age 6 not allowed on tour.
Delta-09 Missile Silo
The Delta-09 Missile Silo tour site (free) consists of viewing an unarmed missile in a silo. A cell-phone guided tour is available to visitors.
- Address: I-90 Exit 116, Wall, SD 57790
South Dakota Air & Space Museum
On the way to Custer State Park, don’t miss the South Dakota Air & Space Museum. Experience a walk through aviation history in the indoor gallery. Exhibits include information about the missile defense system, legendary airplanes and their crews, and innovations in aerospace technology. Afterwards, walk outside and view 30 restored aircraft ranging from the supersonic B-1 Lancer to the utility UH-1F Huey helicopter and read the inspiring stories behind each of them.
- Address: 2890 Rushmore Dr., Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota 57706
- Admission: Free
Custer State Park
Custer State Park offers a central location for hiking, camping, and exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota. If you need a place to stay, Custer State Park has a variety of campground locations as well as camping cabins and lodge rooms. We camped along the creek at our tent-only Grace Coolidge campsite. If you want to view wildlife, drive the 18-mile scenic Wildlife Loop Road.
We spotted bison, burros, elk, wild turkeys, 26 deer (bucks, does, and fawns), pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, chipmunks, and red squirrels. The best times for finding wildlife are early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Two great hikes are the Black Elk Trail and the Sunday Gulch Trail; both originate from Sylvan Lake. Arrive early to avoid crowds and find parking. Black Elk Trail took ~5 hours and Sunday Gulch ~3 hours. Pack a fleece jacket if you hike the Black Elk Trail. The tallest peak in South Dakota, it was cold and windy at the top. If you can only pick one hike, we favored Sunday Gulch Trail for its varied terrain and water features, but you can't go wrong with either hike. We rewarded ourselves with delicious homemade pie from Bobkat's Purple Pie Place.
- Entrance Fee: $20/7-day pass
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
From your Custer State Park location, head north on the twisty, narrow Iron Mountain Road (16A). The unique one-way tunnels frame Mount Rushmore from this approach (check the width of your vehicle or you'll find yourself trapped in these narrow tunnels). Leave yourself an hour to savor the journey. Keep your eye out for wildlife - we spotted bison, mountain goats, elk, and mule deer.
A popular American landmark, Mount Rushmore National Memorial attracts almost 3 million visitors per year to view the larger-than-life presidents carved into the side of a mountain. Stop in at the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center for informative exhibits and a short film on the history and preservation of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Weather permitting, there is an evening lighting ceremony of the memorial.
- No entrance fee, but $10/vehicle for parking (good for a year). Limited parking for extra-long vehicles.
- Address: 13000 SD-244, Keystone, South Dakota 57751
- Junior Ranger program
Jewel Cave National Monument
Located only 13 miles west of Custer State Park, Jewel Cave National Monument makes a great stop on your South Dakota vacation. Summer months are busy and the limited group size means that tickets sell-out. Take advantage of advance ticket purchasing. Jewel Cave is the third largest cave system in the world with varied formations from cave "popcorn" to ribbons of cave "bacon." After our tour we headed over to Black Hills Burger & Bun for delicious burgers and cold drinks.
- Address: 11149 US-16, Custer, South Dakota 57730
- Scenic Tour: $12/adult; $8/child (6-16 yo); advance purchase suggested; footwear restrictions
- Junior Ranger program