South Dakota
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Go on a SoDak Sojourn to Discover These 15 Hidden Gems in South Dakota

While it may be home to Mount Rushmore — a spot that gets more than two million visitors each year — South Dakota is full of unique hidden gems. From quiet outdoor getaways in the Black Hills to scenic waterfalls, and natural areas steeped in history, SoDak hidden gems have a certain je ne sais quoi that appeals to avid and occasional travelers alike.

Palisades State Park-South Dakota
Palisades State Park | photo via melissakpeterson

Palisades State Park

One of the most unique places in South Dakota is an outdoor paradise in the shadow of Sioux Falls. Bisected by Split Rock Creek, the park’s intriguing Sioux quartzite formations, scenic overlooks, towering cliffs, and rushing water make it a popular choice among campers, rock climbers, photographers, and picnickers, alike.  

Spearfish Falls/Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon, with its ancient 1,000-foot cliffs, is a natural pipeline for snowmelt and rainfall, which keeps waters cascading over magnificent waterfalls. Bridal Veil Falls is the most accessible and Spearfish Falls is the most stunning. Its fan-like shape and steady flow create a cooling mist, to say nothing of its beautiful view.

Roughlock Falls

The most (arguably) popular waterfall within Spearfish Canyon isn’t the most hidden of gems, but this multi-tiered waterfall — named for pioneers’ technique of locking wagon wheels as they traveled down the canyon — is a sight to behold. Visitors can follow a one-mile trail through a forest to reach the falls — they’ll be heard first — to enjoy the waterfall and surrounding limestone cliffs in all their glory. 

Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village-South Dakota
Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village | photo via the_nomadic_veteran

Sica Hollow State Park

Native American legends told of mysterious happenings at Sica Hallow State Park and visitors may feel some of that eeriness for themselves. The Trail of Spirits allows guests to connect with nature as they pass over streams, rustic bridges, waterfalls, and gurgling bogs — said to be the flesh and blood of Native American ancestors.

Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

The only public archaeological site in South Dakota offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of Native Americans who lived in the area thousands of years ago. Guests can also visit the onsite Archeodome laboratory or marvel at a full-sized reproduction of an earthen lodge. While digging is prohibited, a Kids Dig area is located outside the Archeodome.

Spirit Mound Historic Prairie

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to follow in Lewis and Clark’s footsteps? Spirit Mound (specifically the top) is one of the few places where visitors can walk (with certainty) where the famous duo walked. As visitors soak up majestic views of the prairie below, they can reflect on the history and mystery of the site.

Fort Sisseton Historic State Park-South Dakota
Fort Sisseton Historic State Park | photo via sitesandbitesjournal

Lake Alvin Recreation Area

While this park in Lake Alvin covers just 59 acres, it’s a peaceful oasis for rest and water recreation. The park is a favorite gathering spot among South Dakotans for swimming, boating, and fishing. The lake is perfect for any boat, and the waters are filled with walleye, pike, catfish, and other species.

Newton Hills State Park

Located in Southeastern South Dakota’s rolling hills, the park beckons outdoor enthusiasts to do just about anything their heart desires. Hunters can hunt seasonally in certain areas and birdwatchers can keep their eyes peeled for more than 200 different species. Elsewhere, campers can enjoy lakeside relaxation, horseback riding on quaint trails, geocaching, and kayaking, fishing, and canoeing on gentle waters.

Fort Sisseton Historic State Park

Fort Sisseton — a frontier military fort dating back to the 1860s — is a history buff’s delight with secrets to the area’s past. Visitors can walk past barracks, officers’ quarters, and other buildings that date back to frontier days. The fort comes to life each year during the Historical Festival, which features living history demos, and interpretive exhibits.

Lewis and Clark Recreation Area-South Dakota
Lewis and Clark Recreation Area | photo via sdparkswildlife

Falls Park

While Sioux Falls itself isn’t a hidden gem, the 128-acre Falls Park is a must-visit spot in the city. Visitors can enjoy picturesque waterfalls — where over 7,000 gallons of water drop 100 feet each second — and view them from multiple platforms, including a five-story tower. Guests can also visit the Falls Park Farmers Market, a visitor center, and some of the oldest buildings in town.

Gavins Point Dam

Nestled on the Missouri River between South Dakota and Nebraska, Gavins Point Dam is a picturesque retreat that’s an impressive feat of engineering and a hub of activity. The dam is part of Lewis and Clark Lake, which provides space for camping, hiking, and water sports, attracting nature enthusiasts and families alike.

Lewis and Clark Recreation Area

Situated near the South Dakota-Nebraska border, this rec area is a hotspot with campers. The park includes three separate campgrounds ranging from marinas to cabins to sandy beaches, giving guests plenty of options. Visitors can also enjoy disc golf, fishing, hiking, and biking among other activities that make this spot near Yankton an exciting hidden gem.

McCrory Gardens-South Dakota
McCrory Gardens | photo via sdstatealumni

McCrory Gardens

The best hidden gems are meant to be enjoyed with the eyes and this 25-acre botanical garden and 45-acre arboretum on the South Dakota State University campus feature a diverse (and eye-catching) collection of plants, flowers, and landscapes. Visitors can also enjoy seasonal events including garden parties, garden expos, festivals, and music performances.

Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center

Native American history is rich throughout South Dakota and this museum on the campus of St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain showcases the art, culture, and history of the Lakota people. The museum’s collection includes more than 4,000 permanent pieces and visitors can learn about important aspects of Lakota culture including spirit animals, leaders, and legends.

National Music Museum

Prepare to be transported to a wondrous land of music on the University of South Dakota campus. Visitors of all ages will be enthralled by the sheer amount of stuff, which includes over 15,000 instruments that span different centuries and cultures. It may not have the glamour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it’s awe-inspiring nonetheless.

Explore Stunning South Dakota Hidden Gems

Whether you’re searching for a new favorite camping spot, you’re eager to dig into fascinating Native American history, or you’ve made it your quest to see every Midwest waterfall, South Dakota’s hidden gems are all exciting and worth exploring.

Make plans to explore every nook and cranny of South Dakota for yourself. While the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore are exciting places to visit, SoDak’s hidden gems reveal an underrated side of the state that’s perfect for exploring on your next Midwest road trip.