Custer South Dakota-SS
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14 Charming Small Towns to Discover in South Dakota

Located firmly in the heart of the Great Plains region of the Midwest, South Dakota is one of the least populated US states, but it’s full of quaint small towns filled with attractions to appeal to all visitors.

Mount Rushmore is the main attraction in a place known as the “Mount Rushmore State,” but visitors will quickly learn that beyond the iconic landmark are small towns in South Dakota waiting to be discovered.

Custer South Dakota-SS
Custer, South Dakota I photo credit: Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock


From the outside, Deadwood is a historic Wild West town with connections to the gold rush — and it’s so famous it was the subject of an HBO series. But a closer look reveals fun for the whole family and numerous spaces that preserve the town’s colorful history.

Start your visit on Main Street, which takes on the look and feel of an Old West town. Visitors can shop, eat, or hop aboard a trolley or stagecoach in the summer. Continue your trip with visits to the Days of 76 Museum and Adams Museum, which detail the rich history of the Black Hills and Deadwood itself.


Situated in the Black Hills in the shadow of Mount Rushmore, Custer — named for the famous US General — was the site of the beginning of the Black Hills Gold Rush — a heritage that’s still celebrated during Gold Discovery Days each July.

Just minutes from downtown, visitors can bask in the beauty of the Black Hills at Custer State Park or visit the Crazy Horse Memorial to gain insight into the area’s Native American history. Black Elk Peak — the state’s highest point at 7,242 feet — is just a few minutes away too.

Keystone-South Dakota
Keystone | photo via kevstw76

Hill City

While Mount Rushmore sits just 12 miles away, Hill City is noteworthy on its own as a quiet city with wineries, art galleries, and a famous train depot.

Visitors can see the majesty of the famous Black Hills up close aboard the historic 1880 train, which winds through Hill City and Keystone on a 2-hour ride. Youngsters will love Everything Prehistoric, to learn about paleontology, natural history, and the fascinating world of prehistoric life.


For those who have already visited Mount Rushmore, Keystone is a great spot away from the hustle and bustle. History buffs will want to add the National Presidential Wax Museum to their bucket list. It features more than 100 lifesize sculptures of some of the most iconic figures from US history.

Visitors can also hop aboard the 1880 train or learn the fascinating history of gold mining in the Black Hills on a journey at Big Thunder Gold Mine, which includes a tour and two forms of panning — visitors are guaranteed to find gold both ways, which makes for a fun keepsake.

Bridal Veil Falls-SS
Bridal Veil Falls – Photo Credit: Gestalt Imagery / Shutterstock

Hot Springs

After making the journey all the way here, Hot Springs has all the necessary ingredients for travelers to kick back and relax. The Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa features outdoor, spring-fed pools, spa services, and a restaurant next door, making it easy to unwind.

Outside of town, curious travelers can visit the Mammoth Site, the largest active paleontological dig site in the Western hemisphere, and Wind Cave National Park, known for the uniquely shaped formations in its namesake underground wind cave.


Spearfish itself isn’t known as a fishing hotspot, but travelers can find a wealth of opportunities for outdoor recreation in the surrounding Black Hills, including fishing. At the top of your outdoor recreation list should be a trip to nearby Bridal Veil Falls, a towering waterfall in Spearfish Canyon.

DID YOU KNOW: The 76 Trail is a great way for experienced hikers to explore the canyon and a trip to the top of the rim offers views of Spearfish Canyon and Little Spearfish Canyon.

Visitors can also traverse the nearby Big Hill Trails, with varying lengths and difficulties, or test their skills at the Black Hills State Disc Golf Course on the campus of Black Hills State University.

Black Hills Mining Museum-South Dakota
Black Hills Mining Museum | photo via worldminingheritage


Hugging the banks of the Missouri River, Yankton is the perfect place for families looking for fun group activities. If family fun is at the top of your to-do list, Mazing Acres offers nearly three dozen attractions, including a corn maze, food trucks, and farm fun.

Visitors can also tap into Yankton’s heritage during the annual Riverboat Days and Summer Arts Festival each August. This celebration has something for everyone, including fireworks, kids’ activities, live music, 5K races, and more.


Like many towns in the Black Hills, Lead is a former gold mining town with several sites dedicated to that history, but it’s also a year-round outdoor playground with plenty of space to explore.

History buffs can visit the Homestake Visitor Center and Black Hills Mining Museum to learn about the area. Nearby trails allow for running, hiking, biking, fishing, and hunting during warmer months and skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling during the winter.

The Corn Palace-Mitchell, South Dakota
The Corn Palace | photo via fredluna8175


With its location on the banks of the Missouri River, Vermillion is a constant hub of activity. As the home of the University of South Dakota, it offers the comforts of a college town and Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota are all a short distance away for fun day trips.

History enthusiasts will enjoy exploring Spirit Mound Historic Prairie and its connection to Lewis and Clark and the National Music Museum, home to one of the largest collections of instruments in the world. Those who enjoy being outside can hit the Vermillion River Trail for biking, hiking, and photography.


Mitchell is a haven for history buffs, but the famous Corn Palace is a must-visit for any traveler. The iconic South Dakota attraction is visited by half a million people each year who come to admire its crop art — murals and designs made from corn and other local grains.

After unwinding at Lake Mitchell, visitors can learn a little history at both the Dakota Discovery Museum and Prehistoric Indian Village, both of which offer a unique glimpse into local history.

Pierre South Dakota
Pierre, South Dakota I photo credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock


As the home of South Dakota State University, Brookings has welcome surprises waiting around every corner and offers a little bit of everything.

Travelers can enjoy all the trappings of a quaint Midwest town from fresh produce at the Brookings Farmers Market and the historic homes of the Brookings Residential District to unique shops in Brookings’ Commerical Historic District and eye-catching art installations at the Brookings Arts Council.


The capital city of South Dakota has no shortage of things to see and do. Since you’re there, book a tour of the capital building (must be done in advance) and explore its many monuments and memorials. Continue with a trip to the Lewis & Clark Family Center for a hands-on history lesson.

For a unique tour of the city, follow the Trail of Governors, which features bronze, life-sized statues of each South Dakota governor. Youngsters can blow off steam at the South Dakota Discovery Center as they enjoy hands-on exhibits that illustrate different elements of science.

De Smet

The “Little Town on the Prairie” is well known for its connection to famed author Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the “Little House on the Prarie” series and whose family lived in De Smet.

Fans of her and her books can tour the famous Ingalls Homestead, which allows visitors to get a unique look at living history. The annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in July brings her stories to life and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society preserves more than 2,000 pieces of Wilder family memorabilia.


Travelers looking for the biggest entertainment bang for their buck, won’t want to miss a visit to Wall. This vibrant gateway to Badlands National Park provides everything for a good time. Its most well-known attraction is Wall Drug, a sprawling attraction of cowboy-themed stores, restaurants, and more.

Visitors and residents alike can enjoy rodeo events, learn about history at the Wounded Knee Museum, sit under the stars during Skyview Movie Nights, or take a scenic drive along the Badlands Loop Road to see how many different animal species they can spot. All those activities — plus a getaway to the National Park — make Wall a can’t-miss spot.

Explore Spectacular Small Towns in South Dakota

A journey to America’s Heartland in South Dakota reveals plenty of small towns waiting to be discovered in the shadows of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. No matter your interests, South Dakota’s small towns offer warm hospitality, fascinating glimpses into US history, and much more that make them worth exploring for every kind of traveler.