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South Dakota – In the shadow of Mount Rushmore

South Dakota is world-renowned for Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is a famed icon across the globe. Most people have at least seen a picture of the four famous presidents’ faces carved in stone. The monument is located in the Black Hills in the southwestern region of the state. However, there is much more to see in the Mount Rushmore State.

Geography & Climate

South Dakota is bisected by the Missouri River that is crossing the state from south to north. The topography is significantly different on both sides. In the eastern half, low hills and lakes dominate the picture, remnants of glaciers from times long past. The soil here is fertile and being used extensively for agriculture. Not so in the western portion of the state: Here, one finds steep canyons interspersed with rolling plains, a landscape totally contrary to the east.

The western region is generally referred to as Great Plains. They even extend to the eastern shore of the Missouri River. However, in the southwest, the Black Hills rise up to 4,000 feet above the plains. Extensive resources can been found here, including gold, silver, and copper. South Dakota’s point of highest elevation, Harney Peak at 7,200 feet, is located in the Black Hills.

The climate in South Dakota is a continental one. Four very distinct seasons exist. The summers are hot while the winters are generally extremely cold. Average highs in summer are regularly in the 90s throughout the state and sometimes even in the 100s, while the entire state and especially the higher regions can experience winter lows down to zero degrees Fahrenheit.


Various peoples and tribes have populated the region for the last several thousand years. French and other European explorers arrived in the early 1700s. In 1803, the South Dakota territory was acquired by the US government as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Continuous settlement began soon after. The eastern South Dakotan towns of Sioux Falls and Yankton were founded in the 1850s. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills in the 1870s. In 1889, South Dakota along with its sister state North Dakota was formally admitted to the Union. In the 1930s, Dakota was hit by the Dust Bowl phenomenon, eradicating most of the farmland formerly present. Nowadays, tourism has become a major source of income.

Black Hills and the West

The Black Hills are an island of pine-clad mountains in the surrounding Great Plains. The natural scenario that presents itself to visitors is simply stunning. Scenic drives, seemingly endless rows of pine trees, cascading waterfalls, steep summits, and an endless network of hiking and biking trails winding through the landscape. The wildlife is abundant, with even bison and wild horses still roaming the area.

Five national parks are located in the Black Hills, two of them in South Dakota. Badlands National Park, created in 1978, holds a bright landscape with large grasslands in store. The region is especially popular among fossil hunters, given its rich mineralogical history. Wind Cave National Park still houses a large population of bison herds. And of course there is Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The four giant heads of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt are located some 5,700 feet above sea level. The town of Spearfish, home to Black Hills State University, is a great resting place and basis for the discovery of the mountain regions.

Other notable places in the western part include Belle Fourche, home of the Shepherds Monument, Presidents Park in Lead, and the region between Rapid City and Custer State Park. Several attractions are clustered here, such as the Reptile Gardens, Clinton Rock, several dinosaur sites, and Chief Crazy Horse Memorial, as well as of course Custer State Park itself, the northern transition of Wind Cave National Park.

The East

Sioux Falls is the largest city of South Dakota, with population estimates varying between 120,000 and 200,000 people. The city is situated in the Great Plains by the Big Sioux River. Sioux Falls experiences a surge of cultural interest. Attendance of theatre and art events is significantly on the rise in a city formerly not known much care for culture. The Sioux Empire Arts Council Horse Barn Gallery and many other places bear witness to this development.

Sioux Falls, located several hundred miles to the north of the state capital in eastern South Dakota, is considered the gateway to the Great Plains. The town holds some fine accommodation in store as well as fascinating sights such as the concrete outlines of the USS South Dakota and the Replica Statue of David.

The northeast is known for its glacial lakes and prairies. The land is dotted with marshes, swamps, and glacial lakes. Extensive farming and large fields of sunflowers, corn and other produce please the eyes of visitors. That is not to say that there are no woods in this region. In fact, many are protected preserves. When in Roslyn, right in the heart of the scattered lakes, do not miss the International Vinegar Museum!

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