Top 5 National Parks in South Dakota

March 10, 2023

national parks in South Dakota

As you might expect, South Dakota is home to many incredible national parks. The most famous is of course Mount Rushmore, where you'll see the grand sculptures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Badlands National Park is also a must-visit and offers plenty to do. You can hike, climb and stargaze in this dazzling landscape.

Mount Rushmore

Located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is one of the most iconic national parks in America. It features carved faces of four American presidents - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt - all surrounded by the beautiful Black Hills landscape.

Carved into the rock of a Black Hills outcrop, these stony figures represent iconic eras in United States history. They are also a reminder of the rich heritage that we all share.

When you visit Mount Rushmore, there are a variety of things to do. You can take a selfie, walk the Presidential Trail, join a ranger-guided program, or simply enjoy the scenery from the Grand View Terrace.

The sculpture was created by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and is now a national monument. The project started in 1927 and took 14 years to complete with the help of 400 workers. During that time, dynamite was used to blast the larger sections of the granite and there were no fatalities.

Jewel Cave

One of the three longest caves in the world, Jewel Cave is a fascinating underground wilderness with over 202 miles of explored passageways. It was proclaimed a national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt and is now managed by the National Park Service.

Explore this captivating cave on ranger-led tours, which are available year-round at scheduled times. Tour options include a scenic tour, an explorer’s hike, and a wild caving expedition.

During your visit, park rangers in reproduction 1936 National Park Service uniforms answer questions, point out interpretive programs, and give informal talks. They also lead a hiking trail that begins at the visitor center and is shaded by ponderosa pine trees and rocky canyons.

Hiking trails at Jewel Cave National Monument offer a healthy way to explore this scenic Black Hills landscape while observing wildlife. Several types of animals are found here, including recently reintroduced bighorn sheep.

Wind Cave

With a world-famous cave, vast prairies, and ponderosa pine forests, Wind Cave National Park is a unique experience that offers visitors an opportunity to see a variety of wild animals and flora. A number of wildlife species live in the ponderosa pine forest and mixed grass prairie, including bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, and black-tailed prairie dogs.

The cave itself is one of the longest and most complex in the world, with a fascinating display of boxwork. This unusual formation of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs is caused by barometric pressure changes that create a "wind" in the cave.

The park also features the largest concentration of prairie dog towns in the United States, and numerous wildlife trails that take you across the vast open plains. A wide array of birds, including cliff swallows and great horned owls, are common in the prairies, where you can also spot a wide range of mammals.


Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park is home to 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires that blend with a mixed grass prairie ecosystem. Named “Mako Sica” by the Lakota tribe, these lands were once harsh and arid.

Erosion of the rocks in the park helps to preserve fossils that date back millions of years. Paleontologists study them and learn about ancient life that walked these lands.

Visitors can also view present-day animals such as American bison, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs. Black-footed ferrets are another endangered species that calls the park home.

The Badlands are a unique park and one of the most popular national parks in South Dakota. To visit, you’ll need a national park pass and your own vehicle.


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