If no one has let you in on the secret, South Dakota is a pretty incredible state to visit. Until you’ve been and experienced the things the state offers, you won’t realize all that you’ve been missing. Today we’ll share why we think you should take an RV trip to South Dakota and some tips to get you there!
How to Plan an RV Trip to South Dakota
South Dakota has so much to see and explore. With its rich history, gorgeous landscapes, and abundance of wildlife, you must visit! Much of the tourism in South Dakota falls within the western portion of the state, which is where our focus will be today.
When Should You Visit?
South Dakota can have extremely harsh winters. Due to the cold and snowy winter weather, the best time to visit South Dakota is from May to October. The higher elevation areas can see snow as early as September, so be ready for the cold should you wait until fall to visit.
Additionally, South Dakota weather can be intense in the summer, with hot, humid temperatures peaking in July. If you’re looking to take an RV trip to South Dakota, keep in mind that hail and high winds are common in this state, too.
How Many Days Do You Need in South Dakota?
You could easily spend a month exploring South Dakota. If you don’t have that long, travelers can accomplish quite a bit with a week-long vacation. Your travel pace can also help determine how many days you should plan to be in the area. If you prefer a slower pace, it may require more time to appreciate the beauty and adventure in South Dakota.
Top Destinations in South Dakota
While there’s a lot to see and do in South Dakota, there are a few fan-favorite destinations. While there are a few touristy and gimmicky attractions, they’re still a lot of fun to see! A trip to South Dakota will have you exploring the great outdoors and checking out some larger-than-life exhibits. Check out some of our top picks.
Badlands National Park
Address: 21020 SD Hwy 240, Interior, SD 57750 (Northeast Entrance Station)
About: On November 10th, 1978, the Badlands earned national park status. The park encompasses 242,756sq acres of unique rock formations unlike anywhere else in the world. Badlands National Park is ideal for hiking and wildlife viewing, like bison in their natural habitat. The unique landscape will make you feel like you’re on another planet!
Where to Stay: There are two campgrounds within the national park: Sage Creek and Cedar Pass. Both are excellent options, with Cedar Pass requiring a reservation and the no-cost Sage Creek being first-come, first-served. Nomad’s View, right outside the main entrance to Badlands, has plenty of boondocking opportunities, too.
Wall Drug Store
Address: 510 Main St, Wall, SD 57790
About: Wall Drug Store is the most touristy place on our list. As you drive on I-90, you’ll see countless signs encouraging you to stop at this iconic tourist trap! But even if you’re not into touristy locations, we still think this is worth the stop.
Wall Drug Store is a cheeky experience that attracts more than 2 million visitors each year. From the famous free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and fun gift shops, you’ll leave with a smile on your face–or at least a refreshing drink in your hand! There are mouthwatering treats, a full restaurant, and more gimmicky souvenirs than you can count! This place sees two million visitors a year, so you know it must be good!
Where to Stay: Wall Drug Store offers complimentary overnight parking in their parking lot. If visiting in an RV, this is a great option! For those looking for an RV park, nearby Wasta has 24 Express RV Campground, a small RV park that many travelers use while in the area.
Address: 13000 SD-244, Keystone, SD 57751
About: Undoubtedly, you’ve seen pictures and videos of Mount Rushmore with the carvings of four famous heads. Mount Rushmore is an iconic landmark that everyone should see at some point. Construction on the monument began in October of 1927 and finished in late October 1941. There’s a trail on the location that offers unique views of the carvings. If you want a real treat, stick around until after dark when the carvings light up for a beautiful nighttime ceremony!
Where to Stay: Because this is a quintessential destination on an RV trip to South Dakota, there are several RV parks in the area. One of the most popular is Mount Rushmore KOA. It’s very close to Mount Rushmore and other popular area attractions, and it’s a full-service RV park offering full hookup sites and other amenities.
Wind Cave National Park
Address: N43 33′ 22″ W103 28′ 38″
About: Did you know Wind Cave was the first cave to be named a national park? Wind Cave National Park earned the national park title on January 9th, 1903. While visiting, you can take unique ranger-guided cave tours to learn more about the underground formation. Make your tour reservation in advance as they tend to reach capacity quickly. Don’t forget to check out the sights above ground too! The park has several hikes and an abundance of wildlife to see while in the park.
Where to Stay: You can easily access Wind Cave National Park from the entire Rapid City and Custer State Park areas. Any campgrounds in these areas would be a good choice.
Elk Mountain Campground is excellent for those looking to stay within the park boundaries. Elk Mountain Campground is a first-come, first-served dry campground. There are no hookups, but there are restrooms.
Custer State Park
Address: 13438 US Highway 16A, Custer, SD 57730
About: Custer State Park is 71,000sq acres of land and one of the largest state parks in the country. Visitors will find plenty of recreation options, including fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, and swimming.
You can also enjoy breathtaking scenic drives, including a wildlife loop where you can see bison, prairie dogs, and even donkeys. Another well-loved drive is the famous Needles Highway; this unique road will not disappoint!
Where to Stay: Custer State Park has nine campgrounds in high demand, so make reservations early.
Only one of the nine campgrounds is first-come, first-served for RVs. If you prefer to take your chances with a non-reservation-based campground in an RV, Center Lake Campground is your best bet.
Planning Your RV Route Through South Dakota
The main road through South Dakota is interstate 90, which runs east to west across the entire state. Most of the worthwhile attractions in South Dakota run along this route. Interstate 29 is another well-used road running north to south on the eastern side of the state.
As you know, interstates are RV-friendly, so it’s pretty straightforward to get around the state. South Dakota, in general, is very RV-friendly, so finding routes that accommodate your rig should be a cinch!
What Cities Should You Visit?
It’s indisputable that South Dakota has incredible opportunities to view stunning landscapes and wildlife. Some may not realize it’s home to cities worth visiting as well, so we wanted to give you a list of South Dakota cities to explore on your trip!
Deadwood will make you feel like you’re in a western movie. When visiting, expect delicious food, museums, and shopping. You could also try to strike it rich at a casino since Deadwood has its fair share. If you’re not sure where to start, they have a town tour to get you on your way.
While Custer State Park is spectacular, the Custer, the town, is a destination in itself. There are many great restaurants, museums, and shops, including those with locally mined stones and gems. If you prefer to leave the RV at home for this trip, Custer has several nice resorts and hotels.
Sioux Falls is on the far southeast corner, bordering Minnesota and Iowa. It’s a thriving urban area with plenty for the family to see and do.
Falls Park is a significant highlight here. It features a gorgeous multi-waterfall section of the Big Sioux River. In addition to the great views, there’s a visitor center and a small cafe.
Rapid City is on the eastern edge of the famous Black Hills. You might recognize this city as the gateway to Mount Rushmore. Before going to see the giant presidents, stop and take the City of Presidents sculpture walk. It features 43 statues and is a fun walk for history buffs and families alike. Any kids in the group will love climbing up to Dinosaur Park and walking amongst the larger-than-life dinosaurs.
What Activities Does South Dakota Offer?
South Dakota is a great state to visit for those seeking adventure. There’s plenty of hiking to be had, especially in places like Custer State Park and Spearhead. You’ll also learn about the Native American culture and their presence in the area.
You could also try gold panning from many local vendors who will take you on these excursions and even provide the equipment.
If you’re less adventurous but still want amazing views, we highly suggest driving the Needles Highway at Custer State Park. You’ll see the Black Hills as you’ve never seen them before!
Where to Stay in South Dakota
To stay at the heart of the action, find a campground in the Black Hills. The state park campgrounds at Custer State Park are incredible, and there are many RV parks in the area. From Hot Springs to Rapid City, there are campgrounds that will fit your needs regardless of the amenities you seek.
Don’t forget the boondocking opportunities at Nomad’s View near Badlands National Park. It’s perfect for both boondocking newbies as well as the more experienced. The views here are fantastic, and campsites sit right at the entrance of the park.
South Dakota may be one of the most underrated states in the lower 48! There’s no lack of things to do and see in the Mount Rushmore State.
Have you gone on an RV trip to South Dakota before? What things would you suggest people put on their do-not-miss lists? Let us know in the comments!