While most people use interstates to get across a state as quickly as possible so as to arrive at their destination in record time, you might want to allot a few more hours or a day or two to travel South Dakota’s Interstate 90. Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, and Mount Rushmore are some of the interstate’s most popular attractions. But if you want to get a different look at the state, check out these unique attractions.
1. Falls Park, Sioux Falls
Visitors to the 120-acre Falls Park in Sioux Falls can watch nearly 7,500 gallons of water travel down 100 feet as the Big Sioux River flows through the state’s largest city en route to the confluence with the Missouri River near Sioux City, Iowa. Imagine standing next to the water as the spray hits your face, cooling you down on a hot summer day.
At Falls Park, you can also enjoy a walk along the area’s paved trails, visit a veterans memorial, and access the downtown area, featuring the Arc of Dreams, a new monument crossing the river. The Big Sioux River, beautiful all year long, anchors Falls Park, which also includes a series of statues celebrating the state’s history and agriculture. A small observation tower above the gift shop provides an excellent view of the falls, the ruins of an old mill, the Old Courthouse Museum’s clock tower, and the city’s church spires.
Allow 2 hours to visit this park.
2. Porter Sculpture Park, Montrose
Whether or not you’re into oddities or the bizarre, a stop at the Porter Sculpture Park, about 30 miles west of Sioux Falls, is a must when traveling through South Dakota. You’ll first notice the 60-foot-tall bull head standing high above the rolling hills. The park features more than 50 sculptures over 10 acres, all created by self-taught artist Wayne Porter. You’ll see a 50-foot iron horse, a dragon, and unique characters sledding downhill. Porter Sculpture Park is a fun and interesting place to spend an hour or so.
Pro Tip: The Porter Sculpture Park is located on a hillside, and those with mobility issues may have difficulty navigating the terrain.
3. Corn Palace, Mitchell
A stop at this one-of-a-kind Mitchell attraction would make an excellent addition to an Interstate 90 drive. A multipurpose facility for conventions and athletic events, the Corn Palace is one of the most unique buildings in the country. Using ears of corn and other natural materials, artists create beautiful murals every year. Past murals have featured stars like Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson and major events and statewide attractions.
While in town, you’ll also want to visit the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, which is a working archaeological site highlighting the Mandan tribe. Check out the artifacts and walk through the earth lodge replica, learning how the indigenous people lived.
Plan to spend an hour or two in Mitchell.
4. Dignity, Chamberlain
The Chamberlain rest stop is home to one of the most beautiful works of art you’ll ever see on the prairie. Dignity, a 50-foot-tall statue, celebrates the legacy of the Native Americans of the plains. The statue depicts an indigenous woman holding a star quilt behind her. Star quilts are sacred for Native Americans, since they honor the sky and water. While Dignity is beautiful in her own right, the 128 diamond-shaped pieces of the quilt are illuminated at night, adding to her beauty. A visit to Dignity and the rest stop takes just 30 minutes, including a short walk along a path to an overlook of the Missouri River.
5. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Philip
A reminder of the Cold War era, when the United States and Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at each other, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is home to a launch control facility, an underground launch center, and a missile site, along with a visitor center. South Dakota’s missile units, based out of Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, once numbered in the thousands. After the Soviet Union fell, peace talks resulted in the removal of most of the missiles in the state.
During your visit, you’ll see the launch control facility, where support and security personnel worked; the launch center, where two officers spent 24-hour shifts, ready to launch missiles if necessary; and the missile site at Exit 116, which housed the multihead nuclear missiles. Plan to spend an hour or two touring the Minuteman site.
6. Badlands National Park
A drive through Badlands National Park, one of the most famous attractions in South Dakota, is a must. Badlands offers a look back in time at prehistoric life in South Dakota. Once a part of an ancient ocean, the rock formations — buttes, pinnacles, and spires — include sedimentary layers of various colors, revealing different rock types and eras of erosion. With its many fossils, such as giant seashells and turtles, Badlands remains a major paleontology draw. It’s also fun for wildlife enthusiasts: As you travel through the park, you might encounter bighorn sheep, bison, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets.
Plan to spend up to 3 hours exploring Badlands. You’ll want to stop often to take in the impressive views.
7. 1880 Town, Murdo
Grab your cowboy hat and dust off your chaps as you travel back in time to the Wild West. The 1880 Town, 22 miles west of Murdo, features more than 30 authentically furnished buildings that showcase pioneer life in South Dakota from 1880 through 1920. While you mosey around town, check out the Casey Tibbs Museum, which highlights the rodeo champion’s life and career. The town also has some of the props used in the movie Dances with Wolves starring Kevin Costner, which was filmed in South Dakota. The 1880 Town is a fun place to spend a couple of hours.
8. City Of Presidents, Rapid City
Mount Rushmore and its four presidents are, of course, the main attraction in Rapid City, but the downtown area’s City of Presidents sculpture walk is also worth a visit. The walk features depictions of each of the presidents, and you’ll learn interesting facts about each chief executive. Note President Jimmy Carter with jacket in hand, waving to the people; President Ronald Reagan in his cowboy garb, which he wore when spending time at his California ranch; and President Franklin D. Roosevelt standing behind a presidential podium. The sculpture of President Barack Obama joined the walk in 2020, showing him walking with one of his daughters.
The presidential walk covers a 12-block area, so it also allows you to visit area restaurants and more. Plan to spend an hour or so on the walk.
9. Spearfish Canyon, Spearfish
Dropping about 60 feet, Bridal Veil Falls is the largest of the three waterfalls located in Spearfish Canyon. The most accessible waterfall in the area, Bridal Veil Falls boasts its strongest flow during the spring. Regardless of the season, however, the waterfall is beautiful, set amidst forests and unique rock formations.
Roughlock Falls is a multitiered waterfall in Little Spearfish Canyon. Visitors have easy access to it on a paved path.
The third waterfall in the canyon — Spearfish Falls — is the only one off the main trail. Located about 13 miles south of the Spearfish Canyon entrance, it’s more challenging to access, with a path that can be slippery. Good walking shoes are recommended when visiting this waterfall.
Plan for a visit of 4 to 5 hours.