3 Off-the-Beaten-Path Opportunities in South Dakota



Explore wooded trails, climb rugged peaks or walk through native prairie grasses. Countless trails lead to scenic landscapes, thundering waterfalls and invigorating overlooks. Conquer a hiking trail in South Dakota and the journey stays with you forever!

Situated behind a lake of the same name, the Horsethief Lake Trail is a genuine mountain wonderland. A hike back here makes you feel like you’re in the Pacific Northwest. Along this 3.5-mile trail, you will discover waterfalls, granite spires, mossy boulders and Old Man’s Beard dripping off some of the largest trees in the Black Hills. Horsethief Lake can be found on Highway 244 west of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Palisades State Park is one of the most unique areas in South Dakota. Split Rock Creek, which flows through the park, is lined with Sioux quartzite formations varying from shelves several feet above the water to 50-foot vertical cliffs. Scenic overlooks and rushing water make Palisades a popular area for hikers to explore this unique landscape.

Sica Hollow State Park is a place filled with rugged beauty and ancient mysteries. The park, part of the Prairie Coteau Hills, offers a wide variety of year-round activities. Hiking is particularly popular in this area when the beautiful fall foliage makes an appearance.

Hilger’s Gulch in Pierre includes a 1.1-mile lighted walking trail along with attractive flower gardens and a scenic view of the South Dakota State Capitol. During holidays and special events, the park is decorated with a United States flag display. Governor’s Grove is located on the west slope of the gulch and contains hundreds of trees and 28 monuments dedicated to former governors of South Dakota.

Sica Hollow State Park. Courtesy Travel South Dakota

Wildlife viewing

Spy on abundant populations of waterfowl and songbirds. Spot endangered species like the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and whooping crane. Encounter deer, elk, prairie dogs and more. With diverse terrain throughout the state, South Dakota is home to many species of wildlife.

Take a stroll through the unique LaFramboise Island Nature Area along the Missouri River in the capital city, Pierre. The island is covered in trees and meadows, which are home to a variety of wildlife and bird species.

Wind through Custer State Park on the Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway for a chance to see bighorn sheep, elk, coyotes, the begging burros, wild turkeys and the big stars of the show, the bison. Get out in the morning or evening for your best chances at catching the animals in action.

The center of activity for the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area is the 25-mile Lewis and Clark Lake. The lake is one of four large reservoirs on the Missouri River in South Dakota, and creates a wonderful opportunity to view many species of birds while walking along the water.

Pelican Lake Recreation Area near Watertown is a popular stopping point for migrating waterfowl. Each fall, geese and ducks use the lake’s open waters as a resting area. A variety of shore birds spend their entire summer in or near the park. Most noticeable are the large white pelicans that frequent the lake. An observation tower on one of the hiking trails gives visitors a bird’s-eye view of the area.

Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. Courtesy Travel South Dakota

Scenic drives

South Dakota’s diverse landscape, iconic monuments, national parks and natural wonders are the makings for the perfect road trip. Life’s about the journey, and here, scenic byways take travelers through the other-worldly formations of the Badlands to world-famous monuments like Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Through tribal lands steeped in rich Native American history where spiritual leaders like Sitting Bull now rest to Custer State Park, where the buffalo still roam free, we encourage you take the scenic route and let life happen between the mile markers.

Breathtaking views of the Missouri River, diverse landscapes, and tribal history and culture are showcased on the Native American Scenic Byway running north and south through central South Dakota. The route takes travelers through the lands of the Yankton, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes.

Gradually climbing from the town of Spearfish on the northern edge of the Black Hills, the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is one of the gateways into the heart of an ancient mountain range. Spearfish Creek flows along the canyon bottom, acting as a natural guide for the scenic byway that follows the creek’s contours. Although the drive is only 19 miles, give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the ride and pull over for pictures or a hike. Spearfish Canyon is one of the most beautiful spots in the country, so this is no time to put the pedal to the metal.

Sometimes described as “surreal” or “otherworldly,” you won’t want to miss the twisting curves climbing through passes in the Badlands’ “wall” of rugged rock pinnacles, buttes and mounds on the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway. Motorcycle riders and sports car enthusiasts love this road so much that it has been featured in driving video games, but is an enjoyable cruise with any vehicle.

Spearfish Falls off the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. Courtesy Travel South Dakota

For more information on South Dakota, visit TravelSouthDakota.com.