Spotlight: South Dakota

While some states struggle to get below a double digit unemployment rate, South Dakota has the third lowest unemployment rate at 4.3 percent, just below Nebraska and North Dakota, which has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate.

Here, what drives the economy includes government-related jobs, with Ellsworth Air Force Base as the second largest employer, agriculture and service sector jobs. But many people outside South Dakota might think of its most famous destination – Mt. Rushmore, which gives it the nickname of the Mount Rushmore State. So we must include it one of our Top 5 Places to Visit in South Dakota.

1. Mount Rushmore
According to Wanda Goodman, spokesperson for the South Dakota Dept. of Tourism, about 3 million people travel to visit Mount Rushmore each year to see the world’s largest mountain carving, featuring the faces of our past presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

2. Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park
There are eight Black Hills caves that offer the largest concentration of passageways in the world and are open to the public. These two are part of the National Park Service and Goodman says they are the second and fourth longest caves in the world, respectively.

Established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, Wind Cave is known for its box work, a rare formation of thin calcite fins resembling honeycomb. Jewel Cave offers sparkly chambers with calcite, nailhead and dogtooth spar crystals and draperies, flowstone and stalactites.

3. Badlands National Park
This desert-like landscape is just outside Black Hills and is a must-see for those who are going to visit South Dakota. “It’s another interesting landscape, it features canyons and spires, it looks moon-like,” Goodman said.

4. Deadwood
The entire town of Deadwood is a national historic landmark, incorporated in 1876 and gives you a taste of the old Wild West. The Days of ’76 is held in July and is a popular event and rodeo held here.

“There are a couple of different audiences that Deadwood appeals to, Deadwood has legalized gambling, it allows table games and slot machines,” Goodman says, adding it’s the only town in the state that offers this. “Some historic characters lived there, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, so it has some figures that were popular in history and Deadwood pays homage to that history. So a large portion of the gambling proceeds goes towards historical preservation not only in Deadwood but throughout the state.”

5. Custer State Park
If you’re looking to connect to nature and enjoy our country’s natural beauty, there are always wildlife sightings at Custer State Park. “Custer State Park is definitely the jewel of our state park system,” Goodman says. “There’s a wildlife loop that is very popular, it’s a road you can drive through in the park where there’s an opportunity to see all the wildlife. In the park you can see a buffalo herd, white deer, begging burros, prairie dogs. I really enjoy the fact that it’s quiet. It is about 70,000 acres of really well kept wilderness and wildlife, so it’s really getting back to your roots.”

The park is located in Custer, which is named after George Armstrong Custer, a commander in the Civil War, who came here as part of the Black Hills Expedition in the late 1800s and discovered gold in the Black Hills.

Some other sites on the list of things to see in this great state is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which was an underground missile site during the Cold War. There were several back then, but this one is preserved. Recently opened for tours, it’s recommended to all ahead of time because there is limited space.

If it’s your first visit to South Dakota, the Black Hills are going to be your area of choice to visit – Mount Rushmore is there, and it’s also where the majority of the parks are concentrated, and there are places to go old-school gold panning.

South Dakota is also where the Corn Palace is located, as our friend National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore has recommended. It is the world’s only corn palace and according to Joel, a must-see, that is “beautifully done and totally unexpected.”

Ingalls Homestead is where author Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in “Little House on the Prairie.” So if you’re fans of the author, or even the old TV show, it’s nice to know there is a real place to visit and see what she was writing about.

In the Black Hills, Executive Lodging offers vacation homes that can accommodate up to 25. A brand new one set to open this spring is the Deadwood Mountain Grand, which is a casino, event hall and hotel. “Since they opened last fall, they’ve had Stone Temple, Big and Rich – a country duo that are part owners in the business,” Goodman says. “The casino and event center have been opened. Hotel opens this spring.”

Custer State Park Resort has four lodges that are within the park. The State Game Lodge is on the National Historic Register, says Goodman. “It’s billed as the summer White House of Calvin Coolidge, who would come and fish in the outdoors.” Now, there you can fish, paddle boat and hike. According to Goodman, summertime is the busiest season and spring and fall are probably the best times to visit if you want to avoid the summer crowds.

Other related blog posts:
Explore: South Dakota’s Crazy Horse Memorial
Explore the Old Wild Wild West: Deadwood
Today’s Special: Saloon #10 & Deadwood Social Club
Today’s Special: The Corn Exchange