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Explore All National Parks in South Dakota (2024)

While South Dakota is ranked 46th out of the 50th in population, it has some of the most iconic National Park sites in the country. Can you say Mount Rushmore? How about the Badlands?

After an in-depth summer tour of the state, and visiting almost all National Parks in South Dakota, I have a special appreciation for these sites. We will go over all six of the National Park sites (and something extra). 

Table of Contents

How many National Parks are in South Dakota?

There are actually 6 National Park locations managed by the park service in South Dakota. This includes two designated National Parks:

  • Badlands National Park
  • Wind Cave National Park

You can also find a National Monument, a National Historic Site, a Recreational River and a National Memorial.

List of all National Parks in South Dakota

  1. Badlands National Park
  2. Jewel Cave National Monument
  3. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
  4. Missouri National Recreational River
  5. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  6. Wind Cave National Park

National Historic Trails

Along with the six National Park sites, the state also hosts the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.

Map of All National Park sites in South Dakota

Badlands National Park

The rugged landscape of the Badlands National Park covers over 244,000 acres. When we arrived to tour this park, it was a beautifully clear day and talk about a big sky! There are two visitor centers in the park one on either side of the expanse and two established campgrounds. Alternatively, you can also go backcountry camping, as well.

Empty road through the badlands national Park
The Badlands National Park

Park Details

  • Operating Hours: 9am – 4:30pm
  • Visitor Centers
  • Entrance Fees: There is an Entrance Fee that is required as well as a Camping fee if you are using a campsite. $15 per person or $30 per vehicle. This is where having an Annual America the Beautiful pass comes in handy!
  • Activities: Hiking, Camping, Horseback Riding (in the Wilderness Area only), Fishing, Wildlife viewing, Driving Tour, Night Sky Viewing, Cycling

Highlights

A must do hike is the Notch trail. A 1.5 mile out and back hike that takes you up a wooden ladder and along cliffsides to the ‘Notch’ with an amazing view of the White River Valley.

You can also find a Fossil Preparation Lab where you can see the amazing work of Paleontologist who work in the park locating fossils for study.

Ladder up white cliff on the Notch Trail in the Badlands National Park
Ladder up cliff on the Notch Trail

Jewel Cave National Monument

While not the largest Cave system in the US, Jewel Cave National Monument does rank as the fifth longest in the world, with over 219 miles of mapped passages. There are unique rock formations and features. The calcite crystals in the cave produce incredible and unexpected features. While the focus is the Cave, there are hiking trails around the park as well.

Inside Jewel Cave National monument with walkway
Jewel Cave National Monument

Park Details

  • Operating Hours: 9am – 4:30pm
  • Visitor Center: 11149 US-16 B-12, Custer, SD 57730
    • The Cell reception can be challenging here.  Note the Lat/Long coordinates or save the directions off line.
    • Latitude / Longitude:  43 43′ 46.6153″ N ,  103 49′ 46.6522″ W
  • Entrance Fees: No Entrance fee is required, but there is a fee for the Cave Tours
  • Activities: Four different Cave Tours, Hiking, Wildlife viewing

Highlights

A clear must do is to take one of the Cave Tours available at the park. There are easy to moderate to extreme spelunking opportunities to this unique location. If you go, keep an eye out for the Cave Bacon!

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

For over 30 years over 1,000 nuclear missiles across the mid-west were kept on constant alert during the cold war. This National Historic Site is actually three sites, a visitor center, Delta 01 and Delta 09 launch facilities. 

Park Closed sign outside Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Park Details

  • Operating Hours: 8am – 4:00pm, Tuesday – Saturday
  • Visitor Center: 24545 Cottonwood Road, Philip, SD 57567
  • Entrance Fees: No Entrance fee is required, but there is a fee for the guided tours
  • Activities: Launch Facility tours, self-guided tours, Driving Tour

Highlights

Consider visiting on a day where you can join the Delta-01 tour which will give you access to the launch control Facility. There is a fee but reservations in the summer fill up fast, so don’t wait to pick up your tickets.

Also, make special note of the operating hours and DAYS. I made a crucial mistake and set our visit on a day they were not open. We had to leave the next day to fly home so there was no way to recover. Don’t let this happen to you!

Missouri National Recreational River

The Missouri National Recreational River is found as a border between South Dakota and Nebraska. It preserves a 100-miles stretch of the longest river in the United States.

Park Details

  • Operating Hours: Park open 24×7, Visitor Center 8am – 4:30pm, M-F
  • Visitor Center: 508 East 2nd Street, Yankton, SD 57078
  • Entrance Fees: No Entrance fee is required
  • Activities: Hiking, Wildlife viewing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Cycling, Camping, Horseback Riding, Fishing, Hunting

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

 An iconic memorial to four influential presidents, Mount Rushmore is easily the most visited National Park Site in South Dakota. Over 2 million visitors came last year, and it is an impressive site. 

Mount Rushmore sculpture with a black night sky background
Mount Rushmore illuminated at Night

Park Details

  • Operating Hours:  Call or visit NPS Website ahead of your visit as times vary depending on time of year.
  • Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center: 26611 US Highway 385, Hot Springs, SD 57747
  • Entrance Fees: No Entrance fee is required, but there is a fee to park  $10 per car, more for larger vehicles.
  • Activities: Hiking, Sculptor’s Studio

Highlights

You can of course come and visit during the day, but also consider a nighttime visit. The park sometimes holds special programs and ‘light’ the monument so you can see it in the evening. During the evening it is also less crowded, and parking will be much easier during the busy summer months. There are also special fireworks displays during certain time of the year.

Wind Cave National Park

As one of the first cave system to become a part of a National Park in 1903, Wind Cave has been a destination park for some time. While the 163 miles of caves is one main draw, the park is also home to over 33,000 acres and has some of the last remnants of mixed grass prairie in the mid-west.

Wind Cave National Park Entrance Sign blue sky is part of a visit to all National Parks in South Dakota

Park Details

  • Operating Hours: Park open 24×7, Visitor Center  8am – 5:00pm, M-F
  • Visitor Center: 26611 US Highway 385, Hot Springs, SD 57747
  • Entrance Fees: No Entrance fee is required, but there is a fee for the Cave Tours
  • Activities: Cave Tours, Hiking, Wildlife viewing, Cycling, Camping, Horseback Riding

Highlights

Of course, you should consider a cave tour if available, and make sure to reserve a spot in advance.  Alternatively, take in a hike across the prairie landscape, view some Bison or pronghorn antelope, at a safe distance, of course.  Watch and listen to the prairie dogs while going on a driving tour. 

FAQs

What is the largest National Park in South Dakota?

The Badlands National Park is by far the largest in area. With over 242,742 acres, it is not as massive as some of the other National parks, but it is larger than all the other South Dakota parks combined!

How many people visit South Dakota’s National Parks?

As you can imagine, Florida hosts a number of visitors attracted by the sunshine and warm weather. When looking at the National Parks in South Dakota Florida, over 4.4 million people visited last year.

It should not be a surprise that out of the six National Park sites in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore National Memorial has the most visitors with over 2.4 million visits last year.

What was the least visited National Park in South Dakota?

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site was the least visited Park last year with just over 115,000 thousand visits last year. I am a bit surprised by this, as it is quite literally, across the street from the Badland National Park, which gets over 1 million visits a year.

State Park Passport Program

Did you know that South Dakota has a state park passport program? Did you also know that there are 24 other State Park Passport programs, as well?

Check out below if you want to learn more about the South Dakota program and also see if your state is on the list!

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