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The Ultimate 3-Day South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary


by Carolee Cloutier



Embarking on a road trip is a thrilling adventure that allows you to explore new destinations at your own pace. If you’re looking for a memorable road trip experience, South Dakota should be at the top of your list. This incredible state is home to stunning landscapes, rich history, and vibrant cultural attractions that will leave you awe-struck.


With its diverse mix of natural wonders, iconic landmarks, and charming small towns, South Dakota offers something for every type of traveler. From hiking through the rugged beauty of the Badlands to witnessing the majesty of Mount Rushmore, the state is a treasure trove of unforgettable experiences.


In this ultimate 3-day South Dakota road trip itinerary, we will guide you through the must-see highlights of this fascinating state. Get ready to hit the open road and immerse yourself in the captivating beauty and rich heritage of South Dakota.


In just three days, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the stunning Badlands, discover the iconic Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, and experience the vastness of the Great Plains and Sioux Falls. So fuel up your car, pack your bags, and join us on this unforgettable journey through South Dakota!


Day 1: Exploring the Badlands

Your first day in South Dakota begins with a visit to the mesmerizing Badlands National Park. Located in the southwestern part of the state, this unique landscape is a geological wonder filled with rugged rock formations, deep canyons, and expansive prairies.


Start your day early and enter the park through the northeast entrance. As you drive along the scenic Badlands Loop Road, be prepared to be awestruck by the incredible vistas that unfold before your eyes. The stark contrast of the colorful layered rock formations against the blue sky is a sight to behold.


Take your time to explore the park’s various viewpoints and hiking trails. Begin with a visit to the famous Pinnacles Overlook, which offers panoramic views of the stunning rock formations. Capture some incredible photos and take in the serenity of this otherworldly landscape.


Next, head to the Door Trail, a short and easy hike that takes you through a natural passageway in the Badlands Wall. As you walk through the surreal surroundings, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a different world.


Continue your adventure with a visit to the Fossil Exhibit Trail, where you can learn about the fascinating prehistoric life that once inhabited the area. Marvel at the ancient fossils on display and gain a deeper understanding of the geological history of the Badlands.


For lunch, take a break at the Cedar Pass Lodge, located near the visitor center. Enjoy a delicious meal while taking in panoramic views of the rock formations. Fuel up and recharge for the rest of your day.


In the afternoon, venture off the beaten path and explore some of the lesser-known areas of the park. The Castle Trail offers a longer hiking option that takes you deeper into the heart of the Badlands. Immerse yourself in the untamed beauty and be on the lookout for wildlife that calls this place home.


As the day comes to a close, make your way to the Pinnacles Overlook once again to witness the magic of the Badlands during sunset. The vibrant colors of the sky against the dramatic rock formations create a breathtaking spectacle.


After an exhilarating day exploring the Badlands, head to your accommodation for a well-deserved rest. Whether you choose to camp under the stars or stay in one of the nearby towns like Wall or Rapid City, you’ll appreciate the tranquility and beauty of this remarkable place.


Let the beauty and wonder of the Badlands set the tone for the rest of your South Dakota road trip as you prepare for a day of discovering Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.


Day 2: Discovering Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills

On day two of your South Dakota road trip, get ready to witness one of the most iconic American landmarks – Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Located in the Black Hills region, this incredible sculpture showcases the faces of four former U.S. presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – carved into the granite cliffs.


Start your day with a visit to Mount Rushmore, and be sure to arrive early to beat the crowds. As you approach the memorial, the sheer size and artistry of the sculpture will leave you in awe. Take your time to explore the visitor center, which offers exhibits that delve into the history and significance of this remarkable monument.


After soaking in the grandeur of Mount Rushmore, it’s time to explore the beautiful Black Hills region. Drive along the scenic Iron Mountain Road, which offers stunning views and several tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore as you pass through them. This unforgettable drive showcases the natural beauty of the Black Hills.


Continue your journey to the picturesque town of Keystone, nestled in the heart of the Black Hills. Take a stroll through the town’s charming streets, browse the unique shops, and enjoy a delightful lunch at one of the local eateries.


After lunch, embark on a scenic drive along the Needles Highway. This winding road takes you through narrow tunnels and offers breathtaking views of towering granite spires that resemble needles. Be sure to stop at the pullouts to fully appreciate the stunning landscapes of the Black Hills.


If you’re up for an adventure, consider taking a hike in Custer State Park, which is located nearby. This sprawling park is known for its diverse wildlife, including herds of bison and playful prairie dogs. The Cathedral Spires Trail and the Sylvan Lake Loop Trail are popular options for hikers of all levels.


Before heading back to your accommodation, make a stop at Crazy Horse Memorial. This ongoing sculpture project aims to honor the rich heritage of Native Americans and is a fascinating sight to behold. Explore the visitor center and learn about the history and significance of this ambitious creation.


As the day comes to an end, make your way back to your lodging and reflect on the incredible sights and experiences of the day. The Black Hills have undoubtedly left a lasting impression on you, and you’ll have plenty of stories to share as you prepare for day three of your South Dakota road trip.


Day 3: Experiencing the Great Plains and Sioux Falls

On the final day of your South Dakota road trip, get ready to experience the vastness of the Great Plains and explore the vibrant city of Sioux Falls. This leg of the journey will take you through stunning prairies, historic sites, and beautiful waterfalls.


Start your day by driving east towards the city of Mitchell, home to one of South Dakota’s most famous landmarks – the Mitchell Corn Palace. This unique attraction is adorned with murals made entirely of corn and serves as a celebration of the region’s agricultural heritage. Take a guided tour to learn more about the history of the Corn Palace and the intricate corn art.


From Mitchell, continue your journey eastward as you leave the Great Plains and enter the city of Sioux Falls. Known as the “Heart of America,” Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota and offers a wealth of attractions to explore.


Begin your visit to Sioux Falls with a trip to Falls Park, where you’ll be greeted by the breathtaking sight of cascading waterfalls. Take a leisurely stroll along the park’s trails and bridges, and be sure to capture some photos of the picturesque landscape. If time permits, consider taking a scenic bike ride along the Big Sioux River Greenway, which offers stunning views of the city and the river.


After exploring Falls Park, head downtown and discover the vibrant art scene and bustling shops and restaurants. The SculptureWalk is a must-see attraction where you can admire stunning artworks displayed along the city streets. Be sure to also check out the Sioux Falls’ vibrant food scene, with a variety of culinary options ranging from local favorites to international cuisines.


For a glimpse into the city’s history, visit the Old Courthouse Museum. Housed in a magnificent 19th-century building, this museum offers exhibits that showcase the rich cultural and historical heritage of the area.


Before concluding your road trip, take a moment to reflect on the incredible journey you’ve had through South Dakota. From the rugged beauty of the Badlands to the grandeur of Mount Rushmore and the natural wonders of the Black Hills, you’ve experienced the best that this diverse state has to offer.


As you bid farewell to South Dakota, you’ll carry with you lasting memories of the stunning landscapes, the warmth of the local communities, and the sense of adventure that comes with a road trip. So, get behind the wheel, turn up the music, and let the open road guide you to your next extraordinary destination.



Your South Dakota road trip has come to an end, but the memories and experiences will stay with you forever. Over the course of three days, you’ve witnessed the dramatic beauty of the Badlands, marveled at the iconic Mount Rushmore and explored the natural wonders of the Black Hills. You’ve also experienced the vastness of the Great Plains and immersed yourself in the vibrant city of Sioux Falls.


South Dakota has proven to be a destination that offers a perfect blend of breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and warm hospitality. From the rugged beauty of the Badlands to the grandeur of Mount Rushmore, each stop on your journey has left a lasting impression.


As you reflect on your road trip, you’ll remember the serenity of the Badlands, the thrill of discovering the Black Hills, and the sense of awe that the monuments and landmarks invoke. You’ll treasure the moments spent exploring the trails, capturing the natural beauty through your lens, and connecting with the history and culture of the region.


South Dakota is a destination that holds something for every traveler, whether it’s the adventurer seeking outdoor thrills, the history enthusiast eager to delve into the past, or the nature lover yearning for pristine landscapes. It’s a place where you can find your own little piece of paradise and create lasting memories.


As you wrap up your South Dakota road trip, take a moment to savor the journey and the incredible experiences you’ve had along the way. Cherish the bonds formed with fellow travelers and locals, and let the spirit of adventure guide you towards your next road trip destination. Whether you’re planning another road trip or venturing off on a new travel adventure, South Dakota will forever hold a special place in your heart.


So, until the open road beckons you once again, keep the memories close, hold onto the spirit of wanderlust, and continue exploring the world, one road trip at a time.