The Great Eight are the most outstanding places of interest throughout the state of South Dakota. These are natural wonders and man-made monuments — options are various, so every traveller finds something to amuse themselves. First of all, let us remind you of some facts concerning South Dakota. This is the 16th largest state in the USA, with territory expanding through 77,000 square miles. It’s located in the North Central region of the land and is divided into two parts by the river Missouri. The state’s biggest cities are Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Brookings. However, it is not the cities South Dakota is famous for — read on and find out what the Great Eight is.

Mount Rushmore

Hardly anyone hasn’t heard of this iconic monument carved in the natural mountain. It’s probably the most famous of the great eight of South Dakota. Yet, not everyone knows the location of this magnificent symbol — the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The memorial, completed in 1941, features 60-foot faces of four American presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, from the left to the right.

Watch this video to get a glimpse:

The National Memorial includes the mountain and the park where you can find everything necessary for a trip and go for a walk. Besides, you may visit the sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s studio and see the initial vision of the monument; hike the Presidential trail, from where you can explore the heritage of three native tribes living in the region; attend the evening Lighting ceremony, held in summer; join a ranger walk or talk.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument

This territory includes the third-longest cave in the world underground (over 200 miles of passages, and still being explored) and a 1,279-acre park above ground. There are many trails and tours held in the Jewel Cave, the most popular of which are the Roof Trail, covering a distance of 0,25 miles, and the Canyons Trail of 3,5 miles. For more detailed info read this.

Those who like history may participate in the Historic Lantern Tour led by a ranger with lanterns instead of modern lighting equipment; the tour lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes. While wandering through the Jewel cave, you may spot such stone formations as nailhead spars, dogtooth spars, boxwork, cave popcorn, flowstone, and «cave bacon».

Watch this video tour to learn more:

As for the park above the cave, take some time to discover its beautiful wildflowers, hike one of three trails in the Hell Canyon area, and watch various birds living in the vicinity. All the places for tourists are open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM, and the historic area — from 9 AM to 4:30 PM.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

This is actually my personal favorite of the great eight of South Dakota. The Badlands was established as a national monument in 1939 and given the national park status in 1978. The park’s 242,756-acre territory is a paradise for nature-lovers, hikers, campers, and families. The striking landscapes consist of variously-shaped pinnacles, canyons, spires and buttes.

Many primaeval species have been found here as fossils, and you can explore them while walking the boardwalk named Fossil Exhibit Trail. If you travel by car, drive the scenic Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240), where you will find multiple spots for stunning photos. Go to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn about the park’s history and variety.

Watch this video to get a glimpse:

Stay overnight to gaze at the billions of stars visible here. Take one of many hiking trails through prairies or hills on the Badlands terrain. Observe multiple animals roaming the park’s territory — bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs, to name just a few.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial

The creation of the largest mountain carving in the world (once it’s complete) was begun in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski. The carving depicts the leader of the Lakota tribal leader, Tasunke Wilco, who lived between 1840 and 1877. In 1876, Crazy Horse led his people into a battle where many invaders were slain.

In 1877, he was taken captive and mortally wounded when trying to set free. Decades later, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski created a monument to honour the Indian leader and all the Native Americans. Nowadays, you can not only take a look at the great monument but also visit the sculptor’s home and studio with lots of other sculptures.

Watch this to learn more:

After the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup held in September, you can join the Volksmarch, the hike along the 6.2-mile trek to the arm of Crazy Horse at the height of 500 feet. There are more exciting places to visit at the memorial, such as the Native American Educational and Cultural Center or the Indian Museum of North America. If you stay overnight, watch the laser light show «Legend in Light» projected to the mountain. Those interested in Indian culture may participate in Native American dancing performances.

Historic town of Deadwood


This town was established during the 1870-s gold rush and, in 1961, earned the status of National Historic Landmark. Today, this is a place where people can learn how their ancestors entertained themselves back in the times of the Wild West. Here are some of the activities available in this picturesque town. 

The Black Hills National Forest is spread just outside Deadwood, so take a chance and go for a walk along the Homestake Trail and to the Spearfish Canyon with its waterfalls, or visit the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower. Prove if Deadwood stands up to its name as one of the best party towns in the USA and participate in some of the numerous festivities and celebrations held here.

Watch this:

Rodeos, casinos, parades and concerts await! Fans of westerns can watch incredible gunslingers in the street performance suitable for the whole family. History lovers may head to the Days of ’76 Museum honouring Deadwood’s pioneers (summer opening hours are 9 AM to 5 PM), Adams Museum featuring the history of the Black Hills (9 AM to 5 PM), or other ones.

The Missouri River

The Missouri river

Also known as the «Mighty Mo», this great river is an excellent spot for all types of water recreation. It also has four lakes — Oahe, Sharpe, Francis Case, Lewis and Clark, as well as four towns along the banks — Pierre, Chamberlain, Yankton, and Vermillion, some of which you may find worthy to visit. Observe the Oahe Dam, the fourth-largest reservoir in the USA, built in 1962. Follow a cultural route passing the lands of five Indian tribes from Highway 37 to Highway 1806.

Try multiple types of water recreation — from canoeing to fishing. For a rest, visit the Lewis and Clark recreation area near the same-named lake, which is equipped with excellent infrastructure and many outdoor activities. The location next to Missouri is also good for hunting or birding (bird watching).

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park

The world’s largest boxwork formations, more than 100 miles of passageways under the ground, and 33,847 acres of wild nature on the surface constitute the country’s first national park (since 1903). The cave was discovered in 1881 by Tom and Jesse Bingham who sought for mineral resources. They called this place Wind Cave because of the strong gulp of wind that knocked Jesse’s hat off his head.

Watch this lovely video to get a glimpse:

Having followed the wind, the later adventurers found the extensive net of passages with some fantastic stone formations. According to the legends of the Lakota tribe, this place was where humans came from beneath the earth and began living on the surface, so it is considered sacred.

While walking in the park, look at the fantastic wild animals living here — elks, coyotes, black-footed ferrets, bison, antelopes and many others. Choose one or more of over 30 hiking trails and immerse yourself in the park’s incredible wildlife. Having descended to the cave, enjoy the view of one-of-a-kind honeycomb-patterned formations on the walls.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park

What makes another park on this list so special? Firstly, the vast territory of 71,000 acres. Secondly, a great number of different animals — primarily, bison, counting to 1300 heads. They may be viewed from the Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway. Thirdly, plenty of options for active recreation — safari tours, scenic drives, trail and bike rides, rock climbing, and so on. Fourthly, splendid nature: pristine mountain lakes, lush forests, and serene meadows.

Watch this video to learn more about this gem of the great eight of South Dakota:

Lakes are open for all possible water recreational activities. Moreover, unlike in national parks, it is allowed to camp here — you can choose between the park’s ten campgrounds. Hikers may try to climb Black Elk Peak (Harney Peak in the past), the highest point in the USA east of the Rocky Mountains, with a maximum height of 7,242 feet. At the summit, there is a fire tower from where one can experience a magnificent view of the park.

Annually, on the last Friday of September, the Custer State Park organises the event mentioned above — Buffalo Roundup. This is one of the Wild West traditions that remains to this day for ecological reasons. The thing is, the park needs to maintain balance between the number of bisons and the available forage. The event is free and requires no reservation; there are two viewing areas, and the Roundup lasts approximately two hours.


In case you don’t travel with a tent or in a van, you will need to think of a place to stay. A newly launched hotel price aggregator,, is eager to help you with this task. Here are some options close to the objects of the Great 8.

Best Western Plains Motel — 7.5 mi from the Badlands (9 minutes’ drive)

Lodge at Palmer Gulch — 6.2 mi from Mount Rushmore, 13 mi from Black Hills National Forest

Harney Camp Cabins — located in Wind Cave National Park, 1,6 mi from Custer State Park, 3.1 mi from Crazy Horse Monument

Four Points by Sheraton Deadwood — in the center of the historical city

Summer Creek Inn — located in Black Hills National Forest, 5.6 mi from Wind Cave National Park

Creekside Lodge at Custer State Park Resort — located between Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park

We wish you a great trip to the great eight of South Dakota!