South Dakota State Parks Adventures
The picturesque woodlands, breathtaking lakes, and expansive prairies make South Dakota a phenomenal place to explore! The state itself is filled to the brim with campsites that will give you an incredible experience that you’ll talk about for years to come!
For instance, Custer State Park boasts of two areas worth pitching your tent in – the Sylvan Lake Campground and the Blue Bell Campground. The latter offers a great many opportunities to spot wildlife while the former is ideal for those looking to relax and unwind after an exhausting week at work.
The 37 campsites found at Palisades State Park are also all highly sought after, boasting of modern amenities and phenomenal views of scenery that can be found only in South Dakota.
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Home to a great many hiking trails, Custer State Park is a favorite among residents and a paradise for outdoor lovers. The four-mile Sunday Gulch Trail begins at Sylvan Lake, taking hikers to views of towering granite spires and beautiful nature landscapes. The route may be difficult with a couple of steep climbs and thrilling drops but the scenery is well worth the challenges.
The park also features the three-mile Cathedral Spires Trail, which features incredible geological formations and awe-inspiring views of the prairie.
At Bear Butte State Park, be sure to take on the Centennial Trail, which will lead you along the mountainous region of South Dakota’s Black Hills, as well as along bubbling creeks and streams.
The park’s seven-mile Crow Peak Trail is also a popular route and hikers taking it on will be rewarded with great views of the sprawling prairies and the park. For unparalleled views of South Dakota, this route is your best bet.
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Cast your line at the picturesque Palisades State Park whose large populations of diverse fish species entice anglers from all across the country. While fishing, enjoy the abundance of natural formations that surround the park.
A popular activity among residents of South Dakota, as well as tourists visiting the state, geocaching can be done in a number of areas, including Palisades State Park. Here, participants can hunt for the cleverly-concealed caches amid the park’s lush greenery and towering rock formations.
Day Use Areas
A criminally underrated spot in South Dakota, Good Earth State Park at Blood Run is stunningly beautiful. Lay your blanket and take your meal underneath a canopy of trees and walk off the calories afterward on one of the park’s serene hiking trails. This destination boasts of views like no other so picnic-goers looking for a memorable experience should definitely stop by this park.
Considered to be the best mountain biking trail in South Dakota, the Centennial Trail starts near Bear Butte State Park, culminating in Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs. The route has everything you could ever want from a mountain biking trail – expansive prairie grasslands, steep climbs, and more than 2,000 feet of elevation. Riders looking to take their skills to the next level should undoubtedly take on this trail.
The Mount Rushmore State is home to a number of beautiful and crystal-clear lakes that make for phenomenal boating spots. At Custer State Park, explore the incredible waters of Sylvan Lake while aboard a watercraft vehicle. Surrounded by a formidable rock wall, boating at this lake is the best way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Big Stone Lake at Hartford Beach State Park is another incredible boating destination, stretching for 42 km and sitting along the border of South Dakota and Minnesota. The views from this lake are unmatched and can’t be found anywhere else in the state.
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Situated a few miles northwest of Brookings, Oakwood Lakes State Park is home to thousands of unique bird varieties, including the American Whtie Pelican and the American Bittern. It features a diverse set of habitats ranging from open water to woodlands and marshes, which means that rarities and a ton of nesting birds can be observed by avid Birders here.
Part of the Prairie Coteau region, Newton Hills State Park is another must-visit for Bird-watching enthusiasts. Varieties uncommon elsewhere in the state like the Barred Owl and the Eastern Towhee can be glimpsed here while nesting birds, such as the Orchard Oriole and the Eastern Bluebird, are in abundance. Its habitats and location make it an excellent site for songbird migration, as well.
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Take a dip at Legion Lake at Custer State Park, whose clear waters are the perfect way to beat the scorching heat. Towering rock formations that surround this swimming hole provide shade even on the hottest summer day.
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Rock Climbing and Mountaineering
Sylvan Lake offers a ton of rock climbing opportunities for those brave enough to try. Situated within Custer State Park, the lake made John Gill, the world-renowned Father of Modern Bouldering, famous. Try taking on the 30-foot The Thimble, which features a mix of sport and trad climbing, making it a legendary route among avid climbers.
On the other hand, climbers visiting South Dakota usually head over to Palisades State Park for the chance to improve their scaling and rappelling techniques at the incredible rock formations of pink Sioux Quartzite. With a combination of face and crack climbs, this park is undoubtedly a bucket list destination for climbers from all around the world.
Its sprawling prairie lands and expansive meadows make South Dakota a favorite among equestrians. Two miles of natural trails meander through Bear Butte State Park although be advised that horseback riding is only permitted on the west area of Highway 79.
Custer State Park is also popular among horseback riders, all of whom desire to explore the park’s 71,000 acres of pine-covered mountains and rolling prairie foothills. It also features a French Creek Horse Camp where equestrians can relax with their mount after a long day of riding and exploring.
Miles and miles of horseback riding trails wind around the peninsulas created by eight natural lakes at Oakwood Lakes State Park. The park also features a horse camp with primitive sites, water, hitching posts, and corrals so you can be sure that your beloved mount is taken care of.
At Sica State Park, explore over 900 acres of woodland, open prairie, ravines, and creek crossings. The horseback riding trails here culminate in a scenic overlook of the entire Block Hollow – definitely an experience that shouldn’t be ignored.
Recreational Equipment Rentals
If you’re looking to try your luck at biking through South Dakota’s incredible yet challenging terrains, then check out the rentals at Newton Hills State Park. Biking trails at this park are top-notch and perfect for beginners looking for a laidback and relaxing afternoon excursion.
Part of the Blood Run National Historic Landmark, Good Earth State Park is a memorial to one of the oldest areas of human history in North America. Dating back to pre-colonial times, this land was once a thriving urban jungle that facilitated trade among the Oneota peoples, including the Omaha, the Ponca, and the Ioway tribes. Today, the park features a large Visitor Center where guests can learn more about the cultures of the indigenous tribes that once populated the area.
Fort Sisseton Historic State Park is another incredible destination that history buffs and those interested in learning more about American history will love. Here, original buildings of this frontier army posts can be found, including guardhouses, stone barracks, and officer’s quarters. Visitors can explore these historic sites on their own or can opt to avail of walking tours led by the park’s team of expert guides.
The park’s annual Fort Sisseton Historical Festival also draws in thousands of guests, all of whom wish to enjoy activities and performances that make them feel as if they just took a step back in time.
The picturesque scenery of South Dakota is best explored in the wintertime when guests can take up snowshoeing through deep, soft blankets. Snowshoeing can be done at Palisades State Park, Good Earth State Park, Fort Sisseton State Park, and Newton Hills State Park. These parks tend to get crowded during the holiday season, though, so keep that in mind.