South Dakota

Vast prairies, pristine forests, bizarre rock formations, and the most extraordinary mountain in the USA: come with us on an adventure in Mount Rushmore State, South Dakota!

South Dakota facts

Capital: Pierre
Area: about 200,000 km²
Population: about 887,000
Location: North of the USA
Nickname: The Mount Rushmore State
Hotspots: Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park
Time zone: UTC -6 (Central), UTC -7 (Mountain)

South Dakota: location & population

The landlocked state of South Dakota is located in the North Central USA. It is also included in the Midwest States and the Northwest Prairie States. South Dakota has six neighbors: North Dakota to the North, Minnesota and Iowa to the East, Wyoming and Montana to the West, and Nebraska to the South.

South Dakota is one of the most sparsely populated American regions: both in terms of population and population density, Mount Rushmore State occupies only 46th place in the US ranking. Whites make up the largest population group, at around 84 %. About 40 % of them claim to have German ancestors. The proportion of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians is comparatively low at only about 1% each.

However, South Dakota also has a large Native American population, mainly from the Lakota tribe. The population share of about 8.7 % Native Americans is the third highest in the USA. Only Alaska and New Mexico have a higher share.

The largest cities in South Dakota

Sioux Falls is the only city with more than 100,000 inhabitants in sparsely populated South Dakota. In terms of population, the top five places are:

City Population
Sioux Falls 193,000
Rapid City 75,000
Aberdeen 28,000
Brookings 23,000
Watertown 22,000


Pierre, the capital of South Dakota, ranks 9th with only about 14,000 inhabitants.

Nature and climate

South Dakota can be roughly divided into three regions: the East, the West, and the Black Hills. The eastern part of the state is relatively flat and characterized by the lowlands of the Dissected Till Plains, the James River Valley, and the Coteau des Prairies plateau. Here, you will also find the most populous city, Sioux Falls.

The Missouri River cuts through South Dakota roughly in the middle, marking the border between East and West. The Western part of South Dakota also consists of about two-thirds of plains and rolling hills, but the landscape is a bit more sparse and rugged. The most special landscape in Western South Dakota can be found in Badlands National Park.

The Black Hills in the Southwest of the state are geographically very different from the rest of the state. The mountain range, considered sacred by Native Americans, is where South Dakota's highest peaks are found. It is also the place where the world-famous presidential stone portraits of Mount Rushmore were carved into the rock.

South Dakota's continental climate has four distinct seasons. Winters are cold and dry with minimum temperatures as low as -12 °C. In summer, the thermometer can climb to over 40 °C. During the warm months, there is a risk of violent thunderstorms, which can bring strong winds, thunder, and hail. The area east of the Missouri River is also within North American Tornado Alley, where tornadoes and severe snow and ice storms can occur.

Best time to travel to South Dakota

Spring, summer, autumn, or winter: depending on where your interests lie, each season has its benefits in South Dakota.

South Dakota in spring

Hiking, climbing, canoeing – spring, with its mild temperatures, is the perfect time of year to explore nature. Another plus: the peak tourist season has not yet begun, and you can find affordable accommodation.

South Dakota in winter

If you're a snow lover and sub-zero temperatures can't stop you, you'll love winter in South Dakota! Now is the perfect time of year in Mount Rushmore State for snowmobiling, ice fishing, skating, and winter walks.

Traveling to South Dakota

There are only two airports in the US state of South Dakota. They are:

  • Sioux Falls Airport (FSD)
  • Aberdeen Regional Airport (ABR)

Sioux Falls Airport is used by around 1.2 million passengers a year, making it the most important hub for air travelers in the state. If you're flying from London, Paris, or Frankfurt am Main, you'll usually need a stopover in Chicago or Dallas to travel to Sioux Falls. Calculate about € 600 to € 800 for your flight tickets. Connections from Asia (e.g., Tokyo, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur) cost between € 900 and € 1,200 and usually require two stopovers.

Flights to South Dakota

If you want to travel to Western South Dakota, for example to visit the Black Hills or Mount Rushmore, you can also look for connections to Denver Airport. A rental car trip to Hot Springs takes around five hours from both Denver and Sioux Falls.

Travel authorization South Dakota

If you are not an American citizen or Green Card holder, you will need a visa or ESTA to enter South Dakota.

ESTA – visa-free to the USA

With an ESTA, you can stay 90 days visa-free in the USA. Apply online now!

Airport transfer in South Dakota

Sioux Falls Airport is located about 8 km northwest of the city. Arriving there, you have the following transfer options:

Public transport from Sioux Falls Airport

Public transport in Sioux Falls consists of the buses of the Sioux Area Metro (SAM). However, there is no line that goes directly to the airport. To get to the nearest stop, 4th Ave/48th SE Corner, you need to walk about 1.5 km. From there, line 8 will take you to the central bus station in the downtown area. A single ride on the SAM buses costs $ 1.50. Note: Line 8 does not operate on Sundays.

Shuttle from Sioux Falls Airport

The shuttle stop is located in front of the entrance near the baggage claim area. It's best to find out before you travel if your hotel offers a free shuttle service.

Taxi from Sioux Falls Airport

If you want to get to your accommodation in Sioux Falls comfortably by taxi, you pay a base fare of $ 3.80 plus $ 1.60 for each mile traveled.

National Parks and natural wonders in South Dakota

To see South Dakota's most extraordinary landscapes, you must travel to the West of the state, where two national parks and one state park await you.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

The four presidents' heads on Mount Rushmore, which were carved into the rock in the middle of the pristine landscape of the Black Hills, are undoubtedly one of the most impressive landmarks in the USA. The gigantic work of art was created from 1927 to 1941 and shows the portraits of the four US presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Tip: In summer, you can join a free guided tour and learn everything there is to know about the unique mountain.

Badlands Nationalpark

Badlands National Park near Rapid City is one of the most extraordinary places in South Dakota. Take to popular trails like the Castle Trail and Door Trail and explore the park's colorful erosion landscapes and vast grass prairie. You're sure to encounter rare wildlife such as black-footed ferrets, bighorn sheep, bison, coyotes, elk, and prairie dogs. If you follow the themed Fossil Exhibit Trail, you can see fossil replicas of extinct animals.

Wind Cave Nationalpark

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota's second national park, is located amidst the Black Hills. Wind Cave was not only the world's first cave to be declared a national park. It is also one of the densest cave systems in the world. After exploring the cave's unique calcite formations, enjoy the park's 50 km of above-ground trails and vast mixed-grass prairie, where you'll encounter bison, elk, coyotes, cougars, and foxes.

Custer State Park

The vast Custer State Park in the Black Hills is known for huge herds of bison, great scenery, and countless opportunities for outdoor activities. Climb the unique rock formations of the Needles, explore the caves of Jewel Cave National Monument, paddle on Sylvan Lake, and hike the Black Elk Peak Trail!

Top 10 sightseeing highlights in South Dakota

Do you already know the ten most beautiful sights in South Dakota? If not, you should add them to your travel list.

  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Badlands National Park
  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Custer State Park
  • Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Wall Drug Store
  • Black Hills National Forest
  • The Mammoth Site
  • Wildlife Loop Road

City highlights in South Dakota

While South Dakota is best known for its natural beauty, you'll also get to know charming cities like Sioux Falls and Rapid City as you travel through Mount Rushmore State.

City highlights Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls, in the eastern part of South Dakota, will delight you with a fascinating mix of city flair and nature. Discover The Falls, stroll along the SculptureWalk in historic downtown, listen to an indie rock concert, and enjoy a craft beer from a local brewery!

These city highlights await you in Sioux Falls:

  • Falls Park
  • Old Courthouse Museum
  • Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History
  • Butterfly House & Aquarium
  • Wild Water West Waterpark

Accomodation in Sioux Falls

City highlights Rapid City

Rapid City in the Western part of South Dakota is the gateway to the Black Hills and a starting point for tours to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument. But before you head out to explore, take some time to check out Rapid City's exciting museums and charming downtown.

Don't miss out on the highlights in Rapid City:

  • Reptile Gardens
  • Dinosaur Park
  • The Journey Museum and Learning Center
  • South Dakota Air and Space Museum
  • Storybook Island

Accomodation in Rapid City

Roadtrip in South Dakota

Let's start our road trip through South Dakota in the Black Hills roughly 14 km southwest of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Here, another monumental figure was carved into the rock. The Crazy Horse Memorial, which depicts the face of the Oglala Lakota chief Crazy Horse, is the largest permanent construction site in the United States. Financed entirely by private foundations, the work has been going on since the 1940s. Once completed, the sculpture will show Crazy Horse sitting on a horse – but this will probably take another 100 years.

After the world's largest concentration of mammoth fossils was found near Hot Springs in 1974, a palaeontological research facility was established at the excavation site. However, the national monument of Mammoth Site of Hot Springs is not only a center of attraction for scientists from all over the world but also a museum open to the public.

The last stop on our South Dakota road trip takes us back to the days of the Cold War. At that time, the icon of the American nuclear arsenal, the Minuteman Missile, was stationed near the town of Wall. From 1999, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site has been a memorial where interested visitors can take part in guided tours of the facility.

Instagram hotspots in South Dakota

Looking for the best places to take beautiful holiday photos? Here are our five tips for your South Dakota trip:

  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Badlands National Park
  • The Needles
  • SculptureWalk

Food and drinks in South Dakota

In South Dakota, you can enjoy some typical regional dishes that you will hardly find anywhere else in the United States. We wish you bon appétit!

  • Chislic (salted meat cubes, fried in fat or grilled and served on a skewer)
  • Indian Tacos (tacos served on fried bread)
  • Bierocks (yeast dumplings filled with beef or pork, cabbage, and spices)
  • Rocky Mountain Oysters (bull testicles served with dip or gravy)
  • Kolache (round cake, topped with candied fruit or cream cheese)
  • Chili and cinnamon rolls

South Dakota fun facts

South Dakota has a few curiosities and exciting stories to offer. Did you already know these facts?

  • Originally, Mount Rushmore was not supposed to feature US presidents but famous figures of the American West. According to initial drafts, portraits of explorers Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea, the Indian chiefs Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, and the bison hunter William "Buffalo Bill" Cody were planned.
  • The construction of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial cost around one million dollars until its completion in 1941. Taking inflation into account, a comparable project today would come to around 17 million dollars.
  • For a time, the Homestake Mine in Lead was the largest gold mine in North America. It was opened in the late 1800s and only closed in 2002.
  • The T. Rex skeleton "Sue," one of the largest and best-preserved dinosaur fossils in the world, was found in South Dakota in 1990.
  • The film "Dances with Wolves" with Kevin Costner was filmed in Badlands National Park.

Immigrate to South Dakota

Are you dreaming of a life in South Dakota? Check out our tips for living and working in South Dakota to help you get closer to your goal.

Working in South Dakota

The most important economic sector in South Dakota is the service industry. Most jobs are in retail, finance, and health care. Furthermore, career opportunities in the tourism sector can be found in the Black Hills region, where the state's most famous nature parks and attractions are located. Agriculture is also still important in South Dakota, especially the cultivation of corn, soybeans, and wheat, as well as cattle and pork farming.

Living in South Dakota

South Dakota is a great place to live, and it's cheap! Looking at the state as a whole, the cost of living is about 12 % lower than in the rest of the USA. You can save mainly on housing and transport costs. Prices for food and other daily necessities roughly correspond to the American average. If you are planning to move to beautiful South Dakota, we recommend the cities of Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Brookings, Spearfish, and Hot Springs.

To South Dakota with a Green Card

Do you want to stay in beautiful South Dakota forever? With a Green Card, you can live and work in America indefinitely. A good way to get a Green Card is through the US government's Green Card Lottery. Every year, 55,000 Permanent Resident Cards are raffled off to USA lovers from all over the world. Sign up now, it's just a few clicks!

Green Card Lottery

Win one of 55,000 Green Cards in the official Green Card Lottery of the US authorities!