The Dakotas are short on population but long on worthwhile travel sights. Extremely popular as the first "western" states seen by travelers from the east, after their boring sojourn through the midwest, these states offer national parks and even mountain (although they are really not much more than hills) scenery. Here are my choices of the best of this region. A photo album will follow soon.
1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial – One of America’s most patriotic and awe-inspiring places, these presidential sculptures carved out sheer granite are incredibly impressive both during the day and at night.
2. Badlands National Park – Eerily beautiful and colorful, these sandstone dunes are an example of nature’s paintbrush strokes. Scenic drives through the park reveal miles and miles of incredible scenery.
3. Needles Highway – This fantastic scenic drive through Custer State Park and the Black Hills offers wildlife views and interesting rock formations.
4. Crazy Horse Memorial – This still unfinished tribute to one the areas most famous native chieftains may eventually surpass Mount Rushmore (see above) in size if not in grandeur.
5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Named for America’s greatest conservationist president and the one who established our national park system, the envy of the world, this park features badlands and river valleys but is more remote and less visited than its neighbor to the south.
6. Deadwood – This Black Hills town was notable for its wild, western atmosphere (Wild Bill Hickok was killed here), but has recently been transformed into a gambling Mecca.
7. Wind Cave National Park – Strong winds formed by changing atmospheric pressure have produced the unusual formations visitors find here. Outside the cave are plains animals and great views of the Black Hills area.
8. Jewel Cave National Monument – This cave system, purportedly the third longest in the world, has over 100 miles of mapped passages. A number of different tours are available with differing degrees of difficulty.
9. Mitchell, South Dakota – The premier attraction here is the Corn Palace, an interesting place with Moorish architecture, made with discarded corn products. The details are actually changed each year.
10. Rapid City, South Dakota – This town is the gateway to the most popular sights of the area (Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Crazy Horse, etc). As such, it features the traditional satellite tourist traps (some of which are actually worthwhile) often associated with the fringes of these big draws.