Wondering if there are free things to do in South Dakota? The Mount Rushmore State indeed offers several low-cost, fun, and enjoyable destinations for everyone! Whether you’re travelling South Dakota on your own or with family, you’ll surely find great things to do here without busting your wallet.
Fill up your budget vacation bucket list today with our top 10 picks for amazing pocket-friendly destinations in South Dakota!
Before deep-diving into the Top 10 affordable South Dakota attractions, we’ve created its quick overview in the below slides:
- 1 1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- 2 2. Black Hills National Forest
- 3 3. Badlands National Park
- 4 4. Storybook Island
- 5 5. Dinosaur Park
- 6 6. The City of Presidents Walk
- 7 7. Spearfish City Park and Spearfish City Campground
- 8 8. Termesphere Gallery
- 9 9. Kokomo Gallery/John Lopez Sculpture Gallery
- 10 10. SculptureWalk
- 11 Book The Best Vacation Rentals Near Free Things to Do in South Dakota
1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Let’s open our list of free things to do in South Dakota with the state’s most famous attraction – Mount Rushmore National Memorial!
The ever-famous sculpture carved into Mount Rushmore’s granite face features the heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln (from left to right). The sculpture was created by father and son team Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum. Each of the presidents’ heads symbolizes the United States’ birth, growth, development, and preservation.
Lots of activities await you at Mount Rushmore National Memorial! You can:
• Go hiking on different trails such as Blackberry Trail and the Presidential trail
• Visit some exhibits and a 14-minute film at the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center
• Listen to a ranger talk at The Sculptor’s Studio
• Go on self-guided tours using rental audio or multimedia tour units
• Walk along the Avenue of Flags
• For kids, join the fun and complete the Junior Ranger Program
• Grab some snacks at the Carver’s Café and the Ice Cream Shop
• Pick up some lovely memorabilia from the Gift Shop
Mount Rushmore National Memorial grounds are open year-round, weather permitting. Operating hours from October to early March are 5 am to 9 pm. Standard operating hours throughout the rest of the year are 5 am to 11 pm. Meanwhile, the park’s Information Center, Visitor Center, Carver’s Café, and Gift Shop are open year-round except on Christmas Day.
The entrance to the memorial is completely free! Parking has a small fee: for $10 you can purchase a parking permit that is valid for one year.
2. Black Hills National Forest
Location: Western South Dakota (main headquarters in Custer)
Black Hills National Forest is a massive natural haven spanning 1.2 million acres of forested mountains and hills. The entire forest is approximately 70 miles wide and 110 miles long. It covers western South Dakota and a portion of northeastern Wyoming.
The forest is teeming with diverse wildlife, beautiful and unique plants, amazing rock formations, gulches, canyons, grassland parks, lakes, and tumbling streams. Black Elk Peak is the most notable mountain inside the area. It’s South Dakota’s tallest mountain and the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains in the USA.
You’ll never run out of fun nature tripping activities inside the massive Black Hills National Forest! Here are some of the suggested activities to do inside the forest areas:
• Camping at any of the 30 designated campgrounds
• Hiking any of the 353 miles of trails inside the forest
• Fishing at 11 reservoirs
• Picnicking at any of the 32 picnic areas
• Horseback riding
• Bicycling and motorized travel with over 5,000 miles of forest system roads
You can visit Black Hills National Forest for free! However, note that some activities such as camping, motorized travels, fishing, and boating may incur some fees. Check their website for applicable fees depending on your chosen recreational activity.
3. Badlands National Park
Location: Southwestern South Dakota (main headquarters at Ben Reifel Road, Interior)
Looking for more nature tripping adventures? Badlands National Park is a natural place to visit in south Dakota! This place is truly a must-see while you’re in The Rushmore State. The most notable highlight of the park is its awe-inspiring and picturesque badlands formations, including the mountains of Black Hills, Bear Butte, and Black Elk Peak.
Badlands National Park spans 242,756 acres in total land area. Of this land area, 64,144 acres are protected and designated as a wilderness area (Badlands Wilderness). Here, you can see an endangered mammal called the black-footed ferret, as well as other wildlife such as prairie dogs, Bison bull, bighorn sheep, porcupine, and white-tailed deer, among others.
Lots of fun and free things to do in South Dakota await you inside Badlands National Park, such as:
• Backcountry hiking and camping
• Enjoying the sunrise and sunset
• Night sky viewings
• Wildlife watching
• Horseback riding
• Scenic driving around the South Unit, Sage Creek Rim Road, and the popular Badlands Loop Road
• Visiting the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and/or the White River Visitor Center
Badlands National Park operates 24 hours a day year-round, including holidays. It only closes due to poor weather conditions. Entrance fees vary per vehicle; the cheapest one is for individuals priced at $15. Motorcycles are charged $25, while private vehicles may enter for $30. Note that the entrance fee is valid for 7 days.
4. Storybook Island
Location: Rapid City
Traveling with kids in tow? Stop by Storybook Island, an 8.5 acre non-profit and free admission family theme park! Step inside and enjoy more than 100 fairytale, nursery rhyme, and storybook theme settings that kids will surely enjoy exploring.
Some cool things to do inside Storybook Island include the following:
• Train rides on Storybook Island Line through Middle Park
• Live theater productions
• Carousel rides
• Bippity Boppity Bounce (two jumpy castles, Tinkerbell’s castle, and a military jeep) for kids aged 3-11
Note that each activity ticket costs $2 each – a reasonable price enough for a free admission park!
Now, you can also participate in various events for only $3 per ticket. Examples of events running currently include Safe n’ Sweet Trick n’ Treat and Christmas Nights of Light. And before you leave, stop by the gift shop for some truly magical souvenirs!
Visit Storybook Island daily from 9 am to 7 pm. It’s open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
5. Dinosaur Park
Location: Rapid City
Rapid City is truly a home for kid-friendly and easy-on-the-pocket attractions! Dinosaur Park was one of the first tourist attractions in the area, having opened to the public in 1936. From then until now, visitors have been stunned by the dinosaur displays in this lovely free park!
Dinosaur Park is set on a sandstone ridge encircling the Black Hills. On this ridge, you can find seven life-sized replicas of dinosaurs made from concrete. The replicas are erected in honor of the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous dinosaurs that inhabited the area during prehistoric times. Real dinosaur footprints have also been found in areas surrounding the park.
While on top of Dinosaur Park, enjoy the breathtaking vistas of the South Dakota badlands to the east! Feast your eyes on superb views of badlands stretching 100 miles wide.
After checking out the dinosaurs and the vistas, come to the Visitor Center to learn more about dinosaurs and their prehistoric existence. You can also grab some snacks from the café and find some low-cost memorabilia in the gift shop.
Dinosaur Park operates seasonally at varying hours:
• June through August – 9 am to 5 pm
• May and September 1st up to September 8 – 9 am to 4 pm
• September 9 to October 1st – 10 am to 4 pm
Admission to Dinosaur Park is always free, but any amount of donations is also appreciated.
6. The City of Presidents Walk
Location: Rapid City
Stroll around downtown Rapid City and find a trail of life-size bronze statues depicting USA’s past presidents. Dubbed “The City of Presidents Walk”, this walking tour lets you enjoy downtown Rapid City’s attractions while remembering the historic legacy of America’s presidents.
The City of Presidents started in 2000 as a way to express and promote patriotism among visitors and South Dakotans alike. It was the brainchild of businessman Don Perdue. Five South Dakotan artists painstakingly worked to bring the sculptures to life. These artists include:
- John Lopez
- James Van Nuys
- Edward Hlavka
- James Michael Maher
- Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby
To start with, head over to the City of Presidents Information Center and pick up a City of Presidents book. You can also download the City of Presidents map and interactive walking guide here. Then, feel free to stroll around Rapid City to view each of the 44 bronze statues. It’ll take you around 2 hours to walk the loop city trail and see all the statues.
The walking tour is completely free and can be completed at any time you wish! The City of Presidents Information Center is open June 1 to October 1, Monday to Saturday, from noon to 9 pm.
7. Spearfish City Park and Spearfish City Campground
Spearfish City Park is the main outdoor destination for both residents and visitors alike. It has become the central highlight of the Spearfish community as well. You can enter Spearfish City Park for free!
The park offers lots of fun things to do for outdoor recreation, including the following:
• Picnic shelters
• Playground equipment
• Skate park
• Tennis courts
• Sand volleyball courts
Stroll around the Spearfish recreational bike path and enjoy 7.5 miles of picturesque greenery! The path runs mostly along Spearfish Creek as well.
While you’re at it, why not enjoy some off-season camping at the Spearfish City Campground? The shaded campground is located along Spearfish Creek, just adjacent to the city park. Primitive areas and hookup sites are available for an inexpensive yet amazing camping experience! The charge to camp is only $10 per night, and reservations can be made through the City of Spearfish website.
8. Termesphere Gallery
Location: Christensen Drive, Spearfish
Masterpieces painted on spheres – how cool is that? Include Termesphere Gallery to your free things to do in South Dakota bucket list and gain a one-of-a-kind art experience!
Termesphere Gallery is a small museum where hanging spheres are used as three-dimensional art canvases. You can see spheres of up to 30 inches used as a painting canvas in this gallery! Apart from the “Termespheres”, the gallery also features mobiles and puppets.
The paintings are made by renowned South Dakotan artist Dick Termes. He utilizes six points of perspective in each painting to create an amazing three-dimensional environment in every sphere.
Most of Termes’ finished paintings are displayed inside the Termesphere Gallery. However, some of his works have also been lent out to collections in larger museums. One Termesphere was even featured as a book cover of Stephen Hawking’s bestselling book, A Brief History of Time.
You can also purchase some DVDs, puppets, shirts, mobiles, and artwork reproductions before you leave the gallery. All profits go towards keeping Termesphere Gallery a free attraction for all.
Termesphere Gallery is open year-round. They offer free admission especially for small groups with less than ten people. Currently, they’re advising visitors to call them for an appointment first. This precaution is due to the limit space within the gallery and the necessity to accommodate less than ten people at a time in observance of COVID-19 safety protocols.
9. Kokomo Gallery/John Lopez Sculpture Gallery
Visit the Kokomo Gallery for some exciting animal sculptures made from welded scrap metals, small bronze figurines, and everyday objects. Old West themes dominate the artworks in the gallery.
The giant metal artworks are made by John Lopez, a talented South Dakotan artist. He collects materials for his sculptures from ranchers and local farmers in Lemmon. He then welds the scrap metals and objects to form his unique sculptures.
Notable masterpieces to be seen inside Kokomo Gallery include an old motorcycle gas tank cleverly turned into an octopus. You’ll find an amazing steampunk owl sculpture made from saw blades. Also, look up close at the metal horses and find a mish-mash of metal objects and chains.
Kokomo Gallery is open with free admission for all! You can visit from May 1st to October 30th during the operating hours of Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm.
Location: Sioux Falls
Last but not least in our free things to do in South Dakota list is a fun outdoor trip to the SculptureWalk! This unique outdoor spot is home to around 55-56 sculptures displayed publicly throughout Sioux Falls’ downtown, uptown, and East Bank areas.
Enjoy strolling around, dining, and shopping in downtown Sioux Falls as you appreciate the different sculptures on display around the area! The SculptureWalk exhibits change yearly, so you’ll surely find something new each year you visit. At present, works featured in SculptureWalk include those of Alex Mendez, Steven Maeck, David Skora, Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby, and Jerry McKellar, among others.
Recently, SculptureWalk, The Washington Pavilion, and First Bank & Trust partnered together to establish the new ScuptureWalk Visitor Center. It’s located on the second floor of Washington Pavilion and provides brochures, educational videos, and a large-scale map of the route leading to the outdoor sculpture exhibits.
Start and end your SculptureWalk from the new Visitor Center at Main Ave. and 11th Street. You’ll find two sculptures – Dendron and Virgule – from this point. Coming to the Visitor Center and strolling around all the sculptures are absolutely free!
Besides these 10 options you can go to multiple road trip destinations also.
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And with this, we end our exciting list of the 10 free things to do in South Dakota. Go and explore The Mount Rushmore State on a budget!