Visiting the United States? There are 50 states in all.

South Dakota, a Midwestern state, is known for its national parks, windswept prairies and 19th-century frontier history. Named for the area’s native Lakota and Dakota Sioux Indian tribes — members of the Great Sioux Nation — South Dakota offers outdoor activities in a place that retains an Old West flavor.

Admire sculptures of U.S. presidents carved into a mountain, hike the trails of Badlands National Park and explore pioneer life in the town of De Smet, where Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of the Little House on the Prairie books) grew up.

South Dakota has a rich trove of fossils; this state is where paleontologists found one of the most complete T. Rex skeletons ever unearthed.

If you like water sports, the lakes of the Black Hills area and northeastern South Dakota are perfect for kayaking, fishing and boating.

Outline map of the United States, with South Dakota in red (State Dept.)
(State Dept.)

Larger than life

No South Dakota site is more iconic than Mount Rushmore National Memorial, where the faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are carved into the granite mountain. Located in South Dakota’s Black Hills region, Mount Rushmore was completed under the direction of father-and-son sculptors Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum from 1927 to 1941.

Mount Rushmore (Dean Franklin/Creative Commons)
The majestic Mount Rushmore attracts some 3 million visitors each year. (Dean Franklin/Creative Commons)

Where the buffalo roam

Badlands National Park, in southwestern South Dakota, has dramatic landscapes and abundant wildlife throughout its nearly 98,240 hectares. You’ll find free-roaming buffalo herds, as well as bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcats, coyotes and foxes.

Buffalo bull standing amid prairie grasses (Thinkstock)
At Badlands National Park, a buffalo bull stands amid tall prairie grasses. (Thinkstock)

This region is also home to Custer State Park, which has buffaloes, white-tailed deer, mountain goats, wild burros, mountain lions, prairie dogs and other creatures. Visitors are warned to keep a respectful distance from animals.

Cowboys on horseback rounding up a buffalo herd (Shutterstock)
Cowboys at Custer State Park’s annual buffalo roundup inoculate the herd and check each animal’s health. (Shutterstock)

A leader for Indian rights

Not far from Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial, a tribute to the Oglala Dakota warrior who led his people to victory against U.S. Army forces in 1876. The monument, begun in 1947, is still not complete, but the carved granite face of Crazy Horse is instantly recognizable — and visitors can stop by the on-site Indian Museum of North America.

Crazy Horse Memorial, seen from the base of Thunder Mountain (© Danita Delimont/Alamy Stock Photo)
Crazy Horse Memorial, seen from the base of Thunder Mountain, honors a great Sioux warrior. (© Danita Delimont/Alamy Stock Photo)

The Wild West, revisited

Deadwood, an 1870s gold-rush town, features prominently in the lore of the American West, thanks to two local legends: gunfighter/lawman Wild Bill Hickok and frontierswoman Calamity Jane. Visit the saloon where Hickok was gunned down in a poker game and enjoy rodeos, concerts, casinos, parades and gunfight re-enactments.

A horse-drawn stagecoach rolls through Deadwood; two-story brick buildings in background (Shutterstock)
A horse-drawn stagecoach rolls through Deadwood, a town defined by its colorful history. (Shutterstock)

Hidden treasures

Jewel Cave National Monument — near the town of Custer — is the world’s third-longest cave system, with more than 267 kilometers of mapped passages. It’s open year-round.

Stalactites in subterranean cave illuminated by floodlights (Abir Anwar/Creative Commons)
Enter the mysterious, subterranean world of Jewel Cave National Monument. (Abir Anwar/Creative Commons)

Learn more about South Dakota and check out the other 49 states. If you need a visa to visit, here’s how to get one.