Post Summary: Fun Places To Experience Autumn In South Dakota and Where To Find Them
The Wild West, beautiful Native American culture, golden prairies, presidential mountains…spark your interest yet?
Berty and I love exploring new places and being fueled by new adventures, so we ventured off to discover a new state – South Dakota!
Chock-full of unique landscapes and lively western towns, we were on a mission to find the best places to experience autumn in South Dakota.
We knew we just had to check out the aspen trees of Custer State Park turn colors this fall!
To help you plan your own all-American fall adventure this year, Berty and I wrote a complete guide to South Dakota in Autumn.
We’re sharing maps to the most fun South Dakota fall locations, the best times to visit each, what to expect, and so much more!
7 Fun Activities To Experience Autumn In South Dakota
This post is sponsored by Travel South Dakota. All opinions, photography, and writing are completely our own. Feel free to reach out with any questions about our sponsored content!
1. Take A Hike In Badlands National Park
The Badlands National Park in southwest South Dakota is a cluster of eroding buttes and pinnacles surrounded by beautiful prairies on all sides.
Here, history is right in front of your eyes as you spot the different colors in the sediment!
To experience autumn in South Dakota all the way out here in the prairie, we suggest taking an early morning hike to catch the weather doing interesting things.
The seasonal days may not bring some sunshine, but you can get a moody morning among the clouds at the Badlands instead.
Hike Suggestion: The Notch Trail is a 1.5-mile out-and-back trek that takes you through a dry river bed and among towering buttes.
You will get some sweeping views of the valley and get up close and personal with the landscape.
Make sure to come prepared to climb, or consider another hike if you are scared of heights!
Discover A Similar National Park In Utah: Capitol Reef National Park
2. Explore Wind Caves National Park
To get yourself out of the elements for an afternoon, explore the inside of Wind Caves National Park.
Wind Cave National Park works together with the Lakota tribe to showcase 140+ miles of discovered cave.
It’s called Wind Cave because as the temperature changes, the cave will “breathe” to match the atmospheric pressure of the outside air.
We took the “Garden of Eden” tour, which is a ranger-led walk of 150 stairs deep in the heart of the cave.
On this tour, we saw examples of boxwork, frostwork, and popcorn cave formations. The ranger even turned out the lights to experience what the early cave explorers did when their candles got snuffed out! (Hint: it’s VERY dark)
Would you consider exploring more of this cave? They are always looking for volunteers to uncover more of this underground maze. You just can’t be claustrophobic or scared of the dark!
Photographers Tip: Bring a lens with a low aperture (see our full lineup for our favorites!) to better capture the cave in low light!
3. Discover Custer State Park
Consisting of 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, this park encompasses rolling hills, granite peaks, and beautiful lakes and wildlife around every corner.
Custer State Park is accessible from many areas of the state – 30 minutes from Rapid City, 10 from Custer, and is also nearby big attractions like Mount Rushmore and Wind Caves National Park.
During autumn in South Dakota, there are tons of outdoor activities to experience here at Custer State Park.
Sit and watch the sunrise or sunset at Sylvan Lake, drive the twists and turns of Iron Mountain Road, or even spot a bison or two on the Wildlife Loop.
Whatever you choose, make sure to plan an entire day here to experience it to its fullest!
Love Wildlife? Try Exploring Grand Teton National Park!
4. Take A Drive On The Needles Highway
One of the most quintessential activities to do in autumn in South Dakota is to take a fall drive on the Needles Highway.
This 14-mile road in Custer State Park explodes with gorgeous fall colors around every twist and turn of the road.
The mix between green pine trees, orange aspens, and jutting granite peaks is guaranteed to make you pull over more than once for a picture!
It is said that this road was purposely designed to be narrow so that you have no choice but to slow down and enjoy the scenery. (We’re not complaining)
Plan a little bit of extra time here to soak in all that this scenic drive has to offer for fall foliage in South Dakota! We promise you won’t be disappointed.
5. Climb Up To Black Elk Peak
If you’re looking for a gorgeous fall hike in South Dakota, consider hiking Black Elk Peak during sunset.
This 6.8-mile out-and-back trail (or it can be a loop!) is a long but gradual uphill climb with a stone fire lookout at the end.
At the top, you can see views of the back of Mount Rushmore and the granite mountains of the Black Hills.
Black Elk Peak is the tallest point east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. Formerly known as Harney Peak, it has been renamed to the original Native American title (Black Elk Peak).
Here at the top, try and spot the Lakota prayer flags carefully draped over the pine trees.
If you are coming for sunset, make sure to bring a headlamp for the return trip back. It gets dark quickly!
Read More: Hike The Black Elk Peak Trail, South Dakota
6. Attend Oktoberfest In Deadwood, South Dakota
Deadwood, South Dakota is famous for being a gold rush town that attracted gunslingers, outlaws, and gamblers.
It got its name from the gulch of dead trees discovered in the area, as the town came to fruition from the get-rich-quick seekers looking for the precious metal in the nearby caves.
Now, while the days of gunfights in saloons are gone, Deadwood still keeps its loud and fun reputation of being the local party town for modern day thrill seekers.
Along Main Street, there is a plentiful selection of bars and casinos to choose from!
Every autumn in South Dakota, the town of Deadwood celebrates its western version of Oktoberfest.
Here, you can find Weiner dog races, beer barrel races, street drinking, and fun gatherings on every street corner.
Berty and I spent the day watching these events, and even getting old western photos of ourselves!
7. Mount Rushmore National Monument
If you’re coming to South Dakota, there’s a strong chance you’ll be stopping by Mount Rushmore National Monument.
If you’re unfamiliar, this is a quintessential American classic of four US presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln) carved on the side of a granite cliff.
After viewing this amazing sculpture, make sure to visit the Lincoln Borglum Museum, which is located directly under the viewing platform.
Here, you’ll see the entire building process from start to finish, from the perspective of the workers, founders, and artists who came together to create this amazing American monument.
We think autumn in South Dakota is the best time to visit Mount Rushmore. This is because there are fewer crowds, the sun rises a little later, and the weather is very comfortable!
Discover Another United States Favorite: The Grand Canyon
Are these all the best activities to do in autumn in South Dakota?
Nope! On this trip, Berty and I only explored the west side of the state, around Rapid City.
We must come back to search for more fall foliage and autumn activities in South Dakota another time! Here’s what’s next on our list:
- Sioux Falls
- Dignity Statue in Chamberlain
- Crazy Horse Memorial
- Jewel Cave National Monument
- Wall Drug
- Hot Springs, South Dakota
Map of Amazing Locations For Autumn In South Dakota
In order to experience the fall season in South Dakota to its fullest, we suggest flying into Rapid City.
From here, you can take day trips to the Black Hills, Badlands, and even the Destiny statue in Chamberlain.
If you are thinking about spending a few days exploring the Badlands in the fall, make sure to stay at Circle View Guest Ranch for the coziest sleep and most delicious homemade breakfast!
Thank you South Dakota Tourism for hosting us during the beautiful fall season in South Dakota!
What are some of your favorite places to experience autumn in South Dakota? Let us know in the comments below because we’d love to make a return trip!
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