Deadwood, South Dakota. Editorial credit: Cheri Alguire /

8 Most Overlooked Towns In South Dakota

Of the two Dakotas in the US, the most geographically iconic and culturally defining is South Dakota. Once the hunting grounds and territory of the proud Dakota and Lakota Sioux peoples, South Dakota is now home to some of the most overlooked towns that will surprise and amaze you. In towns like Custer and Hill City, where seminal and monumental faces gaze out into the land, history and nature beckon with the remains of a bygone era as seen in Deadwood and Wall.

Enjoy the simple pleasures of this friendly state’s atmosphere; South Dakota does not discourage nor displease. On your journey through the geographical center of the US, try not to overlook the many incredible towns South Dakota has to offer.


Aerial View of Custer, South Dakota at sunset.
Aerial View of Custer, South Dakota at sunset.

The American wilderness and famous national parks come alive in the town of Custer. Only about 41 miles from Rapid City, there is a reason why Custer is often an overlooked town in the area. Most people would rather explore the Custer State Park, the Wind Cave National Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial to see the iconic features and creations of both nature and man. Yet the town itself is not to be underestimated nor disregarded.

As the oldest town in the Black Hills, there is a stunning degree of history and culture to cherish as you explore other monumental attractions surrounding Custer. For example, from September 26 to 28, one can witness the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Round Up & Arts Festival, where modern-day wranglers corral thousands of thunderous buffalos. On September 29, the Crazy Horse Volksmarch challenges people on a 6.2-mile pilgrimage to the face of Crazy Horse. No need to feel lost and worried in Custer because a selection of lodgings—Calamity Peak Lodge, Bavarian Inn, The Ponderosa, and Shady Rest Motel & Cabins, among others—will cater to your needs.


The Capitol Building of South Dakota in Pierre, South Dakota.
The Capitol Building of South Dakota in Pierre, South Dakota.

Despite being the capital city of South Dakota, Pierre is the second least populous US state capital, with a population of about 14,000 people in comparison to the much larger population at Sioux Falls. Because of its position in the Missouri River, Pierre is the geographic center of South Dakota and was once the settlement of the Arikara and Sioux, who Lewis and Clark visited during their expedition. As the state capital, one can marvel at the governor’s mansion, which has retained much of its austerity since 1937. You might also be interested in visiting the Flaming Fountain, a memorial for war veterans, or learning about Pierre’s past at the Cultural Heritage Center.

If you want a direct window to the past, then tour the grounds of Fort Pierre, the original fur-trading nexus of the Northwest from 1832 to 1855. There, a monument marks the spot where a 1743 lead plate claiming South Dakota for France was buried. Nearby, the Oahe Dam regulates the flow of Lake Oahe, the Missouri River, and the Cheyenne River. For accommodations, consider the Historic Farr House or Hitching Horse Inn as options among many.

Hill City

Downtown Hill City, South Dakota.
Downtown Hill City, South Dakota. Editorial credit: Paul R. Jones /

The vibrant Hill City shares many of the natural amenities one can enjoy at Custer, which is approximately 14 miles away. Although Hill City is also a good jumping point to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and other natural features that Custer similarly promises, what sets Hill City apart from its neighbors are a handful of features unique to the town.

The Jewel Cave National Monument, for example, is the third largest and longest cave system in the world, with stunning subterranean formations and depths that entice the curious spelunker. The CCC Museum of South Dakota elaborates on the region’s cultural and environmental impacts, while the Museum @ Black Hills Institute exhibits the many dinosaur and prehistoric fossils uncovered from the Black Hills and the surrounding area. There are many more surprises to find in Hill City, but first, you ought to book a room at the Alpine Inn, the EverSpring Inn & Suites, or the Black Hills Trailside Park Resort.


Aerial View of Brandon, South Dakota in Winter
Aerial view of Brandon, South Dakota in Winter

Brandon is an excellent, 18-minute-away getaway from the high populations of Sioux Falls. There are many ecological and local features that will surely be worth the exploration. The Big Sioux Recreation Area is a hotbed of biodiversity, containing unique creatures and offering many hiking and trekking trails for your recreational leisure. Nearby, the Great Bear Recreation Park offers several exciting opportunities for snowboarding and skiing in the last wintry months of the year, while the Beaver Creek State Nature Area entices explorers to more of South Dakota’s wilderness.

Elsewhere, the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum and East Sioux Falls Historic Site is a lush and vibrant location riddled with rapids and brimming with floral delights. As magnificent as Sioux Falls can be, it is a refreshing experience to be away from the big city and enjoy the simplicity that Brandon has to offer.


Large 80-foot dinosaur at the entrance of the town of Wall,
Large 80-foot dinosaur at the entrance of the town of Wall, South Dakota. Editorial credit: melissamn /

Welcome to the town of Wall, just 50 minutes east of Rapid City. Notwithstanding the imposing name, Wall is a gateway to the untamed and ferocious landscapes of the Badlands National Park. Within those striated mesas and wind-carved rock formations are several photo-worthy points, such as the Badlands Wilderness Overlook, Yellow Mounds Overlook, and Pinnacles Overlook, to name a few.

At the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, the booming herds of buffalos roam wild and free. In the town itself, visitors can sample free ice water from the foundational and iconic Wall Drug Store while admiring the Delta-09 Minuteman Missile Silo—a relic from the Cold War—and playing around with paleontological trinkets at the Wall Drug Backyard. When all your excitement and adventures get you weary, settle down at the Hansen Inn & Cabins for a peaceful evening.


Campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.
Campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Editorial credit: Ken Wolter /

Cherish the autumnal atmosphere and the vermillion delights of Vermillion, located near the border between South Dakota and Nebraska. Striding atop a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and approximately 38 minutes from Sioux City, travelers will find Vermillion an enlightening and enjoyable village. As home to the University of South Dakota and one of the best college towns in South Dakota, there are many educational attractions to please the most clerical and scholarly of people.

The National Music Museum (also known as America’s Shrine to Music) is particularly enchanting and informative, while the W.H. Over Museum and the Austin-Whittemore House are prime spots to learn more about Vermillion’s history. Cultural venues such as the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival on June 6 to 9 are must-sees. Should you wish to stay a while at Vermillion, do accept Prairie Inn as one of your choices of establishment.


Historic downtown of Deadwood, South Dakota.
Historic downtown of Deadwood, South Dakota. Editorial credit: Nagel Photography /

Deadwood came alive in 1876 when it was a crucial site for prospectors and gold miners to seek their fortunes. The town came alive again when the 2004 TV series Deadwood portrayed the lawlessness of the area and the legendary cowboys like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock, who plundered Deadwood’s treasures. Nowadays, you can visit the graves of these historic figures at the Mount Moriah Cemetery. Take pictures of the still and metallic statues of the Tatanka Story of Bison, or hike up to the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower for panoramic sights of the area.

To understand more about Deadwood’s tumultuous upbringing, read all about the town’s past at the Adams Museum, in addition to seeing a plesiosaur fossil and buckets of gold nuggets. Venture into the wild and unchanged realm of the Black Hills National Forest by braving the George S. Mickelson Trail for scenic explorations of the place. And to spend a much longer time in Deadwood, find accommodations at the Lodge at Deadwood or Historic Bullock Hotel.


Aerial view of Spearfish, South Dakota.
Aerial view of Spearfish, South Dakota.

About 20 minutes from Deadwood, the town of Spearfish is a pleasant and arboreal place to soak in the soft chills and warmth of South Dakota. Lush and verdant trails, mixed with beautiful waterfalls, dominate the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway on your route toward the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery. There, you will be educated and entertained by the preservation of the aquatic ecosystems of South Dakota. The Termesphere Gallery provides a surreal tour through strange and mesmerizing artworks.

In Spearfish Creek, one can stumble upon unique natural pools called “Devil’s Bathtubs.” Remnants of the Westward expansion—like a stagecoach, chuck wagon, and a model homestead—can be admired at the High Plains Western Heritage Center. Similar to Vermillion, Spearfish is home to the prestigious Black Hills State University, an epicenter for learning and enlightenment in South Dakota.

From the rushing waters of the Missouri River to the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore, there are many locations and sites that will leave even the most hardened and callous adventurers astounded. The most overlooked towns in South Dakota are especially promising when delivering cultural and geological treasures for you to cherish. If Deadwood’s Wild West history of gold and lawlessness does not appeal to you, if Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave, and more at Custer do not leave you breathless, and if Brandon’s laidback atmosphere or Vermillion’s rosy delights do not suffice, then nothing will. But for the sake of enjoyment and adventure, immerse yourself in the most overlooked towns in South Dakota.

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