Sturgis, south dakota: a sign saying Welcome to Sturgis city of Riders, via jmoor17 /

8 of the Most Hospitable Small Towns in South Dakota

South Dakota, called after the indigenous Dakota Sioux tribe and occupying the north-central region of the United States, is a landlocked state well-known for its varied landscape. Boasting rugged Badlands, rolling prairies, luxuriant green forests, winding rivers, and tall mountains, this Midwestern State has captivated the hearts of millions for centuries. Aside from housing some iconic landmarks, the Mount Rushmore State’s attractive terrain is dotted with innumerable hospitable small towns that perfectly showcase the state’s rich history and thriving Native American culture.


Mt Rushmore, Custer, South Dakota
Mt Rushmore, Custer, South Dakota. via Sea Salt /

Custer County’s administrative center, this alpine town is located in the southwestern part of the state at the center of South Dakota’s southern Black Hills, roughly 40 miles southwest of Rapid City. Established in 1875 by European Americans following the discovery of gold in French Creek, Custer is considered the oldest town in the Black Hills. Home to a population of 1,919 inhabitants as per the latest US Census, the town serves as the perfect stopover point for embarking on any South Dakota vacation, as it is conveniently placed near significant sites of interest such as Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Main Street is packed with a handful of top-notch restaurants, gastropubs, well-known burgers, and locally-owned brews like Black Hills Burger & Bun, The Canteen at Custer Beacon, Custer Wolf, and Mt Rushmore Brewing Company & Pounding Fathers Restaurant. A steady stream of revelers flock to Custer yearly to attend the annual Gold Discovery Days celebration and festivities.


The Historic Fairmont Hotel Oyster Bay Bar Casino on Main Street in Deadwood, South Dakota.
The Historic Fairmont Hotel Oyster Bay Bar Casino on Main Street in Deadwood, South Dakota. Editorial credit: Nagel Photography /

The county seat of Lawrence County, Deadwood is situated in the western portion of the state, immediately to the northeast of Lead and approx. 40 miles northwest of Rapid City. Labeled by early settlers after the dead trees found in a canyon formed by Whitewood Creek over 4,530 ft above sea level in the Northern Black Hills, the entire town was designated in 1961 as a “National Historic Landmark District” for its meticulously maintained Gold Rush-era architecture. Holidayers can stroll down the streets where Old West legends such as Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, Seth Bullock, and Calamity Jane once roamed and take note of the town’s notable sites like Adams House Museum, Mount Moriah Cemetery, Homestake Adams Research & Cultural Center, and Days of ’76 Museum. Currently, tourism based on the numerous Old West-themed gaming halls contributes significantly to Deadwood’s economy. Surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest, the town also provides adventure seekers with a plethora of outdoor recreations like mountain biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, skiing, and hiking.

Hill City

Main street in Hill City, South Dakota
Main street in Hill City, South Dakota, via Paul R. Jones /

With only 872 inhabitants, Hill City is Pennington County’s oldest existing city which is often called the “Heart of the Hills” due to its closeness to the geographic center of Black Hills as well as other famous tourist spots. A short drive from Hill City provides vacationers incredible views of the Black Elk Peak, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the 109-mile-long George S. Mickelson Trail, Custer State Park, Cathedral Spires, and Crazy Horse Memorial. Additionally, check out the town’s flourishing visual arts community featuring scores of Western-themed art galleries, studios, and yearly art events like the Native American quilt show, Arts & Crafts Fair, and Art Extravaganza. Hill City also houses the Black Hills Museum of Natural History, the 1880 Train/Black Hills Central Railroad, the CCC Museum of South Dakota, Wade’s Gold Mill & Mining Museum, and the South Dakota Railroad Museum. After a hectic day of exploration, travelers can relax at any of Hill City’s excellent eateries, pubs, and wineries lining Main Street.

Hot Springs

Aerial view of Hot Springs, South Dakota.
Aerial view of Hot Springs, South Dakota.

Hot Springs, the seat of government of southwestern South Dakota’s Fall River County, is located along the Fall River at the southern margin of Black Hills in a sandstone canyon abutted by red rocks. Originally called “Minnekahta” by European settlers in reference to its Lakota name, both locals and tourists have been enticed over thousands of years by the warm mineral springs in the area believed to have healing powers. Set up in 1890, the Evans Plunge Mineral Springs having soothing naturally warm spring water at 87°F is one of the town’s favorite attractions. Vacationers visiting Hot Springs must not miss the Pioneer Museum, Mammoth Site (the biggest collection of mammoth bones in the world), Cold Brook Dam & the 36-acre Cold Brook Lake, Black Hills National Forest, Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, the neighboring 4,407-acre Angostura Reservoir, Cottonwood Springs Dam & Lake, and Buffalo Gap National Grassland.  

Dell Rapids

4th Street in Downtown Dell Rapids, South Dakota,
4th Street in Downtown Dell Rapids, South Dakota, By AlexiusHoratius - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, File:Dell Rapids, South Dakota 1.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Initially named ‘Dell City’ and later rechristened after the local rapids on the Big Sioux River, this Minnehaha County town in the state’s southeastern portion is just 20 minutes north of Sioux Falls. Dell Rapids also referred to as “The Little City with the Big Attractions” invites travelers to witness the town’s remarkable downtown reconstructed using Sioux Quartzite after a major part was destroyed by a massive fire in 1888. The principal business hub of the town – the Main Street, is lined by countless historic structures like the Carnegie Public Library, and the Grand Opera House. Also, both tourists and residents can enjoy multiple recreational activities offered at the different city parks and the Sioux River Red Rock Trail. Fun celebrations like ‘Quarry Days’ in July, ‘Cootie Days’ in June, ‘Easter Egg Hunt’ in April, and ‘Christmas at the Dells’ during the first weekend of December are hosted by the community.  


Aerial View of Spearfish, South Dakota in Summer
Aerial View of Spearfish, South Dakota in Summer

Affectionately called “Queen City,” Spearfish, named after the fast-moving Spearfish Creek, is situated on the northern edge of the Black Hills, at the head of the magnificent Spearfish Canyon, roughly 45 miles northwest of Rapid City. The lively downtown of this Lawrence County town is jam-packed with retail stores, art galleries, and diners housed in ancient buildings. The Matthews Opera House & Arts Center – the mecca of Spearfish’s high-spirited cultural scene offers art events, and live musical and theatrical performances by renowned artists all year round. The 22-mile-long Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway provides travelers unparalleled views of lush forests, towering limestone cliffs, flowing mountain streams, and cascading waterfalls in one of Black Hills’ most stunning areas. Outdoorsy types get to survey the Black Hills National Forest besides participating in various recreational activities like fishing, hiking, biking, skiing, rock climbing, or a refreshing swim in the crystal-clear waters of Spearfish Creek. Several yearly events like the Black Hills Corvette Classic, Downtown Friday Nights music series, Holidazzle Light Parade, and Harvest Fest are held here.


Sturgis town during the annual rally for bikers
Sturgis town during the annual rally for bikers. Image credit Photostravellers via Shutterstock.

Sturgis, christened in honor of Samuel Davis Sturgis – an American Civil War Union General, is the administrative center of Meade County located on the northeastern extremity of the Black Hills National Forest along Bear Butte Creek, approximately 25 miles northwest of Rapid City. Uncountable landmark properties, a wide variety of locally-owned shops, and top-class restaurants serving mouthwatering cuisines fill the town’s charming downtown area. Sightseers can also tour the Fort Meade Recreation Area, Bear Butte State Park, Black Hills National Cemetery, Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame, and Poker Alice House, or experience the various twists and turns of the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, the Iron Mountain Road, and Needles Highway. Every year in August, the week-long Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, considered one of the biggest motorcycle events in the world, draws millions of motorcycle fanatics from all over the globe to Sturgis for concerts, races, and cycle shows.   


Vermillion is a small College Town in rural South Dakota.
Vermillion is a small College Town in rural South Dakota.

Clay County’s seat of government, Vermillion is situated in the state’s southeastern corner, close to the confluence of Missouri and Vermillion Rivers, immediately north of the state boundary with Nebraska. Housing the breathtaking main campus of the University of South Dakota, this idyllic college town with 11,695 residents, welcomes visitors to witness more than 15,000 rare and antique musical instruments from different cultures and historical periods displayed at the internationally acclaimed National Music Museum on the university campus. Furthermore, the tourists can learn about the community’s bygone days at W. H. Over Museum, and the Austin-Whittemore House Museum, and appreciate the five murals in the downtown business district. Outdoor enthusiasts must play a round of golf at the Bluffs Golf Course, enjoy kayaking on the Missouri River, camp at the adjacent Clay County Park, splash down at the Prentis Plunge Aquatic Center, and hike to the top of the Spirit Mound Historic Prairie. Cultural celebrations such as the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival and the University of South Dakota Wacipi (powwow) lure thousands to Vermillion annually.

From the warm mineral springs of Hot Springs to Dell Rapids – “The Little City with the Big Attractions,” the hospitable small towns in the nation’s 17th largest and 5th least populous state have something for vacationers of all ages and interests. These adorable towns with their exquisite natural sceneries, renowned historic sites, unique family-friendly attractions, colorful annual celebrations, and abundant outdoor recreations are worth touring on your next vacation to Mount Rushmore State.  

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