Deadwood, South Dakota, 07/10/2013 vintage car approaching on main street in Deadwood. Editorial Credit: Michael Kaercher via Shutterstock.

9 Oldest Founded Towns To Visit In South Dakota

Journey into a vibrant tableau of history with South Dakota's oldest towns. From the time-honored streets of Custer, the state's first settlement, to the beguiling charm of Yankton, the original capital, and the undying allure of Deadwood, each town offers an engaging voyage into the past. Witness a rich tapestry of architectural marvels, each bearing the unique style of pioneers and settlers, their stories etched into the fabric of these towns. Beyond their historic charm, these places provide serene retreats for nature lovers amidst picturesque parks and tranquil lakes. Engross yourself in the rich narratives presented in local museums, shedding light on the indelible Native American heritage. Visiting these age-old South Dakota towns promises a unique mélange of cultural richness, historical intrigue, and natural beauty.

Sioux Falls

The falls that give their name to the city - Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The cascading waters of the falls, from which Sioux Falls, South Dakota, proudly takes its name.

Founded in the year 1856, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, emerged as a settlement driven by the aspirations of a group of land speculators, particularly Joe Selby and George Laughlin. The city derived its name from the magnificent waterfalls on the Big Sioux River, which have left an indelible mark on its identity. Over time, Sioux Falls has grown into a vibrant community, shaped by the convergence of diverse cultures that have contributed to its unique character. Today, you can explore Sioux Falls' compelling history by exploring its well-preserved landmarks, including Falls Park and the historic downtown district. Don't miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich heritage of Sioux Falls while wandering its picturesque streets and visiting a range of significant historical sites.


Yankton, South Dakota is a College Town in the Midwest on the Missouri River
Yankton, South Dakota, a College Town in the Midwest on the Missouri River.

Yankton, South Dakota, derived its name from the Yankton Sioux Tribe, who once inhabited the area along the Missouri River. The town was established in the mid-19th century, initially serving as a trading post and a hub for river transportation. Yankton’s early economy thrived on agriculture and river trade, contributing significantly to the region's growth. As time passed, Yankton diversified its industries, embracing manufacturing and services to sustain its population. Despite facing challenges in the past, Yankton’s resilience has paid off, with the city now boasting a revitalized historic downtown and a booming tourism sector. Visitors and locals alike can explore the city’s rich heritage and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere created by its newfound prosperity.


VERMILLION, SD, USA - JUNE 22, 2023:Old Main hall on the campus of the University of South Dakota.
VERMILLION, SD, USA - JUNE 22, 2023:Old Main hall on the campus of the University of South Dakota. Editorial Credit: Ken Wolter via Shutterstock.

Nestled in the serene landscape of South Dakota, Vermillion boasts a rich history that dates back to its founding in 1859. As pioneers and settlers established the town, it flourished into a vibrant community with a distinct identity. Established in the late 19th century, Vermillion attracted ranchers, cowboys, and soldiers, shaping the town's character. Today, Vermillion invites visitors to explore its captivating heritage through a well-preserved historic district, where charming brick buildings house an array of shops, art galleries, and restaurants, exuding a lively ambiance. Nature enthusiasts can delight in the beauty of the nearby Missouri River and its surrounding landscapes, offering picturesque hiking trails and opportunities to witness the region's diverse wildlife.


DEADWOOD, SD, USA - SEPTEMBER 15, 2020: Historic saloons, bars, and shops bring visitors to Main St. in this Black Hills gold rush town, famous for Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
DEADWOOD, SD, USA - SEPTEMBER 15, 2020: Historic saloons, bars, and shops bring visitors to Main St. in this Black Hills gold rush town, famous for Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Editorial Credit: Kenneth Sponsler via Shutterstock.

Deadwood, South Dakota, has a storied history that dates back to 1876, when it thrived as a bustling mining town during the Gold Rush era. Surrounded by the picturesque Black Hills, Deadwood attracted gold seekers and pioneers seeking fortune and adventure. Deadwood preserves its rich heritage today while embracing its reputation as a lively tourist destination. The town's charming streets are lined with historic buildings and casinos, evoking the spirit of the Old Wild West. Visitors can immerse themselves in the town's past at the Adams Museum, which showcases artifacts and exhibits detailing Deadwood's fascinating history. The nearby Mount Moriah Cemetery is the resting place of notable figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, adding to the town's allure for history enthusiasts. With its mix of cultural attractions, outdoor activities, and a touch of the Wild West, Deadwood offers an unforgettable experience that combines the allure of the past with the excitement of the present.


Madison, South Dakota United States - October 24 2020: An old radio station building on the downtown strip.
Madison, South Dakota, United States - October 24, 2020: An old radio station building on the downtown strip. Editorial Credit: Sabrina Janelle Gordon via Shutterstock.

Madison, South Dakota, a charming town nestled in the heart of the state, has a fascinating history that spans over a century. Founded in 1880, Madison's roots are tied to its early pioneers, who established a community that would flourish into a vibrant and close-knit town. Over the years, Madison has cultivated a strong sense of heritage, preserving its historical significance while embracing modern development. One of the town's crowning jewels is Dakota State University, which plays a central role in shaping Madison's identity. Beyond its charming streets, Madison's scenic surroundings offer nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts a haven of natural beauty. Nearby Lake Herman State Park and Lake Madison provide opportunities for fishing, boating, and picnicking, making it an ideal spot for relaxation and recreation. With a focus on preserving its past and nurturing its future, Madison continues to thrive as a community that cherishes its history while embracing progress. Whether exploring the town's academic offerings, enjoying local events, or immersing oneself in the beauty of nature, Madison offers a delightful experience that captures the essence of a welcoming and historic South Dakota town.


South Dakota Spearfish Canyon Trout Pond Fishing Summer Sportsman Paradise.
South Dakota Spearfish Canyon Trout Pond Fishing Summer Sportsman Paradise.

Spearfish, South Dakota, nestled in the picturesque Black Hills region, holds a rich history and a vibrant community that draws visitors from far and wide. The city was founded in 1876, with the town's downtown area showcasing unique architecture, including historic buildings that reflect its past. Among these gems is the Matthews Opera House, which now hosts various live performances and events, captivating audiences with its cultural significance. Immerse yourself in the town's history by visiting the High Plains Western Heritage Center, where exhibits pay tribute to the area's ranching and pioneer heritage. For nature lovers, Spearfish Canyon beckons with its majestic waterfalls, hiking trails, and breathtaking landscapes, providing an ideal escape into nature's beauty.


Sturgis, South Dakota USA - August 5, 2015 Annual motorbike Rally.
Sturgis, South Dakota USA - August 5, 2015, Annual motorbike Rally. Editorial Credit: Photostravellers via Shutterstock.

Founded in 1878, Sturgis, South Dakota, emerged during the Black Hills Gold Rush, attracting pioneers, prospectors, and settlers eager to seek their fortunes. The town’s name honors General Samuel D. Sturgis, a prominent military figure who played a role in the region’s development. Today, Sturgis is renowned for its annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which began in 1938 and has grown into one of the largest motorcycle events in the world. Beyond the rally, Sturgis offers visitors a unique blend of Old West charm and modern amenities. The downtown area is filled with historic buildings and shops, giving visitors a glimpse into the town’s past while providing opportunities for shopping and dining. Sturgis is also a gateway to the stunning Black Hills region, offering breathtaking natural beauty and outdoor adventures. Nearby attractions include the iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the enchanting Badlands National Park. As visitors explore Sturgis, they can immerse themselves in its unique history, revel in the excitement of the motorcycle rally, and embrace the natural wonders of this historic town in South Dakota.


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

Nestled in the picturesque landscapes of southwestern South Dakota, Custer was founded in 1875 and named after General George Armstrong Custer, who played a role in the region's early history. Today, Custer beckons visitors with its charming downtown, where quaint storefronts and local art galleries showcase the town's thriving arts scene. Custer also boasts a unique blend of Western culture and artistic flair, making it an inviting destination for those seeking a bohemian atmosphere. Visitors can explore the 1881 Courthouse Museum, which houses exhibits detailing Custer's past, including its connection to the Black Hills Gold Rush, for a deeper glimpse into the town's history and cultural significance. Explore the nearby Custer State Park, known for its diverse wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. The park offers various outdoor activities, including hiking, wildlife viewing, and scenic drives through winding roads that reveal the park's natural splendor. One of the iconic attractions in the area is the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial, a monumental work-in-progress that pays tribute to the Native American leader Crazy Horse. This impressive sculpture in the Black Hills has become a symbol of the region's Native American heritage and the spirit of the West.


Watertown, South Dakota / United States - October 23 2020: A view of the historic buildings downtown.
Watertown, South Dakota / United States - October 23, 2020: A view of downtown historic buildings. Editorial Credit: Sabrina Janelle Gordon via Shutterstock. 

As the oldest town in Codington County, Watertown, South Dakota, boasts a rich tapestry of history, charm, and unspoiled natural beauty. Established in 1879, Watertown interestingly became the state's second city to be incorporated in South Dakota. It lies in a traditionally agricultural area, with remnants of the past still visible in the surrounding landscape. A stroll down the scenic Main Street reveals charming storefronts and cozy cafes reminiscent of times gone by. The stunning architecture of the Codington County Courthouse is a testament to the town's illustrious heritage. Indulge in the beauty of the great outdoors at the nearby Lake Kampeska. Here, scenic trails meander through lush woodlands and alongside picturesque lakes, offering a tranquil escape.

The Timeless Allure of South Dakota

Venturing through the oldest towns of South Dakota leaves visitors imbued with a sense of deep-rooted nostalgia. As they part ways with these historic destinations, they carry with them echoes of bygone eras and enchantment of a time seemingly frozen in place. These towns offer more than just a fleeting brush with history; they encourage immersive experiences in their story-rich streets, distinctive buildings, and nature's picturesque backdrops that comprise the region's heritage. Whether enamored by the architectural grandeur of Custer or the serene landscapes enveloping Yankton, the imprint these timeless South Dakota towns leave is powerful and lasting. Their legacy lives on in historical records and in the hearts and minds of those who traverse their charming paths.

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