The 7 Most Picturesque Small Towns In South Dakota

South Dakota is beautiful, boasting endless opportunities to revel in the great outdoors. Sparsely populated, the state consists of gorgeous grasslands, making South Dakota part of the Great Plains region. Expansive and diverse, the region consists of miles of shoreline, glacial lakes, and endless opportunities to explore.

The Badlands National ParkMount Rushmore, and Custer State Park are some of the most popular attractions in South Dakota. But they are not the be-all and end-all of the state's beauty. In fact, much of the gorgeous area, rich culture, and extensive history hide in the most picturesque small towns. In this article, learn about some of these incredible towns in South Dakota so you can plan your next trip.


The town of Pierre in South Dakota
The town of Pierre in South Dakota.

Pierre sits in the middle of South Dakota and directly on the Missouri River. The town is home to the Capitol building, which features enchanting stained-glass windows and marble design. It also houses the Cultural Heritage Center, documenting the history of the Native Americans and pioneers. Don't forget to visit the South Dakota Discovery Center & Aquarium, harboring native aquatic species and over 50 interactive exhibits.

The beautiful flowing Lake Oahe and Lake Sharpe offer exciting fishing and boating opportunities, while the Oahe Downstream Recreation Area is the perfect spot to camp out, picnic, or enjoy recreational activities such as hiking, biking, and swimming. Pay a visit to the Lewis & Clark Historic Trails for a little outdoor adventure and a taste of history all at once.


Aerial view of Spearfish in South Dakota
Aerial view of the town of Speafish in South Dakota.

Spearfish is a small town at the northern tip of the Black Hills and near the border of Wyoming. Natural beauty surrounds the town, offering endless outdoor adventures. A 1.5-hour drive from the town, the Badlands National Park boasts a rugged terrain that will earn a spot in your photo album. But if you want to visit something a little closer, take a guided tour of Mount Rushmore or take a private Spearfish Canyon hike.

A scenic drive along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a good way to spend a chilly fall day. You can also check out the Matthews Opera House & Arts Center to enjoy the performing arts or head to Crow Peak Brewing Company for refreshments.


Aerial view of the South Dakota town of Madison.
The beautiful and green town of Madison as viewed from the air.

Madison offers a small-town feel while still being close to the big city, as it is less than an hour from Sioux Falls. First on the list of places to visit in Madison is Lake Herman State Park, boasting beautiful views of Lake Herman. On top of the scenery, the area is a popular spot to fish, camp, observe wildlife, and even cross-country ski in the winter.

Then, check out the Historic Prairie Village, featuring 40 restored historic buildings, as well as daily carousel rides and train rides every Saturday. You will also find the Royal River Casino if you are feeling lucky, and do not forget to stop at the Eponymous Brewing Company for a drink or two. Finally, the Porter Sculpture Park is nearby, with a 60-foot tall bull head as its centerpiece.


Devil's Gulch is located By Garretson, South Dakota and is where Famous Outlaw Jesse James jumped across
Devil's Gulch, located By Garretson, South Dakota, is where Famous Outlaw Jesse James jumped across.

Garretson sits in the heart of the pink quartzite rock formations of Palisades State Park, ideal for anyone who loves adventuring in the beautiful outdoors. Campers, hikers, and kayakers alike find solace in the area, enjoying the beauty of the flowing Split Rock Creek and the 50-foot vertical cliffs.

Garretson offers a glimpse into the history of outlaw Jesse James, who made his great escape in the Palisades. Devil's Gulch is another popular attraction, as it is the gorge Jesse James's horse leaped over in 1876, escaping the posse. The Garretson Area Historical Society and Museum is the perfect spot to stop if you have an interest in the town's past. 

Hot Springs

Hot Springs, South Dakota, in winter.
The landscape of Hot Springs, South Dakota, in winter.

Famous for its mineral springs and mammoth fossils, Hot Springs boasts springs of warm mineral waters in the Fall River Canyon. Evans Plunge is the biggest and warmest spring, reaching 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring your bathing suit and check into the resort for a purely relaxing experience.

At the base of the Black Hills, the town offers easy access to Mount Rushmore, ideal for a weekend of hiking and adventuring. Take a walking tour along the river and learn about the town's architecture. Then, wander through the town's historic district, enjoying the unique shops and restaurants of the area. Delve a little further into history and visit the Mammoth Site, where you will find an active paleontological dig site with the most mammoth remains in the world.


Mines near lead, south dakota
Open-air pit mines near Lead, South Dakota.

Lead offers an exciting blend of everything that makes a small town appealing: plenty of adventure, great food, endless entertainment, and intriguing history. If you want to spend a weekend golfing with the Black Hills in the distance, Lead is the place to be. That said, fishing spots, hiking trails, and even rock-climbing opportunities surround the area. Check out the snowmobile and skiing trails in winter, or strap on your snowshoes and head into the woods.

Sure to appeal no matter the time of year, Lead hosts numerous events. Check out Winterfest on the mountain over Presidents' Day Weekend, attend the Lead Heritage Festival on Memorial Day Weekend, and attend the Renaissance Fair at the end of May.


Keystone,South dakota
Downtown Keystone in South Dakota, the Gateway to Mount Rushmore. 

Keystone might just hold the key to your heart, located right in the center of the Black Hills. It is the best spot to bring your whole family, whether you want to head out on the Historic Keystone Walking Tour or bounce between the list of local museums. 

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial are nearby, along with the Rushmore Cave and tramway adventures. The 1880 train offers a historical steam train experience, while the Big Thunder Gold Mine immerses visitors in the history of the gold rush. While you are visiting, be sure to check out Rush Mountain Adventure Park, featuring a mountain coaster, zip-ride, and 7-D move.

Whether you are looking for a weekend escape or a longer trip, there is plenty to do in these picturesque small towns in South Dakota. No matter which town you visit, natural beauty and wonder await, offering gorgeous views of human-made rock formations, mineral springs, and beautiful buildings. On top of the scenic views, each town is home to a warm and inviting culture that is sure to draw you in, beckoning you to stay a while.


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