When you think of a Midwest student group vacation, your mind might not automatically jump to South Dakota. But why not? The state's underexposure in the public's general purview casts an unintended shadow over this beautiful, historic, and fascinating land of mystery. There are many reasons why your group should care about South Dakota, but for now, here are five:
There's almost too much history in South Dakota for this little blog to cope with. Chock full of Native American history, American history regarding the Louisiana Purchase, frontier exploration and expansion, and U.S. military relations with the native peoples stands out the most. You probably all know South Dakota as the home of Mount Rushmore, one of the country's most beloved national landmarks, as well as Custer State Park. Huddled in the Black Hills, Custer State Park (named for famed Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer) is now a wildlife reserve and serves as a refuge for over 1,500 free-roaming bison as well as elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and many others. More interactive for student groups is Historic Deadwood, a living history attraction surrounding a real historic frontier town complete with outlaws and lawmen like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
2. Natural Beauty
The vast openness of South Dakota, instead of feeling boring or uninteresting, almost brings audiences in for a show of quiet strength and hidden power. From the beautiful native animals living on its plains to the rolling Black Hills, stark beauty of the Badlands, and the glorious depths of the state's caves, South Dakota is a stunning continual example of America the Beautiful. Visit the Wind Cave, the first cave anywhere in the world to be designated a national park, where you can explore both above and below ground. Falls Park in Sioux Falls may be a public park but its phenomenal design with a running river and several rolling waterfalls, make it an unusually elegant urban park. Merely driving through the wilderness of the frontier is enough to make you feel as if you've traveled back in time, to a much simpler place where buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play.
3. Small Town Charm
Even the larger, better-known cities of South Dakota, like Sioux Falls and Rapid City, are imbued with small-town charm. The friendly cities are walkable, welcoming, and offer plenty to do - and all with a smile. The Midwest is renowned for being friendly and you still get that this far north. Sioux Falls is the state's largest and fastest-growing city, with plenty to do from visiting beautiful Falls Park to sampling the more than 650 restaurants, or the many art galleries scattered throughout the city. If you're looking for a tight-knit community feel, maybe visit Rapid City where the town supports over 150 public events every year. Walking through downtown Rapid City you'll encounter a full-size bust of each former U.S. President right up to George W. Bush. The city, while welcoming and beautiful, is also extremely close to Mount Rushmore and offers up fun attractions like Dinosaur Park, Bear Country USA, Reptile Gardens and more!
4. Outdoor Recreation
You could argue that this ties into number two but South Dakota literally has so much to offer, we can't help ourselves. Hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking...anything you enjoy doing outdoors, you can do it in South Dakota. The sheer number of amazing state and national parks offer up breathtaking scenery, plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, and spectacular geological wonders to behold like the rocky Badlands and the extensive cave systems. Hill City is a wonderful spot to go camping, backed by mountains and with plenty of attractions to keep you busy when you aren't hiking. Black Hills National Forest, as well, along with Custer State Park make for wonderful outdoor recreational destinations for student groups of all kinds.
If you're a student reading this, don't freak out over the "e" word. The education we're talking about is wonderfully fun and fascinating, from interactive museums to live paleontological dig sites uncovering ancient dinosaurs. If you've ever read the Little House on the Prairie books you might be interested in visiting the Ingalls Homestead where the family lived near De Smet, South Dakota, during the 1880s. Or maybe you're interested in airplanes and fighter jets, in which case you'd enjoy the South Dakota Air and Space Museum in Box Elder. Music is represented at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, the Journey Museum and Gardens in Rapid City grants fun around every corner, and of course The Mammoth Site. Outside of Hot Springs, you'll find this ongoing paleontological dig site which boasts the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world (open daily for visitors and tours).