Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Helen Hatzis
Helen Hatzis
July 20, 2016 ·  16 min read

South Dakota Guide: Heritage Through Food And Fun

In the heartland of America you will find diverse landscapes, from rolling prairies to towering granite peaks.


Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Travelers can escape the bustling cities and meet the wild frontier. From the winding canyons and granite peaks of the Black Hills to the rainbow-hued spikes of the lunar-like Badlands, South Dakota is nothing if not diverse.

But it’s the prairies’ vast seas of grass that can bring out the deepest sense of wonder — the sunsets are just bigger here, with geese silhouetted against the sky as streaks of gold and red spill out over the horizon. The land of Great Faces and Great Places.


Courtesy of John B. Kalla via Flickr

This great place is where 853,000 South Dakotans make their homes today. South Dakota is home to world-famous pioneers and both American Indian and Wild West legends. Nearly 72,000 American Indians call this state home, and in South Dakota, you can experience American Indian heritage first hand at a powwow – a ceremony that involves feasting, singing, and dancing.

While driving across The Mount Rushmore State you will experience wide-open spaces and blue skies for as far as the eye can see. South Dakota has two major airports, in Rapid City and Sioux Falls, from which you are able to access everything with the use of a car.

In addition to six National Park Service sites, the South Dakota State Park system features 56 state parks and recreation areas that showcase the state’s broad expanses of prairies, back-country mountains, plentiful lakes and lush woods with plenty of room to play.

History and adventure abound along and on the waters of the Missouri River. North to south, a band of shimmering water cuts the South Dakota prairie in two. South Dakota might be located smack in the center of the US, but it still has more miles of shoreline than Florida.


Courtesy of J. Stephen Conn via Flickr

This is thanks in large part to Lake Oahe, a 231-mile-long reservoir along the Missouri River, but also many small lakes and tributaries of the Missouri. All that shoreline means more fishing, swimming, standup paddle boarding, kayaking, and boating – an outdoor paradise.


  • Chislic at Al’s Oasis in Oacoma
  • South Dakota state dessert, kuchen
  • The locals’ favorite, Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse in Pierre and Mitchell
  • The Lakota Sioux specialty, Indian Tacos
  • Buffalo burger at Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. in Custer
  • Macarons at CH Patisserie in Sioux Falls

South Dakota’s heritage – like the rest of our nation’s – is a combination of indigenous peoples and the settlers who made their way to the region over the last few centuries. Today, a significant part of the state’s diverse and unique food culture serves as a sort of fingerprint of local lineage.


Courtesy of Wikipedia

Here you’ll find German, Scandinavian and Native American cuisine served side by side, resulting in a distinct regional cuisine specific to the state. South Dakota offers a variety of dining choices to please the palate of everyone in your family. Whether you are in Sioux Falls, Pierre, or Rapid City, the Pints & Platters guide will offer many options for all your dining, drink, and dessert needs.

No single dish is more strongly associated with South Dakota than chislic. Chislic is half-inch cubes of meat – typically lamb, venison or beef – which are deep fried or grilled and served up in a dish or on skewers. You haven’t truly experienced South Dakota until you’ve had a proper plate of chislic. It can be sampled as an appetizer at many bars and restaurants across the state, including Al’s Oasis in Oacoma.

The official dessert of The Mount Rushmore State is kuchen, a cake-like German pastry. It is made with sweet dough and a filling of custard, fruit or nuts. Small town bakeries, especially in the eastern half of the state, commonly serve these tasty treats. Small town bakeries are the secret to some of the best desserts in South Dakota.


Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse, both in Mitchell and Pierre, is a ranch-themed steakhouse serving up to 60,000 pounds of aged, top sirloin and prime rib every year.

The grilled onions and mushrooms top each slab of beef along with salad or soup, potatoes and Texas toast. Enjoy the South Dakota locals’ favorite, with sawdust on the floor, while looking out over Lake Sharpe.

A popular Lakota Sioux recipe you are sure to find is Indian Tacos. Fans of traditional tacos will love this American Indian twist on an old classic. They’re served on fry bread rather than a traditional shell or tortilla, giving this dish a doughy yet flaky finish.

Indian Tacos are also commonly prepared with bison meat rather than ground beef, creating an authentic flavor you’ll taste in every bite. Laughing Water Restaurant at Crazy Horse Memorial is well-known for its Indian Tacos.


Courtesy of Kate Ter Haar via Flickr

If an Indian Taco isn’t appealing for your first time trying bison, simply try a buffalo burger. Although their name may be a bit of a misnomer – the meat found inside is actually bison, not buffalo – you won’t give a lick about that after your first bite.

Because bison is a much leaner meat than beef, these burgers have fewer calories and less fat, yet are arguably more delicious. To get your hands on some of the best bison burgers in the state, visit Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. in Custer or the world-famous Wall Drug store restaurant.

In the mood for an all-American food overload and a retro atmosphere? Stop by downtown Sioux Falls’ favorite corner restaurant, Phillips Avenue Diner. After dinner, comfort your sugar craving at CH Patisserie, located in the heart of historic downtown Sioux Falls. It is a work of art – and dessert – all in one.

You may be tempted to compare this bakery to an art gallery. You are able to peer at the edible works of art behind glass, and enjoy the macarons, pastries, and sweet luxuries dessert! Chris Hanmer, Top Chef: Just Desserts winner, brought this to Sioux Falls in 2013, making it a must see while downtown.


Courtesy of CH Patissserie

Festivals and fairs are some of the locals’ favorites. RibFest takes place in Sioux Falls, and is celebrated the weekend after Memorial Day every year as a kick-off to summer. The festival has grown and now consists of national rib vendors with contests and nightly entertainment.

A festival to celebrate the Czechoslovakian heritage alive, takes place in Tabor every June. Czech Days showcases the heritage of their founders and has a variety of activities including music, dancing, and traditional Czech foods.

Kolaches, an original Czech dessert, are reminiscent of a tiny, personal pie with a light crust that holds a candied fruit or cream cheese, surrounded by dough. Kolaches can be found at the Czech Days festival!


Courtesy of Rich Anderson via Flickr

Find the pioneer spirit, small town friendliness and genuine hospitality everywhere you go in South Dakota. For more dining options, search here by region.


  • Downtown Sioux Falls
  • Falls Park
  • Washington Pavilion
  • Custer State Park
  • Badlands National Park
  • Rock Climbing
  • ATV Riding
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride
  • Hiking
  • Water Recreation

South Dakota is full of excitement and adventure for all ages. From visiting all the different parks, to spending a relaxing afternoon on the river, the whole family is sure to be refreshed after this vacation.

Downtown Sioux Falls, the metropolitan hub of South Dakota, is full of excitement and activity, alongside the specialty shops and phenomenal cuisine. The imagination can soar at the Kirby Science Discovery Center in the Washington Pavilion, or you can experience the habitat of over 800 free-flying butterflies at the Butterfly House and Marine Cove.

While traveling across South Dakota, see The World’s Only Corn Palace come to life. This monument to agriculture is redecorated annually with naturally colored corn, grain and grass to make it “the agricultural show-place of the world.” A different theme is chosen each year, and murals are designed to reflect that theme. Ear by ear the corn is nailed to the Corn Palace to create a scene for visitors to admire.

Find your great place by visiting the Great 8 of South Dakota, eight stellar sights and bucket list-worthy attractions. Marvel at the larger-than-life sculptures of Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial.

Hike through other-worldly terrain at the Badlands National Park, or explore deep below the surface at Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, two of the world’s longest caves. Visit Historic Deadwood, a city rich in frontier history and Wild West infamy.

Take in the natural beauty of the Missouri River and experience one of our truly wild places, Custer State Park. Here nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres, shared with pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain goats and a band of burros. Trail rides, scenic drives, bike rides and a jeep safari tour are perfect ways to explore South Dakota.

For the off-road enthusiasts, enjoy the beauty of the Black Hills from an ATV while trekking along on the thousands of miles of off-road National Forest Service trails. For those who prefer non-motorized vehicles, there are even more trail offerings to enjoy world-class hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding.

For the perfect biking spot, hop on the George S. Mickelson trail. This 109-mile trail stretches the length of the Black Hills. It follows an abandoned railroad bed, and climbs gently into jagged cliffs and pine forests. The Mickelson Trail has a crushed limestone surface and wide path, perfect for running or mountain biking.


Courtesy of Ken Ratcliff via Flickr

Cross this one off your bucket list, flying across the Black Hills of South Dakota in a hot air balloon with Black Hills Balloons! Drift along on the morning breeze and travel across the valleys, lakes, and prairies with a birds eye view. If a hot air balloon isn’t your thing, try the helicopter ride with Black Hills Aerial Adventures and view your preferred area of the Black Hills from the air.


  • Falls Park
  • Native American Scenic Byway
  • Akta Lakota Museum
  • Cultural Heritage Center
  • Akela Spa
  • Brewery Scene
  • Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
  • Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway
  • Summer Creek Inn & Spa
  • Strawbale Winery
  • Prairie Berry Winery
  • Naked Winery
  • Belle Joli Winery Sparkling House

South Dakota is known for the small town charm and a laid back atmosphere. While in eastern South Dakota, spend an afternoon relaxing at the Lewis and Clark recreation area.

Rent a kayak and float down the Mighty Mo’, or relax at the park while playing a game of horseshoes. Visit Falls Park and watch 7,400 gallons of water drop 100 feet over the course of the Falls each second. While traveling across the state, be sure to pull off I-90 and experience some small town South Dakota charm.

You are sure to get a great cup of coffee and some even better hospitality. Once you reach central South Dakota take the Native American Scenic Byway to ensure a relaxing, beautiful drive. Breathtaking views of the Missouri River, diverse landscapes, and tribal history are showcased along this drive.

Landscapes along the way includes mixed-grass prairie and rolling hills that end in limestone cliffs lining the river in many places. An abundance of wildlife, including prairie dogs, pronghorn and deer can be spotted as you travel – not to mention bison and elk herds that are maintained by several tribes.

Stories and history of the tribes that make these lands their home are told at the Akta Lakota Museum in Chamberlain and the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.

If you are planning to visit in the summer, there are small town festivals, rodeos, or live bands nearly every night. Enjoy live music, dancing, or spending time to meet the locals to experience the true South Dakotan ways. Spend a night watching the South Dakota state sport, rodeo.

Some of the most incredible drives make up the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway in the Black Hills. Roughly a figure-eight route, the byway travels through portions of Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, near Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area.

Shaggy white mountain goats, deer and chipmunks are among the commonly-seen wildlife along the way. You will want to devote most of a day’s time to the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway.

For a relaxing drive or a short hike, Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway throngs with summertime pleasure. Thousand-foot-high limestone palisades in shades of brown, pink and gray tower to the right and left of Highway 14A as it twists through the 19-mile gorge.

Spearfish Creek lines the canyon floor while canyon waterfalls make for popular roadside attractions. Bridal Veil Falls and Roughlock Falls are must-sees along the route. The speed limit is 35 miles per hour, but you’ll find so many drivers enthralled by the beauty, they drive even slower.

Others simply pull over at one of the dozens of pull-offs along the way and get out to stretch their legs and capture the perfect Kodak moment.

A stop at the Akela Spa in the heart of the Black Hills and you can experience Abla Kela, meaning calm in Lakota, where treatments are influenced by indigenous elements of the region. Embrace serenity in the Akela Garden, an outdoor relaxation area with hot tubs and a sauna housed in a traditional American Indian tipi.

If you need more time at the spa, the Summer Creek Inn & Spa can accommodate you with one of their beautiful suites, an Escape massage, all while you can enjoy the peace and serenity of the Black Hills.  In the small town of Renner, stop and partake in the Summer Porch nights at Strawbale Winery. An evening of music, art, food, wine, and fun.

You can’t visit western South Dakota without a visit to the Prairie Berry Winery. The winery is owned by a fifth generation family that uses fruit from the South Dakota prairie for their wines, and while you are there, enjoy a free wine tasting of up to five of their award winning wines.

For a winery that takes the pecksniffery out of winetasting, visit the Naked Winery. To learn more and sample some sparkling wine creations using traditional champagne methods, visit the Belle Joli Winery Sparkling House.

Not only do we love wine, but the Mount Rushmore State loves its breweries, and craft beer is booming here. South Dakota taps the tones of golden wheat beers, rosy pale ales and chocolaty stouts with more than a dozen craft brewers.

Get your liquid hops at restaurants in ready-to-fill growlers, tasting flights and multicourse pairing dinners. Head to a dining-and-music venue like Rapid City’s Firehouse Brewing or an intellectually playful spot like Brookings’ Wooden Legs Brewing, which hold trivia contests and names its brew after well-bearded beer-lovers.


Courtesy of Firehouse Brewing

In similar spirit, local distilleries are producing small-batch whiskey, brandy and vodka for distribution to select bars and restaurants where guests can nosh, sip, and socialize while pondering the complexities of any Dakota-made beverage. Visit our Pints & Platters guide for more information on wineries and breweries across the state.


  • Lewis and Clark Recreation Area – Yankton
  • Cedar Pass Lodge – Badlands National Park
  • Rushmore Hotel and Suites – Rapid City
  • Best Western Ramkota Hotel – Rapid City
  • Hilton Garden Inn – Rapid City
  • Hilton Garden Inn Downtown – Sioux Falls
  • Holiday Inn City Centre – Sioux Falls
  • Historic Bullock Hotel – Deadwood
  • Hotel Alex Johnson – Rapid City
  • Bavarian Inn – Custer

From mountain cottages and cozy bed and breakfasts to rustic campsites and historic hotels, your South Dakota vacation has a large variety of lodging accommodations. With thousands of room options throughout the state, rates will vary from season to season.

Peak season usually runs from late May to early September.  Average cost can be anywhere from $70-$250 a night, depending on the time of year.

At the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, rent a cabin after spending a day on the water. Relax, and sit around the campfire watching the stars under a huge South Dakota sky. A sunset or sunrise in Badlands National Park will surely add even more beauty to your vacation.

Stay at Badlands Cedar Pass Lodge and watch the sunrise over the ridge line from your cabin window. These cabins are furnished and are perfect access for the early morning views of the Badlands. A very unique hotel with Midwestern flare is the Rushmore Hotel & Suites, conveniently located in downtown Rapid City.  The Best Western Ramkota Hotel and the Hilton Garden Inn are two other comfortable hotels in the area.

While in Sioux Falls, enjoy the views of the Big Sioux River and walking access to downtown at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown. The Holiday Inn City Centre is also a prime location to reaching the entertainment of Downtown Sioux Falls.

For a more spooky experience, the Historic Bullock Hotel in Deadwood has someone keeping an eye on all their employees. The owner died in 1919, but according to many reports he continues to play host at his beloved hotel.

The Bullock has been the subject on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries, and continues to offer ghost tours for those who want to hear more of the story and see the places that the paranormal activity has occurred.

More ghostly acts have been reported at the Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City. After a young bride committed suicide in the late 1970’s there have been many reports from guests claiming to see the “lady in white”. Some guests claim to also see the original owner, Alex Johnson himself. He, like Mr. Bullock, is told to have stayed on the premises to ensure operations are running correctly.

The Bavarian Inn near Custer is a wonderful, scenic family resort. Spacious rooms and suites, an on-site restaurant, indoor pool and hot tub, outdoor heated pool, and a tennis court, playground, and hiking trail.

It is close to many Black Hills attractions and allows you to enjoy the sun while on one of their spacious desks. Whether you are looking to camp, stay in a hotel, or rent a cabin, you are sure to find great lodging here.


  • If you have any questions, just ask a local and they will surely give you an answer or suggestion. They are friendly, approachable and full of great tips.
  • South Dakota has a range of weather throughout the year so be sure to check the weather forecasts before you come and pack accordingly.
  • Visit for any information on locations or questions about any attractions, lodging, or dining.
  • If you plan on spending at least a half of a day at the Badlands, consider taking a sack lunch so you can enjoy your lunch in the beauty of the park.
  • Eat at the small diners or hometown cafes. These will give you more sense of our small town ways. These usually have some of the best homemade food.
  • The large stone tipis you may see while traveling on our interstate highways are at each Information Center throughout the state. Stop at any of these locations to pick up brochures and other information about the area you are traveling through. Speak with a travel counselor to find recent information or ask any questions you may have.
  • When traveling around the Black Hills, try to keep your gas tank above half full. Winding through those roads you may find yourself using more gas than you think.
  • While visiting any parks (or rather whenever you see any) with wildlife, DO NOT approach the animals. They will not harm you as long as you do not bother them. The animals are not tame.
  • Cell phone service signals can get lost when traveling through the Black Hills. Be sure to have a hard copy of a map, or your GPS path saved to your phone (or screenshotted) in case you lose your service.
  • Take lots of pictures and tag #HiFromSD on your social media!