South Dakota is perhaps best defined by the gentle undulations of its Great Plains where lush valleys make little impact on endlessly open horizons. However, look closer, and you’ll find a geological, national-park drama and nation-defining icons that force you to sit up and pay attention.
Indeed, no trip out west is complete without a visit to that great shrine to democracy – Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Here, the faces of four US Presidents tower over South Dakota’s rolling scenery. It’s a sight set to be outdone by the next-door rock carving of Crazy Horse. In a nod to the region’s rich heritage, it will stand – on its completion – as the world’s largest mountain carving at 641 feet long and 563 feet wide.
And, they both make for the perfect launchpad for spectacular drives into the Black Hills. Roads with names like Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and Wildlife Loop join together to create impossibly scenic routes through forests, granite mountains and one-lane tunnels, rounding wooden structures affectionately termed ‘pigtail bends’. You’ll soon find yourself among Custer State Park’s verdant grasslands, keeping an eye out for everything from bison and bighorn sheep to elk and prairie dogs. Heading east, there are also the chiselled spires, deep canyons and jagged buttes of the Badlands National Park. It’s an otherworldly landscape created by millions of years of erosion that today makes for an outdoorsman’s playground.