Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore © Dean Franklin

South Dakota has several claims to fame, including 'Sue', the world famous T-rex unearthed in the bewitching Badlands; the four massive stone faces of Mount Rushmore; De Smet, the old stomping grounds of Laura Ingalls Wilder; and Wild Bill Hickok's final, and fatal, poker game in Deadwood, now the setting of the hit television series.

Yet the state is often overlooked as a holiday destination. True, it is rather sparsely populated. Its largest city, Sioux Falls, has a population of just 141,000. Visitors won't find flashy attractions or nonstop nightlife but the hauntingly beautiful landscape, ranging from vast high prairies to broken granite hills to echoing caverns, will leave a lasting impression.

This sometimes harsh land has long been the home of the Sioux nation, Native Americans who followed the buffalo herds across the plains. In the 1800s, settlers seeking riches flocked to South Dakota, and skirmishes between the Indians and US soldiers quickly followed. One of the last conflicts was at Wounded Knee, where a large group of Sioux, including women and children, were massacred. Today, visitors can pay homage at a small memorial at the site. The Sioux remain a large part of the population of South Dakota, and their culture continues to provide enriching experiences. The Black Hills, a solitary range of ponderosa pine-covered mountains rising dramatically from the plains, are considered sacred by the Sioux.

A landscape naturally groomed for the classic American road trip, the rolling prairies, meandering rivers and staggering peaks of South Dakota make for some of the most beautiful scenery in the country and is a must-see on any American journey.

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