This is one of those states that our family keeps coming back to. It was inevitable that we'd land in South Dakota in winter at some point! We'd heard that January and February can get pretty dang cold, but we're always ones to explore for ourselves.
Was it cold? Yes. Was it beautiful and awesome? Heck yeah! We partnered up with South Dakota again to check out the amazing snowy sights! This time around, we bundled up and basically did the opposite of our first South Dakota road trip, working our way from Deadwood over to Sioux Falls by way of the lower route on Interstate 90. Here are the highlights we loved most!
One note worth mentioning before you head to South Dakota in winter: we've found that a lot of museums, restaurants and other sites in the area have varying seasonal hours. Always look on destination websites (or better yet, call locations directly) to get the most up-to-date information.
West South Dakota in Winter
Man, there is something about Deadwood that feels like home. We parked our RV over at The Lodge at Deadwood and spent several days exploring stuff we hadn't seen before in the area. The Lodge is an entire destination unto itself, which people come from all over the world to see! We love its amenities including tons to eat, one of the best dang resort pools we've ever seen, and convenient trolleys that take guests right into the heart of town.
In historic Deadwood, we checked out the newly-opened Beef Jerky Experience, then hopped next door to Nugget Saloon for pizza. Nugget Saloon also serves amazing pot roast poutine and chislic, a South Dakota classic.
One of the best things about visiting places in January and February – and particularly South Dakota in winter – is that you tend to have a lot of amazing sights all to yourself. We stumbled upon an ice rink that had been setup at Outlaw Square. For a nominal fee handed to a guy in a warmer box, we had skate rentals and the whole place to ourselves for over an hour! The kids enjoyed the chance to practice while mama warmed herself by one of the nearby gas fireplaces.
You can take a brisk walk up the hill to have dinner at Six String, or head over to the historic Legends steakhouse if you're in the mood for something a little more upscale. It can be hard to get a table at Legends during holidays and summer, so winter is the perfect time to give it a go!
Other amazing outdoor vistas in the area include Tatanka Story of Bison, Mt. Roosevelt Picnic Area and Mt. Moriah, where Calamity Jane and Wild Bill are buried. If you walk all the way into the cemetery to the very end, you'll get a jaw-dropping view of Deadwood that's TOTALLY worth the hike. It was by far one of the more sobering moments of our trip, considering all of the history that went into this incredible place.
Museums that are typically open in Deadwood during the winter include Adam's Museum and Days of 76. Adam's House wasn't open when we were there, but it's still worth a gander. Also at the end of town, don't miss Chubby Chipmunk Chocolates and Antique Emporium!
Right up the hill from Deadwood is Terry Peak, which boasts awesome skiing and snowboarding opportunities. This was definitely a unique South Dakota in winter experience, and I'm glad we got to kick back and relax here for a bit. There are adorable hangout spots at the newly-renovated lodge, complete with a cozy bar, tons of fireside places to warm up, and tasty takeout pizza. The little boys and I enjoyed spending time at the giant windows watching the older kids snowboard – first on the nearby bunny hill, and then on the big slopes!
Next time we head up to Terry Peak, we're definitely going to explore more of Lead, the town in between Deadwood and the ski area. It was absolutely adorable, with pretty twinkling lights, tons of photo-friendly murals, tasty eats, and even an old opera house.
Spearfish Community Cave
Also near Deadwood, in the town of Spearfish, is Spearfish Community Cave. Perfect for families wanting a short-but-adventurous hike, Spearfish Community Cave features a waterfall year-round. Since South Dakota in winter is cold, the waterfall tends to freeze – meaning that you have a rare chance to experience a real, natural ice castle ! Bring boots with good traction (you may even want an ice pick) as this hike is steep and slick. It's well worth it, though, for the magnificent views once you get up there.
Ah, Sturgis. Land of the most epic annual motorcycle rally EVER. Kids can learn a ton from the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum. Adults will enjoy a visit to Full Throttle Saloon, the world's largest biker bar that had an entire television show dedicated to the antics there.
It actually burned down several years ago, but was rebuilt and continues going strong. They now have cabins available for rent with a pool, hot tub, firing range and RV sites. Even if none of that is your scene, this spot is a must-see for their epic neon signs and gigantic biker statues.
I could spend a full week exploring Rapid City's historic sights. The biggest highlight of this trip was the Rapid City Museum of Geology, located at the South Dakota School of Mines (how cool is THAT?). There is so much astonishing dinosaur history here! I had the kids listen to the Audible original “Rivals: Frenemies Who Changed the World” chapter about rival paleontologists to help color their understanding of just how intense and meaningful the search for these great beasts has been over the years.
Also in Rapid City, The Motion Unlimited Antique Car Lot has incredible displays of classic cars, many of which are for sale. Quite a few are even right outside, so you can get that classic James Dean shot with the perfect sunset ambience. One of the things I love most about South Dakota in winter is that even when it's chilly, you still get that beautiful golden glow. Coming from Boise – where we tend to get socked in with clouds in the winter – it's really nice to feel the sun on your skin.
Must-See South Dakota Stops
I'd be absolutely remiss if I didn't call out Wall, Badlands, and Mount Rushmore in this region. Nate covered all of that pretty in-depth in his dad travel trip with Ahren, and those spots are all open year-round. Another bonus about traveling to South Dakota in winter is that the bison are easier than ever to spot against a white backdrop, and those carved mountains are as epic as ever with a frosty touch. You can even visit Mount Rushmore at night for a whole new, lit-up view.
East South Dakota in Winter
We stuck to lower east South Dakota in winter, because the temperature drops pretty dramatically as you head north in this state. That said, I bet it would be absolutely epic to see Ingalls Homestead in De Smet all frosty white, covered in a blanket of snow. I also met a guy from Waubay who says we MUST go ice fishing up there, so that's still on the list as well!
This 50-foot statue sits in the town of Chamberlain, overlooking the Missouri River. She honors the Lakota and Dakota people with her star quilt, which you'll get an epic view of from the interstate – but you absolutely must pull off and walk up to her feet to truly take in this incredible work of art.
Head on to the unassuming town of Mitchell to see the world's only Corn Palace.
That's right, it is a palace made entirely of corn – and it's AMAZING. We'd seen it during the day, but it takes on a whole new Vegas-kinda vibe all lit up at night.
Ah, Sioux Falls, another city that I could spend days on end exploring. The falls are a must-see, obviously, along with the chic brew pubs in the area and the quaint brick downtown. We took the kids into the stunningly-beautiful St. Joseph Cathedral and quietly opened the doors so they could get a glimpse at the stained glass windows all around.
We didn't want to disturb the attendees who were saying prayers up at the front, but even that small peek got the boys talking about the meaning of religion to different people. I should note that if our youngest was any younger (he's 4 now) I probably wouldn't have taken him in due to the inevitable clash of loud toddlers and quiet churches.
Next time we're in Sioux Falls, Washington Pavilion's on the list as well. Also, the SculptureWalk and Arc of Dreams also can't be missed as it's a totally different experience from season-to-season.
What are your favorite things to see in South Dakota in winter?