Traveling through most of South Dakota is one trek that most people dread. Between the length of the state, most drivers put the gas pedal down and go. It helps that the speed limit is 80mph. Driving through, we had one goal in mind, to get to the Black Hills. It’s what most people are driving for too. But driving through, I found most of the stereotypes of the Midwest were shattered. And if you go too fast, you’ll miss all the interstate 90 attractions. Because some of the best attractions in South Dakota are right off I90.
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The businesses in South Dakota have taken marketing to a whole new level. They know that most people are just passing through, so they utilize every marking technique the book to lure you off the highway. In what could seem like an annoyance of billboards, they become a staple that you look forward to on your drive with their quirks and charm and humor. Here are a few places that you don’t want to miss.
Interstate 90 Attractions
Sioux Falls is one of the first towns you cross from the east. The city is worthy of a full weekends worth of fun, but if you are just passing through, you have to see Falls Park. The park has rolling falls that seem to go on forever. The park features an observation tower, scenic overlooks, grassy picnic spots, a restaurant and walkways across the falls. (FREE)
The Corn Palace – Mitchel SD
Mitchel South Dakota biggest attraction is the corn palace. The palace is a concert venue, but on the outside, it is adorned entirely with corn. They use the stalks, husks, and kernels themselves to create artistic displays over the entire building. Each year they get a makeover. During the summer months, you’ll see the work in progress. But if you wait until later in the season, you’ll see the completed work. The town seems to be built around the palace, and they have a few shops across the street that are worth checking out. (FREE)
Dignity of Earth and Sky
If one thing is for sure, I’m not sure how anyone ever survived the crossing of the Missouri River in a covered wagon. One look at the river valley, makes me wonder why people did just settle east of the river. Before crossing, you must make a stop at the rest stop. Standing high on top of the hill is a 50ft tall statue of a Native American holding a quilt called Dignity of Earth and Sky. According to the artist, “Dignity represent the courage, preservation, and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota culture in South Dakota.” The exit is between 263 and 265 on I90 near Chamberlain. (FREE)
Enter the old west at 1880 Town. Or not exactly but they got all the props to make you feel like you did. The town got started when a Hollywood rolled into town and began building sets for a movie. The weather changed and Hollywood being what Hollywood is, abandoned the film and their props. It birthed the 1880 Town. They have accumulated more artifacts and props from that ear including pieces form Dances with Wolves and Love for the Lands. The collection continued to grow into a unique experience perfect for a traveler passing through. You can visit a saloon, have a shootout in the middle of town and experience a little bit of life in the 1880s. (FEE)
Minuteman Missile Historic Site
Did you know that South Dakota played a significant role in protecting us during the Cold War? Up until the early 1990s, men would stand guard 24-7 to ensure our safety, ready at a moment’s notice to deploy these nuclear missiles. Today it is decommissioned and become a historic site, to remind us of what could have been. Just a few miles off I90 and not well marked, this site is a marvel. It’s actually two sites, the museum, and the missile. Both offer tours, but you must be 6 years old or older and able to climb 2 fifteen foot ladder unassisted. This is well worth spending the $6 admission fee. (FEE)
Badlands National Park
Driving along i90, you’ll get a glimpse of the badlands. It really is a tease to anyone passing through. But it’s a reminder of just how hard this landscape is. To really see it in all its glory, you have to enter the park. The drive will take you a couple hours to see it all. Maybe an hour if you don’t plan on stopping, but that’s a challenge. Within the park, you’ll run into all kinds of wildlife, including buffalo, prairie dogs, and big horned sheep. (FEE)
The original roadside stop on i90 is Wall Drug. They set the billboard trend on the highway that we have grown to love. Their failing business was saved by their ingenuity and the bribe of free ice water to motorists. This simple marketing technique created a whole town built around one company. Inside Wall Drug, you’ll find plenty of toys, western gear, candy shops, ice cream, and a full restaurant. But within the halls, is where you’ll see the best action. Including animatronic dinosaurs, sitting sculptures of every type on benches waiting to get cozy with. Enjoy the arcade and shooting range, a Mini Mount Rushmore, a Jumping Jets Water show, pan for gold or see the Giant Jackalope. You can spend hours just wandering around and exploring without spending a penny. Of course, you’ll probably find something you need before you leave. Make sure to get a free map of the Badlands, it will come in handy. (FREE)
Rapid City is the gateway to the Black Hills and Custer State Park. This area is where most people drive through to get to Mount Rushmore or Custer State Park. And really, it shouldn’t be, because there is so much more to do. They have a Dinosaur Park and Story Brook Island for the kids. Both attractions are free. The city is an amazing downtown to explore. It lacks the tourist feel that Keystone has. One of the most fun things about Rapid City is their Presidential Statutes throughout the downtown. Walk through and see how many you can identify. (FREE)
Spearfish is just north of the more touristy Deadwood. If you are looking for a place to stay close to the action, but feels like you’re a world away from the crowds, Spearfish is it. With vast fields, canyon there is tons of hiking for visitors. If you just have a short amount of time, stop at Bridal Veil Falls. The 60ft high falls are the most accessible waterfall in the canyon.
Keep Driving for more Interstate 90 Attractions
Keep going you’ll meet up with Devils Tower. Still attached to i90 but a crosses the border into Wyoming. Instead of going as fast as you can though South Dakota to your destination, slow down and make the journey part of the destination. Stop and enjoy the billboards. Enjoy the smaller towns and see what they have to offer. If you need any more inspiration on what makes South Dakota, pick up a copy of Where the West Begins by Phil Schermesiter. You will be ready to set off on your adventure immediately.
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