There’s more to the Dakotas than Fargo films, TV shows and Mount Rushmore. Between North Dakota and South Dakota, adventure travelers have their hands full with activity and incredible destinations to explore.
Keep in mind, these northern territories are better explored in warm-weather months. Anytime between May and October travelers will get the seasonal colors and pleasant temperatures North and South Dakota have to offer.
Now, back to planning.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a rich history, as you can probably tell by the name, of being an important bison hunting ground for the titular president back in the 1800s. Hike and climb to scenic peaks in the park, including Maah Daah Hey Trail — perfect for mountain biking — and get a bird’s-eye-view of the Badlands or take a drive that actually extends into Badlands State Park in South Dakota.
While visiting the national park in the town of Medora, make a pit stop at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame for some local history and quaint town charm.
While there’s clearly more to this rugged state than Fargo, definitely check out Fargo. So far toward the border of Minnesota you’ll basically be straddling two states at a time, Fargo offers that small-town feel you’re looking for on a break from adventure, but with historic attractions, museums, festivals and Midwest nightlife to entertain.
Outdoor adventure abounds in South Dakota. There’s almost too much to take in on one trip. First stop, the historic town of Deadwood, which you may already know from the HBO show of the same name. While this rough-and-tumble town offers enough Wild West fun, you’re going to want to get out into the open plains and experience the wilderness for yourself. Enter the Badlands.
With enough hiking, climbing, cycling, wildlife viewing and even scenic drives available in the historic park, this locale is a must. With more than 244,000 acres of land, the diverse terrain boasts desert, grassy plains and pointed rock formations for as far as the eye can see.
Another stop for adventure seekers, Black Hills National Forest offers even more challenging biking conditions and hiking trails. Earn your rest on a day adventure and work your way to a campsite and set up before dark. There’s nothing like the wide-open night sky from your piece of South Dakota land for the night.
Get a better view of the landscape from the Crazy Horse Memorial. Climb the rock dedicated to a Lakota leader and take a break in the Indian Museum of North America and the Akta Lakota Museum Cultural Center for more information on the project. As with most adventures in South Dakota, the views are worth the climb.
Another adventure of the Great Eight, Cluster State Park is a true beauty. Peep the granite mountains popping out over the rolling green landscape, winding waterways and roaming wildlife — some 1,300 Bison often herd through the plains. Get out on the water on kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, or take a swim after a long hike through George S. Mickelson Trail. You may want to spend a few days exploring this one as there is so much to see and do.
Wander through Jewel Cave National Monument when it reopens for visitors in late May, or take a dark journey through Wind Cave National Park. Both offer a unique perspective of South Dakota’s dark, interesting geological history.
For more water sports and recreational adventure, head out on the river. The Missouri River rips through South Dakota on a diagonal course, offering enough fishing, boating and fun, just a drive away from most cities in the area.
Last, but certainly not least, a visit to South Dakota demands a visit to Mount Rushmore. No, it’s not a natural monument like the others (as Cher once thought), but this man-made carving is still worthy of your visit, none the less. Learn about the history of the monument, how it came to be and the faces carved on the rock formation. Take a ranger tour and explore the area or just pop in for a photo — whatever you choose, it’s a must while in South Dakota.
Spend some time in the Dakotas this late spring, early summer and watch the seasons change, vibrant colors and green grass pop from under the long winter and winding rivers begin to warm — some incredible adventure awaits.
Two underrated adventure locales never looked so good.
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