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A look at South Dakota’s top sightseeing destinations: Mount Rushmore, Badlands and more

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Home to the Black Hills, the Badlands and the sprawling prairies of the Great Plains, South Dakota is a state rich in scenery and features monuments and dedications to the likes of everyone from Crazy Horse to George Armstrong Custer. It’s also a state extremely proud of its history.

Attracting some 14.7 million tourists annually, South Dakota touts six national parks, some 63 state parks and 16 historic landmarks.

Here’s a look at a few of them.

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Mount Rushmore

No South Dakota travel itinerary would be complete without Mount Rushmore at the top of the list.

Completed in 1941 and originally named the “Shrine of Democracy,” Rushmore was designed by Gutzon Borglum, a sculptor who’d previously undertaken proposals for larger-than-life, relief-like stone monuments – like Georgia’s Stone Mountain.

Mount Rushmore

Completed in 1941, Mount Rushmore is one of the most recognizable and most-visited tourist attractions in the U.S. (iStock)

Situated in the Black Hills just outside Keystone, a small, sleepy Pennington County town of about 240 people, Rushmore is perhaps the most recognizable presidential memorial in the country as well as one of its top tourist destinations, clocking in at some 2 million visitors per year.

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Famously featuring the heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, each about 60 feet in height and carved directly into the mountain’s granite face, Rushmore was originally intended to be even more elaborate. Each president’s likeness was supposed to be carved down to his waist, though this plan was quickly abandoned after funding dried up.

Washington’s likeness was the only one where this work was even started – and a sharp eye can easily make out his ascot and jacket lapels on the finished monument.

Badlands National Park

Sprawling across nearly 243,000 acres in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park is known for its jagged, colorful sedimentary rock formations created by millions of years of erosion and the recession of a shallow sea that covered the area some 75 million years ago.

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Its prolific prehistory also rendered the park – which was once home to ancestors of the modern horse and rhinoceros – extremely rich in fossil beds. 

Badlands National Park

Designated in 1978, Badlands National Park is known for its diverse wildlife and large, colorful rock formations. (Buddy Mays/Getty Images)

It’s also known for its vast prairies and the diverse array of wildlife residing in them. Among species currently calling the South Dakota Badlands home are bighorn sheep, bison, prairie dogs, pronghorn, golden eagles and the black-footed ferret – one of the world’s most critically endangered mammals.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Located in the Black Hills in Custer County – and not far from Mount Rushmore – this planned monument is set to depict legendary Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse on horseback pointing at his tribe’s ancestral land.

Much like Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial is also being carved directly into a mountain. However, set to stand some 564 feet high, it’s a much larger undertaking. 

With the monument having been a work in progress since 1948, only Crazy Horse’s face and hand can be made out, and there’s no set completion date for the rest of it.

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Upon completion, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the tallest statue in the U.S. and the third-tallest in the world.

Historic Deadwood

With a population of just over 1,000 and a quaint Main Street lined with old brick shops and saloons, Deadwood might look like any other unassuming Great Plains town – but in its 19th century heyday, it was anything but.

Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood’s historic downtown is home to the saloon where legendary frontiersman James “Wild Bill” Hickok was shot and killed during a poker game. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Deadwood, located near the Wyoming border, was notorious for its lawlessness, rampant criminal activity and frequent murders. 

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It’s also home to the site of James “Wild Bill” Hickok’s 1876 killing and the saloon where Jack McCall purportedly shot the legendary gunman during a poker game still stands, prominently advertising itself as the “Wild Bill Bar.”

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