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Interstate I-90

Leaving the Deadwood/Lead area there are several different highways to choose from. The most picturesque route will be 14A west as you go through Lead.  The highway is slow and winding but has some of the most beautiful scenery in the Northern Hills area.  During the fall, colors of the birch and aspen trees against the background of  Ponderosa Pine and Blue Spruce forest rival anything in New England.

Spearfish Canyon, a National Scenic Byway, makes up most of this scenic trip. Rising on every side white limestone cliffs showcase the breathtaking beauty of Spearfish Canyon, while the rushing Spearfish Creek cuts through Spearfish Canyon with clear sparkling waters and rainbow trout. Three majestic waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls and Little Spearfish Falls only add to the wonder of this scenic loop. “Dances With Wolves” winter scene film site is just one mile past the Roughlock Falls road.

 

South Dakota Highway 14A dead ends onto SD Interstate 90, just south of SpearfishSpearfish will start our journey down one of the two Interstate Highway systems in South Dakota.  Interstate 90 runs eastward across the entire state of South Dakota ending on the Minnesota border just a few miles past the town of Valley Springs.   The first non Native Americans in the Spearfish area was in 1742, French-Canadian explorers looking for the Pacific Ocean.  Fur trappers traveled through the area in the early 1800’s on their way to the Yellowstone area.  In 1833, Ezra Kind left a message on a sandstone slab documenting the deaths of his small group of prospectors at the hands of the Sioux Indians after loading their horses with all the gold they could carry.  There was no indication in history that Ezra made it out of the area alive.

Today, Spearfish, is a rapidly growing town that still has a busy downtown district. In a three block area there are bookstores, cafes, gift and dress shops, jewelry stores and just about any type of business that could be found in a mall.  Just a few of the unique places you will want to see in Spearfish are: High Plains Heritage Center Museum, One Horse Gallery, Matthews Opera House and the D.C. Booth National Fish Hatchery.   With the numerous motels and restaurants available, one might consider making Spearfish your base while exploring the Black Hills area.  You are never more than a two hour drive from any attraction like Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Custer State Park, Deadwood and Sturgis.   

The next town, going east out of Spearfish, will be Whitewood, SD.  Whitewood may be a small community but has all the convenience that a visitor may be looking for: lodging, restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations.  There is a unique Western accessories store here that invites slow browsing to see everything. 

The next exit is Sturgis, South Dakota, “Hog Capital of South Dakota”, hogs like in motorcycles.  Sturgis likes to call itself the “City of Riders” because it is well known for Cowboys, Cavalry, and Motorcycles.  Sturgis has as much or more Old West history as any town in the Black HillsSturgis is a real honest to goodness Cowboy and Indian town with forts, Indian wars and the cavalry to the rescue in some cases.  You definitely want to stop and visit Old Fort Meade Museum, Bear Butte State Park and Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame while in Sturgis.  A word to the wise, unless you are riding a motorcycle, you might want to make your vacation plans to the Black Hills some time other than the first two weeks in August.  This is the time when the World Famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes place.  The small town population of 7,000 suddenly overflows with a half million motorcycle enthusiasts for about the first two weeks in August as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally kicks into full throttle.   The overflow of cyclist looking for lodging, camping and bed and breakfast will cover most of the Black Hills and Wyoming area during this time. 

The next two exits on I-90, are Piedmont and Black HawkPiedmont has some really nice places to eat and camp and believe it or not a several millions of years old petrified forest.    Black Hawk lies less than ten miles from Rapid City and has evolved around the northwest expansion of Rapid City. 

The next four exits lead into different areas of Rapid City, the second largest city in South Dakota. Rapid City is known as the “Gateway to the Black Hills". This title is well deserved as six highways from Rapid City lead south, north and west into the mountains of the Black Hills. Many travelers make Rapid City their base as day trips to all the main attractions can be made in an hour or less.  Within the city limits or a few miles radius of Rapid City, you can find 5 year-round museums, 8 golf courses, wildlife parks, caves, water parks and amusement parks.  Be sure to check the events calendar because Rapid City has something going on all year-round.  Some of museums you will not want to miss are The Journey Museum, Museum of Geology, and the Old Governors Mansion. A stop at any of the hotel or restaurant lobbies will supply you with hundreds of brochures hawking the numerous attractions in the area and there is definitely something to see and do for all ages. Before you leave Rapid City, take a stroll down Main Street and Saint Joseph Street.  The life size statues of Presidents and well known people from history are on most corners and are absolutely amazing. They are so real looking that people have been known to try and start a conversation with one.    

Leaving Rapid City on Interstate 90 East, the next exit is the front gate to Ellsworth Air Force Base; the town of Box Elder.  Located just outside the Main Gate is the Air & Space Museum, a fascinating and entertaining museum.  The Air & Space Museum features a collection of more than 20 aircraft, including General Dwight Eisenhower’s World War II B-25 bomber.  Included in the large collection are scaled back versions of numerous aircrafts including Stealth bomber, jet fighters, cargo and utility aircraft.   

Interstate 90 now stretches out across the plains of South Dakota with several small farming communities like New Underwood (home to the smallest  biker’s bar in the world) and WastaWasta is tiny but can provide a traveler with gas, food, motel, campgrounds AND an amazing military museum jalong side of the service station. For such a small town this is a State of the Art museum built by a father and son. 

The next town exit will be Wall By now, if you have been noticing the numerous billboards along the interstate, you will know Wall is famous for a drug store – Wall Drug. There are over 3,000 signs across the U.S. announcing how far it is to Wall Drug, plus signs that are in at least a dozen foreign countries. What is Wall Drug: a 1931 drug store that attracted visitors by giving away free ice water and then sold food and dry goods.  Today Wall Drug is a sprawling complex that sells just about anything you can imagine and will put your name on most of it.  The ice water is still free and the coffee is a nickel a cup. Another site worth stopping for is the Wounded Knee Museum.  Learn why Wounded Knee, the last major conflict between the U.S. Army and the Great Sioux Nation, wasn’t the U.S. Seventh Cavalry’s finest hour. Just down the street from Wall Drug is the main office for the Buffalo Gap National Grassland Visitors Center, whose slogan is “Anyone can love the mountains, but it takes soul to love the prairie.”  Buffalo Gap National Grassland is one of 20 national grasslands in the United States. In South Dakota, Buffalo Gap Grassland intermingles with the Badlands.

Badlands National Park is 244,000 acres of grassland and craggy buttes, sharp pinnacles, deep ravines and steep canyons.  This land may look dead and dry but up-close the land is teeming with life.  The grasslands produce an abundance of wild flowers and almost extinct prairie grasses which sustain life for the hundreds of wild animals and birds that call the Badlands home. A word of warning if you are hiking or getting out of your car to take pictures; there are venomous prairie rattlers in the park.

There are two entrances to the Badlands National Park off Interstate 90; one is just outside of Wall on State Highway 240. Highway 240 is also known as the Badlands Loop because it circles through 32 miles of rainbow colored bluffs and several hair-pin turns.  Highlights in the park are the numerous Prairie Dog Towns, the park’s herd of buffalo, herds of antelope, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep.  Look up and you may see one of the Golden eagles that rear their young on the high inaccessible cliffs.

On the eastern entrance, exit 131, is the ghost town of Cactus Flat.  All that remains of Cactus Flat is a modern convenience store, motel, campsite and the headquarters for the Minute Men Missile Sites MuseumFor those who don’t remember the early 1960’s or the Cold War Era and the strategic planning of underground missile sites, this is one Museum you will never forget.  They even arrange tours down into the missile sites in the area.   You will also find the World’s largest prairie dog, a six ton statue, but behind the gift shop you will find the real thing; a huge prairie dog town with a very large family of hungry “dogs”.  For 50 cents you can even feed them a bag of peanuts.  As you enter the Badlands National Park stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, which serves as the park headquarters.  There is an 18 minute information video on the Badlands plus Park Rangers are available to answer all questions and offer daily educational programs. There are several restaurants, motels and camping sites within the Badlands Loop.

For the next 20 miles you will be driving through the many acres of rolling prairie land. The second exit past Cactus Flat is the small friendly town of Kadoka.  Because of the close proximity to the Badlands National Park, Kadoka has been called the “Gateway to the Badlands”.  If you are planning on making a day or two stop off to explore the Badlands, Kadoka can be an excellent base point.  There are at least nine motels, five restaurants, two campgrounds, one truck stop and two convenience stores all located within short driving distance to the Interstate.   Also spend some time exploring the Kadoka area as there are several unique attractions here.  The Badlands Petrified Gardens display a unique collection of petrified wood and fossils found in the surrounding area. The Kadoka Depot Museum is a National Historic landmark and the Incredible Metals art studio has one of a kind metal sculptures.  Did you bring the golf clubs?  Kadoka has a nine hole golf course with sand greens – a little different challenge. 

Nine miles down the Interstate is the small prairie town of BelvidereThere are two service stations, a motel and a bar and grill in Belvidere. The people are friendly and the drinks are cold and it is a good place to stretch the legs if you haven’t stopped since leaving Rapid City.  Seven miles down the highway is Exit 170 and, no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you that is an 1880 Town. The buildings are historically correct in structure, some of them rescued and refurbished from an early South Dakota town.  A few of the buildings were donated by movie sites over the years.  In this area you will recognize landscape scenes from “Dancing With Wolves”.  1880 Town is an attraction that is well worth the stop and walk back through history into another time. 

The next town is Okaton.  The highway sign says it is a Ghost Town, not quite but Okaton is working on it.  There is one store still open and they sell gas and souvenirs.  Okaton is an interesting drive through as the few residents there have fixed up Main Street to look just like an Old Prairie Ghost Town.  

Murdo is the next town on Interstate 90, home to the Pioneer Auto MuseumAlso home to Elvis’s motorcycle and over 275 antique cars, motorcycles, tractors and trucks, all housed in 39 buildings. If you are looking for a rest stop, Murdo has 10 motels, 2 campgrounds, 8 restaurants and 5 service stations. 

For the next sixty miles the towns along the Interstate are very small town South Dakota.  The towns of Draper, Vivian, Presho, Kennebec, Lyman and Reliance have a history of being early railroad towns that played a vital role in the settlement of South Dakota.  Unless you are a pheasant hunter, probably have never heard of Draper and Vivian.  Today Vivian sets just off the busy State Highway 83 into Pierre and has a large truck stop and a steakhouse just off the highway.  Presho is still the cattle town it was in the beginning but only smaller in stature.  The historical museum in Presho is well worth the stop and browse.  The museum is run by the volunteers of the Lyman County Historical Society – you will love these ladies and the knowledge they can pass on.  Kennebec, Lyman and Reliance have motels, campsites, restaurants and “watering holes” for the tired, hungry and thirsty traveler.  The people are “small town friendly” and will strike up a conversation without an introduction: just tell them where you are from and where you are going and can be good for a 20 minute conversation.   

As you leave Reliance you will notice the prairie has disappeared and is being replaced by high rolling bluffs.  These are the bluffs of the Missouri River and home to Oacoma and Chamberlain. Oacoma-Chamberlain sits on both shores of the Missouri River and has numerous motels, restaurants (both fast food and home cooking), campsites and boat docks.  Outdoor enthusiast can be found year around in Oacoma- Chamberlain enjoying the hunting, fishing and boating.  In Oacoma there are two well known South Dakota landmarks.  Cedar Shore Resort and Marina on the Missouri River providing every amenity expected in a resort atmosphere, hotel, restaurant, lounge, massage therapist and outdoor activities.  The Cedar Shore Marina is a floating convenience store with fishing licenses, all the necessary fishing accessories plus fuel, snacks, beverages and even a guide service.  Al’s Oasis still serves 5 cent a cup coffee, Buffalo Burgers and homemade pies plus a wide range of other menu items.  For many years Al’s Oasis has provided a large supermarket, gift shop, clothing store, and restaurant & saloon all under one roof.  South Dakota native born will tell you stopping at Al’s when traveling from Sioux Falls to Rapid City is a South Dakota tradition.  Chamberlain provides two excellent museums; Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center and the South Dakota Hall of Fame.   The Akta Lakota Museum provides beautiful preserved Lakota Indian displays and stunning artwork.  South Dakota Hall of Fame takes you on a stroll through the lives of the people who have made South Dakota what it is today. Be sure to stop on your way out of town at the Information Center atop the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.  Much like the Lewis and Clark expedition, you will find the sights from this location breath taking.  The Information Center has a museum within the building recreating the Lewis & Clark expedition as it was over 200 years ago when they stopped for three days.  

As we leave the Missouri River and head east down Interstate 90 we are entering what is known by the locals as East River South Dakota.  This means we have left the prairie lands and entering into the fertile farmlands of South Dakota.  The scenery has changed into miles upon miles of corn, soybeans and hay land.  Herds of Black Angus cattle are a common site along the highway.  The small towns lying just off the highway are communities’ that depend upon their existence more with the local farmers and ranchers than tourist.  Towns like Pukwana (lawnmower races in the summer), Kimball (tractor museum), White Lake, Plankinton and Mount Vernon can provide fuel for your car and good home cooking restaurants to fuel the stomach and soul.  Don’t hesitate to stop along the way, the friendly people of South Dakota are always glad to see you and have time to chat for a few minutes.

Our next town is Mitchell, home of the world’s only Corn PalaceThe Los Angeles Times described the Corn Palace as “The World’s Largest Bird Feeder”; this is not a quote that the citizens of Mitchell agree with.  Each year the local artists, using 275,000 ears of different shades of corn and 3000 bushels of other grains and grasses, change the intricate crafted beautiful murals into a universal theme.  The Corn Palace is a multi-use building that conducts many special events, from dances to big name concerts.  The high school and college hold their basketball games here during the season.  Check the events calendar and you will find numerous annual events being held at the Corn Palace. Mitchell is also home to several unique museums that you don’t want to miss, such as:  The Enchanted World Doll Museum, Dakota Discover Museum, McGovern Library and Legacy Museum, Prehistoric Indian Village, Model Car Museum and Harry’s Antique Safe Museum.  Mitchell can easily be a day trip or a long week-end vacation with over a dozen or more motels, seven campsites, and 56 restaurants available.  If you are looking for specialized shopping, try Cabela’s and the Prairie Breeze Art Gallery

The 65 miles on Interstate90 East to Sioux Falls has several small towns, Alexandria, Bridgewater, Salem, Montrose, Humboldt and Hartford, which are basically farming communities that can provide a traveler with food and fuel if needed.  Our next town on Interstate 90 is the largest city in South Dakota, Sioux FallsInterstate 90 crosses the northern section of Sioux Falls while Interstate 29, South has the exits that take you directly into the heart of Sioux Falls.  Interstate 90 exits will take you into the more Industrial section and the airport.  There are several worthwhile attractions in this area, Adventure Park & Wild Water West (the kids will love it), Ramkota Hotel and Water Park, Greatest Show on H20, and for the motorcycle enthusiast J & L Harley Davidson’s showroom.  We will cover in depth all that Sioux Falls has to offer when we go down Interstate 29 and take the exits off that highway.  

We have almost reached the Minnesota border and the end of our Interstate 90 tour. The towns of Brandon and Valley Springs lie between Sioux Falls and Minnesota.  Brandon is one of the fastest growing communities in South Dakota.  There are two great motels, Holiday Day Inn Express and the Comfort Inn, along with an exceptional restaurant, Tailgaters, just a short jog off Interstate 90.   Valley Springs is a small farming community town that sits a short distance off Interstate 90.

 

Photos provided by: South Dakota Tourism Department & Marlo Winter
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W


elcome to South Dakota. South Dakota is called a land of infinite variety; which describes the landscape, the weather and the people who call South Dakota home.

 As you travel down South Dakota’s highways and back roads, you can explore a land that is alive with history of great Indian warriors, French fur traders, farm settlers from many foreign lands, hard-riding cowboys and ranchers, and gold prospectors.

Even today, South Dakota is still sparsely populated,  but gives way to the awe striking views of  thousands of acres, including the Missouri River breaks, pheasant and waterfowl habitats within the fertile farmlands, the unparalleled and of course the jewel of South Dakota, the Black Hills National Forest area.

Lets begin our adventure across this historical and enchanting state from border to border, either ending or starting from the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The interactive Travel InfoMap® reveals 10 of South Dakota’swell maintained two lane highways plus 2 Interstate highways systems.  Travel along the interactive highways maps and visit each town’s unique scenic picture page with a click of your mouse.  The town pages will not only produce banner town pictures but plenty of ideas of what to see and do while you travel down South Dakota’s highways.

Let’s begin traveling down the interactive highway maps and uncover the infinite variety of places to visit within the great state of South Dakota

Highways 385 and 16

Starting with Highway 385/16 we travel through the heart of the Black Hills National Forest area.  These two highways teem with the old west’s history and are home to Mount Rushmore National Park and Crazy Horse Monument

South Dakota state Highway 385 actually starts at the Nebraska border with the first hint of the beautiful Ponderosa pine laden Black Hills.  The first South Dakota town will be the Native American town we’ll visit is the Oelrichs, then the popular Hot Springs while winding up through the beautiful Black Hills into the towns of Pringle, Custer and Hill City.  There is a quick jaunt on the stunning Highway 16 to Keystone and Rockerville.  Then we're back onto Highway 385, as we head into Deadwood and Lead for some of the most beautiful scenery this side of the Rocky Mountains.

During the summer months, these two popular highways attract millions of visitors with their natural treasures offered within such short distances.  These South Dakota’s national treasures include Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, plus the two greatest man made monuments of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, each standing today as American symbols of democracy.

During the 1800’s gold rush Deadwood and Leadwere born and they still enjoy reproducing the history of the Old West for the millions of visitors each year.  Over a hundred years ago gambling helped build Deadwood during the Gold Rushyears and still today limited gambling still keeps Deadwood alive and growing with the energy of a mini-Las Vegas.  For more than 125 years gold mining was the #1 industry for Lead and much of the Northern Hills area. In 2002, the Homestake Gold Mine, the largest underground gold mine in the Western Hemisphere, ceased operations due to rising production costs.  Today you can relive the mining days of Lead through Homestake Gold Mine Surface Tours and Black Hills Mining Museum. Through activities provided by towns like Lead, Deadwood, Custer and Keystone the rich mining heritage of South Dakota continues to live on. 

Wow, what a way to begin our South Dakota highway travels, from the wild, wild west to national monuments, I can hardly wait to see what other splendid South Dakota highways are next on the  Travel InfoMap®        

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