The rugged hills, shimmering prairies, pristine lakes, and refreshing rivers of South Dakota provide scenic backdrops for an unforgettable getaway. Situated close to most South Dakota vacation rentals are seemingly countless opportunities for swimming and sunbathing, as well as hiking, cycling, sightseeing, bird watching, and wildlife observation. Here are the best places to take a summer vacation in South Dakota.

1. Rapid City

mount rushmore

Rapid City lies just east of the Black Hills in western South Dakota near well-known attractions such as Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, and Custer State Park. At Mount Rushmore, an audio tour is available that gives you details about the history of the making of the monument. For fascinating exhibits on its creation, check out the on-site Lincoln Borgium Museum and the Sculptor’s Studio. Ranger-guided tours take you through the vast caverns and tunnels of Wind Cave. Take a drive through the Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park, and observe buffaloes, elk, bighorn sheep, burros, and coyotes. Annual summer events in Rapid City include the Hills Alive Free Summer Music Festival and the Mount Rushmore Rodeo. Take the kids to the outdoor Movies Under the Stars held after dusk throughout the summer at Main Street Square.

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2. Mobridge

sitting bull monument
Source: Flickr / Brett Whaley

The city of Mobridge is on the east bank of the Missouri River in north-central South Dakota. A monument to the charismatic Native American leader Sitting Bull sits on a hillside in a beautiful park overlooking the river. Outrageous Adventures Guide Service takes you to nearby Lake Oahe to fish for smallmouth bass, white bass, channel catfish, northern pike, and walleye. Play a round of golf at the beautiful Oahe Hills Golf Course. Among the numerous yearly summer events in Mobridge are the Sitting Bull Stampede Rodeo and Carnival, the Days of 1910 Rodeo and Celebration, the Carson County Fair, and the South Dakota Walleye Classic.

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3. Hot Springs

cathedral rock

Located along the Fall River in southwestern South Dakota, vacation rentals in the city of Hot Springs serve as gateways to the Black Hills area. Visit the nearby Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary to see these majestic animals in their natural habitat. The Mammoth Site is a fascinating active paleontological excavation with guided tours and family-friendly hands-on exhibits. Don’t miss having a swim at Evans Plunge Mineral Springs, a huge warm-water pool with water slides and other fun amenities.

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4. Brookings

minnesota / south dakota state line
Source: Flickr / Michel Curi

The city of Brookings lies in a beautiful landscape surrounded by lakes in east-central South Dakota. Among its attractions is the McCrory Gardens and South Dakota Arboretum on the South Dakota State University campus, which features numerous lovely themed gardens, including a rock garden with a waterfall, on 25 acres. The Dakota Nature Park has miles of bicycle trails and several ponds that are ideal for kayaking and fishing. Cool down amidst the multiple pools, water slides, sprayers, and fountains at the Hillcrest Aquatic Center.

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5. Yankton

missouri river and bridge
Source: Flickr / J. Stephen Conn

Yankton sits along the Missouri River in southeastern South Dakota near the border with Nebraska. Lakeside Fun Rentals offers pontoon boats, jet skis, and fishing guide services to help you make the most of your time on the Missouri National Recreational River. The Lewis and Clark Recreation Area features a marina with boat rentals, beaches for swimming, picnic areas, and hiking and cycling trails. Visit the fascinating nearby Kreycik Riverview Elk and Buffalo Ranch for a covered wagon tour through herds of elk, buffalo, and fallow deer. Take the kids to Karttrax Family Fun Park for go-karts, bumper cars, mini-golf, a kiddy train, and arcade games. Yankton hosts the annual Yankton Riverboat Days and Summer Arts Festival.

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6. Sioux Falls

sioux falls
Source: Flickr / James

The city of Sioux Falls lies along the Big Sioux River in eastern South Dakota near the state border with Minnesota. Its namesake falls are in Falls Park just north of downtown. Besides the Falls Park Visitor Information Center, the park features a five-story tower with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city, the Falls Overlook Cafe, the remains of the historic Queen Bee Mill, and the beginning of the 19-mile River Greenway walking and cycling trail. Harlan’s Bike and Tour rents bicycles to help you explore the city. Be sure to visit Wild Water West, the largest water park in South Dakota, which has multiple enormous water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, a children’s pool, and a variety of land-based activities. Annual summer events in Sioux Falls include the Siouxland Renaissance Festival, the JazzFest, and the Sioux Empire Fair.

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7. Chamberlain

chamberlain at dawn
Source: Flickr / John B. Kalla

Chamberlain sits on the east bank of the Missouri River in south-central South Dakota. American Creek Beach is a great location for swimming and sunbathing, and American Creek Rentals supplies boats, paddle boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards for fun on the water. The area is also renowned for its excellent walleye fishing. Visit the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center for exhibits offering insight into Native American history and culture.

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8. Aberdeen

a castle at storybook land
Source: Flickr / Jody Halsted

Aberdeen lies in the beautiful James River Valley in northeastern South Dakota. The city is home to the Storybook Land theme park, which features a large castle, a section devoted to the Wizard of Oz, petting zoos, and multiple rides. The Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge offers ranger-led or self-guided tours to observe bald eagles, Canadian geese, herons, egrets, and many other species of birds. The pools and slides at the Aberdeen Aquatic Center help you keep cool on hot days. Don’t miss the Brown County Fair, which takes place each summer in Aberdeen.

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9. Watertown

kayaks at lake kampeska
Source: Flickr / Jenni Konrad

The city of Watertown sits along the Big Sioux River near Lake Kampeska and Lake Pelican in northeastern South Dakota. Angie’s Paddle and Peddle, which sits by the beach in Watertown, rents kayaks, canoes, peddle boats, and stand-up paddleboards. The facility also rents bicycles so you can explore the many paved trails around the city. For some help finding the best fishing spots in the area, look to Joe Guides You. The Bramble Park Zoo gets you up close to animals from around the world in naturalistic exhibits.

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10. Pierre

south dakota state capitol
Source: Flickr / J. Stephen Conn

Beautiful Pierre, the state capital, lies along the Missouri River in central South Dakota. Along the Missouri River and Lake Sharpe, the city has several sandy beaches that are perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Invert Sports rents boats and jet skis for water fun. The Fort Pierre National Grassland is a vast prairie area with trails for hiking, cycling, and wildlife observation. Visit the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center and the Lewis and Clark Family Center for fascinating displays on local and U.S. history. The Oahe Days Music and Arts Festival takes place every summer in Pierre.

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