Sen. John Thune
Every May, we recognize tourism in the United States and celebrate the many unique opportunities that are available for travelers from coast to coast. While my job sometimes requires me to spend time in Washington, D.C., away from the beauty of South Dakota, it does give me the chance to encourage people who have never been to our state to make their way to the heartland. I often hear, “South Dakota — I’ve never been, but I hear it is beautiful” or “That’s the state with the faces, right?” People not familiar with our state probably don’t realize that while Mount Rushmore is awe-inspiring and something that everyone should experience, our state has so much more to offer.
South Dakota has an incredibly diverse array of natural wonders and fascinating sites that offers something for everyone, from a large group getting ready for a family vacation to a couple retreating on their honeymoon to the lone traveler looking for adventure.
One of the easiest ways to get a taste of the state is to start your trip in Sioux Falls, travel along I-90, and end up in Rapid City. Sioux Falls is South Dakota’s largest city and is growing rapidly, but many agree that it has maintained its small-town feel. Must-dos include the falls, sculpture walk, and bike trails.
As you head west, you will be tempted to stop at almost every town and exit, as each place offers new and different charms. Whatever you do, you won’t want to miss the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell. Check out the basketball court, corn murals, and don’t forget to grab a popcorn ball — they’re delicious.
As you cross the river from Chamberlain to Oacoma, you will catch one of the most beautiful views in the state. After taking in the beauty of the “Mighty Mo” as you cross the American Legion Memorial Bridge, you’ll see several billboards for Al’s Oasis telling you to stop and try the pie — and you should.
There are so many sights to see in western South Dakota as well. If the hundreds of signs advertising free ice water and 5-cent coffee don’t convince you to stop at Wall Drug, the giant dinosaur to the right of the interstate might.
The Badlands, Needles Highway, Sylvan Lake, Harney Peak, Bear Butte. Where do I even begin? The natural beauty of the western side of the state is unmatched. I recommend checking out as many of those places as you can.
And of course — Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore. Enormous, breathtaking sculptures captured for eternity in giant rock walls. Sights unlike any other. Crazy Horse, which pays tribute to the renowned Lakota leader, will be the world’s largest sculpture when completed. Meanwhile, Mount Rushmore pays tribute to four of our nation’s presidents.
I haven’t even mentioned one of the most important parts of South Dakota’s tourism— our Native American culture. The Senate recently passed my legislation, the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience (NATIVE) Act, which integrates tribally driven tourism plans nationally that will ultimately help grow local economies and encourage visits to Indian Country. The culture of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations is unique and rich, and everyone should take the opportunity to experience it.
To my fellow South Dakotans, you should all be proud of what makes our state the greatest in the nation. I hope you spend some time this year exploring parts of our state that you haven’t yet visited, or revisiting some of your favorite sites. You’ll be glad you did.