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Fun and Interesting Places to Visit in South Dakota

1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Located on the eastern edge of the Black Hills National Forest in southwestern South Dakota, this massive (60-feet) rock sculpture on the hillside of Mount Rushmore is a tribute to four highly influential presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. The memorial park covers about 1,300 acres, and was the brainchild of Doane Roberts as a way to promote tourism in the region -- and became part of the national park service in 1933. Make certain you hike the half-mile Presidential Trail, which gives you an up-close view of the four granite faces. Afterwards, bring your appetite and "dine with the presidents" at Carvers' Marketplace for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For the truly adventurous, consider taking the two-hour Pinnacle Zip Tour, open May through September. Official NPS Mount Rushmore site.

2. Petrified Wood Park and Museum. Located in Lemmon, in northwest South Dakota, this tourist attraction is a fun (and free) stop for all ages. Built in the 1930s and restored in early 2000, the city-block long, world's largest petrified wood park contains hundreds of petrified wood items, including 20'high towers; a castle made entirely with petrified wood, as well as thousands of pounds of petrified dinosaur, and mammoth bones; a waterfall; and wishing well. The museum inside the castle includes artifacts and antiques from Lemmon and the surrounding area. A second museum contains the gift shop. Petrified wood comes from the remains of ancient trees that were trapped underwater without oxygen, in which minerals got deposited, and over time, the wood turns to stone.

3. Chapel in the Hills. Located on the western edge of Rapid City, in western South Dakota, this stave (a medieval wooden, timber-framed Christian church building once common in Scandinavian countries) church is an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdai, Norway, classified as a triple nave stave church of the so-called Sogn-type. This church was built in 1969, and is nestled in the Black Hills. Open to the public, visitors are encouraged to walk the chapel grounds, including a walk on the Meditation Trail, which winds its way in the hillside behind the chapel, and includes benches to sit, relax, pray, meditate. Includes a visitor center and gift shop with items of Scandinavian origin. Official Chapel in the Hills site.

4. Buffalo Interpretive Center. Located 7 miles east of Fort Pierre, along Highway 1806 (which follows along the Missouri River and is part of the Native American Scenic Byway), in central South Dakota, visitors will find detailed information and interactive exhibits about the history of the great prairies and the role bison played to Native Americans. The center, opened in 2004, is located on the western edge of a large pasture, and oriented in such a way that visitors can view a herd of bison maintained by members of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. (The Tribe maintains a herd of 600 bison on 6,200 acres.) While there, visit the gift shop for items produced by Native American artists. Small admission fee.

5. Crazy Horse Memorial. Located on Thunderhead Mountain in the Black Hills of western South Dakota, about 40 miles southwest of Rapid City off of US 385/16 (Crazy Horse Memorial Highway), this sculpture in-process is amazing, exhilarating, and a great learning experience for all ages. Started back in 1948, this monument is the world's largest mountain carving in progress -- and will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high when completed; the famous Native American chief's87-foot head was completed in 1998, and work continues today on carving out the 219-foot horse's head. Visitors will find multiple attractions at the site, including the Welcome Center, Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center -- featuring more than 12,000 contemporary and historic items. Besides the artifacts, there are children's activities and games, as well as native artisans. Consider a meal at the full-service Laughing Water Restaurant, which offers great views of the sculpture. Admission fee. Official Crazy Horse site.

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