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Five Must-Do Magical National Natural Wonders in South Dakota

1. Badlands National Park. Located in southwestern South Dakota, about 60 miles east of Rapid City, this almost 244,000-acre park offers visitors striking views of colorful (including purples, yellows, tans, reds, and oranges) and sharply eroded buttes, canyons, pinnacles, and spires, as well as the largest mixed grass prairie in the U.S. Established as a National Monument in 1939, it became a National Park in 1978. The name comes from the Lakota Tribe, which named the land Mako Sica, meaning land bad. Besides the geological wonders, visitors will love the rich fossil beds, including rhinos, horses, and saber-toothed cats. Consider one of several Ranger-led hikes (on topics such as geology, fossils, and stars), as well as venturing on your own to Medicine Root Loop Trail (4 miles), Castle Trail (10 miles), Notch Trail (1.5 miles), and Cliff Shelf Nature Trail (.5 miles). Best to visit between April and October. More details at the official Website: Badlands National Park.

2. Wind Cave National Park. Located in southwestern South Dakota, and one of the oldest national parks (the 8th one created), visitors will find the world's largest concentration of rare boxwork (honeycomb-patterned projecting calcite) formations lying underneath the surface of wild grasses and ponderosa pine forests in this 34,000-acre national park. The cave, named after the winds that blow at its entrance (created by differences between atmospheric pressures in the cave and outside of it), is one of the world's longest caves, with 142 miles of passages -- and still counting. The cave has long been considered sacred by the Lakota and other Native American tribes. After touring the cave, consider hiking one or more of these 30 miles of above-ground trails: Centennial (6 miles), Sanctuary (3.6 miles), Highland Creek (8.6 miles),Boland Ridge (2.6 miles), Rankin Ridge (1 mile), or Wind Cave Canyon #2 (1.8 miles). Visit April through October. More details at the official Website: Wind Cave National Park.

3. Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. Located in southwestern South Dakota, it is one of 20 national grasslands across the U.S., the second largest behind the Little Missouri National Grassland in North Dakota -- and its nearly 600,000 acres are divided into two areas: one is south and northeast of Hot Springs and other is south and west of Wall (and where you'll find the visitor's center). Visitors will find few developed recreational activities, but an amazing diversity of plants and animals, great for birdwatching and prairie dog activities. It received its name because Bison used the area as part of a migration from the neighboring Black Hills Mountains and the surrounding prairies -- the only break in a ring of foothills. While there, consider one of two developed trails -- the moderate French Creek Natural Area Trail (1.6 miles) or the easy Window Trail (.2 miles). Nearby attractions include Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. More details at the official Website: Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.

4. Jewel Cave National Monument. Located in the Black Hills National Forest in southwestern South Dakota, visitors will find the world's third longest cave, offering more than 170 miles of underground trails in this 1,273-acrea monument established in 1908. Named after a mining claim field by Frank and Albert Michaud, who described the "jewels" (calcite crystals that sparkled in the lantern light) they saw on the walls during their first look into the cave. Visitors can choose from the Wild Caving Tour, Scenic Tour, Historic Lantern our, or the Discovery Talk. Above ground, consider hiking one of trails: A Walk on the Roof (.25 mile), Canyons Trail (3.5 mile loop), or Hell Canyon Trail (5.5 mile loop). Open year-round. Make sure you make the time for a side trip to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, about 30 miles northeast of Jewel Cave. More details at the official Website: Jewel Cave National Monument.

5. Black Hills National Forest. Located in southwestern South Dakota (and northeastern Wyoming), covering more than 1.2 million acres, and named by the Lakota tribe as Paha Sapa, meaning "hills that are black," which, with their thick forests, can look black. Visitors will find Black Elk Peak (the tallest mountain in South Dakota), as well as Harney Peak, 11 reservoirs, 30 campgrounds, 26 picnic areas, 2 scenic byways, 1,300 miles of streams, 13,000 acres of wilderness, and 353 miles of trail in this working forest -- used for timber production, grazing, and mining, as well as hiking, biking, rock climbing, and horseback-riding. Consider hiking Iron Creek (#15), a 2.4 mile trail through a forest of ponderosa pine, oak, aspen, and birch or Iron Mountain (#16), a 1.4 mile trek providing views of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and the Black Elk Wilderness. For a more strenuous hike, go up to Harney Peak (and Little Devil's Tower) using Trail #4 or Harney Peak Trail (#9). Also check out the 3.2-mile Crow Peak Trail (#64), just outside of Spearfish, along with the Buzzards Roost Trail (#76). More details at the official Website: Black Hills National Forest.

To see a list of all the national natural parks, monuments, and forests in South Dakota, go to our sister site, EmpoweringParks.com: South Dakota Natural Park Wonders.

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.


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