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An Epic Road Trip Through History in the American West

Sponsored by Travel South Dakota and Travel Wyoming

Aug 11, 2020

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In South Dakota and Wyoming, endless historical and cultural attractions mean unforgettable family-friendly fun.

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Quick: Where was the Sundance Kid jailed for 18 months? It was in aptly named Sundance, Wyoming. The site of his cell is just one of the fascinating places you can visit—surrounded by a gorgeous natural setting—when you road trip through South Dakota and Wyoming, an area that abounds in historical and outdoor treasures. From museums in Cody, WY to homemade donuts in Wall, SD, these places are open and ready for your visit; plus, they make learning synonymous with fun, so they’re perfect for a multigenerational journey everyone will remember.

Swing Through South Dakota

Begin on the eastern side of South Dakota (where businesses are open and welcoming visitors) in Sioux Falls at Falls Park, where the Big Sioux River tumbles dramatically over rocks. Grab a bite at the Falls Overlook Café, set in a restored 1908 hydroelectric plant, then take in the outdoor art of SculptureWalk.

As you head west, your first stop is the iconic World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell, which has stood as a one-of-a-kind tribute to the state’s farmers since 1892, with murals created nearly every year from corn and other grains. It’s about another hour’s drive to Chamberlain to see the 50-foot-tall Dignity statue, which honors the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people. Enjoy views out over the Missouri River, which for many is where the American West begins.

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Continue on to another famous landmark: Wall Drug, which has been attracting visitors since 1931. Grab some road-trip tchotchkes, marvel at the collection of real Western paintings in the dining room, and try one of their famous donuts.

Then it’s time to drive to the gorgeous Black Hills and see two famous sculptures carved in rock. The four, 60-foot-tall presidential faces on Mount Rushmore National Memorial were completed in 1941. And the work-in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial depicts the Oglala Lakota warrior. Don’t cross the state line before trying one of America’s highest-rated burgers at Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. in Custer.

From there, head north to Deadwood, a National Historic Landmark that has perfectly preserved its 1870s Gold Rush feel. Stroll Main Street and head up to the Mount Moriah Cemetery, where Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock lay buried.

Wind Your Way Through Wyoming

Your first stop in the Cowboy State is literally a pit of bones—the Vore Buffalo Jump archaeological site, where Late-Prehistoric Plains Indians drove bison off a cliff. Then check out the goods at the 1896-era Aladdin General Store before motoring to Devils Tower, America’s first national monument (which is open along with all other Wyoming national parks and monuments). This singular granite formation erupts out of the earth, climbing skyward to 1,267 feet. Hike around this sacred Native American site to witness its unique texture from various viewpoints.

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After that, it’s off to Crook County Museum & Art Gallery in Sundance, where kids will love seeing relics from the Sundance Kid’s trial. Swing by the former jail and check out a sculpture of the famous horse thief lounging in his cell. Continue to explore America’s pioneer spirit at the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum in Buffalo, home to the county’s first drug store. Gatchell was a 1900-era pharmacist who grew up on a Lakota reservation and was beloved by cowboys and Native Americans alike. Walk over to The Occidental Hotel to have a drink in the 1908 saloon and eat at the Virginian Restaurant.

Delve deeper into 19th-century history at Fort Phil Kearny, an 1860s outpost of the U.S. Army. And stop in Sheridan to learn more about the Plains Indians at the Brinton Museum, in a dramatic building that blends into the hilly landscape.

Then drive through gorgeous Bighorn National Forest on your way to Cody, the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Visit five (!) museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and be sure to stay over so you can sample the authentic chuckwagon dinner or check out the 1800s log cabins and saloon at Old Trail Town, a recreated frontier town. Take the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway, winding your way past the Shoshone River and cliffs to finish your epic journey by exploring another historic treasure teeming with life at Yellowstone National Park—America’s first national park.

Learn even more about the fascinating historical and cultural wonders that are open and ready for your visit in South Dakota and Wyoming and book your trip today!

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