Christina Rose
An old house in Pine Ridge, South Dakota

The Insider’s Travel Guide to South Dakota, Complete With Buffalo Burgers

Christina Rose

If unpredictability is your thing, then South Dakota may be your kind of place. People ask me—the resident travel guide of sorts—if it’s really as cold here as they say it is, and whether or not there are four seasons. Oh, there are four seasons, I tell them, they just don’t necessarily happen in order, and sometimes they happen all in one day.

Holly Henderson lives on the prairies near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. One summer day, it was over 100 degrees outside, so she took the 60-mile trip into the Black Hills, where she knew it would be cooler. It was cooler all right; it was snowing in July!

Buffalo wonders off the road (Christina Rose)

The state’s unpredictability doesn’t stop with the weather. Depending on which road you take in Pine Ridge, you could end up having to patiently wait for the buffalo to cross in front of you, and you’ll spot the deer and the antelope playing throughout the countryside. 

The landscape in South Dakota is wild and beautiful. Rapid City is a small town, but there’s always something going on. From the Prairie Edge for Native Arts, a contemporary art and trading gallery, to the Golden Corral Restaurant, where all the locals meet, greet and eat!

Owners of the Dead Man's Hand Cafe take a break from working (Christina Rose)

Some people live in trailers next to fancier middle-class homes. That photo with the bathtub, that’s right in the suburbs, still within the city limits. I haven’t seen anyone use that tub yet, but it’s been there a while, and my guess is, it isn’t going anywhere.

The pow wows are an attraction on every reservation and big town throughout the state. It’s a colorful way to celebrate Native culture by gathering together to sing, dance, and have fun: Big drums pound loudly into your heart, women in colorful shawls, the bells on their ankles make jingling sounds, bustles on men’s clothing, white plumes flutter, and tall eagle feathers stand as tall and as straight as the ladies themselves. Hoka! It just feels so good to see all that color and those big bright smiles.

Bathtub in the suburbs (Christina Rose)

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If you are looking for a list of things to do in Western South Dakota, you can stay at the Odd Duck Inn bed and breakfast or at the Lakota Prairie Ranch, both in Kyle and in the heart of Pine Ridge. Grab your caffeine fix at the Dead Man’s Hand, across the street from the Prairie Ranch or, if you’re passing through Porcupine Butte, past Wounded Knee, toward Big Bats for gas or to catch up with the locals, keep your eyes open for a little place called Higher Grounds. It has a great lunch menu, excellent smoothies and really good hot chocolate and coffees. And finally, do indulge in a buffalo burger (or two) at the Colonial House.