See This, Skip That: South Dakota

PHOTO: Custer State ParkChristian Science Monitor/Getty Images
Bison graze on prairie grasslands within sight of vehicles driving through Custer State Park, June 10, 2012, in Custer, S.D.

Suffice it to say: South Dakota is where buffalo roam. The magnificent creatures, indeed, will draw thousands of visitors to Custer State Park next month for the Buffalo Roundup, where cowgirls and cowboys will round up, brand, vaccinate, herd and auction off some 1,300 buffalo; arts festivals and culinary cook-offs will also be part of this family-friendly event, which is going on its 48th year.

But don't let the thundering of cloven hooves, or classic tourist attractions like Mt. Rushmore, be the only reason you visit this spectacular state. South Dakota, where history and terrain combine to create a bevy of unique travel experiences, has more to offer.

Pitch a Tent, Skip the Hotel

Your camping options in South Dakota are practically limitless, from rustic to posh and intimate to group-friendly. And if you're new to sleeping under the great big sky, keep in mind that a lot of these options are close to some of the state's largest cities. Mina Lake State Recreation Area, for example, is only about 10 miles outside of Aberdeen; this man-made lake is shaped like a horseshoe and offers tons of boating and fishing opportunities. And family-friendly Sioux Falls KOA, close to the state's largest city, comes complete with mini-golf, heated pool and wireless Internet; the Great Plains Zoo is nearby.

See Shakespeare's Garden, Skip Stratford-on-Avon

Wessington Springs, S.D.: home to Shakespeare's Garden. Who knew? It turns out that when a local teacher, Emma Shay, returned home from a research trip to England, she decided to recreate a bit of what she'd seen in her own backyard. Shakespeare's Garden opened in 1928 and, four years later, Anne Hathaway Cottage -- a replica from a postcard picture of the house that once belonged to Shakespeare's wife in Stratford-on-Avon, England -- was built. Today, the property is home to English teas, music concerts and weddings. The estate hosts a Planting Festival each May, inviting the public to help plant new flowers in Shakespeare's Garden.

See the Leaves, Skip the Northeast

Every fall, travelers flock to New England to watch brilliant leaf transformations in full color. But South Dakota might be a leaf-peeper's best-kept secret. Autumn brings stunning color changes to the state's landscape, from bright crimsons to rich oranges to deep greens. Spearfish Canyon offers a 20-mile route replete with waterfalls, wildflowers and towering trees -- oak, elm, birch -- that displays a potpourri of fall colors. You can also "ooh" and "aah" at changing hues along the 100-mile-long Native American Scenic Byway, where stunning foliage is matched by a plethora of wildlife, from eagles to antelope.

See a House on the Prairie, Skip the TV

The legendary TV show that ran for more than a decade in the 1970s and 1980s, "Little House on the Prairie," was based on a book by Laura Ingalls Wilder; the tome was inspired by the brief time she lived in Kansas. But, several years later, her family moved to De Smet, S.D., a bucolic setting that inspired more books, such as "Little Town on the Prairie."

Today, the town continues to honor the author and her work with an outdoor pageant held each July. And visitors can see a collection of 2,000-plus artifacts and three historic structures, including The Homestead, the family home house built by Ingalls' Pa and featured in her book "By the Shores of Silver Lake," which is open throughout the summer.

Rev Your Engines, Skip the Car

Each year, the town of Sturgis, nestled in the northern Black Hills, draws hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts; not bad for a town of just 6,000. The week-long rally, celebrating 73 years this August, features everything from motocross competitions to hill climbs to drag races. There's live music and tons of souvenir shopping, too. And if you want a break from all the revving, some of South Dakota's most popular attractions, like Deadwood, the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore, are all nearby.

Visit a Rocket, Peek at History

For more than 30 years during the Cold War, active nuclear weapons stood guard, buried under the prairie grasses of western South Dakota. Their location, off I-90, was secret, until the START Treaty signed by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 led to the deactivation of 150 Minuteman missiles. Today, you can visit two of these sites, the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility and the Delta-09 Launch Facility, where original equipment and period furnishings offer an awesome lesson in U.S. history.

Grab a Wine Glass, Belly Up to the Bar

OK, when it comes to wine, South Dakota's no California. There are a few more than a dozen wineries throughout the state and, because of weather and environment, its hybrid grapes fare best here, with names like baltica, frontenac and edelweiss.

If you're visiting the national monuments of Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse, make time to visit the bar at Prairie Berry Winery nearby, where wine-tasting is free and the cuisine gets high marks; for some serious palate education, do one of their Family Table Tastings, which matches wines with specific foods and a fair share of South Dakota viticulture history.

See the Trail, Skip the Highway

South Dakota is popular for its scenic drives, like the breathtaking, 14-miles Needles Highway inside Custer State Park. But some of the best trekking you can do here is off the highway, on the hiking trail.

This state's beautiful terrain is varied, from rugged peaks to sweeping prairies. The aforementioned Custer, for example, in the western part of the state, is home to more than 60 miles of trails and plenty of natural distractions, from kayaking to gold panning; at 71,000 acres, this is the second largest state park in the country.

For something smaller, check out the hiking trail at Spirit Mountain Historic Prairie, in southeast South Dakota, one of the few remaining spots where Lewis and Clark camped more than 200 years ago.

Gabe Saglie is senior editor for Travelzoo, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary by giving out 15 vacations, including a getaway for two to South Dakota.