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