A lot of people think I-90 on South Dakota is a boring drive. But not us! We love the entire route and sometimes have spent as much as a week traveling through. That’s because there are so many places to stop and explore.
Everybody knows about places like Sturgis, Deadwood, the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore. But the five we picked to show you in this video are among our very favorite places to stop anywhere in North America.
Some are very touristy. That’s okay. They are all great spots to take a break from the road, be refreshed, walk around a bit, learn things and have a lot of fun.
We’ve previously done stand alone reports on the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood and the major attractions located not far from I-90 at the western end of the state. So in this video, we concentrate on other stops further east.
We hope you enjoy this video as much as we did in making it!
Here’s a script of the video, with links to the stops we recommend.
#1 WALL DRUG, EXIT 109
It’s unlikely that the tiny town of Wall, SD would even exist today were it not for the drug store that bears its name. Thanks to the iconic road signs plastered on every highway around for 650 miles from Minnesota to Montana, Wall Drug has become a landmark in American tourism. It all started with offers of free ice water, slapped on the signs. That did it. Today, Wall Drug still offers free ice water and on a good summer’s day up to 20,000 tourists stop by. The free water was followed by coffee for five cents – another tradition that continues through today. Next came tourist trinkets, jewelry, holiday decorations, souvenirs and more, all crammed into a 76,000 square foot store that also has a bakery, a restaurant and, of course, an ice cream soda bar.
Out behind the main Wall Drug is a sort of mini amusement park for the kids, featuring another Wall Drug original– the giant jackalope, a mythical combination of a jackrabbit and antelope that delights both the young and the old.
A bustling town now lines both sides of the street around Wall Drug and there is lots of free parking, with plenty of room for RVs of all sizes. It really is a must visit!
#2 BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK, EXIT 110
The Badlands is just a few miles south of I-90 of Exit 131 and it brings a sudden and very dramatic change from the flat green prairie surrounding it. Layered rock formations, steep canyons and towering spires make for a stunning and beautiful landscape that seems almost otherworldly. The Badlands Loop Road is a winding two-lane paved drive that almost any RV can easily handle. There are frequent scenic turnouts and hiking trails. And you are almost certain to see lots of wildlife…bison, prairie dogs and bighorn sheep.
The park itself is 244,000 acres in size. You can spend a week here. There’s a National Parks Service campground that is almost always filled, a KOA that you’ll need reservations for.. and some great boondocking spots just north of the main entrance.
But you can also see plenty in a visit as short as two or three hours. The park is open year round. Two notes: It gets very hot here in the summer, so wear a hat and take plenty of water. And watch out for these guys – the prairie rattler. They’re all over the place in the badlands.
#3 1880 TOWN, Exit 170
The 1880 Town is right off I-90 and instantly transports you back to the frontier west. It has more than 30 buildings from the 1880s that are authentically furnished with thousands of relics from the era.
For Mike and me , it was…. Well.. almost magical…as if we were instantly transported back to the Wild, Wild West.
They have a full range of costumes there and you, too, can dress like they did back in the 1880s, from boots to hats to a gunbelt. Jennifer dressed up like a saloon girl. Mike was a cowboy. That’s us in the photo above.
The saloon has a real bartender… they sell root beer and soft drinks, not the hard stuff. When the player piano isn’t doing its thing, they have live entertainment during the peak summer season.
Outside, it’s a lot of fun wandering the main street and touring the old buildings. There’s a a church, a museum with lots of props from the Dancing with Wolves movie, a railway station and a frontier cabin… where you can get an idea what life was like…way back then…right down to hanging out the wash.
Plan on two hours to take it all in. You’ll be glad you stopped.
#4 AL’S OASIS, Exit 260
Al’s Oasis…really is…an oasis, nestled along a wide spot of the Missouri River. In a way, it’s a less touristy version of Wall Drug, a place to take a break and get refreshed after long hours on the Interstate. Like Wall Drug, Al’s also offers coffee for five cents a cup. But unlike Wall, Al’s has an RV park right next door.
And like an Oasis, it is a great spot to stop for a meal, to restock groceries, to shop, to treat yourself. Be sure to try their signature lemon craem cheese pie.
Founded by a German immigrant after the railroad crossed the Missouri there in the early 1990’s, Al’s 10,000 square foot restaurant serves 350,000 people a year. It’s become a traditional resting spot for tourists as the unofficial gateway to the west, and the last outpost of civilization for many long tedious miles in either direction on I90. No trip to or from the west is complete without a stop at Al’s.
#5 THE INGALLS FAMILY HOMESTEAD, DESMET, SD, EXIT 330
This is the real House on the Prairie, the place where writer Laura Ingalls Wilder lived with Ma and Pa, and drew inspiration for her series of books about a young girl growing up on the frontier. The family moved here in 1879, homesteading on these 157 acres of prairie.
There are restored buildings and replicas of other mainstays of Laura’s life out here on the prairie. There’s a one-room school house, barns and outbuildings, complete with rambunctious kittens. At one end of the property is a dugout house and shanty, typical of the other homes Laura lived in and wrote about as her family followed pioneer routes further west from the homestead.
DeSmet is a 40 minute or so drive from I-90 but it is well worth it. It takes you deep into rural South Dakota, past prairielands little changed from Laura’s day. During the brutal winter of 1880-81, Laura and her family lived in this house In the tiny town of DeSmet, as Pa built the homestead house a mile away.
Today, the homestead is open for tours and has lots of hands on activities for kids aimed at teaching them about pioneer life on the prairie.
There are several RV camping spots and covered wagon shelters that can be booked for overnight stays.
Put the homestead on your bucket list, it’s a terrific experience.