Moving to South Dakota

Bisected by the great Missouri River, South Dakota encompasses the vast territory between the central lowlands in the east and the Badlands and the alluring Black Hills in the west. This northern Midwestern state has some of the coldest weather — and the warmest, hardworking hearts in the nation. Without them, America would be hard-pressed to put food on its table. But as part of the Great Plains, South Dakota’s landscape and population is not a monolith. This is wide-open terrain, where cultures new and old come together to create a distinct swath of contemporary America.  

While the state’s population is certainly on the rise, particularly in its two largest cities — Sioux Falls in the east and Rapid City in the west — most of the space between is rural. The rich soils of the Mount Rushmore State have long made South Dakota an agricultural king. Cattle, corn and soy still dominate the state’s economy. But newer industries are coming up fast on their heels, and the state is finding creative ways to innovate in diverse arenas, from manufacturing to bioscience. The South Dakota government is attracting industry stalwarts with its business-first mantra and new workers with its low cost of living.   

With world renowned landmarks like Mount Rushmore and the snowy forests of the Black Hills, it’s easy to see why tourism is one big area of growth. But keep your eye on all the jewels in between the best-known areas — residents know that their best-kept secrets are what turn visitors into locals.  

Get a quote on moving to South Dakota. 

Living in South Dakota

With fewer than 1,000,000 residents, South Dakota is one of the least populous states in the union. It also has one of the lowest population densities — there are only 11.7 people per square mile in the Mount Rushmore state (not counting large stone figures, of course). For comparison, the tiny state of Delaware has a comparable number of residents but a population density of over 500 people per square mile. If you’re moving to South Dakota, you better like wide open spaces!  

According to United Van Lines 46th Annual National Movers Study, South Dakota is one of the top 10 states people moved to in 2022. Since 2010, nearly 100,000 people have relocated to the Mount Rushmore State. Those that moved in 2022 cited retirement, family and jobs as their top reasons for relocating.  

One of the appeals of the state is its low cost of living. South Dakota’s has the 7th-lowest cost of living in the United States, and, at $63,920, a comparably high median household income — the national average is only $69,000

South Dakota prides itself on its unregulated, business-first environment. This means no state taxes are levied on corporate or individual incomes, including property and estate/inheritance taxes. Businesses in the private sector in South Dakota have grown dramatically over the past 20 years. Private sector GDP has grown by 172.7%, according to state estimates — the 4th-highest rate of growth in the country. 

Unemployment in South Dakota has, conversely, remained one of the lowest in the nation for months, holding steady at 2.2% or lower since August 2022, and now standing at 2.1%. Agriculture is still far and away the primary economic driver of the state, with cattle, corn, wheat, alfalfa, soy, sheep (wool) and hogs dominating production. The state’s top non-farm employment sectors are trade/transportation/utilities, government, education/health services and leisure/hospitality, which saw the highest year-over-year growth between 2021 and 2022.  

Manufacturing is also a key industry for South Dakota, employing 44,000 residents and offering an attractive average annual wage of $56,072. Goods manufactured in the state are often agriculturally related. So, food products top the list — including flour, meat and dairy — but South Dakota also produces machinery, wood products and electronics. 3M maintains one of its bases in Aberdeen. 

One industry to watch in South Dakota is bioscience. This burgeoning sector employed just 7,400 workers in 2021, but the average annual wage of $79,945 is likely to draw far more to the field in years to come.  

With a promising economy, a growing workforce and good job opportunities, South Dakota has earned its bragging rights in business. See below for recommendations on the best places to live in South Dakota.  

Weather in South Dakota

If climate were to determine the state motto, “It’s Always Windy in South Dakota “would suit all the geographic regions of the state. No matter if you’re in the mountains or the grasslands, you can expect a strong breeze to follow you wherever you go. In the summer months, this can be an appealing break from the temperatures that regularly soar past 90 °F and often break 100 °F. In the winter, you’ll likely appreciate that brisk air considerably less.  

South Dakotans enjoy four distinct seasons in the year, unless you count January as its own season. Consider it a winter within winter. Springtime starts out cold and muddy but quickly blossoms into a spectacular show of flowers. Expect warm summers to follow with a regular chance of thunderstorms, some of which can bring damaging winds, hail and tornadoes.  

Flash flooding can also be disastrous as the snowpack melts north of the state. Those residing east of the Missouri river, residents will see around 28 inches of rain a year — and more humidity in the summer months. Those occupying the western terrain, especially in the Badlands, should expect far more arid climate and only get 16 inches of rain annually.  

Autumn arrives quickly on the heels of August. With it, you can expect dramatic displays of fall foliage. This is the time to hit every scenic vista in the state.  

Winters are long in South Dakota, but most residents seem to thrive on them. The state’s average snowfall is around 30 inches, but 70 inches or more can fall in the Black Hills, much to the delight of skiers, boarders and snowshoers. Brace yourself for the temperatures in this brutally cold region. — average lows in January are below 10 °F and highs rarely hit freezing. That is excellent news for your ice fishing game. If you don’t count that among your hobbies yet, you had best get on board!  

The best times to move to South Dakota are in the late spring (May/June) or early fall (September/October). If you need to relocate during the coldest months, don’t worry — check out our tips for moving in the winter

Best Places to Live in South Dakota 

South Dakota has the second-smallest state capital in the country. With only 14,000 residents, tiny Pierre is second only to Vermont in population, and it’s dwarfed by larger cities to the south along Interstate 90, like Sioux Falls in the east and Rapid City in the west. But no one moves to South Dakota for big city life, and many of the state’s smaller towns like Yankton (pop. 15,453), Spearfish (pop. 12,358) and Vermillion (pop. 11,802), where the University of South Dakota is located, are gaining in popularity. Regardless of where you move in South Dakota, you’ll have great access to nature as well as fun, in-town excursions to look forward to at local breweries and restaurants as well as museums and historical sites. 

Sioux Falls 

Sioux Falls is South Dakota’s largest city and one of its fastest growing, too. With a population of 196,528, the city has gained over 40,000 new residents in the last 10 years, accounting for roughly 40% of the state’s total population growth. Sioux Falls is located on I-90 near the Iowa and Minnesota borders, allowing it to capitalize on the great resources of this tri-state region. The city is aptly named for the waterfall that cascades through Falls Park from the Big Sioux River. The 123-acre park is gracefully constructed around this natural splendor. You can even grab a bite at the Overlook Café after strolling the grounds. The city also has a sculpture park with 55 works of art, as well as sizable performance venues for live music. 

Sioux Falls took the top spot on Forbes’ list of Best Small Places for Business and Careers. Some of the major industries in the area are biomedical, food processing and finance. The city’s largest companies (employing 1,000 people or more) range from cabinet makers to electronics manufacturers to data centers. Sanford Health, Avera Health, Smithfield Foods and Wells Fargo are just a few of the large corporations in the area, employing no fewer than 2,000 residents in the state apiece.  

Housing in Sioux Falls is below U.S. averages but higher than the state’s. The median home value is $218,600 and rent averages just under $900 per month. Educational rates in the city are also above the national levels. Over 93% of residents have graduated from high school and a third have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, creating a well-prepared workforce for the industries the state is hoping to build on.  

There are also several important universities in the area. In town, there’s the University of Sioux Falls and Augustana University. About an hour south of the city are the two major public universities: South Dakota State University, located in the town of Brookings, and the University of South Dakota, situated in Vermillion. 

Rapid City 

On the opposite side of South Dakota, Rapid City is South Dakota’s second-largest metropolis. Named for the fast-moving limestone springs that flow through the center of town, this diverse city of 76,184 has grown by nearly 10,000 over the last 10 years. Nearly 10% of the population of Rapid City is Native American.  

The Black Hills National Forest, just west of Rapid City isn’t just known for its most famous sculpture, Mount Rushmore. It’s also a region is of great significance to indigenous tribes. Area landmarks, like Crazy Horse National Monument, Black Elk Peak and Badlands National Park, are sacred, protected spots. In the fall, thousands of people attend the annual Black Hills Powwow, where visitors are welcome to watch athletes, artists, singers and dancers compete on a national stage. If you’ve unfamiliar with the region, or just looking for a deeper dive, a visit to the Journey Museum and Learning Center will provide you and your family with an enlightening look at the region from prehistoric times to today.  

Rapid City has long enjoyed a diverse economy, where the tourism, forestry, manufacturing, healthcare, government and service sectors supplement the agricultural arena. Black Hills Corporation, which supplies energy to 1.28 million customers across eight states, is headquartered in Rapid City. Housing in Rapid City is on par with Sioux Falls. The median home value is $208,400 and rent averages $898 per month.  

Fun Things to Do in South Dakota

Outdoor Activities 

Despite the sometimes-inhospitable weather, South Dakota’s landscape begs to be explored. Residents and visitors can enjoy almost any outdoor activity in this enormous state, from kayaking down the Missouri National Recreational River to flying down the slopes on at Terry Peak, where you can ski all winter and bike all summer long.  

An unexpected way to take in the scenery is by hot air balloon. Area outfitters like Prairie Sky and Black Hills Balloons give you an unforgettable adventure and unbeatable views. 

But one cannot fully appreciate South Dakota without an understanding and respect of the Native American history and the living heritage that shapes so much of the state’s culture. The Crazy Horse Memorial in the central part of the Black Hills National Forest is where you should begin. The Rushmore-sized sculpture of Crazy Horse is still in progress, but the museums on its campus, including the popular Indian Museum of North America, provide and in-depth look at this Lakota hero, who led the successful defeat of American troops at the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand. The organization has also established a university and artist-in-residence program on site.  

Just northeast of Sturgis, Bear Butte State Park is another sacred Native American landmark known to the Lakota as Mato Paha (Bear Mountain) and to the Cheyenne as Noahvose. Fishing, horseback riding and hiking are popular activities around this outcropping of igneous rock in the Black Hills. Visitors are asked to leave undisturbed any prayer offerings they may find.  

In addition to these notable sites, South Dakota is also home to several National Park Service-managed lands, including memorials and monuments. Badlands National Park is one of the most spectacular sights in all of the state.  

The carved stone faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln are so iconic, Mount Rushmore barely needs an introduction. This national memorial in the Black Hills welcomes two million visitors each year.

While nearly everyone is familiar with Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park has existed, shall we say, a bit below the radar for most Americans. Considered the birthplace of the Lakota Nation, this part-subterranean, part-sunlit jewel in Hot Springs is a joy to visit in any season, even in the bitterest cold, when rime dazzles the prairie and ponderosa pines with ice.  

These are just a few of the outdoor adventures that await you in South Dakota. Check out our National Parks of the Midwest guide to learn more.  

Events You Can’t Miss

Possibly the biggest annual event in South Dakota is the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. This tiny town of 7,100 can swell to 60 times its size when riders from all over the world descend on the state each summer to ride, see concerts and compete for the best tattoo, beard and moustache.

On the opposite side of the state and activity spectrum, a visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead in De Smet will have you trading in your studded, black leather chaps for kid leather work gloves and prairie skirts. Visitors tall and small can braid their own jump rope, take a ride on a covered wagon or drive a pony cart. The annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Society presents outdoor plays based on the books each year, followed by cocoa and cookies.

If you’re visiting historic Deadwood, bring your best wild west swagger, a pioneer settlement from the Gold Rush days. In addition to patronizing saloons, gambling parlors and antique shops, you can attend a very wide range of events in town. Some are clearly of the 1876 element, like the Cowboy Poetry reading on Preservation Thursday or the third-annual Back When They Bucked Rodeo. But then, Foreigner and Jefferson Starship also perform here, which will really take you back to, um, 1976. The crowd-pleasing Forks, Corks & Kegs festival, now in its 10th year, is a great way to step in the local fare of the present in the architecture of the past. 

One of the state’s longest-standing traditions is the annual Rosebud Wacipi, Fair & Rodeo, now in its 146th year. Visitors can see traditional dancing and performances during the powwow or watch more modern competitions in softball and basketball. The fair’s annual Miss Rodeo Pageant is no ordinary beauty contest. All participants must compete in horsemanship — after all, this is a rodeo.  

Eat Local South Dakota Cuisine

The food of South Dakota reflects diverse influences. Scandinavian, German, Dutch, Czechoslovakian and Native American cultures are all evident in the cuisine across this Midwestern state.  

Dairy is the perfect place to get acquainted with South Dakota’s staples. One of our favorite spots to do so is at Farm Life Creamery. First, it’s a fun place to visit. You can meet all the farm’s animals, become mesmerized by the bottling process during a tour of the plant, and even play an 18-hole round of mini-golf. The family has been in business since 1873. In that time, they really perfected the art of crafting artisan cheese (try the coffee cheddar!) and ice cream. Don’t forget to thank the cows on your way out.  

In Brookings, the Pheasant Restaurant & Lounge carries on a time-honored tradition dating back to WWII with its house special, the pheasant sandwich. Once served to ravenous troops, this updated version is prepared like an upscale chicken salad with pecans, apples and dried cranberries.  

There’s no better introduction to Native American cuisine in South Dakota than at the Laughing Water Restaurant at the Crazy Horse Memorial. You can sample incredible fry bread with wojabi, berry sauce often made with native chokeberries, or tatanka stew, crafted with slow-braised buffalo, onions and potatoes. This menu is so flavorful and hearty, you might just wish it were winter year-round.   

At the Vertex Sky Bar in Rapid City, you can sample a bit of all of South Dakota’s finest fare, wrapped in a panoramic view of the city atop the Hotel Alex Johnson. Start with one of its seasonal craft cocktails by the fire. Then, dip into local flavor with the panko-encrusted walleye, buffalo tenderloin or elk ravioli.  

The lucky folks moving to Sioux Falls have one of the best Italian restaurants in the state at their doorstep: R Wine Bar & Kitchen. Founded by Florentine Riccardo Tarabelsi, the wine list alone is enough of a draw to this family-owned favorite.

Still have room for dessert? The Germans have their pie-cake hybrid called kuchen and the Dutch have their oliebollen. You may not always find them on restaurant menus, but they’re a staple at Sunday brunches for lucky houseguests. The House of Scandinavia in Rapid City can also hook you up with assorted northern European foodstuffs to satisfy your other cravings.  

But in the game of pastry chess, it’s Czechmate for the Dutch when kolaches enter the room. Kolache’s pillowy-sweet yeast dough is filled with jammy fruit or cream cheese and baked until irresistible. You can learn how to make your own during the annual Czech Days in Tabor. Or leave it to the pros at Czeckers in Yankton, where you can also taste chislic — crispy and tender fried steak.  

How to Prepare for Your Move to South Dakota

Deciding how to move is one of the toughest choices to make when you’re relocating. Do you want to handle all the details yourself? Or would it be easier to work with a team of professional moving company like United Van Lines?  

When you choose a reputable moving company like United Van Lines, we can help make your journey to South Dakota a seamless moving experience. Our professional movers can help you move to the Mount Rushmore State from anywhere in the country. You can choose a full-service move, where we handle all the details, or you can select specific moving services you want us to handle for you.  

If you’re moving cross country, United Van Lines’ long-distance movers can help with any and all of your needs. We’ll handle packing and unpacking, storage, debris pick up, car shipping and more. 

Are you moving within South Dakota? United Van Lines’ local movers in South Dakota provides moving services independently under their own brands and business names. 

Need an extra hand? United Van Lines can help plan your move and simplify the transition to your new home. Check out our week-by-week moving checklists and our helpful tips on packing and preparing for your move. United Van Lines has a wealth of resources to help you settle in your new place

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