South Dakota might not have won an Oscar for its role in Nomadland - the movie which scooped up prizes for best picture, best director and best actress at this year's Academy Awards - but the remarkable home of the Black Hills and Badlands is always a star attraction in our eyes. So here's our celebration of a few scenic western South Dakota drives for families who want to unleash their own inner nomad this year.
The 20-mile Spearfish Canyon drive provides some of the most spectacular views in South Dakota. Roll through soaring limestone cliffs and follow the winding Spearfish Creek lining the canyon floor. Popular pull offs offer even more striking views and majestic waterfalls like Bridal Veil Falls and Roughlock Falls are truly Instagramable spots. More falls and beauty await those willing to hop out of the car for a quick hike. Fishing, biking, picnicking and other nature activities are popular along this route too. Marvel at the forest of spruce, pine, aspen, birch, and oak carpeting the hillsides. And don't forget to stop in for a meal and some shopping at the award-winning Cheyenne Crossing.
Wind through 17 miles of South Dakota highways and tunnels on the Iron Mountain Road, beginning at Custer State Park and ending at iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Hair pin turns will take you across the distinctive wooden Pigtail Bridges and through one-lane tunnels that perfectly frame the 60-ft faces carved into Mount Rushmore in the distance. The pristine Black Hills set the scene as the backdrop for this drive, offering lush forest landscapes to admire. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife to ogle over — buffalo crossings are a regular occurrence, and deer, antelope, big horn sheep and many other animals call this area home.
A great South Dakota drive to pair with the Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway also features the impressive granite spires, switchback turns and seemingly impossibly constructed one-lane tunnels. Along the way you'll pass picturesque Sylvan Lake. If you care to stop and stretch your legs or let kids burn off some energy you can take one of the beautiful hikes that begin at the lake, or just wander around the edge taking in the view. Be sure not to miss the famed rock formation called Needles Eye, named for its resemblance to the eye of a needle due to years of wind, rain and other elements.
For a diverse South Dakota landscape that truly embodies the American West, from wide open plains dotted with roaming buffalo to rolling hills with prairie dogs popping up to say hello, look no further than the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. Kids will have their noses pressed to the glass spotting the wildlife here, which includes bison, pronghorn, whitetail and mule deer, elk, coyotes, burros, eagles and hawks. You can even stop to feed the locally famous "Begging Burros" who will come right up to your car. The colorful wildflowers, tall prairie grasses and big blue skies paint an impressive picture. And if you don't feel like driving yourself, or you want a closer encounter with the wildlife, Jeep safaris are also available.
You'll feel like you landed on another planet on the 31-mile Badlands Loop Road that takes you through some of the most distinct and impressive landscapes in South Dakota. Colorful buttes, cliffs and spires greet visitors and beckon you to pull over and admire the breathtaking views or stop and take one of the eight trails that will give you a more up-close-and-personal look at the striking terrain. Don't miss the Big Badlands Overlook in the east or the Pinnacles Overlook in the west — both offer prime picture taking moments.
South Dakota not enough of a getaway this summer? Check out 9 best places in Sierra Nevada to escape crowds. And don't forget to follow Family Traveller on Instagram and Facebook and share your travel plans - or just say 'hi'.