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Make Your Home a Home on the Range: Here Are 12 of the Best Small Towns in South Dakota

by Anthony Stockton Posted on January 11, 2024
Thinking of packing it up and moving out of the city? You’re definitely not alone — especially in the post-pandemic world!

From 2020 to 2022, over 2 million Americans left their urban lifestyles behind to make the move to some of the nation’s most beautiful small towns. And with abundant natural beauty and low population density, it should be no surprise that South Dakota was among the most popular destinations for those leaving densely populated states like California.

In fact, in 2022, South Dakota ranked the 5th highest in percentage of population growth in the U.S., gaining thousands of new residents and putting itself on track to reach the 1 million mark by 2030. 

Want to know about some of the hidden gems the state has to offer? Here are 12 of the best small towns in South Dakota.
 
Planning a move to South Dakota? Start by getting a quote from PODS.

Big Cities in South Dakota vs. Small Towns in South Dakota

Living in a bigger South Dakota city like Sioux Falls, Rapid City, or Aberdeen certainly comes with its perks. Even as some of the largest population centers in the state, these South Dakota cities offer affordable housing and a low cost of living, compared to the rest of the nation — making them a great option for people who don’t want to drain their bank accounts to enjoy urban amenities, like a wide range of job, housing, and education opportunities. 

However, city dwellers in South Dakota may not get to fully enjoy the wide open spaces that the state is known for. And more people means more traffic and higher crime rates, among other things. For many people, large South Dakota cities are a great fit, but these trade-offs might tip the scale in the other direction for you.

Consider a few of these benefits of living in a small town in South Dakota:

  • Smaller towns have a larger sense of community: If you want to know your neighbors and feel like a part of something larger than yourself, this could be a great fit.
  • Say goodbye to traffic: With South Dakota’s average population density of 11.7 people per square mile, you won’t have to worry about being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
  • Enjoy a slower lifestyle: Leave hustle culture behind and just relax! This makes small towns great options for families, retirees, and students alike.
  • There’s plenty of nature: With small towns across the state, you can enjoy dramatic mountain views or serene riverfront life — it’s up to you!

Now, before we get into our favorite South Dakota small towns, let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions on the subject.
 

A young couple is enjoying a hike through Spearfish Canyon in Spearfish, South Dakota, on an autumn day. Some plants are still green, but the foliage on many has already turned a golden yellow.

Spearfish Canyon in Spearfish, South Dakota
(Source: Travel South Dakota via Facebook)

Best Small Towns in South Dakota — FAQs

Q: Where is the best place to live in South Dakota?
A:
Brandon, SD, a small town just outside of Sioux Falls, is hard to beat. With excellent access to housing and close proximity to one of the biggest cities in the state, it’s a safe and popular choice for young professionals as well as families looking to take advantage of the town’s stellar public schools.

Q: What is the small town in the Badlands?
A:
Wall, SD, is truly a small town, with a population of just under 700 people. Located on the northern “wall” of the Badlands (get it?), Wall offers a sparse suburban feel that gives residents plenty of space to spread out. 

Q: Is it worth living in South Dakota?
A:
This is a personal decision, of course, but we’d say yes. Not only is South Dakota one of nine states that doesn’t collect state income tax, but it also comes with a below-average cost of living, affordable housing, abundant natural beauty, and plenty of job opportunities.

Q: Is it worth moving to South Dakota?
A:
Transplants may have to learn to adjust to remote life and a different climate — the weather is hot in the summer and cold, windy, and snowy in the winter. However, because the cost of living is so much lower, it’s a popular choice for people moving from places like California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Q: What is the coolest small town in South Dakota?
A:
Our pick is definitely Deadwood. The former frontier town was the home of the gold rush. But its charm isn’t just in its rich history. Today, Deadwood is full of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, giving its residents a more densely suburban feel than some other South Dakota towns.

Best Small Towns in South Dakota

So which small town in South Dakota should you move to? While the best choice comes down to personal preference, we can give you a few of our favorite picks. Note: While the Census defines a small town as having a population of 5,000 or lower, we’ve expanded our choices to include towns with a population of up to 15,000.

Aerial view of the small town of Custer, South Dakota, in the summer. The hills on the outskirts of the town are covered in lush pine trees, and the city buildings are spaced wide apart.

Custer, South Dakota

1. Custer, SD

Want more space than your typical suburb? Custer could be the perfect option for you. The area offers plenty of outdoor adventure at sites like Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake, Black Hills National Forest, and more. And in addition to attracting thousands of visitors every summer, Custer is home to many retirees looking to enjoy the beautiful scenery and close community vibe. In fact, the median age in Custer is 57.

2. Brandon, SD

Located just 15 minutes east of Sioux Falls, Brandon is considered the #1 Best Place to Live in South Dakota, according to Niche. With a curfew for minors, a great public school system, and low crime rates (it’s actually at the top of the list for safest towns in South Dakota!), Brandon is an excellent place to bring up little ones. 

But you don’t have to be raising a family to take advantage of the affordable housing market, low cost of living, and close proximity to Sioux Falls’s cultural attractions. Residents of all ages also enjoy taking in the area’s natural beauty at McHardy Park and Big Sioux Recreation Area, not to mention the nearby Hidden Valley Golf Course and Great Bear Ski Resort. 

Brandon has grown steadily over the last few years and slowly climbed up the rankings — so you don’t want to sleep on this up-and-coming small town!

Aerial view of sunset over The Wall rock formation in Badlands National Park near Wall, South Dakota.

Badlands National Park near Wall, South Dakota

3. Wall, SD

 

Badlands is a go-to destination for outdoor enthusiasts — the National Park sees more than one million campers, hikers, and backpackers every year. Known for its bison population and having one of the world’s richest fossil beds, it’s no surprise so many people want to visit!

Wall was established just north of Badlands in 1907, a pit stop on the Northwestern Railroad System. It has grown a great deal since then, and it’s now a cozy, close-knit community. During the summer, Wall sees up to 20,000 visitors per day, often on their way to see nearby Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, and the Black Hills.

If you’d like to be in the heart of some of America’s most impressive monuments and parks, Wall is the small town for you.

4. Dell Rapids, SD

Known as “the little city with big attractions,” the town of Dell Rapids prides itself on being one of the most distinctive and colorful communities on the Dakota Plains. Many original buildings in downtown Dell Rapids were destroyed during an 1888 fire, so a lot of the wood or timber buildings are no longer there. Instead, you’ll find that a lot of construction was done with quartzite, which came after an ordinance was passed requiring “all downtown buildings to be of durable construction.”

In addition to natural attractions like Palisades State Park, Dell Rapids transplants can enjoy modern attractions like water parks, trampoline parks, golf courses, and go karts. If this blending of old and new sounds like home to you, Dell Rapids is your place!

The Mount Rushmore monument is seen on a sunny day in Keystone, South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota

5. Keystone, SD


Home to Mount Rushmore, Keystone is the perfect place to plant your roots near a piece of history. But with a population of just 240, you won’t have to deal with a lot of people — even during the busiest of tourist seasons.

When you want to explore the town, you can head over to Rush Mountain Adventure Park or take a walking tour of Rushmore Cave from March to October. And during the off season, you’ll have access to the local Watson Park and the views that Battle Creek has to offer.

6. Vermillion, SD

Vermillion is a small town located in the southeast corner of South Dakota. Home to the University of South Dakota, it provides the perfect blend of modern education and the area’s deep history of native land and fur trading territory. The original town was largely destroyed by the Great Flood of 1881, but the small town that has sprung up in its spot is now the 12th most populous city in the state. Popular sites include the National Music Museum and Spirit Mound.

View down Spearfish Creek in Spearfish, South Dakota, as seen from a riverside trail. The creek is situated in South Dakota’s Black Hills. It’s summer in the photo and all the trees and grasses are green and lush.

Spearfish Creek in Spearfish, South Dakota

7. Spearfish, SD

Calling all fly-fishers! Not only is Spearfish one of Niche’s top 10 places to retire in South Dakota, but it also has some of the best fly-fishing opportunities in the whole state. In fact, tourism is the town’s main industry, thanks to all of the available outdoor activities for locals and tourists alike in the Black Hills and Spearfish Canyon. Lumber, electronics, healthcare, and education are also important sectors.

And due to the quality healthcare and good public schools, Spearfish makes a great place to raise a family. Young professionals will also enjoy low rent prices as well as Spearfish’s many bars and restaurants.

8. Milbank, SD

Located on the Yellowstone Trail, Milbank is a small community that was founded when the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad expanded into South Dakota. Residents pride themselves on their friendly, caring demeanor and their dedication to making Milbank a great place to live, generation after generation. 

Milbank is the birthplace of American Legion Baseball — an organization that’s now nationally recognized and beloved. And with affordable housing and the state’s no-income tax policy, Milbank makes a quiet place to wind out your professional career before retirement or the perfect place to get into the housing market as a first-time home buyer.

Aerial view of the state capitol building in Pierre, South Dakota, during sunset. The lush green of surrounding green spaces and trees contrasts beautifully with the bright yellow and orange sky.

The South Dakota Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota

9. Pierre, SD

If you’re looking for the perfect combination of America’s natural beauty and hometown charm, the state capital, Pierre, should definitely be on your list. This community is warm and close-knit, even considering that the population has grown steadily over the years. The cost of living is higher than other small towns in South Dakota, but if hunting and fishing are your favorite pastimes, you can’t beat the area!

10. Mobridge, SD

Located a mere river's length from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, Mobridge is unlike any of the other small towns on this list. With many Native American attractions, artifacts, and sites, residents of Mobridge are immersed in America’s history. Beyond its rich history, though, Mobridge attracts people from all walks of life who are interested in experiencing the great outdoors.

With low crime rates, high diversity, and a low cost of living, Mobridge is an attractive destination for retirees looking to enjoy the country’s natural beauty in their golden years as well as families looking for suburban amenities without being packed into small quarters, as they would be in many larger, urban areas.

The view down a historic street in Deadwood, South Dakota, on a sunny summer day. Most of the buildings are made of red brick and a lush tree-covered hill rises up outside of town.

Deadwood, South Dakota

11. Deadwood, SD

There are plenty of ghost towns in South Dakota — like Spokane and Mystic — but they aren’t ranked #2 on Niche’s list for the Best Places to Retire in South Dakota, like Deadwood is. 

One of South Dakota’s “Great Eight Destinations,” Deadwood is a historic town located in the Black Hills National Forest. The town’s Mount Moriah Cemetery is the final resting place of Wild West legends like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. You’ll find casinos and wineries, gold nuggets and fossils, spas, shops, hiking trails, the Historic Adams House, and so much more. Deadwood is also the largest restoration and preservation project in the history of the United States. 

12. Tea, SD

Tea’s population is just under 7,000, but it might not stay that way for long. Rated by Niche as the best suburb in South Dakota for young professionals and one of the top 3 places to raise a family in South Dakota, young people will likely continue to flow into the area for some time to come. The Sioux Fall suburb is also known for being the home of pole vault Olympian Derek Miles.

Make the Move to a Small Town in South Dakota With PODS

No matter where you choose to live in South Dakota — from a big city like Sioux Falls to a small town like one on this list — PODS can help you make the move. Enjoy the flexibility to load and unload on your own time when you have a portable moving and storage container delivered right to your driveway. And if you need more time, that’s no problem! PODS can store your container at a secure storage center for as long as you need.

Editor’s note: For ease of reading, monthly rental prices were rounded to the nearest $25 and home values were rounded to the nearest $100.

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