16 Pros and Cons of Living in South Dakota

Updated On October 9, 2023
South Dakota

After living in South Dakota myself for nearly a decade, I learned a great deal about traveling and working in this state.

It is sparsely populated, you get to drive fast on highways, and Wal-Mart is a big deal and often three hours away when you need something.

If you can handle this and the mountains of snow that fall from October to February, welcome to South Dakota!

Otherwise, you might see this list of the cons of living in South Dakota more to your liking.

Custer, South Dakota
Custer, South Dakota

Pros of Living in South Dakota

1. Laid Back and Quiet Norwegian Communities Dominate

South Dakota has tons of Norwegian history and architecture.

Places to visit include:

  • Chapel in the Hills
  • All the Lutheran churches
  • Stavig House
  • The Nordland Heritage Park
  • The Rolvaag Writing Cabin 
  • The Berdahl-Rolvaag House

So if you are into Vikings, you will fit in well here.

This is especially true if you also support the Minnesota Vikings, an NFL team that is in the neighboring state.

Most South Dakota residents called SoDaks are on the fence about the Vikings versus the Green Bay Packers.

Back to the Viking concept, there are a lot of first, second, and third-generation Norwegian immigrants in this state.

These Norwegian settlers are proud of their heritage and also notoriously “northern” and inwardly, meaning they keep to themselves.

2. Wide Open Spaces and Plenty of Land to Roam

The state of South Dakota is covered in acres of inhabited flat farmland with some rolling hills.

Out to the west, there are thousands of wild horses that run free in those landscapes.

However, to the east of the Missouri River that divides the state north to south, there are more towns and cities.

Not nearly as many as any other state, though!

South Dakota is one of the largest states by geographical size but with fewer than 1 million total residents (879,336 as of 2020). 

For comparison, LA has 39 million people–and that is just one city.

As a result, you will find large ranch holdings and old farm houses for sale and rent.

There are no skyscrapers and most Main Street downtowns have no red lights.

It is a different world when trying to find a place to live, but rest assured, you will not see many people.

3. Cattle and Beef Industry

The cattle and beef industry is huge in South Dakota with cattle ranches taking up most of the space.

According to the South Dakota Beef Industry Council, the state has approximately 14,000 beef lots and meat processing facilities.

The state is also the 7th most populous in beef cattle in the nation.

Cattle lots are everywhere, and you can find local butchers in all the small towns, where you can purchase affordable handmade sausages and steaks, as well as cheese and milk.

If you work in the cattle business, you are in the right spot.

4. Pheasant Hunting

Every autumn, orange hats roll through South Dakota.

This refers to the people, primarily men, who come into the countryside to hunt a tiny but beautiful bird called a pheasant.

The state depends on these hunters for part of the economy via tourism.

The South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks (SD GFP) also provide a hunting environment.

The SD GFP also accounts for the millions of dollars spent by counties on pheasant hunting.

More than 1 million pheasants are harvested annually, and the state provides counts of nesting grounds when the birds lay eggs each spring. 

5. Tourism Exceeds Expectations for Outdoor Recreation

There are a ton of things to do outdoors in South Dakota!

The hottest recreational happenings are at:

  • Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Free Buffalo Stomps 
  • Badlands National Park and Wall Drug
  • Sturgis and the annual motorcycle rally
  • Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial

You can also visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes in De Smet, SD to experience a true recreation of Little House on the Prairie. 

6. High-Speed Highways With 85 Miles Per Hour Limits

The speed limit in South Dakota is 80 miles per hour on the interstate, which is about 25 miles per hour more than the rest of the US.

This can be unnerving when you also factor in the excessive side winds of 25 miles per hour pushing your vehicle.

It is an experience for sure.

If you like driving fast and not getting a speeding ticket–as well as super straight and lonely roads–then South Dakota is perfect.

7. Low Housing Costs

The cost of living in South Dakota is 88.3, which is lower than the national average of 100.

Additionally, housing costs are only 83.8 percent of what the rest of the US pays.

This can make moving to South Dakota even more attractive if you want to save money and get more “houses” per square foot.

8. Avera McKennan Wellness Center Sauna and Saltwater Swimming Pool 

This sounds like a lot, but when you are freezing on a blizzardy day, nothing beats swimming indoors in a hot, saltwater swimming pool with other gym-goers underneath a two-story-tall glass ceiling.

You watch the snow fall as you enjoy a soak and it is amazing.

Most states do not have as many medical facilities–or the quality of amenities–that South Dakota offers.

Avera is a medical center with many offices and branches throughout the state.

In Sioux Falls, at the Avera McKennan Wellness Center, anyone can enjoy swimming, a true steam sauna, and a hot rocks sauna, as well as multiple indoor hot tubs and spas.

Yes, there are treadmills as this is a true gem, as well as child care. 

Cons of Living in South Dakota

1. Hunting Birds is a Major Sport and Vegans are Rare Beasts 

If you are vegan and you live in South Dakota, it is very difficult to find a meal.

In Sioux Falls, you can find vegetarian restaurants serving ethnic cuisines, such as Sanaa’s Gourmet Syrian, Mediterranean, and Indian restaurants, but that is about it.

Some places, like Everest Cuisine and Blaze Pizza in Rapid City, Lalibela Ethiopian restaurant, and Daily Clean Food and Drink in Sioux Falls, do have some vegan foods.

But you will struggle in most small towns if you want to eat something “different” and are not a meat-eater. 

2. There are No State Teams in Sports

In South Dakota, there is not enough money or people to be able to afford the costs of major league sports teams.

Yes, they watch minor league baseball and love their hockey, but the state does not have a Major League Baseball or National Football League team, and it shows.

Most people travel out of town to watch sports games, as a vacation option.  

3. Few Cities Have Red Lights, Ya Know?

In most of the rural towns of SoDak, there are between 30 and 300 people.

Most do not have public schools because the town’s population is too small.

In fact, some towns do have one-room schoolhouses with one or two teachers operating the school building and providing instruction–just like the Little House on the Prairie times.

4. It Gets Brutal in the WinterTime

Cold weather in South Dakota is nothing like cold weather anywhere else in the nation.

Along with constantly blowing winds of 25 to 40 miles per hour, you face bitterly cold temperatures.

South Dakota is infamous for having extreme temperature fluctuations in Spearfish where stream water once ran over frozen ground.

This is difficult and deadly for anyone who is not used to living in minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit or snow drifts of 20 feet or more.

5. Everything Stays Dusty

There is a saying in South Dakota.

There is going to be dust on the floor, no matter what you do.

It is the haunt of the Dust Bowl, and the way of nature thanks to the–yes, you guessed it–winds constantly blowing in this state.

A lack of trees and hills encourages this natural phenomenon, and the state is also in Tornado Alley.

Due to these issues, maintaining houses in SoDak is both costly and difficult compared to other states with less wind and soil erosion taking place constantly.

If you have trouble breathing, then consider another state with fewer allergens and threats of asthmatic reactions.

6. You Have Few Neighbors Other Than Cows

There are more than four cows for every person living in South Dakota.


You are going to befriend a cow before you talk to a person, most likely. 

7. No Whole Foods Market and No Trader Joe’s…and Most Other Stores

South Dakota lacks a lot of things, and this includes grocery stores–and most stores in general.

Fewer than a million residents mean a focus on shopping out of state.

Thankfully, the Mall of America, which is the largest mall in the nation, is right next door.

Sioux Falls is about 20 miles from the Minnesota line.

A drive of three hours from this SD city gets you to the front doors of the MOA.

That is what you have to look forward to if you want to shop for Coach or LEGO or any other major fashion or brand.

8. Small Town Cultures are the Majority Here

Prefer metro stations to get around?

You will not see that in South Dakota.

The small towns are all spread out about 50 miles from any highway or other town.

With only Rapid City in the west and Sioux Falls in the east and Pierre and Chamberlain in the central part of the state, South Dakota is more rural than anything when it comes to communities.

If you struggle with a small-town vibe, you will not find your footing in South Dakota very well.

Deadwood, South Dakota
Deadwood, South Dakota

Pros and Cons of Living in South Dakota – Summary Table

Pros of Living in South DakotaCons of Living in South Dakota
1. Laid Back and Quiet Norwegian Communities Dominate1. Hunting Birds is a Major Sport and Vegans are Rare Beasts 
2. Wide Open Spaces and Plenty of Land to Roam2. There are No State Teams in Sports
3. Cattle and Beef Industry3. Few Cities Have Red Lights, Ya Know?
4. Pheasant Hunting4. It Gets Brutal in the WinterTime
5. Tourism Exceeds Expectations for Outdoor Recreation5. Everything Stays Dusty
6. High-Speed Highways With 85 Miles Per Hour Limits6. You Have Few Neighbors Other Than Cows
7. Low Housing Costs7. No Whole Foods Market and No Trader Joe’s…and Most Other Stores
8. Avera McKennan Wellness Center Sauna and Saltwater Swimming Pool 8. Small Town Cultures are the Majority Here

South Dakota Safety Overview

READ THE FULL REPORT: South Dakota Safety Review

Safety Index:
South Dakota

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have to pay state taxes each year in South Dakota?

No, South Dakota is one of the only states where you do not have to pay any state income tax when you file your annual tax return with the IRS.

How are the property crime rates in South Dakota?

Interestingly, they are low.

This is notable as most residents do not even lock their houses or automobiles in the main parts of town.

How hot does it get in South Dakota?

Along with being super cold in the winter months, South Dakota sees 213 sunny days a year.

How much snow can I expect, really, in South Dakota?

The state gets an average of 39 inches of snow.

However, most cities, even rural towns, have snow plows that scrape the roads.

These plows leave large piles of 12 to 18 feet of snow next to roadways and sidewalks.

The mounds of snow are beloved by children on sleds, and anyone from out of town trying to snap a crazy snow selfie!

Where is the best city to move to in SoDak?

If you want to be outdoors and into recreational sports, like hiking and mountain biking, go to Rapid City.

If you prefer to shop and work really diligently on your career in banking or the medical industry, you should live in Sioux Falls.

2 Comments on 16 Pros and Cons of Living in South Dakota

  1. N
    Not Rooney says:

    This is just a list of 15 “pros”!!!!! The only “con” I see is the dust, lol.

  2. Having lived in South Dakota for nearly a decade, I can say that it offers a unique and laid-back lifestyle with its wide-open spaces and Norwegian heritage, but it also has its drawbacks such as harsh winters, limited vegan options, and a lack of major sports teams and stores.

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