Also nicknamed the “Pine Ridge Rez,” this Native American Reservation is home to the Oglala Lakota Native Americans and is one of the largest reservations in the country.
Located on the border of South Dakota and Nebraska, many travelers who visit Rapid City, South Dakota often end up making the 1.5 hour drive down to Pine Ridge curious about what life is really like on the Reservation.
And with stunning badlands and open fields full of wild buffalo, Pine Ridge is certainly a beautiful place to see.
The Lakota people are proud of their heritage, and many history centers are scattered throughout the Reservation telling their story. They even sell handmade items like quilts and beaded jewelry.
But while Pine Ridge is beautiful, the darker side of history also shows the pain and suffering the Lakota people still live in.
With nearly 90 percent of the residents unemployed – and a life expectancy of only 48 years for men – it’s no wonder politicians and social justice warriors flock to Pine Ridge to hold protests and give stump speeches.
But instead of exploiting the people in Pine Ridge, many tourists and Christian missionaries often visit the Reservation to learn more about its history from the people who’ve lived it, thus deepening their appreciation for the Native people.
So if you’re brave enough to make the visit to Pine Ridge – be sure to check out these must see spots.
One look at the gigantic breathtaking rock formations and you’re sure to be speechless.
The badlands hold their own.
And as you make the drive from Rapid City down to Pine Ridge, you can pull over at an overlook and walk right up to the very edge of the badlands, taking in the beauty and majesty of what seems like an endless view.
There are no safety gates or rails here – so make sure to watch your footing and don’t get too close to the edge.
And viewing the badlands at sunset is surreal. You’ll truly be blown away by the beauty of the sun setting against the blue sky, contrasted against the red rock badlands.
There’s nothing else like ‘em in America!
Higher Ground Coffee Shop
Located in Pine Ridge sits a hidden gem – one of the best coffee houses in America.
Each day, the locals flock to Higher Ground to choose from dozens of unique and classic options and get their caffeine fix.
There’s no limit to the variety of hot drinks you can sample – everything from Mexican Spiced Cocoa to a Turtle Mocha (espresso, steamed milk, chocolate & caramel sauce, vanilla syrup, and homemade whipped cream on top)!
They also make smoothies and fruit drinks (and have healthy options for all the health-conscious folks too)!
And not only do they serve drinks, but you can also eat a hot homemade breakfast or lunch prepared fresh each day.
The menu changes each week, and you can try everything from a Roast Beef Po Boy with Lakota fries or a Smothered Burrito.
The staff are friendly and personable, and the environment is warm and inviting – this coffee shop is better than any chain and is a must-visit if you are ever in Pine Ridge!
Wounded Knee Memorial
History can be sobering, and the Wounded Knee Memorial is an example of a battle for power and control that ended in tragedy.
Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the Wounded Knee Memorial is essentially a “mass grave” where the bodies of more than 300 Lakota men, women, and children were dumped into.
The memorial sits on the land where the Wounded Knee Massacre took place, and visitors can walk around and read the gravestones and see the gigantic memorial sacred to many on the reservation.
Some Natives still hold spiritual ceremonies here to honor the dead – so you’ll often see bright colored ribbon marking the fence that guards the memorial.
Consider A Trip To Pine Ridge
While it might not be a place you would typically expect to visit on vacation, if you’re in the Rapid City, South Dakota area, it might be worth the 1.5-hour drive to Pine Ridge and explore what life is really like on a Native American Reservation.
The Lakota people are known to be warriors, and despite the poverty and suffering engulfing the Reservation, you’ll see an unwavering resilience in them.
In addition, it’s certain in just one visit you’ll gain a deeper understanding of American history (from a different perspective), while being challenged to think outside your normal world views.
Often times the Pine Ridge Area Chamber or Commerce can assist in guided tours so you can learn even more about the history of the Lakota people.
A few things to note – it’s not recommended you stay overnight on the Reservation. Besides the fact there are no hotels, it isn’t safe for foreign visitors (unless you stay with someone who is a local and that you know well).
In addition – make sure you visit Pine Ridge during the day, as driving the streets at night are dangerous with roaming wild animals, drunk drivers, and sporadic and often dangerous weather conditions.
With all that said, a day trip to Pine Ridge will surely blow your mind — and you’ll be amazed at the beauty of the reservation and the strength of the Lakota people.
There are countless buildings on the Reservation full of Native American history, so chances are you’ll learn a few new things too!
Have you ever visited a Native American Reservation before?
Would you consider visiting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation?
Tell us in the comments below and be sure to share this article with all your friends!