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  • Mike Bechtol

Wall Drug, SD - World's Greatest Tourist Trap!



... And I mean that LOVINGLY! The phrase "tourist trap" is not often used in a complimentary manner, however Wall Drug has taken the concept to heights never before seen... creating a "tourist oasis" in the middle of the South Dakota prairie. Wall Drug is a wonderful story of American entrepreneurship. Looking for a way to attract business in the 30's, Ted Hustead acted upon his wife’s suggestion to offer free ice water to hot, thirsty motorists traveling cross-country in their un-air-conditioned vehicles. The idea worked and opened a floodgate of ideas designed to attract tourists which continues to this day. Today you will find a giant snorting smoke-belching Tyrannosaurus Rex, the performing faux-cowboys called the Chuck Wagon Four, a miniature Mount Rushmore photo opportunity (your family provides the faces), a traveler’s chapel, a restaurant, a huge fiberglass jackalope, an animated Indian village... and that’s just a few.


Wall Drug is a nice, fun respite after a loooong drive across the prairie from the east... or perhaps after a day of sightseeing in the Black Hills or Badlands. There are numerous gift shops filled with overpriced, yet irresistible local souvenirs from rattlesnake ash trays to stuffed jackalopes to Wall Drug toothpick holders. The kids will love the novelties, the shopping, the fiberglass animals and the animated singing mannequins... and you might like that kind of stuff a little bit too!


Wall Drug is also known for its creative outdoor advertising, the famous billboards. They once lined highways for hundreds of miles in all directions. Although highway beautification laws have eliminated most of these signs, they are still alive and well across the highways of South Dakota. Wall Drug has been advertised on road signs in France, Italy, The Netherlands, and even on the famous London double decker buses. 

We had the reasonably-priced breakfast buffet at the Wall Drug Café in the middle of the complex. Even at 8 AM, it was bustling. The food was OK. They have all the usual breakfast fare... bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage gravy and biscuits, etc. Wall Drug does not charge admission and the ice water and one bumper sticker are free. Also, the staged photo opportunities are free. We visited late Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning and it was extremely crowded both times. I can only imagine what the crowds are like in the middle of the day. Parking is also at a premium, although we were fortunate enough to park in front of the building both times. On-street parking is available, but difficult to find a spot. Downtown Wall (population ~880) has a few parking lots meant for Wall Drug patrons, and if you can’t find a spot on the street, you might have a short hike from one of these lots. If you’re traveling 1-90 with kids... it's worth spending an hour at Wall Drug. It’s no problem at all getting off and on I-90. Wall Drug is great family fun and you’ll definitely never forget it.

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