If you’ve driven along I-90 near the Badlands of South Dakota you may have seen countless signs advertising Wall Drug and wondered if you should stop and check it out. Is the coffee really 5 cents? Is the ice water really free? Is it worth stopping?
Wall Drug is a quirky tourist destination with $.05 coffee, free water, shopping, food, and photo opportunities. Admission is free and it usually takes around 2 hours to explore. Located along I-90 near the Badlands of South Dakota, people have differing opinions ranging from amazing to a complete tourist trap.
Now first things first. I’m going to warn you that pulling into town and parking at Wall Drug isn’t going to be impressive. The outside leaves much to be desired but trust me and give it a chance. Once you go inside you’ll be glad you did!
- Headed to Mount Rushmore? Find out when the best time to visit is and how much time you need to visit.
Things Featured at Wall Drug
Free Ice Water
I know this might seem silly, but it’s one of the original attractions since 1931!
Wall Drug’s donuts are amazing. After seeing the many signs, I was excited because donuts are one of my favorite sweet treats. Upon arrival, I was visually disappointed because all they offered were chocolate, vanilla, and maple cake donuts that looked overcooked and dry. Where was the maple bar I had hyped myself up for?
These donuts deserve two paragraphs (at least). We decided to try one of each flavor and to my delighted surprise, they were delicious and moist. The cake part wasn’t overcooked at all and had a perfect crisp crunch exterior with a moist center. The frosting was just enough to keep it from being too sweet, and the cake had a very faint lemon flavor to complement the sweetness. Vanilla was my favorite!
Gift shops on steroids are what I’d call this shopping. You could find anything and everything you might need or want. In fact, go ahead and start a little Christmas shopping, I certainly did.
The shops are all connected like one big touristy shopping mall. You can find t-shirts, toys, pottery, art, clothes, novelties, and they even have a bookstore!
This is behind the building and offers a picnic area (seasonally May-September) and has tons of really unique displays and picture opportunities. There’s a mini version of Mount Rushmore, a real stuffed Bison, a 6-foot rabbit, a giant Jackalope, some mining and gold panning for kids, and so much more!
If you need more substantial food than donuts, then sit down in the old-fashioned cafeteria and try the hot roast beef sandwich smothered in gravy. The menu has a good selection of items including a separate one for kids. Prices are a bit above average.
The Travelers Chapel
This beautifully sweet little chapel is crammed right in between a row of stores in Wall Drug and is something worth seeing. The architecture and detail inside are stunning.
The entire inside of Wall Drug is a delight to the eyes. The walls, ceilings, and doorways are full of fun memorabilia and art. You could visit Wall Drug multiple times and see something new each time. On this last trip, I focused on the art around the cafeteria and found many breathtaking pieces I wanted to share but taking pictures of it isn’t allowed.
5 Cent Coffee
It’s true you can still get a 5-cent coffee as long as you drink it in a real mug inside the restaurant. To-go cups of coffee were 81 cents which is still a bargain in today’s market!
Giant T Rex
The building behind the backyard also has some fun exhibits and historical pictures and art, but the main attraction is the giant T Rex. You can’t miss him as he is looming in the corner waiting to pounce. Every 15-30 minutes he comes alive to startle the many guests!
80 Foot Dinosaur
You can take a picture with the 80-foot dinosaur just as you head out of Wall. He’s easy to see and hard to miss!
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It goes without saying that any pit stop will have restrooms but Wall Drug has multiple facilities and they are extremely clean and way better than stopping at a gas station.
Background of Wall Drug
In 1931 Dorothy and Ted Hustead bought the drugstore in Wall, South Dakota. By 1936 with little to no business, as cars frequently passed, Dorothy decided to put up signs of “free ice water” to entice travelers. It worked! They miraculously survived the depression with free ice water and a reputation for friendly service.
To this day the family-owned Wall Drug still fills prescriptions and carries a full line of remedies while continuing to offer the friendly service to the public it always has.
Famous Wall Drug Signs
Now that we know why we see “Free Ice Water” signs, it goes without saying why Wall Drug continues to litter the highway with sign after sign advertising free ice water, 5-cent coffee, and more. Because it works! If I knew nothing about Wall Drug as I drove by, I can tell you that I would be enticed to drop in and check it out just because of those signs.
Another example is Little America in Wyoming. After miles of signs, I was excited to check it out to only be a little disappointed that it was just indeed a gas station with a large gift shop. You win some you lose some, but I will say Wall Drug is a win, in my book!
Wall vs. Wall Drug
I can’t say there is too much more to Wall, aside from a few small hotels and restaurants, but there is some camping and a sweet little library open to the public.
If you drive through town you’ll see a giant jackalope created by Dahl’s Chainsaw Art. They have been creating giant wooden statues in all of the small towns of the Black Hills and this is one of the newest ones I’ve seen.
Things to Do Nearby
The Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is just 11 miles from Wall Drug. The Badlands has some of the most interesting landscapes that you will see, ranging from canyons, turtleback mounds, grasslands, and lots of volcanic ash. Fossils of dinosaurs are discovered from time to time as well as a variety of prairie animals along your drive.
If you have the time it’s worth a visit if you haven’t already seen it. Look for my review article soon where I will give my first-hand experience and opinion.
- Don’t forget to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial after your trip to the Badlands.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
If more current history interests you, you might want to check out this place. Playing a huge role in the Cold War and housing thousands of Air Force personnel from 1963 to the early 1990s, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is just a quick 10-minute drive from Wall Drug.
Here you can explore an underground missile control center at the launch control facility. Learn the history and what its role was in the Cold War while touring the many exhibits.
This historic site is open year-round except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. I have yet to take a tour here but it is on my agenda.
Just an hour away is Rapid City, South Dakota, and not only are there plenty of places to eat, sleep and play but it’s mere minutes from many of the famous attractions that bring millions to the Black Hills every year. Rapid City is a great central place to stay for a vacation in the Black Hills. Read about 15 Unforgettable Things To Do In Rapid City, South Dakota before you go.
- Don’t miss The Reptile Gardens In Rapid City South Dakota.
- Check out The Complete Guide to Deadwood, South Dakota not too far from Rapid City.
About 51 minutes East of Wall Drug is the iconic 1880 town that some say feels like you just stepped back in time. Otherwise known as South Dakota’s Attic, you will find a town that was authentically built to recreate a town between 1880 and 1920. The structures and antiques are all authentic.
This town is a real treat to visit and spend a couple of hours in. It’s open seasonally May through October and the summer has a bustle of guests, employees dressed to represent the times, and old-fashioned treats like sasparilla.
How Much Time Does it Take to Visit Wall Drug?
I’d say you could spend 1-2 hours in Wall Drug if you wanted to do and see everything it has to offer as well as sitting down for some lunch or a snack. The time spent will really depend on you, but this is about the maximum amount of time I would spend.
Where to Eat
Aside from the obvious which would be inside the actual Wall Drug pharmacy, you could hit one of about 3 restaurants in the small town of Wall. I’ve had a mediocre burger at Red Rock which is one street over from Wall Drug.
A couple of other options would be Badlands Saloon & Grille or 3 Amigos Cantina. The Saloon has a basic menu of burgers and beer, but the reviews fluctuate from 1- 3 stars giving an average of 3.8 out of 5. I would stick to the cafe in Wall Drug.
Where to Stay in Wall
Though there are a few small motels in Wall and a tiny campground and some cabins, I’m going to suggest staying in Rapid City instead. There are a wide variety of places to stay there and unless you are in a pinch I wouldn’t stay in Wall.
- Visiting Mount Rushmore? Find out the best places to camp nearby.
Is It Worth It?
Yes, it is worth it to stop at Wall Drug. It is very likely going to seem like just a “tourist trap” to many, but it does have a very important function…a last chance for food, restrooms, and drinks for at least an hour and maybe even more if you are heading East.
If you are on a long road trip it’s a great place to stretch your legs and see a few cool things before getting back on the road. If you have children it will give them a much-needed break from the car and a wide variety of souvenirs can provide for any budget.
Families and adventurers will love the little detour that Wall Drug has to offer!
What Else Should I Know?
The Black Hills can be confusing because it is a HUGE area. There is so much to do!
Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to all the best places at the right times!
But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving, with over 2 hours of stories about the park!
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