Midwest Road Trips

Launch a Missile: Top Things to Do at the Minutemen Missile Site

Explore the Minuteman Missile Site for Cold War History in South Dakota
At the Delta-Nine Launch Facility, find a deactivated missile within sight of Interstate 90 in South Dakota. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In the U.S. Cold War against the USSR, two missileers stood guard, hidden in plain sight. Visitors to South Dakota can learn about a former missile launch facility and the Minuteman Missiles used to protect the U.S. Minutes east of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, visitors can tour the underground missile launch center. Then they can visit a deactivated Minuteman Missile, still housed in its silo. Both sites are found along Interstate 90, and this unique national park site is easy to visit in a few hours before driving into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Here are the top things to do at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Top Things to do at the Minuteman Missile Site

Minuteman Missile Site At a Glance

Year Established: 1999
Located: Wall, South Dakota
Size: 3 Sites along Interstate 90
Top Feature: Underground Tour of Delta-01 Launch Control Center

Why Visit the Minuteman Missile Site

I didn’t know what to expect when I visited the Minuteman Missile Site. My husband wanted to go on the tour, and I initially thought it might be scary for our kids, who were in grade school and middle school at the time.

The facilities were government-bland and very institutional, as you would expect. This was a military base. We signed up for the underground tour, and it was fascinating. The tour guide had family who worked for the Minuteman Missile program, and she shared a blend of history plus personal memories from the time period.

I found this experience so interesting that I then toured another deactivated missile site in Arizona at the Titan II Missile Museum.

First Stop: the Minuteman Missile NHS Visitor Center

Always a good first stop, the Minuteman Missile Visitor Center features maps along with Junior Ranger booklets. The visitor center shows a 30-minute film that covers the Cold War, along with interpretive displays and a bookstore.

In the film, viewers see why the missiles were necessary and the history of the Minuteman Missiles. Visitors will learn about the Cold War and the strategies the U.S. used, including duck-and-cover drills for schools. 

The interpretive areas at the Visitor Center cover the defense of the U.S. at the time by land, sea and air. Great Plains or Ground Zero display offers an overview of the historic site. 

The Nation’s Nuclear Defense display covers the details of the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. See the locations of the 150 Minuteman Missiles along with the 15 launch centers across 13,500 square miles of South Dakota. 

The When the Homefront Becomes the Front Line display guides visitors through Cold War themes like bomb shelter basements. Visitors can also find a replica of the original door to the underground launch control center at Delta-01. 

Finally, visitors will listen to actual missileers and learn how the missile fields were made. 

It is located at 24545 Cottonwood Rd., Phillips. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. year-round.

Best Aviation Museums in the U.S. 
NASA Visitor Centers across the U.S.
Explore the defense systems of the Cold War at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
The Delta-Nine missile silo offers a look at a deactivated Minuteman missile. Credit: Catherine Parker

Self-Guided Tours at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Two additional sites are included in the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site: Delta-09 and Delta-01.

The Delta-09 is the missile silo with the deactivated missile. The silo is 12 feet in diameter and 80 feet deep with a glass viewing cover. 

As a part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the glass cover is in place for the Russian government to see the deactivated missile. Originally, metal doors protected the missile. All of the Delta facilities are still protected by razor wire. 

Listen to the self-guided audio tour while at the Delta-09 silo to learn more about the 1.2-megaton nuclear warhead. 

To tour the Delta-Nine Launch Facility, the Missile Silo, exit 116 off of Interstate 90.

The Delta-01 is the underground launch control center with a nondescript government building above ground with a kitchen, sleeping quarters and offices. Unless you have a tour ticket, you can’t gain access, though find interpretive signs outside the fence along with an audio tour.

Guide to Badlands National Park
Explore the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
Hidden in plain sight, the Delta-One Launch Control Facility sits on top of an underground bunker where missileers stood on constant ready. Credit: Catherine Parker

Guided Tours at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

If you have more time, reserve a ticket to the Delta-One Launch Control Center led by a Park Ranger.

Delta-One Launch Control Facility Tour

As a former flight crew member, this tour tops my list of interesting National Park Sites I’ve visited over the years. Under the radar for most, my family secured tickets for a look into a classified world from 30 years ago.

The motto—in plain sight, the former military buildings are visible from Interstate 90. After parking in a gravel parking lot, my family, including three kids, waited for the special missileer ranger to arrive. After unlocking the gate on the razor-wired fence, we walked to the unassuming building. 

The upper portion of the facility contains a kitchen, living area, sleeping quarters and security area. This area also provides back-up generators and environmental systems for the underground facility. 

Mount Rushmore Guide 
Explore the underground facility at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
Hard to believe, but launched Minuteman missile could reach its target across the world in 30 minutes. Credit: Catherine Parker

Eight Air Force personnel based out of nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base worked on the topside of the Delta-One facility. A cook, a facility manager and six security personnel worked three days on and three days off, keeping the Delta-One facility secure for the two missileers located underground.

Underground Facility

After boarding a small elevator, we descended 31 feet underground before unloading in view of the 8-ton blast door. Behind the door, which can only be opened from inside, we entered a small self-contained living space. 

For 24-hour shifts, two missileers watched and waited for a launch command that would never come. In addition to standing on the ready, missileers oversaw the maintenance of the launch facilities and authenticated messages.

During our tour, our special missileer ranger walked us through a mock launch that had this kid of the Cold War ready to duck and cover under a nearby bench. The tour was gripping and offered a declassified view of post-WWII history. 

For tour ticket holders, the Delta-One Launch Control Facility is off Interstate 90, exit 127. Tickets must be reserved in advance (and up to 90 days in advance) for the Delta-One underground tour with NPS reservations. Adult admission is $12, and kids 6 to 16 are $8.

What to do at Custer State Park in South Dakota
Exploring the Delta-One facility at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
During the tour we walk through an eight-ton blast door that can only be opened from the inside to the underground bunker. Credit: Catherine Parker

Why Tour a Missile Site

Under the swaying grass of the South Dakota plains and hidden in plain sight, missiles stood ready and on constant alert for 30 years. Used as a deterrent in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, the missileers lived 30 feet underground, maintaining and potentially launching missiles that could destroy civilization on another continent. 

As a part of history, the Minuteman Missile program still prevails in the U.S. Now, the Minuteman IIIs are located near Malmstrom AFB in Montana, Minot AFB in North Dakota and FE Warren AFB in Wyoming.

After an arms reduction in the 1990s, the National Park Service opened a site dedicated to the Cold War. The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is a decommissioned missile field next to Badlands National Park that represents similar sites across South Dakota. This unit was chosen because it was accessible to Interstate 90 and located close to the national park sites of the Black Hills.

History of the Minuteman Missile

During the late 1950s, the Minuteman I missile was developed as an Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It was an improvement in technology from the previous ICBM’s, the Titan Missile. 

The Titan Miwase was the first-generation ICBM and required a lengthy and potentially dangerous launch with a larger underground silo. The Minuteman missiles offered solid-state fuel, a more stable option, and smaller, more efficient underground silos. 

Over the years, the Minuteman I missiles were replaced with Minuteman II until their retirement after the START—Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991. 

Best Things to Do in the Black Hills
Explore the Minuteman Missile Site to learn about the Cold War.
We waited outside the fence for the park waiting for our tour at the Delta-One facility. credit: Catherine Parker

Kids at Minuteman Missile Site

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Joshua Tree National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet. 

The Minuteman Missile Site offers three different programs for kids, depending on age, and a tour of the underground facility is not necessary. The booklet can be downloaded and mailed back to the visitor center for a ranger to look over, and send the earned badges back to your kids too. 

The underground tour is an effective history lesson, though the subject matter might be frightening for some kids. At the time of the tour, my son was barely old enough to attend.

Junior Ranger Badges you can earn at home
exploring the underground Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota
We enter the underground bunker through the 8-ton blast door. Credit: Catherine Parker

If You have 1 to 2 Hours

Start at the Visitor Center to learn about the Cold War and the Minuteman Missile program. Then drive to the Delta-Nine Launch Facility, or missile silo, to see a deactivated missile all hidden in plain sight along Interstate 90.

The Delta-One Launch Control Facility is an industrial-looking complex that’s locked at all times. You can’t gain access unless you have a ticket for the underground tour.

Where to Eat near the Minuteman Missile Site

The Minuteman Missile Site is a day-use park. Wall, South Dakota, offers the closest restaurants. 

A stop at Wall Drug Store is a must. It’s one of the top tourist destinations in South Dakota. Really, it’s a unique roadside attraction with lots of shopping, dining and even some quirky attractions out back.

Located 21 miles west of the Minuteman Missile Site at 510 Main Street. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Why You Must Visit Wall Drug Store

Where to Stay near the Minuteman Missile Site

If you are staying in the Black Hills of South Dakota for a few days, consider visiting Badlands National Park, located just west of Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Badlands National Park offers cabins with air conditioning, mini-fridges, and porches. The reception building has a restaurant. 

Located at the eastern entrance of Badlands National Park, just five miles south of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. 

South Dakota Air and Space Museum

If you have additional time and interest, the South Dakota Air and Space Museum offers an outdoor airpark with 30 vintage aircraft. Inside, you can find more aircraft and interpretive displays on South Dakota’s contribution to aviation. 

Located just outside of Ellsworth Air Force Base gates at 2890 Rushmore Dr. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The outdoor park is free.

Note: The indoor museum is scheduled to open in June 2024.

Fun Guide to South Dakota’s Black Hills

Where’s the Minuteman Missile Site

Find three separate facilities for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Minuteman Missile National Historical Site is open Tuesday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The visitor center is free, along with the Delta Nine Launch Facility. 

Tickets must be reserved in advance (and up to six months in advance) for the Delta-One underground tour. Adult admission is $12, and kids 6 to 16 are $8.

Know Before You Go

  • Kids under 6 and under 40″ tall are prohibited on the Delta-One underground facility tour.
  • Only 6 people are allowed on a Delta-One tour due to the limited space.
  • Delta-One visitors must be willing to climb two 15-foot ladders unassisted in an emergency.
Nonprofits that support the U.S. National Parks

Learn about the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union 30 feet underground in an abandoned Minuteman Missile launch facility in South Dakota. Get all the tour details for this National Park Service Site in this guide. What to do in South Dakota | Decommissioned Missiles Sites | Military Tours #NationalParks #SouthDakota


Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

Comments are closed.