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The Ultimate Road Trip To The Black Hills Of South Dakota

The Ultimate Road Trip To The Black Hills Of South Dakota

If any of you are like us, you’re starting to dream of traveling again once it is safe to do so. Breathing open air, surrounded by nature, while daily worries momentarily dissipate.

Have you ever considered a trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota? If not, we highly suggest you do – and we’ve got some recommendations for the best stops! Our Black Hills trip was one for the books, and yours will be too if you follow our itinerary of must-see locations below:

1. Badlands National Park

We live in Minnesota, so we road tripped to Rapid City – but our first stop before arriving there was Badlands National Park. Our bucket list includes visiting every U.S. National Park, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop, and we are so glad we did! The sunset over the Badlands is absolutely breathtaking. Take a look at the hikes we did in my post covering both Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks.

The sunset over the Badlands in South Dakota

2. Bear Country USA

Next we continued on to Bear Country USA. As an animal lover, Bear Country was one of my favorite stops. This drive-through wildlife park includes bears, wolves, and other animals – it’s a short three-mile loop which is perfect for a quick trip. It’s one of the best ways to safely see black bears – and they get so close!

A black bear walking along a road next to a fence

Same with the arctic wolves!

Two arctic wolves laying in the grass on the side of the road

3. Crazy Horse Memorial

The first of our mountain monument stops was Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse Memorial is the largest mountain carving in the world and has been in progress for over 70 years. In addition to the mountainous monument, the museum on-site serves to preserve Native American history. The monument itself is larger than life and is worth the stop to see in-person.

Crazy Horse Memorial mountain carving in progress in 2016

4. Mount Rushmore

Our last stop of our first day was Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore is a pretty quick stop, but is definitely a must-see National Memorial if you’re in the Black Hills area. When we went it was raining and foggy, but we were still able to view Mount Rushmore easily.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial shown through fog on overcast day

5. Custer State Park

On the second day of our South Dakota adventure, we made our way to Custer State Park. There are lots of things to do in the park, including hiking to the top of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak), driving both the Wildlife Loop and Needles Highway scenic routes, and staying at the Sylvan Lake Lodge.  We wrote about our full Custer State Park experience in another post here.

The view from the top summit of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) overlooking the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The view from the top of Black Elk Peak.

6. Wind Cave National Park

On our third day we woke up early to head to Wind Cave National Park for our scheduled tour of the caves. Check out the link to our Badlands and Wind Cave post above to read more about our time at Wind Cave National Park.

A black and white image inside of the dark caves of Wind Cave National Park

7. Bear Butte State Park

After our stop at Wind Cave, we headed on to Bear Butte State Park. Bear Butte State Park land is considered sacred to many Native American tribes, and is often the site of religious ceremonies. Bear Butte State Park is truly unique, as the main rock formation towers above the area and presents a challenge for all interested in trying to make it to the summit, you can also see a guide for visiting the Great Barrier Reef here. We parked at the Bear Butte Education Center and began our hike at the beginning of the Summit Trail. Unfortunately the weather was not as beautiful as it was the day we tackled Black Elk Peak – there was a fair amount of cloud coverage and it was very windy. And when I say very windy, I mean VERY WINDY. Every time we rounded a corner the gusts got stronger, to the point where it felt difficult to take steps forward on the loose rock footpath. After getting about 80% of the way up the butte, we decided to turn around, as we were ducking to avoid the wind and our progress upward was practically at a crawl.

The view from the top would’ve been awesome, but it was not meant to be that day! If you are going to attempt this hike, I recommend doing so on a day with minimal wind for maximum enjoyment. This is easier said than done, though, as the butte stands prominently above the surrounding plains. It’s a relatively quick and short hike, but still make sure you:

  1. Wear proper hiking boots/shoes for comfort.
  2. Bring water, as always.
  3. Leave your dogs at home! There are no pets allowed on the trails due to the narrow paths.
The view from halfway up Bear Butte outside of Sturgis, South Dakota, overlooking the great plains.
View from halfway up, prior to turning around due to wind.

8. Deadwood

The final stop of our South Dakota journey was Deadwood, South Dakota. Deadwood is a quaint town filled with history, and we spent our time there relaxing and exploring the town. The main streets are filled with saloons with fun photos and antiques from the Wild West.

Main street in Deadwood, South Dakota, with people walking down the street near a saloon.

One of our favorites was “Wild Bill’s Death Chair,” located at the current Old Style Saloon #10. While this is neither the actual location where Wild Bill was killed, nor is the chair the actual chair he was sitting in (it’s simply a replica chair), the saloon is a fun place to hang out nonetheless.

Wild Bill's death chair in Old Style Saloon #10 in Deadwood South Dakota. The chair is illuminated in light above a doorway, with a placard below.
The replica of Wild Bill’s Death Chair.

We also took a short walk to the Mount Moriah Cemetery, where both Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried. Even if you don’t have a strong interest in history or the Wild West, it’s fun to imagine a slightly wilder time, and know that you’re standing close to where it all happened! Ultimately Deadwood wound up being the perfect way to unwind and end our vacation in South Dakota.

Have you been to South Dakota? We’d love to hear your favorite places to go and sites to see!

This Post Has 2 Comments
    1. That’s how we felt- it was so fun to relive some of those awesome memories! Can’t wait to get back out there and travel!

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