This five-day, fun-filled adventure will allow you to see and learn all about the Black Hills and Badlands and see why so many people call it home!
Start out by traveling on I-90, and head towards exit 131 for the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway (SD 240). The Badlands National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota, serving as the eastern edge of the Black Hills & Badlands region and consists of nearly 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires. Badlands Loop is one of the most recognized scenic byways in the county and consistently places it on "Top Ten" lists by many media outlets.
Continue on Highway 240 where the change from prairie to the Badlands will leave you stunned. Don’t miss out on the visitor’s centers, and of course stop to admire the views! You can also visit the Prairie Homestead, which is one of the very few sod dwellings that is still intact.tAs you begin to head towards Rapid City, don’t miss out on the famous Wall Drug! Get a maple-glazed donut, check out the amazing collection of western art and take some time to visit the store in downtown Wall. Also, don't miss the Wall Drug backyard, it offers some fun photo opportunities.
Once you’ve made your way to Rapid City, visit the vibrant downtown and the Journey Museum where you will be given a historical and cultural overview of the Black Hills. This information from the Journey will also help prepare you for the days to come!
You can catch the City View Trolley at the Journey Museum and with 15 stops, you will have a narrated tour of Rapid City as you wind around downtown and continue to the Stavkirke Chapel. This ride allows for guests to get off and interact at each stop.
There are also a lot of options in the Rapid City area you might want to check out on this day. For those interested in Black Hills history and geology, you might want to give Petrified Forest of the Black Hills a visit. It provides a great nature walk through trees that have turned to stone.
Just minutes up the road from Rapid City on Hwy 16, your first stop will be at Reptile Gardens. This site features the finest collection of reptiles in the world. Walk through to see all the slithery creatures as well as attend some of the informative demonstrations!
Your next stop, which is not far from Reptile Gardens, is Bear Country, USA. This fun for all ages drive-through park features North American wildlife roaming free. Make sure to check out Babyland, where you can learn about and see the baby bears.
Keep heading south towards Keystone and explore the Rushmore Borglum Story! Learn all about Gutzon Borglum in the museum and gallery that displays his paintings, sculptures and artifacts. It will also give you a better understanding of the creation of Mt. Rushmore.
While in Keystone, also head to the President’s Alpine Slide – which offers 2,000 feet of fun as you ride down on your own sled.
Take Hwy 244 to Mt. Rushmore to see the amazing monument, which is carved out of solid granite, and enjoy the nightly lighting ceremony. While there, you can take a guided walking tour; visit the informational center and gift shops.
The Black Hills is filled with an abundance of gorgeous scenery, jump onto the 1880 Train, which will depart from Hill City, take you to Keystone, and back to Hill City. This allow you to enjoy the Hills from a different view. The ride will last about 4 hours total, and you will want to arrive about 15 minutes early. This vintage steam train is famous for the scenic route it provides. Once back in Hill City, make sure to visit the South Dakota State Railroad Museum. This will certainly complete your train experience! A couple of blocks away you can wander through the shops on Main Street and eat at one of the many delicious restaurants.
Custer State Park
Jump onto Highway 87 and this drive will lead you towards Sylvan Lake, which is a part of Custer State Park. This gorgeous body of water is surrounded by rock formations and is the perfect place for a hike, picnic or some R&R. Custer State Park encompasses 71,000 acres and is home to many outdoor activities and wildlife, as well as Harney Peak (7,242ft), the tallest point between the Rockies and the Alps. Tip - There is so much to see in what South Dakota considers the "crown jewel" of its state park system that we recommend hiring a personal guide service like Dakota Frontier Tours to make the most of it!
Next, take a drive on Needles Highway which curves and winds through 14 miles of rock formations called “Needles”. You’ll soon find the Needles Eye which reaches almost 40 feet in the air with a 3 foot wide slit – a perfect spot for climbing and taking pictures.
You will reach Legion Lake, at this spot, turn left onto Hwy 16A which turns into Iron Mountain Road. This road takes you through pigtail bridges, curves and tunnels that frame Mt. Rushmore.
Take Hwy 16 south out of Rapid City- take truck route to Hwy 70 and travel 50 miles to Hot Springs.
Once here, visit The Mammoth Site, which allows you to learn about the Ice Age, and the animals that came along with it, also you can take a guided tour and the kids can participate in the Junior Paleontology Dig.
Make sure to stop by Evans Plunge, which is the world’s largest natural warm water indoor swimming pool. Try out the waterslides and relax in the naturally warm mineral water.
Head out on Highway 385 out of Hot Springs and continue on Hwy 87 to Wind Cave National Park. The park includes a wildlife sanctuary of almost 29,000 acres for many animals and creatures to roam. Here, the pine forest meets the prairie, make sure to observe and enjoy the beauty of nature here.
Custer State Park
Once you’ve left Wind Cave National Park, continue on into Custer State Park. Here, you have a very good chance of seeing abundant wildlife, and don’t be shocked if you have to stop for buffalo to cross the road! About 1,500 buffalo roam freely throughout the park; the herd is one of the largest in the world.
Visit the Blue Bell Lodge for family activities, including a buffalo jeep ride right into the herd.
Mt. Coolidge Lookout Tower offers a view at 6,023 feet, and on a clear day you can see the Badlands, which is almost 90 miles away.
Take Hwy 16A to the Gordon Stockade which serves as a reminder of the early Gold Rush Days.
Proceed into the town of Custer and visit the 1881 Custer Courthouse Museum, which offers a lot of history on the area.
Continue on Mt. Rushmore Road and visit the Flintstones Bedrock Village and let the kids enjoy this Stone-Age setting filled with play areas, rides and a show!
Head back towards Custer and jump on Hwy 385, which will take you to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Here, you can enjoy the abundance of history, educational center, gift shop, and don’t miss the laser light show in the evening!
Head back on I-90 for about 65 miles and heads towards Belle Fourche. Here, you can see the Center of the Nation Monument as well as the Tri State Museum. Now, take Highway 34 out of Belle Fourche and you will be traveling to Devil’s Tower.
Devil’s Tower is the nation’s first National Monument and you will see it rise unexpectedly out of the prairie and grasslands of eastern Wyoming. This monument rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. Once hidden, erosion has revealed Devil’s Tower. This 1,347-acre park is covered with pine forests, woodlands, and grasslands. You can also see wildlife daily.
Once you depart from Devil’s Tower, get back on I-90 west and travel to exit 205 – you will end up in the community of Beulah and here you can visit the Vore Buffalo Jump. The Vore Buffalo Jump is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Late-Prehistoric Plains Indians. The site was a natural sinkhole that was used as a bison trap for the Native Americans.
After you have left Beulah, head east on I-90 to Spearfish. You can explore their downtown that is lined with shops and boutiques, and see the DC Fish Hatchery next to Spearfish Park where Spearfish Creek runs through. Also make sure to drive through the Spearfish Canyon Scenic byway on Highway 14.
Spearfish Canyon is unique because the view is always close to the visitor and always upward. The canyon walls rise skyward from Spearfish Creek and the highway is sculpted along the canyon bottom. Make sure to stop and hike along Roughlock Trail and see Roughlock Falls. You can grab at bite to eat at the Latchstring restaurant, or Cheyenne Crossing.
Once you get to Cheyenne Crossing, take a left onto Highway 85 and proceed into Lead/Deadwood.
Your first stop will be Lead, take drive through the downtown and visit the Homestake Visitor’s Center. Observe the deep “Open Cut” at the Homestake Mine and enjoy the history of the Miners that created it. Next, get back on Highway 85 and head north into Deadwood.
Deadwood was named one of the picture perfect towns by Forbes magazine. With its beautiful natural setting and the architecture, this historic town is your last stop on this journey.
This area is part of what Black Hills locals call the "Northern Hills" and its year-round, outdoor adventure offerings are the best you can find east of the Rockies. Rent a cabin or park your RV at Mystic Hills Hideaway Campground and Cabins and you'll have direct access to ATV and snowmobile trails.
Enjoy the daily shootouts on Main Street and take the Alkali Ike Bus tour. You can also see the historic sites and visit Mt. Moriah where Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Preacher Smith, Potato Creek Johnny and Seth Bullock are buried.
Another option in Deadwood is to drive up to Tatanka: Story of the Bison and see the larger than life bronze sculpture featuring 14 bison pursued by 3 Native American horseback riders, a hands-on Interpretive Center, gift shop and a snack bar including traditional Lakota meals and snacks.
In the evening, attend the Trial of Jack McCall, which takes place at the Masonic Lodge next door to the Silverado Casino. They will capture Jack McCall at Saloon #10 on Main Street and drag him up to the Masonic Temple for the trial. It will start about 7:45 and the trial at 8PM. And don’t forget about the many, many chances you'll have on Historic Main Street in Deadwood to try your luck and chase similar fortunes as those who settled Deadwood in the 1870's.