Native American Cultural Trip | Black Hills & Badlands - South Dakota

Native American Cultural Trip

  • One Day Native American Cultural Trip

Perhaps more than any other group, the great Lakota Sioux Nation – with their striking tipis, fast horses and richly feathered and beaded clothing – have become the international symbol of America’s native people. And the Black Hills has an abundance of Native culture if you know where to look.

Powwows, also known as ‘wacipi’ or ‘people’s dance’, are a good way to experience Lakota people and culture. Nearly every reservation holds one during the summer months, however, not all are open to the public so be sure to check before attending. If you happen to be in Rapid City in early October, be sure to check out the Black Hills Powwow, a national powwow championship, and fine arts expo.

To experience the Lakota Cultural in the Black Hills, you may want to consider using a sightseeing tour company like Black Hills Adventure Tours. Sit back and enjoy the ride as a friendly guide tells you all about where you're going. If you prefer to drive yourself we suggest the following must-see stops:

The Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City displays an extensive array of historic clothing plus horse gear, weapons, household implements, cradleboards, and toys. A series of promotional sales exhibitions introduce unsurpassed contemporary Sioux Indian arts and crafts by emerging artists and craftspersons.

With this fresh knowledge, get back in the car and head north on I-90 until you get to Sturgis, take the first exit, Junction Avenue and drive through town to Lazelle Street. Hang a right at that stop light and cruise out to Bear Butte.

Once arriving, you are in for a real nature treat. Bear Butte is a South Dakota State Park and is known as Mato Paha or “Bear Mountain” in Lakota, and it is still used as a holy site to this day. For that reason, there are a few rules about Bear Butte that are listed at the base of the butte. A 2-mile trail will lead you to the top where you will be treated to an amazing view of the surrounding area, and if you plan it right, could be right at sunset. After snapping all the photos you want and soaking in the view, head back down and drive back to Sturgis. Stay on Lazelle Street and it will eventually turn west onto ALT-14. This beautiful drive through Boulder Canyon will take you directly into Deadwood.

Take the scenic route down Hwy 385  south, running along the center ridge of the Black Hills towards the town of Hill City. Known as the "Heart of the Hills", there is an abundance of art galleries that showcase Native American artwork. Make sure to allow some "browsing time". When done, it's just a short few miles farther south to your next stop.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Aside from the incredible mountain carving itself, Crazy Horse Memorial offers a wonderful visitor center for you to begin your visit, including a theater with a short film highlighting the rich history of the carving. You’ll also find education opportunities inside the Indian Museum of North America.  True Indian art by many local Native American artists is displayed in many galleries and for sale in their extensive gift shop. Money collected by admissions and on-site sales goes towards funding the vision of an Indian College and eventually a medical center, as well as completion of the mountain carving.

A special experience is found by staying around for their evening Lazer Light Show. Shown nightly on the side of Crazy Horse Mountain from Memorial Day through Labor Day and later - weather permitting.

Once you’ve soaked in all of the history and beautiful views of the Memorial, jump back in the car for a scenic drive along Highway 385 South. You’ll want to hang a left at Pringle, SD and follow the signs to continue on Highway 385 South all the way through Hot Springs and on to Highway 79/385 South to Oelrichs. From there, head east on Highway 18 all the way to the Red Cloud Heritage Center.

Red Cloud Heritage Center

Playing host to multiple Native American art exhibitions, a gift shop, and educational programming, the Red Cloud Heritage Center is located on the campus of the Red Cloud Indian School and serves as an economic engine for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This year, the exhibitions to keep an eye out for are the Red Cloud Indian Youth Art Show, Horse Nation Exhibition, Quilts-n-Textiles, and the 48th Annual Red Cloud Indian Art Show. Be sure to check the dates if there is a specific one you’re interested in. After checking out the gift shop, hop in the car for a quick drive to Wounded Knee. Go east on Highway 18 until you cross Highway 27, and then go north for just a short distance. 

Wounded Knee Site

After just 5 miles up Highway 27, you’ll come across the Wounded Knee National Historic Site. On this hallowed ground, U.S. cavalrymen massacred nearly 300 Native men, women, and children. As a trading post, there are still foundations where buildings once stood, but the 843-acre site has been declared a National Historic Site. While there, please be respectful, but also fully take in the history and pain that will forever scar this land. When you’re ready to head out, get back on Highway 27 and go north to Scenic, where you will take Highway 44 NW all the way into Rapid City. 

It is suggested to spread this out over a couple of days. While the Black Hills area is relatively small, roads are curvy, hilly and full of wildlife to watch for. Take your time and enjoy the journey!






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