70+ Awesome Things to Do in the Black Hills for Outdoor Adventurers

Table of Contents

Last updated on May 10th, 2024 at 01:36 pm

Cindy Scott
Disclaimer

Are you a big Deadwood fan? Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to see Mount Rushmore! If so, it sounds like a South Dakota summer road trip’s in store!

If you’re researching things to do in the Black Hills, you’ve come to the right place! It’s an expansive area with fascinating options for everyone.

This ultimate summer guide is broken down into types of adventures, focusing on the most outdoorsy, fun things to do.

But don’t worry; this guide also guarantees something to entertain every family member.

Think of it as a highlights reel of the Black Hills for the outdoorsy person, plus ideas for their friends and family!

Use the Table of Contents above to jump to the sections you think fit your family best!

There is so much to the Black Hills. Let’s dive into the places to see, stay, and eat!

Where are the Black Hills located?

The Black Hills are located in southwest South Dakota, with a small portion also resting in northeast Wyoming.

Rapid City can be thought of as the eastern gateway to the area. From there, the Black Hills can be divided into Southern and Northern regions. 

The Northern Black Hills have the towns of Spearfish, Deadwood, Sturgis, and Lead.

The Southern Black Hills include the towns of Hill City, Keystone, Custer, and Hot Springs.

Why should I not miss the Black Hills?

The Black Hills is a fantastic vacation destination due to the ample amount of adventure, history, and beauty within the area’s national and state parks, monuments, caves, scenic byways, attractions, events, and small towns.

This area includes 1.2 million acres of forests, mountains, and lakes. Whether you enjoy nature, rock climbing, ATVing, hiking, biking, or boating, there’s an outdoor activity for you!

And for family members that may be more inclined to enjoy history and museums, there’s something for them as well.

If you have limited holiday time and want to enjoy a variety of activities, the Black Hills is a perfect destination. No one will get bored here.

This guide will detail the best activities in the area.

Plus, there will be an extra bit on the Badlands since you will be in the area. (You won’t want to miss them!)


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The 4 Top Attractions to Visit in the Black Hills

While countless outdoor (and indoor) attractions exist in the Black Hills, these four are the heavy hitters.

1. Black Hills National Forest

Black Hills National Forest Sign

Entering Black Hills National Forest on Route 87 (Needles Highway)” by daveynin is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

The Black Hills National Forest is the crown jewel of South Dakota’s outdoor recreation, with over 1.25 million square miles of dense forest, craggy peaks, and pristine mountain streams.

The national forest has 450+ miles of hiking trails to explore, 30 national forest campgrounds, some of the best fishing in the state, abundant wildlife, and much more!

Many of the hikes, attractions, and places to stay mentioned below are within Black Hills National Forest.

How much does it cost to go to the Black Hills National Forest?

The Black Hills National Forest is open year-round, 24 hours a day, and is free to visit.

There are some spots with a $5/vehicle per day fee, like the Deerfield Reservoir Complex.

A list of areas with day-use fees can be found here.

A Motorized Trail Permit Annual Pass is $25 and required for ATV, motorcycle, 4WD/truck, and UTV off-roading.

You can order that here.

2. Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore” by jimbowen0306 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Hands down, South Dakota’s most well-known attraction is Mount Rushmore National Memorial, with an estimated two million visitors a year.

This mountain of rock was famously carved with dynamite into four 60-foot tall busts of our most prominent Commander in Chiefs – Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, to depict the first 150 years of American history.

It’s an American icon and the biggest (literally) reason that most tourists come to South Dakota.

Does it cost money to see Mount Rushmore?

Mount Rushmore National Memorial has no entrance fees.

There is, however, a $10 parking fee for cars, motorcycles, and RVs. $5 for seniors. Once purchased, it is good for one year of return visits.

Is Mount Rushmore lit up at night?

Sunset is a great time to visit Mount Rushmore. After the sun goes down, lights shine on all four faces and stay on until closing, which varies depending on the time of year.

What is the best time to visit Mount Rushmore?

Season-wise: Fall.

🍁 The leaves are changing, and the crowds are smaller. Spring months can be wet, but April and May are still less crowded and not winter-cold.

Time of day: Sunrise or sunset!

🌅 As far as what time of day, sunrise can be dramatic. While everyone else sleeps in, you can take in the sculpture with the sun peeking out from the mountains and then grab breakfast at Carvers Cafe to start your day.

🌅 Sunset is another excellent option, and you can see the Evening Lighting Ceremony while you’re there, but it will be more crowded than sunrise.

Either way, starting or ending your day here is a great way to go.

How Far is Mount Rushmore from the Black Hills?

Mount Rushmore is in the Black Hills, just outside Keystone (about 30 minutes from Rapid City).

3. Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial” by jimbowen0306 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial provides the opportunity to see a sculpture in progress.

This memorial was commissioned in 1948 by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear as a monument of the Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, a prominent figure in the Battle of Little Bighorn, to the Sioux people.

When finished, it is expected to dwarf Mount Rushmore at 563 feet and be the largest sculpture in the world.

The memorial (also home to the Indian Museum of North America, which hosts artifacts from hundreds of Native Nations) is privately funded. Admission fees and donations support the memorial’s creation.

4. Black Elk Wilderness

What to do in the Black Hills: Visit Black Elk Wilderness

Aerial of Black Elk Wilderness” by Black Hills National Forest is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0 .

Black Elk Wilderness is easily the wildest place in the Black Hills. No roads exist within Black Elk Wilderness’ 13,000 acres of forest. And only non-mechanized transportation is permitted.

This wilderness area, wedged between Highways SD 87, SD 244, and US Route 16A, is excellent for backcountry camping, with one- or two-night backpacking trips being the most common.

Several trails cross the wilderness to trailheads on the other side. If you have two vehicles, you can use that as an option. Otherwise, it’s best to plan a loop hike.

Peace, quiet, and solitude are findable within this area. However, if you are looking for that, avoiding Harney Peak Trail #9 is advised. This is far and away the area’s most popular route, which heads up to Black Elk Peak (mentioned further down in the hike section of this guide), the highest point in South Dakota.

5 Cave Choices to Visit in the Black Hills Region

There’s no shortage of caves to explore in the Black Hills. I recommend making sure you visit at least one.

Here’s some information to help you pick which one:

5. Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument

Inside Jewel Cave National Monument – (15096023561)” by Murray Foubister is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

While Wind Cave (mentioned next) gets more attention as a national park, Jewel Cave is the world’s third-longest cave, with over 200 miles of discovered passageways.

The cave system was discovered in 1900 and is still being surveyed by researchers.

Jewel Cave is more open and prominent in scale, with tours that are smaller in size and have shorter distances between stops.

An hour-and-a-half-long guided Scenic Tour takes visitors half a mile into the cave, where they can see the shimmering calcite crystals that give the monument its name.

The tour isn’t too strenuous, but there are several hundred stairs, and the cave floor can be slippery.

Tickets for the tour are limited, so purchasing your ticket ahead of time is best.

There are also two hiking trails outside the cave: a quarter-mile stroll through a field of wildflowers with panoramic views and wildlife viewing that covers the highest point in the park (Roof Trail) and a relatively easy three-and-a-half-mile hike that’s popular for birding, through open meadows surrounded by canyon cliffs (Canyons Trail).

Click here to learn more about 2023 tour options.

6. Wind Cave National Park

Taking a tour at Wind Cave National Park is one of the many things to do in the Black Hills
Photo by Natalie Rasmussen

Wind Cave National Park was the US’ eighth designated national park, the first cave named a national park, and is free to visit.

And with over 150 mapped miles, Wind Cave is one of the longest caves in the world.

Visitors tend to regard this cave’s honeycomb-like boxwork features as slightly less beautiful than the jewel-like features found in its neighbor, Jewel Cave.

Cave group tours also tend to host more people here than Jewel Cave tours due to a significantly larger number of visitors (because of its National Park status). And it’s a tighter cave.

All of that said, though, this park is much more than a cave. With over 33,000 acres to explore, this park hosts a ton of open free-range hiking and biking through prairie and forest.

If you want a planned and marked hike, there are four easy, two moderate, and five strenuous trails within the park (no bikes on these trails).

Wind Cave National Park is also prime for seeing bison, elk, pronghorn, coyote, prairie dogs, and birding, and has a campground within the park.

Click here to learn more about 2023 tour options.

7. Rushmore Cave & Rush Mountain Adventure Park in Keystone

If you can’t get to Wind Cave National Park or Jewel Cave National Monument, Rushmore Cave is the next best thing.

A scenic walking tour of this show cave takes about an hour and is suitable for any age and fitness level.

You can kick it up a notch in June and July and enjoy some proper cave crawling on your spelunking tour by signing up for an Xpedition Adventure Tour.

And while the cave is the original attraction at Rush Mountain Adventure Park, it isn’t the only one anymore.

Rush Mountain Adventure Park also hosts a mountain coaster, zipride, an aerial obstacle course, and a 7-D thrill ride.

There’s something for everyone here, so it’s a good choice for families where everyone might want to do something different.

8. Wonderland Cave

With their first commercial tours taking place in 1930, if you want to stay close to Rapid City, Wonderland Cave is a good alternative for cave exploration.

You’ll see a wide variety of crystal formations and boxwork here.

9. Black Hills Caverns

Black Hills Caverns is another cave option in the Rapid City area, with half-hour and hour-long tour options.

Their first commercial tour was back in 1939, and they claim to have “the most complete variety of formations that exist in any cave in the Black Hills.”

Learn more about booking a tour here.

The 2 Best State Parks to Visit in the Black Hills Region

You won’t want to miss these state parks while in the area.

One is another major attraction for the Black Hills area, and the other is a state park and a much-respected spiritual destination for many Native American tribes.

10. Custer State Park

Bison Roaming Custer State Park

Custer State Park is 71,000 acres, which makes it South Dakota’s largest state park.

It’s one of those rare state parks that could easily be a national park in its own right, with its soaring granite peaks, pristine mountain lakes, and varied wildlife, including donkeys, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and a massive bison herd.

This article will dig deeper into many of the adventures in the park below, including the Wildlife Loop, Sylvan Lake, and Needles Highway.

A seven-day park entry pass to Custer State Park is $20 per vehicle.

11. Bear Butte State Park

Things to do in the Black Hills: Visit Bear Butte State Park

bear butte poles” by kiszka king is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Despite being only thirteen minutes northeast of Sturgis, Bear Butte State Park has a vastly different vibe than Sturgis’ roaring motorcycles. 

Bear Butte is a sacred mountain and spiritual place for many Native American tribes.

Hiking the park’s 2.8-mile out-and-back Summit Trail to the top of the butte takes less than an hour and a half, with about a thousand feet of elevation gain. The views from the summit are incredible, with the mighty Black Hills to the west and vast stretches of rolling prairie and plains to the east.

Bear Butte State Park is also home to a diverse range of wildlife species, including deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs.

It costs $8/vehicle to visit.

8 Stunning Hikes to Enjoy in the Black Hills Region

Hiking is a fantastic way to see everything the Black Hills has to offer.

Here are a few trails you shouldn’t miss:

12. Thru-Hike The Centennial Trail

The Centennial Trail is a 123-mile trail stretching across the Black Hills that passes through Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Black Elk Wilderness, Black Hills National Forest, Fort Meade Recreation Area, and Bear Butte State Park.

This hike is for anyone looking for the biggest bank for your buck thru-hiking adventure in the area.

On this hike, you’ll encounter open prairie land, pine forests, and granite towers.

If you’re considering the hike, check out Hiking Centennial Trail: A Guide to Hiking South Dakota’s Centennial Trail as a guidebook option and the Centennial Trail brochure.

13. Sylvan Lake Shore Trail in Custer State Park

Cindy and Barrett on the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail, What to do in the Black Hills
  • Alltrails Rating: 4.6
  • Distance: 1.1 mile
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Elevation Gain: 82 Feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Duration: 30 Minutes
  • Pet-Friendly: Dogs are allowed on leash.
  • Parking and Fees: Parking is available at the trailhead (near Sylvan Lake Beach in Custer State Park). A seven-day pass to Custer State Park is $20 per vehicle.

Just 30 minutes from Mount Rushmore is stunning Sylvan Lake. The 1-mile loop trail around the lake is epic and provides an Instagram opportunity around every corner.

Sylvan Lake’s beauty, surrounded by smooth jutting rocks, pine, and spruce, and its proximity to the Black Elk Peak trailhead, make it easily one of the most popular spots in Custer State Park.

Due to the area’s popularity, it boasts the historic Sylvan Lake Lodge, cabins, a campground, a general store, fine and casual dining options, fishing, hiking trails, a swimming beach, and non-motorized boat rentals.

It’s not uncommon to see this picture-perfect location hosting weddings or even movie crews, such as National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

14. Roughlock Falls Nature Trail in the Spearfish Canyon Nature Area

Roughlock Falls Nature Trail in the Spearfish Canyon Nature Area

File:Roughlock Falls, Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota.jpg” by KLindblom is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 .

  • Alltrails Rank: #2 in the Black Hills Area, 4.5
  • Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: 242 Feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Pet-Friendly: Dogs are allowed, and there are some off-leash areas.
  • Parking and Fees: Parking is available at the trailhead. No fees are required.

While many visitors go to Spearfish to drive Spearfish Canyon’s scenic highway, there are also dozens of hiking and biking trails to explore outside the car.

Roughlock Falls Nature Trail is an easy, family-friendly trail in the Spearfish Canyon Nature Area that leads you to the beautiful Roughlock Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls surrounded by lush greenery.

You can also easily connect to the moderate Spearfish Falls Trail and Savoy Trail while on this trail, seeing all three popular viewing areas on one hike before heading home.

Here’s a map explaining how to best go about that and how long each stretch is.

15. Black Elk Peak and Little Devil’s Tower Loop in the Black Elk Wilderness

Black Elk Wilderness

Black Elk Peak, South Dakota” by sbmeaper1 is marked with CC0 1.0 .

  • Alltrails Rank: #1 in the Black Hills Area, 4.9
  • Distance: 7.7 mile
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Elevation Gain: 1699 Feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Pet-Friendly: Dogs are allowed on leash.
  • Parking and Fees: Parking is available at the trailhead (near Sylvan Lake Beach in Custer State Park). A seven-day pass to Custer State Park is $20 per vehicle. The tower on this hike has an additional $20 self-service pay station.

Black Elk Peak is on many hiker’s bucket lists, as it is the highest mountaintop in South Dakota. 

Along the hike, you’ll be treated to panoramic views over Custer State Park and Black Elk Wilderness. And at the top, you can look out over five states!

It’s popular to loop in the hike to Little Devils Tower (which sits a bit lower) along with a trip to Black Elk Peak since you’re already up there.

If you want to add a couple of miles, add Cathedral Spires to this hike.

It should be noted multiple trails lead to all three of these popular destinations. Make sure the look over the options on AllTrails.

16. Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish

  • Alltrails Rank: 4.5
  • Distance: 1.6 mile
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: 190 Feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Duration: 2 Hours
  • Pet-Friendly: Dogs are allowed on leash.
  • Parking and Fees: Free parking at the trailhead.

If you love the challenge of a stream crossing, this hike is for you!

The Devil’s Bathtub hike follows a creek through a rock-walled canyon. There are many times you will cross the water. It can be slippery, and some bouldering is to be expected.

The hike is short and ends at a natural waterslide that flows into an ice-cold pond, so remember to bring along your swimsuit and water shoes!

This is a popular hike. If you’re seeking solitude, be sure to go early.

17. Sunday Gulch Trail in the Black Elk Wilderness

Sunday Gulch Trail in the Black Elk Wilderness views
  • Alltrails Rank: 4.7
  • Distance: 3.9 miles (including the Sylvan Lake Loop)
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Elevation Gain: 797 Feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Duration: 3-5 hours
  • Pet-Friendly: Dogs are allowed on leash. However, many dogs will require being carried at the beginning of the hike.
  • Parking: Parking is available at Sylvan Lake Beach in Custer State Park). A seven-day pass to Custer State Park is $20 per vehicle.

This scenic hike is not for the faint of heart, but anyone up for the challenge will enjoy it!

The Sunday Gulch Trail is also less likely to be busy due to its difficulty and since many other popular hikes (including the trailhead to Black Elk Peak) are nearby.

You’ll start by dropping into the ravine, which will entail some scrambling down giant boulders and stairs. The large rocks may also be submerged in a waterfall, depending on the season.

Once you reach the base, you’ll be in a beautiful narrow granite canyon, seeing lots of moss and hiking along a creek.

Since the hike is a loop trail into a canyon, you will also have a steep uphill hike at the end to get back out.

18. Hell Canyon Trail in the Black Hills National Forest

  • Alltrails Rank: #12 in the Black Hills Area, 4.7
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Elevation Gain: 853 Feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Duration: 2-4 hours
  • Pet-Friendly: Dog-friendly, with some off-leash areas.
  • Parking: There is a parking lot at the trailhead on the north side of the highway.

If standing on limestone cliffs that look out over stunning canyon overlooks sounds appealing, then Hell Canyon Trail (Trail Number 32) is for you.

The well-maintained trail is open to hikers, cyclists, and horses. This is a fantastic hike for sunset.

19. Upper Spring Creek and Flume Trail Loop near Keystone

  • Alltrails Rank: #8 in the Black Hills Area, 4.7
  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Elevation Gain: 377 Feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Pet-Friendly: Dogs are allowed on a leash.
  • Parking: There is a parking lot at the trailhead.

The Upper Spring Creek and Flume Trail Loop is loved for its footbridge creek crossings, picturesque views of Sheridan Lake, and an old mining tunnel you hike through.

2 Epic Mountain Biking Spots to Enjoy in the Black Hills Region

20. George S. Mickelson Trail

What to do in the Black Hills: Run the George S. Mickelson Trail
  • Distance: 109 miles
  • Route Type: Point to Point
  • Start Elevation: 3425 Feet
  • Max Elevation: 6209 Feet
  • Elevation Gain: 4038 Feet Up / 5176 Feet Down
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Pet-Friendly: Pets are allowed on the trail, but it’s recommended you leash them to prevent them from chasing after wildlife.
  • Parking: There are 16 trailheads and parking areas along the trail. See them all here.
Running the George S. Mickelson Rail Trail is a great thing to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The George S. Mickelson Rail Trail stretches over 100 miles from Deadwood to Edgemont.

Most of it is flat or at a gradual grade, and the trail is covered in crushed gravel and limestone, creating an excellent bike (and running) path.

Check out TrailLink’s three-day biking itinerary to experience it all in one go!

21. Singletrack Mountain Biking in Sturgis

Sturgis is not only a terrific spot for motorcycles, it’s also great for mountain biking!

MTB Project lists over 100 miles of trails in Sturgis, including ten five-star rated singletrack trails ranging from easy to difficult.

The two routes they most recommended in the area are both along the Centennial Trail:
🚴 Centennial Trail Elk Creek TH to Alkali TH
🚴 Centennial Trail-Bulldog Climb

3 Spectacular Boating Spots to Explore in the Black Hills Region

The Black Hills has 11 boatable reservoirs. Here are a few of the best:

22. Pactola Reservoir in the Black Hills National Forest

Pactola Reservoir in the Black Hills National Forest

Pactola Lake at a Glance” by puroticorico is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Pactola Lake is an outdoor lover’s dream. It’s the largest body of water in the Black Hills, so it’s a natural choice for kayaking, boating, water skiing, sailing, or fishing.

It’s only fifteen miles from Rapid City and has fourteen miles of shoreline, a marina with food, campsites, a swimming beach, trails (including part of the Centennial Trail), and picnic areas.

The lake’s southeast end has a great swim area, and boat launches are on the northeast, southwest, and northwest sides. The marina has rental options if you’re not traveling with a boat.

Some record-setting lake trout have been caught here, and there’s said to be outstanding fly fishing just below the Pactola Dam’s spillway.

There’s a $7 fee for parking in the day-use areas around the lake.

This should be your go-to spot if you need a place to cool off while exploring the Black Hills.

(Sheridan Lake is a comparable lake worth checking out in the area with similar amenities.)

23. Stockade Lake in Custer State Park

Stockade Lake in Custer State Park

Quiet, Foggy Morning at Stockade Lake” by Dave Bezaire is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

Within Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake gets a lot of visitor concentration.

However, Stockade Lake is the largest of the park’s lakes, and it has many of the same amenities, including kayaking, canoeing, fishing, swimming, and hiking options.

It is also the only lake in the park that allows all boat types.

If you want to stay in the area, the lake has cabins, RV camping, and tent camping options.

Nearby attractions include trails to Cathedral Spires and Little Devil’s Tower, and the Gordon Stockade.

24. Center Lake in Custer State Park

Center Lake in Custer State Park

Center Lake” by U.S. Department of the Interior is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

For those looking to camp, fish, swim, or boat (no wake boating – i.e., kayaks, rowboats, and canoes are okay) within Custer State Park but have a quieter experience, Center Lake is a small alpine lake option with a non-electric campground that supports small RVs and tent camping.

There’s a 1-mile loop around the lake, a fishing dock, and a swimming beach.

4 Spots to Cool Off in the Black Hills Region

25. Evans Plunge in Hot Springs

Evans Plunge, in Hot Springs, South Dakota, was built all the way back in 1890, making it the Black Hills’ oldest tourist attraction and one of its most popular.

The mineral-rich hot springs that feed the plunge were once said to have healing powers that could cure everything from gout to skin conditions.

These days, Evan’s Plunge serves as a great family-friendly outing while cruising the Black Hills’ southern end.

The pool is naturally heated to a soothing 87 degrees. There’s a jet slide, whale slide, two kids’ pools, hot tubs, and a sauna to luxuriate in after a long day of hiking.

26. Hippie Hole near Keystone

Hippie Hole is a secluded natural swimming hole that locals and tourists love. Visitors relish jumping from the waterfall, splashing around in the water, and enjoying the sunshine on the large rocks.

27. Spearfish Rec & Aquatics Center

The Spearfish Rec & Aquatics Center is a much-loved community facility and the proud owner of a two-acre water park featuring three water slides, a lazy river, and a splash pad sure to keep everyone in the family happy.

28. WaTiki Indoor Waterpark Resort in Rapid City

Look no further for a spot for indoor water adventure on a rainy day or during the off-season.

WaTiki is South Dakota’s largest indoor water park. It possesses more than just pools and slides, including numerous hotels, restaurants, and an arcade that will surely keep everyone entertained.

2 Rock Climbing Spots to Conquer in the Black Hills Region

The Black Hills are a fantastic spot for rock climbing!

Please note: Rock climbing entails proper equipment and experience. Be sure to follow all safety rules for each of these areas.

29. Spearfish Rock Climbing

The abundance of steep vertical slab limestone in Spearfish Canyon makes the area admired by rock climbers of all skill levels, with just under 600 rock climbing routes (mostly sport climbing).

Popular climbing areas include the Sunshine Wallthe Elephant Wallthe Dark Side, and Shadowlands.

“Bugs Bunny” at Sunshine on the Bunny Slope wall would be a great starter climb.

30. Needles of Mount Rushmore Rock Climbing

Rock climbing in the Black Hills

Climbers climbing on granite rocks in Custer” by daveynin is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

The Needles of Rushmore area is another zone that is very popular with mountain climbers.

With over 1,300 climbs on Mountain Project, you’re flooded with options.

“The South Seas” location is considered a great spot to become introduced to Needle climbing.

5 Scenic Drives to Take in the Black Hills Region

31. Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway

Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway” by jimmers54 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

This eighteen-mile stretch along US Route 14A between Spearfish and Cheyenne Crossing (near Lead), Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway, is often called one of America’s most scenic drives (and bike rides).

The highway traverses the Spearfish Canyon, paralleling Spearfish Creek and providing breathtaking vistas, waterfalls, hiking trails, and opportunities for wildlife viewing along the way.

It’s a popular route for leisurely drives, photography, and immersing oneself in the tranquility of nature.

Fall is the best time to drive the canyon when the thousand-foot-high limestone walls light up with gold, orange, and red shades. The leaves usually start to turn sometime between mid-September and the beginning of October.

Another option is cycling the scenic byway. The road’s speed limit is only 35 mph, and much of the road has a 4′ wide shoulder on either side.

Traveling south on the road entails a relatively gentle up, averaging a 1.8% grade over 18 miles and gaining 1700 feet in elevation.

Anyone wanting to add 2.5 miles beyond that will have much more of an incline the rest of the way, averaging a 6.4% grade and 800 feet of elevation gain just in those last few miles.

32. Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

What to do in the Black Hills: Drive the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway” by Black Hills National Forest is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0 .

The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, a 68-mile highway route that traces a figure eight between Keystone and Custer, with the Needles Highway providing a cut-across in the middle, is frequently referred to as one of America’s most scenic drives.

This byway is comprised of four numbered highways (two of which I’ll go into greater detail about next): SD 87 (Needles Highway), SD 244US Route 16A (Iron Mountain Road), and SD 89 (or US Route 16/385 as another connector option that includes Crazy HorseMemorial along the way).

Along the route, you’ll pass through picturesque tunnels, climb spiraling bridges, and make hairpin turns through the craggy peaks of the Black Hills. You’ll also encounter Custer State Park, Black Elk Wilderness, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

The views are spectacular, with granite pinnacles framing the route and shaggy mountain goats peering down on its travelers.

33. Needles Highway (SD 87)

Needles Highway is a 19.5-mile stretch of SD 87 between US Route 385 and US Route 16A.

But this is no ordinary highway. This route was built with the tourists in mind.

Along the way, you’ll experience the incredible engineering that went into creating the route while preserving the surrounding beauty. You’ll encounter switchbacks, hairpin turns, and narrow rock tunnels.

Please be aware of the following clearance restrictions:
Needles Eye Tunnel: Width: 8’0″ & Height: 9’9″
Iron Creek Tunnel: Width: 8’9″ & Height: 10’10”
Hood Tunnel: Width: 8’9″ & Height: 9’8″

The route includes scenic pullovers with stunning views of granite rock spires that resemble needles, canyons, and sometimes even wildlife, including elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.

34. Iron Mountain Road (US Route 16A)

Driving Iron Mountain Road is a great thing to do in the Black Hills

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway” by Black Hills National Forest is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0 .

In a region full of scenic drives, none are as famous as Iron Mountain Road.

Iron Mountain Road is an 18-mile portion of Highway US Route 16A (which runs for 37 miles and passes Custer State Park, Black Elk Wilderness, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial).

This road is iconic Americana at its finest for two prominent reasons:

🏍️ Three one-lane tunnels that line up with views of Mount Rushmore.

For a one-of-a-kind photo opportunity, drive Iron Mountain Road from south to north, so you can see Mount Rushmore framed through the one-lane tunnels along the route!

While you can see Mount Rushmore from all three tunnels, the Doane Robinson Tunnel provides the best view, where the jet-black tunnel perfectly frames all four presidents on Mount Rushmore as you pass through.

Please be aware of the following clearance restrictions:
Doane Robinson Tunnel: Width: 12’0″ & Height: 11’4″
C.C. Gideon Tunnel: Width: 13’0″ & Height: 11’0″
Scovel Johnson Tunnel: Width: 10’9″ & Height: 11’0″

🏍️ Spiral bridges, known as “pigtail bridges,” that help vehicles tackle elevation changes without disturbing the natural features and stunning scenery.

The road is twisty on purpose to limit the speed of drivers. With countless curves and twists to navigate, not to mention the occasional bison herd, antelope, or deer spotting, Iron Mountain Road is not the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B, but undoubtedly the most beautiful.

Peter Norbeck, the US Senator who led the way in getting Iron Mountain Road built, once said, “This is not meant to be a super highway, to do the scenery justice you should drive no more than 20 mph and to do it full justice you should simply get out and walk.”

35. Wildlife Loop

Driving the Wildlife Loop is a great thing to do in the Black Hills
This was just slightly off the main Wildlife Loop Road on Lame Johnny Road

The Wildlife Loop is your best chance to glimpse all the different species living in Custer State Park, including elk, pronghorn, prairie dogs, coyotes, deer, and fan favorites: the “begging burros” and the massive bison herd.

This 18-mile U-shaped route drive meanders through grasslands and some lightly forested hills carpeted in vibrantly-colored wildflowers during the spring.

It only actually becomes a loop when connected with Iron Mountain Road (US Route 16A), for a total of 30 miles.

While this loop detours from the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, its proximity to it makes the Wildlife Loop easy to fold into a day you had already planned on driving the Needles Highway or Iron Mountain Road.

In fact, this loop is a great spot to start a day or end your day traversing the roads mentioned above. The wildlife is most active during sunrise and dusk hours.

Plan for at least 2 to 2.5 hours on the Wildlife Loop, more if you intend to stay and watch the animals for a while. Custer State Park is home to over 1,000 bison, often many of which can be spotted along this route. Bison roadblocks are not uncommon.

And lastly, keep an eye out for the “begging burros,” a famous group of feral donkeys that descend from domesticated pack animals that used to bring visitors from the Sylvan Lake Lodge up to Black Elk Peak.

3 Off-Roading Adventures to Do in the Black Hills Region

36. Spearfish Canyon Lodge Off-Road Adventures

If you’re not traveling with a UTV, Spearfish Canyon Lodge offers off-road UTV rentals for half-day or full-day.

The extensive miles of trails, breathtaking views, and formidable terrain in this area make it a great location to consider a rental.

37. ATV to Historic Gold Mountain Mine in Black Hills National Forest

ATV to a historic landmark, the Gold Mountain Mine.

Many conservation groups have banded together to preserve this gold mine site with a standing mill frame.

It can be found at GPS coordinates: 43.985217 W, -103.6088

38. ATV Pilot Knob to South Box Elder Creek (64)

This popular Pilot Knob to South Box Elder Creek section of the 123-mile Centennial Trail is good for viewing wildlife. It is mainly used by hikers, but keep in mind that e-bikes, cyclists, and ATVs use the trail too, and traffic has made it a bit rugged in spots. If you don’t want to hike this one, 2-, 4- and 6-seater ATV rentals are nearby!

You can reach the trail on Forest Rd 140, west of Nemo, or off Merritt Estes Rd in Deadwood. 

If you start and end from Pilot Knob, the trailhead is a mile away from Sugar Shack, where you can reward yourself with a delicious half-pound burger for all your hard work!

2 Historical Activities in the Black Hills Region

While this blog focuses on outdoor adventure, there’s a ton of history in this area, and I would be remiss to not include a bit about the best historical experiences and museums in the area.

The following four sections cover the best interactive historical experiences, mining attractions, anthropological museums, and geology museums in the Black Hills.

39. Explore Historic Deadwood

Whether you love the Old West or the HBO series, you’ll fall hard for this little town’s charm.

This is where all the stories you’ve heard about Sheriff Seth Bullock, Wild Bill Hickok, and Calamity Jane come to life.

To experience Deadwood’s history, you need only wander down Main Street.

All the storefronts have maintained their historic facades. During the summer, you can watch a reenactment of the town’s famous gunslinger battles.

See a complete list of the shows put on across Deadwood here.

Those looking to travel the town like they did in the 1800s can jump a stagecoach ride.

Two of Deadwood’s most popular attractions include:

Mount Moriah Cemetery

Mount Moriah Cemetery plaques

Trouble” by seantoyer is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Every outlaw’s number is up at some point, some sooner than others.

The most famous ones laid to rest at Mount Moriah Cemetery are Seth Bullock, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok.

Deadwood’s early days had much bloodshed, so the cemetery filled up quickly.

Adams House

Deadwood is often remembered for its rougher characters. However, the gold rush didn’t only lure working-class prospectors to South Dakota but also wealthy business types who could profit from the mining boom.

Harris and Anna Franklin were one such wealthy couple, and they had a lavish Queen Anne-style house built for them in Deadwood that was said to be the most luxurious home west of the Mississippi.

Now, their opulent Adams House residence is open for tours, where you can glimpse monogrammed silverware and crystal wine glasses.

It’s a chance to see the more civilized history of Deadwood without all the gunfights and barroom brawls.

40. Take a Ride from Keystone to Hill City on the 1880 Train

The 1880 Train which travels from Keystone to Hill City in the Black Hills

Black Hills Central 160x4RP” by drewj1946 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

While the scenic highways around Hill City are magnificent, another fantastic way to see the Black Hills is as travelers did almost 150 years ago – out the window of a thundering steam-powered train.

The Black Hills Central Railroad operates the 1880 Train from Keystone to Hill City (or vice versa), a distance of only ten miles that takes about an hour to complete each way.

The whole ride is narrated, with staff pointing out interesting sights, such as old mining facilities and wildlife along the way, as well as explaining the history of the railway and the challenges of building it in such a rugged territory.

Most visitors book a round-trip ticket with various stopover options. However, another option is purchasing a one-way afternoon ticket from Keystone and then getting shuttled back in a vehicle if you don’t have the time for a round-trip locomotive journey.

4 Spots to Learn About Gold Mining in the Black Hills Region

Making a fortune prospecting for tiny flecks of gold is no easy task.

While it may have started with a sparkling stream and a simple pan, gold mining quickly turned into big business requiring serious infrastructure.

All of these mining exhibits mentioned next are rated equally on Tripadvisor. If they all sound similar, make choosing easier by picking whichever is along your trip route.

Here are four spots where you can learn more about gold mining in the Black Hills:

41. Broken Boot Gold Mine in Deadwood

Much of the focus in Deadwood is on the wild west atmosphere and rebels. The gold mining history often gets left out.

However, if you’re in the area and looking for a mine tour, look into the Broken Boot Gold Mine. This mine opened in the 1870s, ran for 26 years, shut down, and was eventually reopened as the tourist attraction it is now.

On their mine tour, you get to descend into the dusty caverns where dynamite and a trusty pick excavated the Black Hill’s gold (and fool’s gold), seeing the risks and hardships these men faced to get just a sliver of the wealth that was streaming out of the mountains.

This mine also has a candlelight ghost tour for those interested in a more spooky tour experience.

You can pan for gold here as well.

42. Homestake Mine in Lead

The Homestake Mine in Lead

Homestake Mine” by Gunnar Ries zwo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

The Homestake Mine was once North America’s largest and deepest gold mine!

From 1878 until 2002, the Homestake Mine churned out an absolutely massive amount of gold and silver, making Lead one of the most important towns during the Black Hills gold rush.

Its subterranean passageways also advanced science, helping researchers understand the nature of solar neutrinos in the 1960s.

While the mining equipment went silent two decades ago, Homestake Mine has been transformed into a state-of-the-art laboratory, the Sandford Underground Research Facility.

The Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center is free to visit. While there, you can learn about the mine’s history and contributions to science, see the mine from an observation deck, and virtually travel underground in a mine cage.

The Trolley for the Lead Trolley Tours in the Black Hills

Homestake” by Gunnar Ries zwo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

To get a guided tour of Lead and the research facility, jump aboard one of their Trolley Tours (for an additional fee).

43. Big Thunder Gold Mine in Keystone

The Big Thunder Gold Mine in Keystone was established initially in the 1890s by German immigrants (back then, it was known as Gold Hill Lode).

Nowadays, it’s an all-in-one gold mining tourist attraction where you can tour a mine, visit a mining museum, and pan for gold.

The highlight of a visit here is donning a hard hat and going on an underground tour to learn about the history of the Big Thunder Gold Mine.

For a less claustrophobic experience, museum guides run workshops teaching visitors how to pan for gold.

The mining museum contains machinery from three area mines that have since been torn down. It includes a stamp mill and other crushers used to pulverize the ore before smelting it into gold.

44. Black Hills Mining Museum in Lead

The non-profit Black Hills Mining Museum is devoted to maintaining and honoring the history of the area’s mining industry and educating new generations on the mining boom that occurred in the Black Hills over a century ago.

The museum has exhibits and artifacts which allow you to step back in time and get insight into the miners’ working conditions, lives, and challenges, and an underground mining tour in an authentic mine recreated by former miners.

This is also another location visitors can go panning for gold.

4 Best Museums to Visit in the Black Hills Region

45. Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

Tools of the Trade” by PunkToad is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is an ongoing archeological excavation site in Mitchell.

The village provides tremendous historical insight into what Native American life looked like in the area over a thousand years ago, including the homes they lived out of, the crops they grew, the tools they hunted with, and how they interacted with the animals.

Visitors are allowed to tour the site and can even help with washing and sorting artifacts while there.

This is a must-see for anyone interested in anthropology.

46. The Journey Museum & Learning Center

The Journey Museum & Learning Center in the Black Hills

Journey Museum and Learning Center” by Chuck Haacker is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

A trip to The Journey Museum & Learning Center would be an excellent way to acclimate to the Black Hills region.

This museum details the area’s history, from its million-year-old geological roots to the thousands of years it was home to Native Americans through the pioneer days.

The museum is also surrounded by lovely gardens that showcase native plant life.

A children’s learning area includes books, puzzles, and discovery boxes filled with age-appropriate materials.

This museum would be a great pick if you only have time for one attraction before getting into the Black Hills. Given the museum’s size, you could easily spend a few hours here exploring every historical and cultural facet of the region.

47. High Plains Western Heritage Center

The High Plains Western Heritage Center is a museum that was founded in 1989 in Spearfish.

This museum aims to give visitors an understanding of Western heritage in the High Plains region.

Exhibits, displays, and artifacts within the museum show the area’s evolution, including Native American life, pioneer history, mining, ranching development, and rodeo culture.

The Frontier Street exhibit is a highlight of this museum, with a recreated western town from the late 1800s.

48. Dakota Discovery Museum

The Dakota Discovery Museum, located on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, prioritizes preserving the Dakotan people’s history and sharing it with new generations and visitors.

This museum focuses on the history of Plains Native Americans, the Fur Trade, the Dakota Territory, the Great Depression, and Dakota industries, including railroading, farming, and ranching.

They also host a collection of Western-themed art that captures the essence of the Great Plains and Western storytelling.

A beloved portion of this museum is the Dakota Discovery Historic Village. The village includes an early 1900s railroad depot and church (still used today), farming equipment, a homestead-era one-room schoolhouse, and an 1880s Victorian home.

3 Spots for Geology Fans to Visit in the Black Hills Region

Mining aside, this part of the United States hosts tremendous additional geological history.

To learn more, here are three spots worth exploring:

49. The Mammoth Site

The dig site at the Mammoth Site in the Black Hills

File:Mammoth Site, Hot Springs 4 – mammoth bones.jpg” by Jllm06 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 .

Seeing mammoth bones in a museum is pretty cool. However, Hot Springs’s Mammoth Site is one of the few places in the world where you can see an in-progress dig in a place where over 60 mammoth skeletons have been recovered.

It’s believed that around 140,000 years ago, mammoths fell victim to a sinkhole in this area that they could not escape.

In the 1970s, a construction worker found a mammoth tusk, leading to its designation as a National Natural Landmark, attracting scientists worldwide.

Every summer, you can watch paleontologists and volunteers carefully pick and brush away the soil from the skeletal remains still present at the now-enclosed dig site.

There’s also a museum on-site where you can see fully assembled Mammoth skeletons and learn about the site’s history.

50. Black Hills Institute of Geological Research

Fossils on exhibit at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research

Black Hills Geological Institute” by NatalieMaynor is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

The prominent Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City is highly respected in the paleontological field.

The company excels at excavating, preparing, and mountings fossils and their undertakings have gone on to be exhibited at museums worldwide, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.

Researchers, students, and the public have come from all over to see their vast fossil collection, including vertebrates, invertebrates, and minerals.

Their museum is chock full of dinosaur skeletons and a must-visit for anyone interested in this field!

51. Museum of Geology

Museum of Geology

File:Sulfates, Museum of Geology, South Dakota.jpg” by Tbennert is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 .

The free Museum of Geology on the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus is a treat for anyone who loves rocks, gemstones, or fossils.

It makes for a fantastic introduction to the area’s geology before heading to some of the Black Hills’ famed mining towns.

The paleontology section contains fossils from the nearby Badlands. At the same time, the mineralogy area showcases spectacularly beautiful South Dakota-mined gemstones, meteorite samples, and fluorescent minerals that light up the room after exposure to UV light.

They even have a kid’s section with hands-on experiences to make everything a bit more interesting.

5 Urban Attractions Worth Exploring in the Black Hills Region

52. Art Alley

Art Alley in Rapid City

Art Alley Rapid City South Dakota.” by amanderson2 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

If ever there were an Instagramable location in Rapid City, it’s the graffiti-inspired murals of Art Alley.

Just off Main Street (between 6th and 7th Street) and a few blocks from the Dahl Arts Center, it offers local artists a space to express themselves on personal and political issues.

While it started with artists hanging canvas prints on alley walls, these days, artists of all ages paint directly on the brick facade.

The murals are constantly changing, with new material going up regularly. It might even change during your trip!

Permits are free for those interested in leaving their mark and can be easily obtained through this link!

53. Dahl Arts Center

It’s always nice to get a dose of culture before heading out into the wilderness, and the Dahl Art Center is a significant cultural center in western South Dakota.

The Dahl Arts Center has five rotating visual art galleries to explore, three dedicated to local or regional artists, a children’s area, and a 191-foot-long Cyclorama mural depicting the history of America.

They also feature art classes and live events throughout the year, such as concerts and comedy shows.

Best of all, admission is free.

54. Prairie Edge & Sioux Trading Post

The Prairie Edge & Sioux Trading Post houses a Native American Art fine art gallery, an arts & crafts gallery, arts & crafts supplies, jewelry, and a bookstore.

This spot focuses on preserving Northern Plains Native American culture, teaching visitors about their legacy, and giving Native American artists a place to display and sell their art.

It is located at Main Street and 6th Street in downtown Rapid City.

The Prairie Edge & Sioux Trading Post is a notable attraction and a must-visit to support and learn more about Native American culture, history, and art.

55. City of Presidents Walking Tour

John Adams Statue on the City of Presidents Walking Tour in the Black Hills

City of Presidents: No. 2 John Adams” by daveynin is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Nearby Mount Rushmore only features the faces of four presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.

However, you can see statues of 43 other past Commanders in Chief while wandering the streets of Rapid City.

Statues for the City of Presidents Walking Tour are privately funded and placed in a structured pattern to avoid the appearance of favoritism for one political party or candidate. The statues are intended to glorify the office of the president and the nation itself rather than the people occupying it.

Download the self-guided walking tour here.

To add a bit of fun for kiddos, there’s a scavenger hunt they can complete for a prize.

56. Chapel in the Hills

Chapel in the Hills

Lavender Chapel in the Hills Borgund Stave Church Rapid City South Dakota” by amanderson2 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

If you need a spot to relax and reflect during your trip, why not visit the Chapel in the Hills?

This church is a part of the South Dakota chapter of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and was built in the 1960s as an identical replication of the Borgund Stave Church in Laerdal, Norway.

The church exudes Scandinavian charm in its multi-tiered roofs and forested backdrop.

While visiting, you can take a quiet moment to wander the Meditation Trail throughout the chapel’s hillside, check out the log cabin museum, which houses items from Norway and items from the 1800s made here in the States by Scandinavians, or the visitor center and gift shop, which explains the church’s history and sells Scandinavian items.

Admission is free. Donations are welcome.

5 Black Hills Attractions for Families

57. Bear Country USA

Bears hanging out at Bear Country USA in the Black Hills

Bear Country USA, South Dakota” by dconvertini is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

This 250-acre drive-through wildlife park is about halfway between Rapid City and Mount Rushmore.

And while this park is home to “the largest collection of privately owned black bear in the world,” it’s not only home to bears!

Over twenty mammal species reside in Bear Country USA, including bobcats, cougars, elk, and bighorn sheep.

If you’re planning on hiking in the Black Hills, there’s a good chance you could actually see some of these animals in their natural habitat. So this experience is best for those who’d like to see a ton of wildlife up close from the safety of their vehicle.

Also, if you’re trying to entertain kids during the adventure, the park’s website has downloadable games such as Animal Behaviors Bingo to help enhance the experience.

58. Storybook Island

Storybook Island is a must for those adventuring around the Black Hills with young kids.

This small theme park is famous for having over 100 sets inspired by nursery rhymes and storybooks, including Humpty Dumpty, Cinderella, and Snow White & the Seven Dwarves.

This park has been around for decades but has grown even more popular in the age of smartphones, as the sets are incredibly Instagramable!

Storybook Island is open during the summer, from May 27th to September 4th, for the 2023 season, from 9 am to 7 pm daily.

Admission is free; you can ride the train and carousel for an extra $6!

59. Reptile Gardens

Reptile Gardens Prairie Dog

100_9048” by blucolt is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

Founded by a 1930s reptile enthusiast who wanted to help tourists overcome their fear of snakes, Reptile Gardens is now the largest reptile zoo in the world.

Kids love this spot’s dozens of interactive exhibits where they can get up close and personal with the animals.
Despite the name, they also have tons of animals that aren’t of the reptile variety, including but not limited to a Laughing Kookaburra, Bald Eagle, and a prairie dog town.

You can easily spend a few hours here at any time of year!

In 2023, between May 26th and September 4th, the park is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm. The adult entrance fee is $24, children are between $18-20, depending on age, and seniors and military members get a $2 discount.

60. Rushmore Tramway Adventures

While the kids are sure to be in awe of the sixty-foot-tall presidential faces, they’ll probably crave some kid fun afterward.

Rushmore Tramway Adventures is the perfect after-monument activity with ziplines, tubing, an alpine slide, a jump tower, and an aerial park that’ll burn off their excess energy.

It’s located in Keystone, less than three miles from Mount Rushmore.

You can get some spectacular views of Mount Rushmore from the zipline!

61. Dinosaur Park

Dinosaur Park in the Black Hills

Dinosaur Park in Rapid City” by Carol M Highsmith is marked with CC0 1.0 .

Dinosaur Park is a kid-approved tourist attraction in Rapid City that opened in the 1930s.

This free public park is home to life-sized replicas of various dinosaur species. It’s meant to educate visitors about dinosaurs and the prehistoric world.

While generally a fan favorite for small children, there is still something for adults – the park sits on a hilltop, providing visitors with panoramic views of the surrounding Black Hills and Rapid City.

2 Tour Options in the Black Hills Region

It’s always nice to let someone else guide you around new areas if you have the opportunity.

Consider these options for when you need a break from trip planning:

62. Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour

If driving through the Wildlife Loop amongst the buffalo in your own vehicle (or rental) doesn’t sound appealing, let a guide on one of these open-air Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours show you around instead.

You’ll get to traverse private roads within the park that you could not otherwise drive.

And with them, you not only get the added benefit of being guided by someone who knows details about the animals, but they also know the best spots to find them.

63. Join a Viator Tour

Viator connects travelers with local tour guides and activities available in the area they are visiting. Check out some of the options available in the Black Hills:

5 Annual Events in the Black Hills Region

While there are endless things to do in this region, these are five of the most significant events occurring annually in the Black Hills.

64. Sturgis Rally (& Museum)

People Attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the Black Hills

"2005 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Girls, bikes, parking lot" by Jan Tik from USA is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

The world-famous Sturgis motorcycle rally is a ten-day event at the beginning of August when over 500,000 motorcycle riders descend upon this small town of 7,000 residents.

Most of the action takes place at the Buffalo Chip campground outside of town, where there are bike shows, events, concerts, street food, beauty contests, and much more.

If you're not here in August to witness the rally in person or aren't much of a biker, the next best thing would be visiting the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame. It's jam-packed with vintage motorcycles going back a century, along with exhibits detailing the history of the motorcycle rally.

65. Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon & Half-Marathon

For those who love to get in a good run, why not take in the beauty of the Black Hills on foot, with a Boston qualifying trail race that ends in the wild west town of Deadwood?

Most of the off-road Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon takes place over a mile high in elevation.

However, much is on the gravel Mickelson Trail, making it optimal for beginners.

They also have a kid's run and a relay during the event weekend.

This year the run took place on June 4th, 2023. Keep an eye on their website for 2024 registration information.

66. Buffalo Roundup

Over 20,000 people travel to Custer State Park one day a year to watch the Buffalo Roundup.

This annual corraling of the buffalo within the state park started in the 1960s. It is instrumental in managing the size of the herd and keeping the buffalo numbers in line with how many they believe can manage on their own within the park.

This year's event will be on September 29th, 2023. Find more details here.

67. Days of '76 Celebration (& Days of '76 Museum)

The Days of '76 Celebration is a week-long event held annually in Deadwood.

This year, it takes place from July 23-29.

It started in the 1920s to honor the pioneers who flooded the Black Hills in 1876, all eager to strike it rich.

The festivities center around an award-winning rodeo and beloved parade. 

If you're not there during the event, you can still take in the event's magic at the Days of '76 Museum.

The museum includes an extensive collection of horse-drawn vehicles and other artifacts from the Days of '76 Celebrations of the past. 

68. The Black Hills Roundup Rodeo

If you're in the Black Hills, near Belle Fourche, during the Roundup Rodeo, be sure to see one of America's oldest rodeos.

The Black Hills Roundup was initially started to raise World War I funds.

This event has a cattle drive, rodeo, carnival, concerts, and a live cowboy band. Rodeo events include barrel racing, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, team roping, steer wrestling, and bull riding.

2 Kitschy Activities in the Black Hills Region

These two stops will only be for some. However, those who can ignore the ostentatiousness of it all will be rewarded with some quality family fun.

69. National Presidental Wax Museum

President John F Kennedy in wax at the National Presidential Wax Museum

"Presidential Wax Museum" by johnbrian is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

Like the City of Presidents Walking Tour in Rapid City, the National Presidential Wax Museum provides a chance to get to know the presidents beyond the four included on Mount Rushmore.

Over a hundred incredibly life-like wax sculptures, including every US president, are displayed in scenes reflecting some of their administrations' most important moments.

You can easily spend a couple of hours here listening to the audio tour that goes with the sculptures.

You can even play the role of White House press secretary and take a stab at reading a briefing from the teleprompter.

70. Cosmos Mystery Area

Cosmos Mystery Area

"Cosmos Mystery Area - South Dakota - Tourist Trap 2015" by vwcampin is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

The Cosmos Mystery Area is a roadside attraction only ten minutes from Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is known for its peculiar and gravity-defying phenomena that seem to defy the laws of physics.

Despite the house essentially being one big optical illusion, it has captivated tourists since the 1950s.

While in the house, it’s hard to tell which way is down and which way is up, and you can take photos that make it look like you’re defying gravity!

The attraction aims to engage visitors' curiosity and wonder. It prompts discussions about the laws of physics, perception, and the natural world's mysteries.

6 Nearby Attractions

As if the Black Hills weren't filled with enough things to do, a handful of quality attractions also exist within close proximity.

Be sure to also consider these six attractions while in the area:

71. Badlands National Park

Cindy on Left Side of Notch Trail at Badlands National Park

Are the Badlands worth seeing?

Yes! Badlands National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the nation.

The park's landscape is characterized by its striking rock formations, deep canyons, ravines, towering spires, and arid and rugged terrain. The eroded sedimentary rock formations, known as "badlands," create a mesmerizing and otherworldly scenery, unlike any other national park in the United States.

Badlands Cliff Shelf Trail Stairs

Also, the park's hiking trails are more like hiking zones, with a fair amount of open, roamable space, which is relatively unique for a national park.

Barrett Running through Badlands National Park

Although I recommend staying for more, it's the perfect park to cover in one day.

👉 Next, check out my Ultimate One Day Badlands National Park Road Trip Itinerary.

72. Wall Drug

Wall Drug Store

Wall Drug is one more kitsch spot in this area that leans into the "must-visit" category.

If you've been driving to the Black Hills, you've seen their complimentary ice water and 5-cent hot coffee billboards along the way.

It is a roadside attraction with your traditional food and shopping, but it also has a distinctive section that has been transformed into Instagram-land with a T-Rex, Jackalope, and much more!

If you haven't visited, you might want to pop in and check it out.

73. Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

"Buffalo Gap National Grassland, South Dakota, August 23, 2007" by exit78 is marked with CC0 1.0 .

Buffalo Gap National Grassland offers over 600,000 acres of prairie and badlands viewing, scenic drives, wildlife, and camping and hiking opportunities.

74. Prairie Homestead

Prairie Homestead

"Prairie Homestead, Badlands 5-6-2022 (10)" by larrywkoester is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

The Prairie Homestead is the original sod home that pioneers Mr. & Mrs. Ed Brown built in 1909.

These days, few remain. It's a fascinating look at life during the homestead days.

75. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Minuteman Missile

"Missile Minuteman Missile National Historic Site South Dakota" by amanderson2 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site provides a unique opportunity to see the facilities where the government held nuclear Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles during the Cold War.

76. Devils Tower National Monument

Cindy and Barrett at Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument is an iconic butte in the Wyoming Black Hills territory. While there, travelers can hike, bike, rock climb (permit required), watch the wildlife, and learn about the monument's history.


Where to Stay in the Black Hills

Whether you intend to stay in a hotel, rental house, lodge, b&b, or camp, countless accommodation options exist across the Black Hills. Each area offers something different. Read on to learn more about the different cities and the best places to stay in each one.

Why Stay in Rapid City

Rapid City Photo

"Rapid City Skyline (2022)" by WeaponizingArchitecture is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 .

Rapid City is the second-largest city in South Dakota and operates as the “Gateway City” to the Black Hills.

It is a compelling destination for visitors due to its central location, proximity to the airport, and a plethora of cultural attractions, accommodations, and dining options.

The city's robust food and craft beer scene includes:

🍺 Half a dozen or more breweries.
🥃 A distillery.
🍷 A couple of wineries.
🌮 Restaurant options from tacos to Indian cuisine to wood-fired pizza.

Rapid City's vibrant community has many convenient amenities, including a bustling downtown area with shops and art galleries.

The Rapid City Regional Airport provides easy access to the area for travelers.

And lastly, competition between the chain hotels is high in Rapid City, so you can find deals depending on the time of year.

Where to Stay in Rapid City

NO FRILLS CAMPING IN BLACK HILLS NATIONAL FOREST: Pactola Reservoir Campground
HIGHLY RATED, BUDGET HOTEL OPTION: Best Western Plus Rapid City Rushmore
CLOSE TO A WATIKI WATER PARK: Courtyard by Marriott Rapid City

Why Stay in Deadwood

Deadwood is one of the Black Hills region's most historic wild west gold rush towns. It's also an attractive destination for travelers seeking a blend of history and entertainment.

This frontier town offers the opportunity to be wholly immersed in Old West Charm. Its Historic Main Street is loaded with historic sites, restored buildings, attractions, and live entertainment that are guaranteed to keep you busy when you’re not checking out one of the nearby parks.

Deadwood also has a lively casino scene, so visitors can try their luck at the poker table or on slot machines while in town.

This is a popular tourist town, so prices will be higher than in the neighboring towns.

Where to Stay in Deadwood

LUXURY CONDOS IN THE HEART OF DEADWOOD: The Bank Hotel Deadwood
HISTORIC BED & BREAKFAST: 1899 Inn
LOTS OF AMENITIES: The Lodge at Deadwood Gaming Resort / Holiday Inn Resort Deadwood Mountain Grand
AFFORDABLE OPTION: Cedar Wood Inn
VARIETY OF CAMPING OPTIONS: Hidden Valley Campground
FREE SPOT: Mount Roosevelt Road Dispersed Campsite

Why Stay in Lead

Most people staying in Lead are looking for a quiet spot that avoids the crowds and commotion in the famed Wild West town of Deadwood (less than ten minutes away) yet remains central to most Black Hills attractions.

Lead has its own historic charm and is situated in the heart of the Black Hills, offering easy access to various outdoor activities.

Lead’s history leans more towards mining than cowboy shootouts, being the world’s most productive gold mining town.

Since the town isn’t swarming with tourists trying to catch a confrontation between Sheriff Bullock and Al Swearengen, you get a little more for your money in Lead than in Deadwood.

Where to Stay in Lead

VARIETY OF CAMPING OPTIONS AND AMENITIES: Whitetail Creek Camping Resort
HISTORIC BOUTIQUE HOTEL: Town Hall Inn
AFFORDABLE ROOMS: Ponderosa Pines Inn and Cabins
AFFORDABLE & WELL-REVIEWED HOTEL: Hampton Inn Lead

Why Stay in Spearfish

Sitting at the northwestern end of the Black Hills, located between Mount Rushmore and Devils Tower National Monument, is Spearfish, known as the adventure capital of the Black Hills.

Not only does it have one of the most scenic byways in the country, but outdoor adventure also seems to be around every bend up here, with dozens of hiking and biking trails, ATVing, rock climbing, golfing, and fishing opportunities. And in the winter, downhill skiing and snowboarding.

This area is shrouded in natural beauty and is heaven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Staying here is all about enjoying the great outdoors.

Many visitors to this area choose to camp close to Spearfish Canyon and the scenic byway that runs through it. But there are also B&B and lodge options in town for travelers who prefer having four solid walls and a roof over their heads at night.

Where to Stay in Spearfish

RESORT AMENITIES: Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort & Cabins / Spearfish Canyon Lodge
CAMPING WITH A POOL & PLAYGROUND: Spearfish / Black Hills KOA Holiday / Chris' Camp & RV Park
AFFORDABLE RV AND TENT SITES: Spearfish City Campground
HOTEL: Best Western Black Hills Lodge

Why Stay in Sturgis

Sturgis is a town that attracts global attention with its legendary 500,000-strong motorcycle rally.

The town also has many other events bringing together vehicle enthusiasts, including the Sturgis Camaro Rally, Sturgis Mustang Rally, and Sturgis Off-Road Rally.

However, you don’t need your own Harley to visit Sturgis!

Outside of early August, Sturgis is a relatively quiet small town on the Northeast edge of the Black Hills.

It’s a good jumping-off point for hiking and mountain biking adventures. 

There’s also a fantastic motorcycle museum (Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame and the Sturgis Historical Museum) to explore if you need a rainy-day activity.

However, Sturgis does experience a substantial increase in population and becomes considerably busier during the rally. Planning your stay outside the rally dates may be best if you prefer a more peaceful visit.

Where to Stay in Sturgis

CHEAP DRY CAMPING: Bear Butte State Park
RV & TENT CAMPING WITH AMENITIES: No Name City Luxury Cabins & RV Park
THE ONLY HOTEL ON MAIN STREET: The Hotel Sturgis

Why Stay in Hill City

It doesn’t get as much attention as Deadwood, Custer, or Keystone, but Hill City is an excellent place to stay in the south-central Black Hills region (and one of my favorites!)

It's close to Mount Rushmore, some of the best hiking in Black Elk Wilderness, and the scenic Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.

So, it provides a great central location, with amenities and restaurants, much like Rapid City, but with a much more outdoorsy and laid-back vibe.

Where to Stay in Hill City

Mount Rushmore KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch

SPLURGE FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY: Mount Rushmore KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch

This KOA is more like a small town. It has a hotel, RV sites, tent sites, cabins, and many amenities, including stables, multiple pools, a restaurant, a coffee and wine shop, and more!

LARGE, SPREAD-OUT FACILITY: (RV park and cabins) Rafters J Bar Ranch Camping Resort
COTTAGES WITH A COMMUNITY FEEL: Black Elk Resort Cottages and RV Park (If they're booked: Mountain View Lodge & Cabins)
BEST BUDGET HOTEL: Comfort Inn & Suites Near Mt. Rushmore
BEST BUDGET RV PARK: Firehouse Campground
IN THE CENTER OF THE ACTION: Harney Peak Inn
NATIONAL FOREST CAMPING: Ditch Creek Campground, Dutchman Campground, Custer Trails Campground, Whitetail Campground.

Why Stay in Custer

Custer is the oldest town in the Black Hills region, but most attractions are nature-based rather than historical.

Custer State Park, South Dakota’s largest state park and one of America’s largest, is only fourteen miles east of town. It rivals many national parks with its roaming herds of bison, the incredibly scenic Needles Highway, and rugged hiking opportunities.

Custer's location also makes it a great jumping-off point for visiting Wind Cave National Park, 20 miles to the south, and Jewel Cave National Monument, 13 miles to the east.

The park has ample camping options, but the town of Custer also has various accommodation options.

Where to Stay in Custer State Park

RUSTIC OPTION CLOSE TO NEEDLES HIGHWAY: Center Lake Campground
CLOSE TO WILDLIFE LOOP & WIND CAVE: Blue Bell Campground
OTHER ADMIRED CSP CAMPGROUNDS: Stockade Lake South Campground, Game Lodge Campground, Grace Coolidge Campground, and Sylvan Lake Campground.

Where to Stay In Custer

LOOKING FOR RESORT AMENITIES: Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort
TRAVELING WITH HORSES: Broken Arrow Campground
COZY, QUIET SPOT FOR SMALL RIGS: The Roost Resort
AMENITIES, NO FRILLS, AFFORDABLE RV PARK: Echo Valley Park

Why Stay in Keystone

Stay in Keystone if you want to be closest to Mount Rushmore. However, most activities will be elsewhere.

Since the town is only ten minutes from Mount Rushmore, expect hotels and campgrounds to book early here.

July and August bring in big crowds, but it's less congested outside the summer road-tripping months.

Where to Stay in Keystone

LUXURIOUS GLAMPING: Under Canvas Mount Rushmore
NATIONAL FOREST SETTING: Horsethief Lake Campground
LODGE AMENITIES: Powder House
HOTEL WITH A PUB: K Bar S Lodge
AFFORDABLE HOTEL NEAR MOUNT RUSHMORE: Comfort Inn & Suites Mt Rushmore

Why Stay in Hot Springs

Sitting in the state's southwest corner, Hot Springs tends to get less attention than some other Black Hills area cities.

However, thanks to a few natural hot springs and a location fifteen minutes from Wind Cave National Park, Hot Spring is more than worth the stop on a Black Hills road trip.

Where to Stay in Hot Springs

NATIONAL PARK SETTING: Elk Mountain Campground at Wind Cave National Park
DRY CAMPING ON THE LAKE: Cold Brook Lake
MORE AMENITIES ON A PRIVATE LAKE: Hidden Lake Campground and Resort
POOL, MINI GOLF, AND WIFI: Hot Springs KOA

Why Stay in the Badlands Region

The Badlands region is east of the Black Hills. It's home to Badlands National Park, the Minuteman Missle National Historic Site, the Prarie Homestead Historic Site, the Oglala Lakota Living History Village, and more.

If you're driving to the region along I-90, this area deserves at least a day of your time.

👉 Click here to check out my Ultimate One Day Badlands National Park Road Trip Itinerary!

Stopping for the night here entails considering Wall and Interior as lodging options.

Wall is a small town with basic amenities. You’ll know it's coming for hundreds of miles before you actually get there. Signs all along the Interstate remind you how far away Wall is and point out if you’ve “accidentally” gone past it.

While Wall has a history of being a kitschy tourist town, it’s also home to the National Grasslands Visitor Center.

Interior is a much quieter option. This area is about as small and peaceful as places come.

Amenities are scarce. Ensure you hit up a grocery store in either Wall or Kadoka (each about 40 minutes away) before staying in this area.

Where to Stay in the Wall, Interior, & Badlands National Park Area

Our camper parked outside of Badlands

NEAR BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK: Badlands Motel & Campground. Located directly outside of the Interior Entrance. We loved our stay at this campground and would recommend it to anyone making the trip. We could see Badlands National Park from our campsite. It's one of my favorite RV parks we’ve ever stayed at.

See rates and reviews.

They also have a motel on the property for those road-tripping without an RV.


Backyard of Cedar Pass Lodge Cabin in the Badlands

CABIN LODGING IN BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK: If you want to stay inside the park without camping, check out the Cedar Pass Lodge mini cabins.

They have basic kitchen amenities (Mini Refrigerator and Freezer, Microwave, and Coffee Maker). Also, there’s a restaurant on site.

They also offer an Inn, RV electric-only spots, and tent camping nearby.


FREE CAMPING: Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, Nomad View Dispersed Camping. Find this spot at GPS coordinates 43.8898, -102.227. Other nearby free options include Sage Creek Campground and Backcountry Camping.

BUDGET HOTEL: Super 8 by Wyndham Wall
ANOTHER HOTEL OPTION: Best Western Plains Motel

YOUNG

The Best Places to Eat and Drink in the Black Hills

While there are numerous dining options in the Black Hills, these are spots you shouldn't miss:

Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City

Firehouse Brewing Company

"Firehouse Brewing Company" by nick.amoscato is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Firehouse Brewing Company is one of South Dakota’s oldest microbreweries and possibly the coolest location for one, inside the original Rapid City Fire Station, built over a hundred years ago.

They have nearly a dozen of their own beers on tap, and outside is a patio with a band shell for summer concerts.

Be sure to arrive hungry because Firehouse’s burgers are a full half-pound, and they have other mouthwatering treats straight from their smoker, like andouille sausage, pulled pork, and whole ribs.

Fort Hays Old West Town Square & Chuckwagon Supper and Music Variety Show in Rapid City

What to do in the Black Hills, visit Fort Hays Old West Town Square
Photo by Natalie Rasmussen

Shopping, dinner, and a show, what more could you ask for?

Upon arriving at this spot, first explore Fort Hays Old West Town Square, the set piece from the Kevin Costner movie “Dances with Wolves” that has been relocated to the restaurant grounds.

While there, you can shop along the boardwalk and see artisans creating tools such as ropes and knives. You can also visit the South Dakota movie museum while there. Both are free.

Once you're good and hungry, sit down for a delicious Chuckwagon Supper like baked chicken or sliced beef in BBQ sauce, all served on handmade tin plates!

(Or, if you're there in the morning, fill up on all-you-can-eat cowboy pancakes for 99 cents.)

Then the Fort Hay Wranglers will take the stage for a Live Musical Performance that’ll get you up and dancing.

Leone's Creamery in Spearfish

Leone's Creamery is a must-visit spot for ice cream lovers in Spearfish, South Dakota. Their handcrafted flavors, commitment to local sourcing, and inviting atmosphere offer a delightful experience for anyone looking to indulge in a sweet treat.

Prairie Berry Winery & Miner Brewing Company in Hill City

Miner Brewing Company with mountains in the backgrounds

Prairie Berry Winery and Miner Brewing Company are within steps of each other and owned by the same owners.

Winemaker and Brewmaster Sandi Vojta comes from a long line of family members handcrafting beverages.

Prairie Berry's wines have won over 1,000 awards collectively.

Either location is a great place to wind down after a long day of exploring, with various beverage options made from local ingredients, welcoming atmospheres, scenic views, and a shared kitchen to order sandwiches and small bites.

The Alpine Inn in Hill City

The Alpine Inn resides in what was originally the historic Harney Peak Hotel, built in 1886.

Initially, a spot where mining executives wined and dined; these days, it's known for authentic German cuisine, including schnitzel and kaes spaetzle.

There are two choices for dinner: Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon or Kaes Spaetzle Primavera.

If you, or people in your group, like options, though, skip dinner and opt for the lunch hours when they have a much more extensive menu full of German delights and a wide range of sandwiches, soups, and salads.

Please take note: No reservations are accepted here, and it's cash only.

Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. in Custer

In 2014, TripAdvisor ranked Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. as the best burger joint in America!

This spot is known for its fresh ingredients, homemade baked buns, reasonable prices, and delicious burger concoctions.

Those looking for a no-frills, classic, all-American meal will be satisfied here.

Skogen Kitchen in Custer

Foodies visiting South Dakota must plan to eat a meal at Skogen Kitchen.

Skogen Kitchen is known for offering creative, unique, and delicious dining options.

The restaurant's chef Joseph Raney was a 2023 James Beard semifinalist in the Best Chef in the Midwest region category.

Purple Pie Place in Custer

Purple Pie Place

"Purple Pie Place Custer, SD" by puroticorico is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

You cannot miss Purple Pie Place's bright purple house on the west end of Mt. Rushmore Road in Custer.

Their famous homemade pies include fillings like blueberry, rhubarb, peach, cherry, the classic apple, and a half dozen others.

It’s not just a desert destination, though. They also have pretty tasty sandwiches, salads, paninis, and mac & cheese.

As importantly, a photo in front of the house is Instagram gold!

Things to Do in the Black Hills: FAQs

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the Black Hills area:

What is the biggest attraction at the Black Hills?

While it is not size-wise the largest attraction, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the Black Hills' most prominent attraction, with over two million annual visitors.

What are the Black Hills famous for?

In no particular order, the Black Hills are most famous for:

❇️ Mount Rushmore National Memorial
❇️ Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
❇️ Deadwood
❇️ Gold Mining
❇️ Bison
❇️ Crazy Horse Memorial
❇️ Native American Culture and Heritage
❇️ Scenic Drives
❇️ Caves

What should I not miss in the Black Hills?

There's an abundance of attractions in the Black Hills, indeed something for everyone.

If you can make it to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, the Black Elk Wilderness, Custer State Park, a cave, a gold mine, see a buffalo, and drive on a scenic highway, you've hit the highlights!

When should I go to the Black Hills?

Like most favored vacation destinations, you will find fewer crowds if you can go off-season.

Going in late May, September, and October is best unless you enjoy winter activities.

The Busiest Time to Visit

Hands down, summer.

Summer will always be the most convenient time for families in the United States, bringing out the most substantial amounts of tourists.

Weekdays may be less crowded from June through August. Try to see the more touristy sights then and save hikes and scenic drives for the weekends.

The Best Time to Visit

Fall (August – November) is the best time to visit.

During our most recent visit, we were there in August (right after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally). The weather was mild and lovely, and the crowds were minimal.

The Second Best Time to Visit

Spring.

Like fall, the weather will be beautiful, and the crowds will be thinned out.

However, this is second because South Dakota is known to have some pretty intense rainstorms and hailstorms in the spring. I’ve even heard stories of RV roofs becoming ruined from the intensity of the hail they get!

The Worst Time to Visit

Winter.

It will be freezing, and you could run into snowy conditions. Furthermore, much of the wildlife will hide due to the winter weather.

Also, if motorcycles aren’t your thing, I recommend not going while the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is going on (August 4th - 13th for 2023). You will be surrounded by bikes. But if that’s your jam, that would be the best time to go!

How do I get to the Black Hills?

The Black Hills are in the Southwest corner of South Dakota.

Rapid City is conveniently located off I-90, the major highway that cuts east to west through the state, and is in the middle of the eastern portion of the Black Hills.

To visit, you can either road-trip from your home or fly into Rapid City, SD and then drive to your first destination.

Flying to the Black Hills

The closest airport is Rapid City Regional Airport. The graphic below (from their website) shows each city and airline that flies into Rapid City and during what time of year. Click here to find further info on seasonal flights.

Rapid City Airline Map
Graphic from Rapid City Regional Airport

For those on a tight budget: If you’re traveling as a family, purchasing numerous plane tickets, another option is to fly into the larger Denver International Airport. They serve many more airlines.

It would be a 6-hour drive from the Denver airport to Rapid City. (If you start your trip in Hot Springs, you can cut thirty minutes off that drive.)

Driving to the Black Hills

Distances from Rapid City:
Northern
Region
Southern
Region
Badlands
Area
Sturgis via I-90 W, 28 milesHill City via US-16 W, 27 milesWall via I-90 E, 56 miles
Spearfish via I-90 W, 48 milesKeystone via US-16 W and US-16A W, 21 milesInterior via SD-44 E, 73 miles
Deadwood via I-90 W and US-14 ALT W, 42 milesCrazy Horse via US-16 W and US-385 S, 39 miles
Lead via I-90 W and US-14 ALT W, 45 milesCuster via US-16 W and US-385 S, 41 miles
Hot Springs via SD-79 S and US-18 W, 57 miles
Rental Car

You will need a car to get around the Black Hills. If flying in, you will need to rent a car or RV. (I gave a shout-out to a couple of our favorite RV parks above!)

Conclusion: Things to Do in the Black Hills

I hope you wonder no more about what to do in the Black Hills!

The area is spectacular, and it only takes a short time to see why people come from worldwide to see its natural beauty and animals, revel in its history and learn about its natural resources and spirituality.