Although it is not a very heavily-populated state, South Dakota is quite large, spanning nearly four hundred miles in width from east to west. Because of its immense size, different regions of the state are home to different areas. The westernmost portion of the state is home to one of its most popular and beautiful places: the Black Hills. This stunning region of the state is marked by dark-colored, granite-formed spires, with one peak reaching the highest altitude east of the Rockies.
Because this massive area is so full of unique experiences, it is an ideal destination for a family vacation. With two incredible national parks, a stunning state park, awe-inspiring Mount Rushmore, many historic towns, and so much more, visitors would be hard-pressed to run out of things to do, see, and experience. Climb aboard and buckle up as we tour the Black Hills region of South Dakota and help you plan your next trip.
Things to Do
As mentioned above, the Black Hills region of South Dakota is filled with incredible activities and amazing experiences for your whole family. Below are some ideas of destinations for you to check out, as well as ideas of what you can do in each place.
Let’s begin this tour at the southernmost destination of the Black Hills region, Wind Cave National Park. Here, incredible wildlife such as bison and elk roam the prairies and forests aboveground, while beneath the surface, the incredible Wind Cave marks one of the most intricate and longest cave systems in the world. Above ground, visitors tend to enjoy hiking, scenic driving, wildlife viewing, and camping, while, below the surface, most visitors tend to enjoy one of a number of possible cave touring opportunities. One of the most noteworthy cave features is, of course, an intricate pattern known as “boxwork,” which covers the walls and can be found in few other caves worldwide.
Travelers visiting in their RVs will be delighted to find Elk Mountain Campground: a year-round, first come, first-served park with over sixty sites. There is no electricity or dump station available, but they offer potable water in the warmer months.
Continuing north, Custer State Park is a premiere location within the Black Hills area. Covering over 70,000 acres in total, this gorgeous park encompasses plenty of rolling prairies, as well as the stunning, dark spires of the Black Hills range. Here, park guests tend to enjoy biking, hiking, swimming, fishing, wildlife viewing, scenic driving, and more, all while basking in the glory of the beautiful and unique mountain range.
While there are many hiking trails available for hikers of all experiences and ability levels, the most noteworthy tend to be two different trails which lead to the famed Black Elk Peak. As the highest US peak east of the Rockies, hiking to Black Elk Peak offers stunning views on a rocky and exciting trail. The trail begins in Custer State Park but eventually enters into the Black Hills National Forest and the Black Elk Wilderness. It is about three miles in length and gains over 1,000 feet in elevation, depending on the route you choose to get to the top.
If hiking isn’t your thing, consider taking one of three incredible scenic drives. Wildlife Loop Road is an eighteen-mile loop offering opportunities for viewing mule deer, elk, and buffalo across the rolling prairies. Meanwhile, Needles Highway climbs through a series of stunning spires, meadows, and forests in an architecturally-intricate highway. However, the most popular drive here tends to be Iron Mountain Highway, which actually connects Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore. The highway itself is a work of art, and three distinct tunnels offer framed views of Mount Rushmore in the distance, which you will certainly want to visit on your journeys through this region.
Constructed between 1927 and 1941 by artist Gutzon Borglum, Mount Rushmore stands as a patriotic masterpiece. As a work of art and a structural feat, this monument is dedicated to four key US presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. These influential American figureheads are honored here for their contributions to America over a 150-year span of history. While these four faces can be seen all across different areas of the Black Hills region, visiting the actual monument offers a more close-up view and an opportunity to learn about the history of the area. Be sure to add this iconic American stop to your list.
Construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial began in 1948 and continues on today. The memorial honors a legendary Lakota Sioux Warrior, and the vision for the project has spanned over seventy years. When completed, it will be a total of 641 feet long and 523 feet high. So far, the face of the memorial is complete, and construction carries on with the most recent goal being to thin out the mountain and continue construction on this beautiful memorial. In addition to the memorial, visitors can plan to stop at the Welcome Center, the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center.
Found in the southern region of the Black Hills, the town of Hot Springs sits amongst a stunning combination of forests, canyons, and grasslands. As its namesake denotes, the area’s famous hot springs offer several mineral spas for visitors to choose from. Evans Plunge Mineral Springs offers family-friendly swimming and activities, including a water slide. Meanwhile, Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa offers restorative and calming experiences, such as soaking, massage therapy, yoga, and more, in a variety of outdoor and indoor pools fed by the natural springs.
In addition to relaxation, town visitors also tend to enjoy dining, shopping, golfing, and a variety of yearly events. Be sure to also check out Mammoth Site, an ongoing paleontological site that boasts the largest mammoth remains count in the world.
Rapid City serves as one of the most popular “base camps” for exploring the Black Hills area. Centrally-located, it provides easy access to the rest of the area, while also offering opportunities for plenty of experiences in the town itself. Downtown Rapid City offers dozens of dining and shopping experiences, with plenty of attractions and entertainment opportunities. Visitors to the area will want to spend plenty of time exploring the town before branching out to experience all the surrounding natural wonders.
Nicknamed the “Land of Stone and Light,” Badlands National Park is known for its stunning geologic formations and fossil beds. This 244,000-acre expanse consists of prairies, wildlife, and interesting “badlands” structures, created by a process known as deposition and erosion. These badlands are made up of a combination of sandstones, siltstones, mudstones, claystones, limestones, volcanic ash, and shale, forming a series of unique and striking colorful hills that stretch as far as the eye can see.
Here, park visitors can enjoy a variety of fun activities, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, ranger-led programs, wildlife-viewing opportunities, and stargazing. In the heat of the summer, scenic driving is one of the most popular activities in the park. There are several great opportunities, and these include Badlands Loop Road, Sage Creek Rim Road, and the South Unit of the Badlands. Each drive offers fantastic opportunities for stunning views, wildlife viewing, and informational exhibits, all from the comfort of your own vehicle.
Those visiting this park in their RV can choose to camp in either Cedar Pass Campground or Sage Creek Campground. Cedar Pass is the most popular of the two. It offers ninety-six reservable campsites with stunning views for RVs up to thirty-five feet in length. Sage Creek Campground is a free, first come, first-served campground. It offers twenty-two sites for tent campers or RVs up to eighteen total feet in length.
8. Sturgis, SD
Sturgis, South Dakota is well-known for its yearly motorcycle rally, held each August. The rally includes festivities such as races, competitions, rides, rallies, and more. Aside from the yearly event, Sturgis visitors tend to enjoy a variety of agritourism activities, as well as arts, museums, scenic driving, community events, and more. Nearby Vanocker Canyon provides dramatic views in a less-frequented area of the Black Hills. For many, this is a welcome respite in the busyness of the summer tourism season.
9. Deadwood, SD
In 1876, Deadwood became a “Wild West” town, following the discovery of a nearby creek full of gold. Seemingly overnight, the town boomed, attracting a unique cast of characters, including outlaws, gamblers, and gunslingers. Historic and iconic figures soon emerged to make a name for themselves in this small town. These include Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickock, Seth Bullock, Al Swearangen, Potato Creek Johnny, and so many more. Today, this town remains popular for gambling, dining, entertainment, shopping, relaxation, and so much more. Town visitors are often witness historic reenactments of town events of the past, retelling stories of the Wild West and allowing visitors to experience a glimpse of what the original town was like. Be sure to add this stop to your Black Hills itinerary!
10. Spearfish, SD
Last but not least, the town of Spearfish, marks an awesome final destination on our Black Hills road trip. Surrounded by the stunning natural beauty of the northern Black Hills, this is another popular basecamp for exploring this region. Within the town itself, visitors tend to enjoy spending time on Main Street. Other popular activities include checking out historical sites and buildings, dining at incredible restaurants, and witnessing local entertainment. Spearfish is also a popular destination for a variety of events and festivals, especially in the beautiful summer and fall seasons. Be sure to make a stop in this cute town as you explore the Black Hills.
Harvest Hosts Locations
Such an incredible region is made even more incredible by the three (at this time) Harvest Hosts stops located throughout. Consider stopping at any (or all!) of these great locations dotted throughout the Black Hills area of western South Dakota.
1. Naughti Wines South Dakota & Sick-n-Twisted Brewery – Hill City, SD
Located in the little town of Hill City, this lighthearted brewery and winery combination space features red, white and blush wine varietals made from Oregon and Washington-grown grapes. The brewery offers over 100 microbrews, with something for almost any palate to enjoy. They also have a restaurant available, serving pizza, wings, pretzels, and other fares. In addition to the restaurant, brewery, and winery, this location also offers a gift shop, a picnic area, WiFi, and nearby hiking opportunities. At this time, they offer four pet-friendly spaces for RVs under forty-four feet in length.
2. Crow Peak Brewing Company – Spearfish, SD
Crow Peak Brewing Company is an excellent Harvest Hosts location in the heart of Spearfish, South Dakota. This microbrewery offers plenty of beers to choose from, while allowing visitors to experience peak South Dakota beer culture. They are open seven days a week, offering happy hour specials from Monday through Thursday. In addition, they host live events throughout the year, including music, festivals, and more. Currently, they offer two pet-friendly spaces for RVs under twenty-nine feet in length.
3. Mcguigan Farm Experience – Spearfish, SD
Also located in Spearfish, Mcguigan Farm Experience offers authentic and unique farm experiences that provide a snapshot of farm life while working with your hands. Farm owners urge visitors to leave the hustle and bustle behind and enjoy the nature around them with each visit. In addition to hour-long tours, they also offer hands-on experiences and a daily farm feeding event. The hands-on and live viewing events allows visitors a more close-up look at rural farm life. In addition to tours and experiences, this century-old farm also offers a garden, a petting zoo, a gift shop full of merchandise, and a play area. Currently, they have two pet-friendly spaces for RVs of any size available.
As you can see, the Black Hills region of South Dakota is an incredible area for a family vacation. With dozens of campground and Harvest Hosts locations to choose from, there are plenty of places to stay while spending your days exploring the area. Be sure to reference this guide when planning your next trip for help in selecting all the best destinations.
Have you visited the Black Hills of South Dakota? Where did you stay? What was your favorite place there? Are there any other local attractions you would recommend? Feel free to share all about it in the comments below!
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