Black Hills and Badlands Trip Guide | Midwest Living

Black Hills and Badlands Trip Guide

From the carvings on Mount Rushmore to the surreal Badlands and the jagged peaks of Custer State Park, this South Dakota area is rich with history and natural beauty.
Needles formations in Custer State Park.
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Badlands National Park.
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Mount Rushmore.
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Firehouse Brewing Co.
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Buffalo Rock Lodge. Photo by Lisa Meyers McClintick.
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Black Hills

What to do

1880 Train Stained-glass windows, wood trim, leather-upholstered benches and the chug-chug of the engine: Stepping aboard the 1880 Train is like stepping back in time. The two-hour-long, steam-powered roundtrip between Keystone and Hill City traverses the Black Hills’ dense forest and open meadows. (605) 574-2222;

Bear Butte State Park Just east of Sturgis, the summit provides panoramic views of the Black Hills. Respect the privacy of Native Americans who gather here: Bear Butte is sacred to the Lakota and Cheyenne. (605) 347-5240;

Crazy Horse Memorial A work in progress since 1948, the massive sculpture of Crazy Horse astride a horse emerges a little more every year from the mountainside. (605) 673-4681;

Custer State Park At 71,000 acres, Custer is one of the nation’s largest state parks. Hike around lovely Sylvan Lake, drive the winding Needles Highway and ogle the bison wandering on the Wildlife Loop. (605) 255-4515;

Harney Peak The tallest peak east of the Rockies makes for a challenging but doable hike. Visitors can take the No.9 trail in Custer State Park to the crest, 7,242 feet above sea level.

Jewel Cave National Monument The second-longest cave in the world features about 150 miles of showy, mapped passageways that feel like walking inside a geode. (605) 673-8300;

The Journey Museum Explore South Dakota’s history through exhibits covering a dinosaur dig and the murder of Wild Bill Hickok. In Rapid City. (605) 394-6923;

The Mammoth Site In 1974, a home builder stumbled upon a prehistoric sinkhole holding intact skeletal remains of 59 young male mammoths. The site has been a dig-in-progress since, complete with a narrated tour. (605) 745-6017;

Mount Rushmore National Memorial Enjoy the view, the movie explaining why these presidents are included and the visitors center that details how the monument was created. (605) 574-2523;

Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries Open daily, this premier Native American gallery and store in Rapid City has authentic paintings, beaded dolls, drums, pottery, clothing, books and jewelry.  (605) 342-3086;

South Dakota Air and Space Museum Get a look at historical aircraft at an indoor-outdoor museum just east of Rapid City. Free. (605) 385-5189;

Tatanka: Story of the Bison A bronze sculpture in Deadwood commissioned by Kevin Costner depicts bison and Native American hunters. Also, visit an interpretive center. (605) 584-5678;

Wind Cave National Park Just south of Custer State Park, take guided tours of portions of the 140 miles of mapped cave passageways. (605) 745-4600;

Where to eat

Buglin’ Bull Restaurant and Sports Bar Tasty lunch wraps with a South Dakota twist include bison and smoked pheasant in the summer; the menu dresses up for dinner. In Custer. (605) 673-4477;

Firehouse Brewing Company Great fish and chips, toasted garlic beer bread and flavorful ales define the local favorite in Rapid City. (605) 348-1915;

Prairie Berry Winery In Hill City, sample wines and eat grilled sandwiches. Open for lunch; pairing dinners available in the summer. (877) 226-9453;

Tally’s Silver Spoon Head to Rapid City’s popular diner for comforting breakfasts and lunches (think blueberry pancakes and homemade soups), plus upscale dinners. (605) 342-7621;

Where to stay

Buffalo Rock Lodge This three-guest-room B&B outside Keystone offers a distant but direct view of Mount Rushmore. Days finish with dessert on the balcony. (888) 564-5634;

Hotel Alex Johnson Downtown’s renovated 1927 beauty includes a pub and sits within walking distance of shops and restaurants. (800) 888-2539;

Celebrity Hotel In Deadwood, heated towel bars and soft linens await in lovely guest rooms. (888) 399-1886; 

The Lodge at Deadwood The Arts and Crafts-style lodge has a pleasantly upscale vacation vibe. Some of the 140 rooms have balconies; the casino is a short walk away. (877) 393-5634;

Spearfish Canyon Lodge Overlooking Spearfish Creek, the lovely inn is a perfect base for touring the canyon, fly-fishing and snowmobiling. (877) 975-6343;

State Game Lodge at Custer State Park President Calvin Coolidge adopted the lodge as his “summer White House.” The building has been refurbished but retains a 1920s game-lodge feel.  (888) 875-0001;

Terry Peak Chalets Attractive, upscale cabins offer families a comfortable alternative to sharing a motel room. (605) 359-5364;

More information:
Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Association (605) 355-3600;
Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce (800) 325-6991;
Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 487-3223;
Spearfish Area Chamber of Commerce (800) 626-8013;


Worth noting The Oglala Sioux Tribe hosts its annual Oglala Nation Powwow and Rodeo the first week of August in Pine Ridge, about 110 miles southeast of Rapid City. Tribes celebrate nearly 30 of these gatherings each year. For a list:

What to do

Badlands National Park The moonlike landscape of this park covers nearly 250,000 acres and offers hiking, camping and bison sightings. (605) 433-5361;

Wall Drug Since 1931, the sprawling, kitschy roadside attraction near the Badlands has lured motorists with souvenirs, clothing, food and 5-cent coffee. (605) 279-2175;

Where to stay

Cedar Pass Lodge and Badlands Inn Cabins and rooms offer spectacular views of Badlands National Park. The complex includes a campground, restaurant and gift shop. (877) 386-4383;

More information: Wall-Badlands Area Chamber of Commerce (888) 852-9255;

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