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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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;

Click ahead for where to eat and stay in the Black Hills as well as information about the Badlands.


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