Scenic Drive in South Dakota's Black Hills | Midwest Living

Scenic Drive in South Dakota's Black Hills

Discover the dramatic landscape of this rugged terrain in a 270-mile drive.


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Custer State Park

One of the nation's largest publicly owned buffalo herds roams this massive enclave, where you can stay at one of four state park lodges and dine on excellent food. You'll discover fishing, hiking, wildlife watching, horseback riding and other outdoor activities.

Harney Peak looms above quiet Sylvan Lake as you enter the park on State-87. From the 1930s-era Sylvan Lake Lodge resort, the road, which is known as Needles Highway, travels 14 miles into the heart of the park through a moonscape of rock formations. Granite spires rise beside the narrow blacktop. One-lane tunnels plunge through rock.

Drive the 18-mile Wildlife Loop, which passes over rolling pine hills and through open prairie. You may spot bison, deer, prairie dogs and wild burros, especially during the early-morning and late-evening hours.

At the south edge of the park, continue for 5 miles on State-87, until it merges with US-385. Go 2 miles south on US-385.

Wind Cave National Park

You can hike through pine forests and across windswept grasslands in this 28,300-acre preserve. But the real show is below ground, where rangers lead trips through some of the 82 miles of charted passageways in the big cave.

Continue 11 miles south on US-385.

Hot Springs

Long ago, the Sioux and Cheyennes believed in the curative powers of the warm mineral springs that put this town on the map. The mountain community, with sandstone buildings, climbs the valley walls along both sides of the Fall River.

Even before human beings arrived here, the waters were a favorite of woolly mammoths. A quarter century of digs has uncovered remains of dozens of these prehistoric ancestors of elephants, which became trapped in the springs. At The Mammoth Site, you can view the massive bones and tusks left right in the spots where they were unearthed. Tour guides explain their history.

The springs still flow through the town. Vacationers can soothe their muscles at Evans Plunge, a huge water park and indoor pool that draws from the mineral springs. Soaking in the relaxing waters, you can't help pondering the wonders of this region that even today seems barely tamed.

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