Top Things to Do in South Dakota's Black Hills and Badlands
Stained-glass windows, wood trim, leather-upholstered benches and the chug of the steam engine make riders feel as if they're stepping back in time for the two-hour Keystone-Hill City round-trip.
Badlands National Park
An eerie landscape of eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires stretches out east of the Black Hills at this national park. Drive the 39-mile Badlands Loop Road for a quick overview or hike paths like the Notch Trail to see formations up close. The Ben Reifel Visitor Center offers exhibits and programs.
Black Elk Peak
Crazy Horse Memorial
Since 1948, the great Oglala Lakota leader has slowly emerged from the world's largest mountain carving. Learn about Native American culture at the visitors center.
Related: Midwest Living South Dakota Road Rally
Custer State Park
Open ranges, granite spires and sky blue lakes awe visitors at one of the nation's largest state parks (71,000 acres). Drive the Needles Highway or the Scenic Wildlife Loop; hike trails that circle lakes or head toward peaks; or explore on horseback with a guided trail ride. Special events include the annual Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival (September 29–October 1, 2022), when visitors come to watch staff manage the herd of more than 1,300 through the valley.
The Wild West still intrigues in this northern Black Hills destination, where Wild Bill Hickok's hilltop grave lies beside the real-life Calamity Jane's. Wander the historic main street to Saloon No. 10, where you can see a re-creation of the shooting of Wild Bill several times a day.
Float in spring-fed warm mineral water (87 degrees year-round) that has soothed visitors since 1890. Or splash into the Hot Springs attraction via slides.
George S. Mickelson Trail
The 109-mile crushed-stone bike path from Edgemont to Deadwood follows former railbeds and passes through rock tunnels.
Jewel Cave National Monument
At the world's third-longest cave system, visitors can experience unusual calcite crystals, dogtooth spar and cave popcorn during tours.
The Mammoth Site
Walkways give guests a close look at a prehistoric sinkhole holding fossils of 61 young male mammoths and other ice age animals.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Peer into a missile silo, explore on a guided tour (reservations required) or drop by the visitors center at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site to learn about the Cold War's firepower in western South Dakota.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
The 60-foot-tall faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, carved from 1927 to 1941, rank as one of the Black Hills' must-see attractions. The visitors center details how the monument was created.
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Hundreds of thousands of bikers are expected August 5–14, 2022, for the 82nd anniversary of one of the world's largest motorcycle rallies, with bike shows, races and concerts.
Almost 2 million visitors come annually to this sprawling kitsch palace off Interstate-90. Swing up on the 10-foot-tall jackalope for a classic photo op.
Wind Cave National Park
The rarely found cave formation boxwork—blades of calcite in a honeycomb pattern—stand out on guided tours. Outside the cave, more than 30 miles of hiking trails wind through the park, home to bison, elk and prairie dogs.
Eat and Drink
Black Hills Burger and Bun Co.
Meat ground on-site, buns baked daily and fun toppings make seriously great burgers at this Custer joint.
Buglin' Bull Restaurant and Sports Bar
Lunch staples with a South Dakota twist include buffalo wraps and elk burgers at the Custer restaurant; the menu dresses up for dinner with steaks and seafood.
Crow Peak Brewing Company
Taste local brews in a lodge-style tap room with a large deck in Spearfish. The brewery celebrates its 15th year of operation in 2022.
Handcrafted ice cream in Spearfish features flavors of the Black Hills, such as Cycle Farm rhubarb or Sunrise Hives honey.
Prairie Berry Winery and Miner Brewing
The sleek Hill City winery makes European-style grape wines and has a brewery and events space. Check out foods that are still Black Hills rarities, like antipasto platters.
This innovative Custer restaurant (whose name means "forest" in Norwegian) offers artful brunch fare like walleye with mint emulsion and, for dinner, house-made cavatelli and steam buns.
Buffalo Rock Lodge
The three-guest-room B&B outside Keystone opens to a distant but direct view of Mount Rushmore.
Circle View Guest Ranch
Feed calves, ride horses and enjoy hearty breakfasts at the family-owned 3,000-acre ranch in the Badlands area.
Custer State Park Resort
The Hotel Sturgis
A 1906 brick building on Main Street holds the city's new 22-room boutique hotel. Enjoy the sunny coffee shop or, in some rooms, private balconies.
Sleek one-bedroom apartments feel like home, with art on the walls and cookbooks in the kitchen. Walk to Lead's restaurants and brewery.
Under Canvas Mount Rushmore
Go glamping with a view 2 miles from Keystone. Many of the safari-inspired canvas tents have private baths and decks; larger spaces can easily accommodate families.
For more information: blackhillsbadlands.com
The Wild West still intrigues in this northern Black Hills destination. At the Adams Museum, look for N.C. Wyeth's sketch of notorious gambler Wild Bill Hickok and Potato Creek Johnny's 7¾-ounce gold nugget. Weathered tombstones at Mt. Moriah Cemetery mark the resting place of 19th-century gunmen, gamblers, lawmen and madams.
Experience a different era of history at Pump House in a former Texaco station, where you can snag a sandwich and coffee, see Texaco memorabilia and watch a glassblower demonstrate her art at Mind Blown Studio. Step back into the area's past at Tatanka: Story of the Bison, where a bronze sculpture commissioned by Kevin Costner depicts bison and Native American hunters; an interpretive center gives insights into the role of bison in Lakota life. Native American and Western history also star at the Days of '76 Museum.
See a re-creation of the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok three times a day outside Saloon #10; head inside and upstairs to the Deadwood Social Club for creative dishes such as smoked pheasant over fettuccine. Many of the town's lodging facilities contain or adjoin casinos; our picks include The Lodge at Deadwood Gaming Resort and Celebrity Hotel.
For more information visit deadwood.com