Badlands, granite spires and pine-covered hills rise from the prairie on the state’s western edge. There, you’ll find trails to explore and pieces of history around the bends of twisting roads.

By The editors of
March 27, 2013

Due to possible coronavirus-related travel restrictions, please check destinations' websites for the current status of attractions, restaurants, events and lodgings.


1880 Train 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. 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.

Badlands National Park.

Bear Butte State Park Hike 1.85 miles to the butte's summit for panoramic views of the Black Hills. The Lakota and Cheyenne hold the area sacred; respect any prayer offerings you see.

Black Elk Peak At 7,242 feet above sea level, the peak makes for a challenging but doable hike. Take the No. 9 trail (about 7 miles round-trip) from Sylvan Lake.

Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary Guided tours lead to up-close views of some of the 600 mustangs that range the 11,000-acre property 14 miles south of Hot Springs. Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary on Facebook

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.

Crow Peak Brewing Company Taste local brews in a lodge-style tap room with a large deck in Spearfish.

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). In September, visitors come to watch the annual Buffalo Roundup.

Custer State Park.

Evans Plunge 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 The world’s third-longest cave system reopened with a revamped lighting and walkway system so visitors can better 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, tour a command center (reservations required), or drop by the new visitors center to learn about the Cold War’s firepower in western South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial Scheduled for 2020: the completion of updates to improve accessibility to and views of the 60-foot-tall faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The carvings, made from 1927 to 1941, rank as one of America’s must-see attractions.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Spearfish Canyon Home to some of the best scenery in the region, this gorge holds cliffs, waterfalls and forests, easily accessible from the 22-mile Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.

Roughlock Falls tumbles into Spearfish Canyon.

Sylvan Rocks Climbing School and Guide Service Friendly guides literally show beginners (and more experienced climbers) the ropes on guided climbs of the granite spires around Sylvan Lake and beyond.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Join 500,000 bikers in the Black Hills August 7–16, 2020, for the 80th anniversary of one of the world’s largest motorcycle rallies, with bike shows, races, and rock and country concerts.

Wall Drug 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.


Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. Meat ground on-site, buns baked daily and fun toppings make seriously great burgers at this Custer joint.

Black Hills Burger and Bun Co.

Buglin' Bull Restaurant and Sports Bar Lunch staples with a South Dakota twist include buffalo wraps and elk burgers in Custer; the menu dresses up for dinner with steaks and seafood.

Laughing Water Restaurant Try the Native American tacos (made with Indian fry bread) or bison stew at Crazy Horse Memorial's on-site restaurant. Large windows give diners great views of the mountain carving.

Leones' Creamery 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 new brewery and events space. Check out foods that are still Black Hills rarities, like antipasto platters.

Sage Creek Grille This downtown Custer restaurant built its following with expertly prepared seasonal fare, such as wild sockeye salmon with roasted vegetables and beef pot roast sandwiches with melted dill Havarti.

Skogen Kitchen 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.

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.

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 Cabins, campsites and rooms at five lodges take advantage of the inspiring landscape. The stone-and-wood State Game Lodge keeps the gracious feel of the 1920s.

Ghost Canyon Dude Ranch  Horseback ride, bike, hike, fish and kayak at the Black Hills' first all-inclusive dude ranch, 27 miles southwest of Rapid City.

Spearfish Canyon Lodge Overlooking Spearfish Creek, the lovely inn is a perfect base for touring the canyon, fly-fishing and snowmobiling.

Terry Peak Chalets Vacation homes in Lead sleep up to 14 people each and come with hot tubs, full kitchens and fireplaces.

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.

The Lofts 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.

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Spotlight: Deadwood

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.

Wild Bill Hickok re-creator in Deadwood.

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