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    Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills

    The Best of Mt Rushmore & the Black Hills: 21 things to do including Custer State Park and more

    by Matt, Updated July 2022

    Quick Introduction

    Come for Mount Rushmore, stay for the Black Hills!

    The Black Hills aren’t as majestic as the Rockies, but they are one of my favorite places to visit. It’s hard not to fall in love with them!

    The Black Hills have something for everyone:

    • Six national park sites, including Mount Rushmore
    • Scenic drives
    • Hiking and biking
    • History
    • Gambling
    • Caves, mountains, and wildlife-filled prairies
    • Lakes for boating, fishing, and swimming

    Basic Layout and Geography

    The Black Hills are located in South Dakota, surrounded by the Great Plains. Devils Tower is also considered part of the Black Hills, though it is located in Wyoming.

    The Black Hills are a large area, and can generally be broken down into three sections:

    • Northern: Deadwood, Lead, Sturgis, and Spearfish.
    • Central: Rapid City, Hill City, Keystone.
    • Southern: Custer, Mt Rushmore, Custer State Park.

    There are also attractions to visit on the outskirts of the Black Hills. Each is about an hour away from the Hills, except Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which is 4 hours away:

    • Devils Tower
    • Badlands
    • Hot Springs, SD
    • Theodore Roosevelt National Park & Medora, North Dakota

    The Black Hills are the closest jumping-off point to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. So although it’s 4 hours away, consider visiting it if you can add a few more days to your Black Hills itinerary. Medora, ND is a wonderful little town with the famous Medora Musical, and the park itself is a place to find peace and quiet.

    Highlights

    Mount Rushmore is usually the big draw to get people to the Black Hills, and with good reason: it’s a place everyone should visit at least once!

    Custer State Park is the highlight of the Black Hills! It has scenic drives, wildlife, hikes, beautiful lodges to stay and eat, and lakes to play in, including the “crown jewel of the Black Hills,” Sylvan Lake.

    Wild burros at Custer State Park!

    Deadwood is the most famous city in the Black Hills, playing on the Old West theme. This one-time Gold Rush town offers gambling, shootouts, stagecoach rides, and America’s largest gold mine, located nearby in Lead. Deadwood is where Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane are buried, in Mount Moriah Cemetery, a popular stop.

    Main Street in Deadwood, SD

    Six National Park sites allow you to check many off your list if you’re a “parkie.” These include:

    • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
    • Badlands National Park
    • Wind Cave National Park
    • Jewel Cave National Monument
    • Devils Tower National Monument
    • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
    Badlands National Park

    Route 16 extends from Rapid City to Keystone and has many family-friendly activities, such as Bear World, Reptile Gardens, Cosmos Mystery Area, Old MacDonald Farm, Rush Mountain, and the Fort Hays Old West Town and Dinner Show. Depending on your traveling style, you might consider this area as “tourist trap row,” or a great way to provide some variety and entertainment (especially for the kiddos!).

    Visiting the Black Hills

    It takes at least four days to see the best of the Black Hills, which is why we created a four-day itinerary for you. However, you can spend even more time enjoying the Black Hills, which is why our four-day itinerary includes three additional days’ worth of activities.

    The entire Black Hills area is gorgeous, and everywhere you drive is on a winding, scenic road. That’s one reason why it’s so popular with the bikers, who gather at Sturgis every August. TIP: Avoid visiting the Black Hills during Sturgis!

    Staying

    The area is large and spread out, so you’ll need to choose between staying in one location and driving about an hour in each direction every day, or staying in multiple locations to save driving time.

    Eating

    From our experience, and from the recommendations we’ve received from our viewers, the food in the Black Hills is generally good. The official state snack is Chislic, which is cubed bison meat. Steakhouses and bison burgers are found all over the Black Hills.

    Playing

    There are many activities to keep your trip fresh!

    Hike to the tallest point in South Dakota, Black Elk Peak. Rent bikes and ride along the 100-mile George S. Mickelson Trail. Rent a slingshot and enjoy some of the most beautiful drives in your life! Kayak or paddleboard on Sylvan, Stockade, Pactola, or Legion Lakes. Or do a chuckwagon dinner in Custer State Park!

    Resources

    Our Itinerary and Audio Guide

    We created a day-by-day itinerary for you so you don’t miss out on anything! We also created an audio guide with over two hours of stories and history about this incredible area, including the Battle of Little Bighorn, essays about each president on Mount Rushmore, and more!

    Articles

    General Black Hills

    Mt Rushmore Area: Hill City & Keystone

    Deadwood

    Videos

    Black Hills Trip Planner | Know Before You Go to Mt Rushmore & the Black Hills!
    The BEST overview of planning a trip to the Black Hills

    ABOUT US

    We’re Matt and Cheryl, and we’re in the Rockies. :) We are both teachers. Cheryl teaches special ed, and Matt teaches American history. We love the American West and the national parks. We want to help you have a great vacation on your next trip to the Rockies.

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