Best of the Black Hills
The area of the Black Hills is small but the variety of experiences offered to visitors in this compact region is amazing. The Black Hills region offers stunning scenic beauty, a fascinating Native American and western history, and fabulous family roadside attractions.
From the longest caves to the largest mountain carvings, from wildlife viewing in Custer State Park to the wild life of the gaming and historic town of Deadwood, there really is something for everyone here.
Head south on Highway 79 and take a right on Highway 36 just past Hermosa. About nine miles in, take a right and head north on Iron Mountain Road just as you enter Custer State Park. Bring carrots or apples, stop to feed the wild burros on the way, and wind through the narrow tunnels that frame the monument as you pass through them.
Spend the morning and early afternoon at Mount Rushmore and then head down the mountain toward Hill City. Stroll the compact boardwalk of downtown Hill City, visit the art galleries and The Museum at Black Hills Institute, and then head back to Rapid City.
Prairie Edge is a must in the downtown area. Enjoy an evening microbrew and dinner next door at the Firehouse Brewing Company, or if a quiet dinner is your preference, stop in at the Wine Cellar. Stay at the Big Sky Lodge or at Hotel Alex Johnson.
Today is a day of contrasts with a trip to Badlands National Park and Wall Drug. Head west on I-90 and take exit 110 at the town of Wall. Stop in for a quick visit to Wall Drug to pick up some of their freshly made cake donuts, hit Subway to pack a picnic lunch, and head south to the main entrance of Badlands National Park.
Meander the Loop Road, take the short Fossil Exhibit Trail and stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center at the southern end of the park. If you didn’t bring food, lunch is available at the Cedar Pass Lodge.
Continue north on Highway 240, to return to I-90 and head east back to Wall. (You will pass the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, home of the Launch Facility Delta-09, a good stop for military history enthusiasts.) Spend a little time at Wall Drug. The kids will love the backyard and you will love the bookstore, the artwork, and the hot roast beef sandwich. Head back to Rapid City on I-90.
It’s time to shift your base camp into the hills. Head south on Highway 79 to Hot Springs. Visit the Mammoth Site, bring your swimsuits and take a plunge into the warm mineral waters at Evans Plunge, or walk the Freedom Trail beside Fall River, and enjoy the town’s beautiful sandstone architecture.
Have lunch in town and then head north on U.S. 385 to Wind Cave National Park for a cave tour. Take U.S. 385 into Custer. Stay at the Rocket Motel and have dinner at the Sage Creek Grille, or stay at the Bavarian Inn and have dinner at the restaurant there. Both are excellent choices.
Travel east on Mount Rushmore Road into Custer State Park. Once inside the park stay on Highway 87 north, also known as the Needles Highway. This scenic byway ends at Sylvan Lake. Enjoy lunch at Sylvan Lake Lodge. Avid hikers should note that the best trailhead to Harney Peak is located here.
To begin your return trip, drive north on Highway 87 to the junction with U.S. 385 and head south to Crazy Horse Memorial. Be sure to watch the video there. After your visit, return to Custer.
It’s back to Custer State Park today. Once inside the park boundaries, head south on Highway 87 to the Wildlife Loop. The loop is best traveled early morning or at dusk. Bring carrots, apples, and a camera, as there is a wild burro herd in this vicinity.
Pack up and head north on U.S. 385 to Hill City. Arrange to take the 10 a.m. 1880 Train to Keystone and the 12:15 p.m. train back. Walk the boardwalk in Keystone and buy some taffy but plan on lunch at the Alpine Inn back in Hill City. After lunch, take U.S. 385, stop at the Prairie Berry Winery for some wine tasting, visit Reptile Gardens, and then head to Rapid City for the night.
Today we visit the Northern Hills. Head north on I-90 to Spearfish. Take the 14A exit and travel the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. Stretch your legs and enjoy the short hike to Roughlock Falls (near the Spearfish Canyon Lodge) and to Spearfish Falls. Have lunch at Cheyenne Crossing.
Head into Lead for a surface tour of the Homestake Mine, then continue on to Deadwood. Take the trolley around town, then visit the Mount Moriah Cemetery, where the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are located.
Try a hand of blackjack at one of the casinos, then enjoy dinner at one of the buffets—or fine dining at the Deadwood Social Club at Saloon No. 10 or at Jake’s at the Midnight Star. Return to Rapid City via the interstate.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition