The Black Hills of South Dakota are perhaps best known for those famous presidential faces carved into the side of a mountain. While there’s no doubt that Mount Rushmore is a must visit attraction, if that’s all you see during your Black Hills visit, then you are seriously missing out!
From underground caves, historic trains, scenic drives, spooky cemeteries, and even herds of free-roaming buffalo, the Black Hills truly has something for everyone.
Covering 73,000 acres, Custer State Park is one of the largest state parks in the country. From the northern section that lies in the shadow of Harney Peak, to the forest, meadows, and prairies of its southeast corner, Custer State Park is as diverse as it is beautiful.
Established as a game preserve in 1913, Custer State Park is currently home to a herd of about 1,300 free-roaming American buffalo. A leisurely drive on the scenic Wildlife Loop Road offers a close encounter with these majestic beasts. If you’re lucky you might also see elk, white-tail and mule deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn and prairie dogs.
While the wildlife may be the main attraction, Custer State Park has so much more to offer – there’s hiking, biking, boating, swimming, or simply relaxing at one of the nine campgrounds inside the park.
Visitors have been coming to the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery for more than 100 years to enjoy the park-like setting, feed the fish, watch them swim behind huge underwater windows, and learn about fish culture and resource management.
Originally constructed to stock trout populations in the Black Hills, today the hatchery serves as a living fishery museum with a cultural heritage center, a replica “Fish Car” train, and of course, thousands of fish to watch and feed.
3. Wind and Jewel Cave National Monuments
Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world and is renowned for the millions of shimmering crystals that line the cave walls. Both caves are part of the national park system and open for a variety of tours.
4. The Black Hills Wine Trail
A wine region in the Black Hills? Absolutely! With the perfect climate for growing crab apples, chokecherries, rhubarb, buffalo berries, and wild plums alongside grape varieties that thrive in the northern plains climate, the Black Hills are ripe with unique regional wines.
The 50-mile drive passes through forests and meadow while providing spectacular roadside views of Pactola Reservoir and Sheridan Lake.
There’s no shortage of fun things to do in downtown Rapid City. Pose with life-size statues on the City of Presidents walk, admire Smithsonian-worthy Native American art at Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries, or splash in the fountains at Main Street Square.
With year round activities including a free summer concert series, a pumpkin festival, an annual kid’s carnival, and even ice skating in the winter months, Rapid City offers up year-round entertainment.
The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a stunning 19-mile cruise through an ancient canyon filled with towering limestone walls and dense deciduous forest. The road follows Spearfish Creek past the historic Homestake Gold Mine and multiple waterfalls.
Don’t forget to stop and stretch your legs. The hiking options are numerous in the canyon with several pullouts along the route offering access to trails that trek through wide open prairies and forests.
Since 1948, a massive sculpture has been slowly emerging from a mountain in the Black Hills. Currently, only the face of Crazy Horse is recognizable while the rest of his head, chest and arms – as well as the mighty horse he rides – are still somewhere inside the mountain waiting to be carved.
Once complete, this tribute to the Lakota leader will be the largest mountain carving in the world. Visitors can view the work in progress, while touring the on-site Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational & Cultural Center.
8. 1880 Train
Hop aboard a vintage steam train for a two hour ride through the Black Hills. Chug along on the 1880 steam engine past Harney Peak, Indian Cliffs, Old Baldy Mountain and more on this round-trip journey between the towns of Keystone and Hill City.
Located in Custer State Park, this 14-mile scenic drive twists and turns through some of the most fantastic scenery in the Black Hills. The route winds around high granite rock “needles”, through rock tunnels, rock spires, and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, named for the small opening created by wind, rain, freezing and thawing.
Deadwood’s historic cemetery includes such notorious figures as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Take an entertaining bus tour to the cemetery perched atop a plateau overlooking Deadwood Gulch. This late Victorian cemetery includes multiple sections and features interesting headstones and carvings.