Black Hills, Badlands & Rushmore | South Dakota
Western South Dakota delivers a wide variety of spectacular landscapes ranging from the prairies grassland and rock formations of the Badlands National Park…
Shift your road trip to the Black Hills, Badlands and Mount Rushmore into high gear with our narrated audio tour. Listen to sample tour commentary online, and learn about the types of fascinating behind-the-scenes stories on the history, geology, hikes, wildlife and cultural highlights that play automatically as you drive. It's just like having a tour guide in your car.
If we’re planning to spend some time in Spearfish Canyon, we’ll get some great views and a chance to explore some shallow caves on the Community Caves Trail. This one is short and sweet, at just under 200 feet of elevation climb and a little over a half a mile in length. It’s especially breathtaking in the winter when waterfalls in the caves are frozen over, though the hiking can be more dangerous that time of year as well. Our trip planner has more moderate and challenges hikes to consider.
Astronomy Festival. Light pollution continues to make star-gazing more and more difficult around the world, but out in the wide open, sparsely populated plains of South Dakota, the Badlands are a perfect place to host an annual Astronomy Festival. Our trip planner has more events to plan your trip around.
There are several towns and smaller communities in and around the Black Hills, so where we decide to stay depends largely on the kinds of activities we’d like to do. Rapid City is centrally located and most of the major attractions peppered throughout the Hills are within an hour drive. Our trip planner has more suggestions on where to base yourself.
The Black Hills of South Dakota is an island of mountains rising out of the western edge of the Great Plains. Given its rather remote location, some visitors fly into the Rapid City Regional Airport but the majority come by car, bus, motorhome, or motorcycle. It’s the largest city within a 300 mile radius and functions as the metropolitan center for dozens of smaller communities. Our trip planner has more suggestions for how to plan the perfect road trip.
Spread out over 5,000 square miles, arguably the most accessible way to see the Black Hills is by car—or motorcycle, but we’ll get to that later. There are three main roads into and out of the region. Interstate 90 traverses east and west, Highway 16 runs south and west out of Rapid City, and Highway 79 takes us north and south through the area. Our trip planner has more suggestions for how to plan the perfect road trip.
Though several of the routes we’ll discuss take us through the Black Hills National Forest and are therefore free, there are fees associated with specific locations. Each of the national parks within the Black Hills have their own fee structure, and camping fees are almost always charged separately. Our trip planner has more suggestions for how to plan the perfect road trip.
Layer Up: The weather in Rapid City is quite literally harder to predict than almost anywhere in the US because of the nature of an island of mountains in the middle of the plains. Not to mention the variations due to altitude and time of day. This means that no matter the season, it’s always important to have at least a sweatshirt and a waterproof jacket available. A hat is also a good idea in the shoulder seasons. Our trip planner has more items that you'll need for your visit.
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit, though winter sports like skiing, snowmobiling, ice-climbing, winter hiking, and others bring adventure enthusiasts year-round. Traffic is heavy from May through September, and the world-famous Sturgis Rally brings upwards of a million motorcyclists to the region in late July and early August. Our trip planner has more suggestions no matter what time of year you're planning to visit.
If we’ve only got time to spend half a day in the Badlands, the driving tour might be our best option. We’ll get to see a lot of the almost other-worldly landscape that makes this place so visually stunning and even catch a little of the history and geology. There are several hikes we can do if we’d like a more intimate experience with the formations or we can stick to the pull-outs and overlooks for photo opportunities. Our trip planner has more not-to-be-missed places.
Travel Early: The Black Hills are a veritable mecca of tourism and these small towns are not built to accommodate the kind of traffic that floods into the area for the summer months. You can get ahead of long lines and crammed parking lots at most of the scenic locations in the Hills by arriving as early as possible. Our trip planner has more top travel tips that you need for your visit.
It would be easy to spend a week or more in the Black Hills exploring all the outdoor recreation, tourist locales, art, and culture, but if we can spend three days, we can get a good taste of all those things. If we’ve got that much time, we could spend one day in the southern Hills—Custer State Park and the surrounding area, one day in the Northern Hills—Deadwood and Spearfish, and one day in Rapid City and the Badlands. Our trip planner has more ideas for how much time you need.
Right in the center of Rapid City, Dinosaur Park is one of the favorite places for kids to explore. After a fairly steep stair-climb, the park features 7 large-scale dinosaur sculptures set along the spine of the hill that runs divides the community between east and west. Our trip planner has more fun things for kids of all ages to enjoy.
Western South Dakota delivers a wide variety of spectacular landscapes ranging from the prairies grassland and rock formations of the Badlands National Park, through to the mountains, canyons and forests of the Black Hills, and gigantic carvings at Mount Rushmore National Monument. Our trip planner has all the information you need to make the most of your visit including when to visit, how to get there, how much time you need, and where to go and what to do.