Rhinoceros, wooly mammoth, and saber-toothed cats once roamed here. Today, you're likely to see bison herds, pronghorn, deer, golden eagles and falcons, and there's much more to discover on a trip to South Dakota.
Southwestern South Dakota's Badlands and Black Hills are both majestic and understated. You can seek serenity in the Badlands' seemingly endless landscape, or seek action in Rapid City's restaruants, local coffee shops, wineries, and brewpubs. See the renowned Mount Rushmore, then pull away from civilization to a quiet cabin in the Black Hills.
Here's some of the best of what you'll see on a Badlands and Black Hills trip.
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is otherworldly. Hundreds of thousands of years of erosion has left a wonderland of rock spires and wind-swept canyons in the prairie and has revealed the fossil evidence of its storied past. Badlands is a great place to hike, cycle, and stargaze.
Mount Rushmore is iconic. A patriotic statement carved out of Harney Peak in the Black Hills, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial gets three million visitors a year. Guided tours and exhibits reveal both the history of building the memorial and of the land and its people. The Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village gives you a deeper look at the native tribes' history and influence on South Dakota.
You've got a lot to explore here. One of our HomeAway staffers recently vacationed in the Black Hills. Here's his sample itinerary with recommendations of things to do and a few places to eat and drink along the way.
Day 1 – Badlands and Rapid City
- Hike the Notch Trail, Window Trail, and Saddle Pass Trail at Badlands National Park.
- Visit the town of Wall and Wall Drug on the drive to Rapid City.
- Grab a $12 filet mignon for dinner at the Alpine Inn in Hill City.
Days 2 and 3 – Memorials
- Walk the Presidential Trail at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Stay till dusk, and enjoy the evening lighting ceremony.
- Crazy Horse Memorial is a little off to the west and privately owned but still quite a marvel.
- Drive the Needles Highway through Custer State Park with views of Sylvan Lake and roaming bison herds.
- Enjoy an evening of wine tasting and craft beers at Naked Winery and Sick-N-Twisted Microbrewery in Custer or Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City.
Sylvan Lake and bison herds in Custer State Park
Day 4 – Day trip west
- A two-hour drive west takes you to the United States's first declared national monument, Devils Tower.
- The route through the Black Hills can go through scenic Spearfish Canyon scenic drive or through the historic town of Deadwood, with casinos and gaming.
Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
Day 5 – Springs and caves
- At the southern end of the Black Hills (about an hour south of Mount Rushmore) visit the town of Hot Springs, and go for a swim in the giant spring-fed swimming pool, Evans Plunge.
- Go spelunking (cave exploring) in Wind Cave National Park, between Hot Springs and Custer, and discover the hidden world below the grasslands.
A perfect home base for this trip is Hill City, SD, in the heart of Black Hills country, which gives you easy access to the sights and multiple dinner options to choose from at the end of the day. Vacation homes may have amenities like hot tubs, fireplaces, outdoor patios and decks, and perhaps even a fire pit, so you can perfect your marshmallow roasting technique.
Itinerary ideas and photos provided by Dustin Orrick
*Banner Image from Liz Lawley