I’ve been craving mountains and forest more than ever. Some of my favorite trips in the last couple of years included mountains, forests, pines and hiking trails in North Carolina. To my surprise, on Thursday night Todd asked me to pack my stuff because we were heading somewhere in a long weekend getaway to the Black Hills, South Dakota.
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DoubleTree by Hilton Deadwood, SD. It didn’t take long for me to love this hotel. Its convenient location, comfortable bed, and decor make it the perfect stay in the Black Hills. There was rain on the forecast and cool nights ahead. So we packed warm pajamas and sweaters for evenings.
Our initial plan was to leave Fargo, ND by 6 am, but we left by 8:30 am (my bad). We stopped for snacks at the gas station. Then we drove for 4 hours on highway 29 until we found Interstate 90 where we head west for about four more hours to Wall. Even though it was a long way the amazing landscapes, almost empty highways, and views made it for an easy drive.
If you are planning to visit the Black hills, a nice idea is to take flight to Rapid City, and from there you can rent a car to drive to Deadwood. Great places to stay are Rapid City, Deadwood, Wall, Hill City, or Keystone.
Place We Visited in South Dakota, Black Hills.
1. The Pioneer Auto Show
On Interstate 90 take exit 192, head north. There we found the Pioneer Car Show. AJ ‘Dick’ Geisler and family started the car show in 1954. Since then, they hold a huge variety of collectibles cars including the 1904 Holsman Model K and the 1903 Ford Model A. These are two of the oldest vehicles in the world.
We stopped at Wall for dinner. This city is minutes away from the Badlands and it has a famous drug store. Wall drug has not only fantastic souvenirs, but it also has delicious food, and an outstanding Native American, and old west decoration. They’ve been on business since 1931 and draw over two million visitors each year. If you are driving Interstate 90, take exit 110 to Wall and county road 240 to the Badlands.
By the time we arrived to Wall it was late, so we stayed overnight. Next morning, we left earlier to the Black Hills. To our surprise, there was fog everywhere and driving was very difficult since the visibility was less than 20 feet. At some point, the sun came out, and the skies cleared up. This brought back happiness and relaxation to our already stressed faces.
On Saturday, our first stop was in Sturgis, the famous small city in western South Dakota. During the first week of August, is held annually the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It’s a 10 days event and bikers from all over the country meet here to ride, eat, and listen to great music. You’ll find the Fort Meade Museum to the east side of town.
By the time we got there, the Sturgis Mustang Rally was already over and it lasted 10 days. The event included racing, drag racing, barrel racing, and a rodeo.
4. Devils Tower, Wyoming
After visiting Sturgis and taking pictures of the surroundings, we were still early to check in at the hotel in Deadwood. So we headed to Wyoming looking for Devils Tower in the Northern portion of the Black Hills. It took around one hour and 20 minutes to get there, but again the scenery was breathtaking.
Devils Tower location is in northeastern Wyoming. Native Americans as Lakato and Cheyenne believed it is a spiritual place. They meet for winter camps, summer rituals, and vision quests. They have their own tales that describe the formation of the tower.
Twenty minutes before arriving at the bottom of the Devils tower, you can see it in the distance. I can’t tell how many times we stopped to take pictures. Every single turn of the road reveals a different angle.
On our way, we found a cozy old dinner and souvenir shop. We stopped for lunch and they had a variety of burgers including The Famous Elk, and Buffalo burger. They welcome visitors and bikers.
When we arrived at the bottom of Devils Tower, we found out we had to pay a fee of $25 to enter the park. For instance, Todd wasn’t sure because we already have tons of photos, but we paid the money to go in.
It was worthy! I don’t know about the Native Americans too much, but I can tell without a doubt that they are right. There’s something spiritual and sacred in Devils Tower. You can feel it in your bones and soul.
We loved the paved trail and gigantic rock formations. While you are hiking, you will see trees with prayer cloths or prayer bundles in different colors. They belong to native Americans, and we can’t touch them or photograph them. Clothes represent a prayer to request or to offer. Either way, clothes are a sentiment that we all should respect.
Cheyenne nation call it “Bear’s house” and from my point of view, if I compared both names; I think Bear’s House is a more appropriate name than Devils Tower. But it’s just my modest opinion.
We left Devils Tower National Park with our souls totally recharged and I feel that I will have to go back again to find whatever part of me still is there.
5. Crazy Horse Memorial
We spend a few minutes in Crazy Horse Memorial. We purchased two $12 tickets to enter the park, but if you want to go up to the mountain and see the construction, you must buy another ticket and the price is higher.
There is a museum and souvenir shop with native American ornaments. A restaurant and a light laser show by 6 pm. We didn’t stay for the light show. We bought a bottle of water for $3; we took pics and 10 minutes after our arrival we left. Nothing else to say.
6. Hill City
Small City with a great central location to see all the Black Hills offers. This city holds lots of events every month. It has great restaurants, wineries and breweries. It has the famous Teddy Bear Museum and an incredible variety of outdoor activities such as riding horses, rock climbing, hiking, and so on.
The Mickelson Trail is a gorgeous gravel road. It is important to pick a section of the trail that matches your level of fitness. We did 20 miles north of Hill City heading south where it was mostly downhill. Mountain bikes or hybrids are best. We enjoyed views of the hills on both sides of us.
We came back to Hill City and after one cocktail and a great ice-cream, Todd gave me the car’s keys. I had to drive all the way back to our hotel.
On our way to Deadwood, we stopped at the Steel Wheel Hidden Valley Campground Office. The place has everything, a gas station, a shop, and small kiosks outside with interesting items for a tourist.
We wanted to spend half of a day driving a UTV. One of the best companies to rent one has its office here. The name of the company is “Black Hills Off-road Rentals”. According to locals, their vehicles are reliable and won’t let you stuck in the middle of the trail.
We had a map showing fabulous spots like waterfalls, cliffs, and landscapes. We talked to the owner or the one in charge, I’m not sure. We felt he was a kind of rude but everybody can have a bad day.
Anyway, they didn’t have vehicles available and we couldn’t find any other company with UTVs either. You can rent for half a day or full day. Vehicles have the capacity for two, four or six passengers.
Prices are not cheap but it is an amazing activity to do, so book ahead of time. I have to emphasize that the company has great reviews about the maintenance of its vehicles so don’t forget the Black Hills Off-road rentals.
With the discovery of Gold in the Black Hills, miners, gunslingers and gamblers moved to Deadwood. Legendary characters emerged and made a name in the town’s history such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and many others. Hickok was gunshot a few weeks after his arrival while he was holding a poker hand of aces and eights.
Today, Deadwood is a gambling town. There are casinos, historical hotels, concerts, spas, and events. We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Deadwood, SD, and we loved it. We like Deadwood’s location because it takes minutes to drive between one spot to another.
On Saturdays they have a gunfire show right in the middle of main street. It’s a free show and I like the fact that they thought about our kids. Before the show starts, they call children and talk to them. They explain them what will happen and the kids make a promise. The show is absolutely kid’s friendly.
If you are staying in hotels around Deadwood, leave your car in the hotel and use the Trolley service that runs between hotels, motels, and tourist areas in town for only $1 per person. From Thursday to Sunday starts by 8 am until midnight.
Besides gambling, you can visit Mount Moriah Cemetery and the famous graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Also, The gorgeous Victorian and historic Adams House, and the Trial of Jack McCall in the Masonic Temple. Wineries and Brewing companies.
Jack McCall shot Hickok in the back of his head while he was playing poker. They have performed the play since 1920s. During the summer it plays six nights a week but Sundays. You pay a $6 ticket at the entrance, and it’s a fun show to enjoy with the whole family. They include people from the audience (kids and adults) to take part in the trial. Make sure and book ahead of time.
Away from the casinos, on the edge of town you will find the Broken Boot Gold Mine. Great, and when I say great, I mean awesome activity to visit with the whole family. You can pan for gold. I mean, how cool is that? Kids love to take rocks as a souvenir and it will delight your kids to find a little gold. Definitely, I would choose early hours to visit this mine and avoid the crowds.
8. Pactola Dam & Reservoir
Around ten miles away of Rapid City you will find Pactola Dam in Pennington County. The Dam provides a control against flood and recreation for its visitors. It’s the largest lake in the black hills.
Boating, skiing, canoing or kayaking are just some things to do in this beautiful place. Six years ago, when we married, we took a picture with this lake behind.
9 Sylvan Lake
Enclave in Custer Park lies Sylvan Lake, right in the middle of the Black Hills. It thrilled us at the very moment we entered to the lake area. We had a nice hike around the lake and enjoyed the scenery. The rock formations bring an out of these world scenery.
At the end of the trail, we found a rock tunnel, and some deers showed up in the middle of the woods. I didn’t want to make a noise with my camera but they didn’t even care. They were not afraid of humans and they walked freely around the park.
There is a possibility to get married in front of the lake. You can go tubing, kayaking and board paddling and spend a whole fabulous day.
10. Needles Highway
The famous highway 87 well-known as Needles highway it rides within Custer National Park. It has sharp turns, extreme narrow rock tunnels, granite formations, and the best views.
The highway has three famous tunnels; Needles Eyes Tunnel, Hood Tunnel and Iron Creek Tunnel. Only one car at the time can go through the tunnels and you better be patient. As you approach The Scovel Johnson Tunnel, you can see the Mt. Rushmore at the other side. But for us, the Doane Robinson Tunnel 2 had the best views of the Mt Rushmore.
You can go to the Mt. Rushmore, pay a fee, and take pics of the family with Mt. Rushmore right behind them. There are hiking trails and a small food court where you will find the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my entire life. After my first time in Mt. Rushmore I go again and again just for the ice cream.
11 Badlands National Park
Drive Interstate 90 and take exit 110. The rough beauty of the Badlands attracts people from around the globe. There is an entrance fee; for a non-commercial vehicle we paid $15.
The park has over two hundred thousand acres of prairie with bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs. There are thousands of fossils everywhere, but you can’t take any as a souvenir.
We could see how generous Mother Nature was with us when she sent the bisons to graze near the park entrance. What a delightful welcome. Magnificent bisons roaming in the prairie so close to our car that we could touch them if we dared to try. Seeing a bison in a picture is one thing and seeing it in person is quite another.
We didn’t hike a trail, but we enjoy the scenery driving around the whole park in a 45 minutes’ drive. We met and shared thoughts with other remarkable visitors. Definitely, we will go back to explore, camp, and learn more.
12. 1880 Town
This was a great deal to visit. Interstate 90 East, take exit 170. This town has around 30 buildings from 1880 with pictures and furnishings from the old times.
Most important, we found in the Saloon a costume rental shop with outfits and accessories. Whether you want to be a lady or a saloon girl, a cowboy or a bandit, you will find the proper outfit to wear. Then you can walk around the whole town and take as many pictures as you’d like. Usually, guys start a gunfight on main street, and I don’t have any idea why but they always do.
We left 1880 town after I took as many pics as I could. We had a long way ride back home. Tired and thrilled, and while still on the highway, I thought about every place we visited. I concluded that the creator made the Black Hills with pure, raw love. In every turn, we found incredible breathtaking views. Every piece of rock, tree, hills, and lakes offered their maximum splendor and beauty to travelers. What an amazing place to visit again, and again.
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