Do you wonder what to do next summer? Go for a Black Hills vacation and discover the Best things to do in the Black Hills with family and friends on a weekend getaway.
I’ve been craving mountains and forests 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 hubby 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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Things to Do in Black Hills, SD
If you are planning to visit the Black Hills, a nice idea is to take a flight to Rapid City, and from there you can rent a car to drive to Deadwood. Great cities to stay are Rapid City, Deadwood, Wall, Hill City, or Keystone, and each area offers a variety of things to do in Black Hills, SD.
We didn’t fly to the Black Hills. Currently, our home base is in North Dakota and we took I-29 to I-90 then we did head West to the Black Hills.
Visit The Pioneer Auto Show
On our way to the Black Hills, on Interstate 90, we took exit 192 North, to find the Pioneer Car Show. AJ ‘Dick’ Geisler and family started the Pioneer 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.
Eat at Wall Drug
We stopped at Wall for dinner. This city is minutes away from the Badlands and it has a famous drug store known as Wall Drug. 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.
Check Bikes in Sturgis
Every year, during the first week of August, Sturgis has its famous 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, live music, barrel racing, and a rodeo.
Get Closer to The Great Spirit in Devil’s 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 Devil’s Tower in the Northern portion of the Black Hills. It took around one hour and 20 minutes to get there, with spectacular scenic drives.
Devil’s Tower location is in northeastern Wyoming. Native Americans as Lakota and Cheyenne believe that the Tower is a spiritual place. They meet for winter camps, summer rituals, and vision quests, and they have their own tales that describe the formation of the tower.
Twenty minutes before arriving at the bottom, 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 majestic angle of the area.
On our way, we found a cozy old diner 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 Devil’s Tower, we found out we had to pay a fee of $25 to enter the park. For instance, we were not sure to pay the fee because we already had tons of photos, but we decided to pay for it.
It was worthy! I don’t know much about the Native Americans culture, but I can tell without a doubt that they are absolutely right. It was one of the most spiritual and magical places we’ve been to. There’s something sacred and spiritual in the 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 something to the great spirit. Either way, clothes are a sentiment that we all should respect.
Cheyenne nation calls 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 Devil’s Tower. But it’s just my modest opinion.
We left Devils Tower National Park with our souls totally recharged and we definitely will come back.
Check Crazy Horse Memorial
We spend a few minutes at 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. Some guided tours can take you to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Find out here.
Explore Hill City
Hill City has a convenient central location and 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 the views of the hills on both sides of us.
We came back to Hill City and after one cocktail and a great ice-cream, hubby gave me the car’s keys. I had to drive all the way back to our hotel.
Drive the SD 79 S route for an hour and a half to Hot Springs. We have two major reasons Hot Spring; the Mammoth Site, and Evan Plunge Mineral Spring.
The Mammoth Site is an indoor paleontological museum. Strolling through the excavation area is fascinating. It has an excellent guided tour with interesting information about Mammoth and other species extinct years ago. The Mammoth site also has videos explaining how Mammoth bones got to the location when it was only a lake.
Hot Springs also has the Evan Plung Mineral Spring. It is the largest indoor swimming pool with natural warm water. It feels really nice to be able to swim in mineral waters, no chemicals, and really nice sauna. Evan Plung Mineral Spring is the oldest attraction for tourists in the Black Hills.
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park is located 10 miles North from Hot Springs. Being one of the largest caves in the world, it’s also a sacred place for many tribes, and one of the most complex caves in the world. Tours last over an hour, and you get to hear fascinating stories of the history of Wind Cave, and wildlife.
Go wild in Deadwood
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.
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 souvenirs.
We wanted to ride a UTV on a trail in the mountains. 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. You can rent for half a day or a full day. Vehicles have the capacity for two, four or six passengers.
We had a map showing fabulous spots like waterfalls, cliffs, and landscapes. By the time we arrived, they didn’t have vehicles available and we couldn’t find any other company with UTVs either.
Prices are not cheap but the ride can be quite enjoyable. 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 the 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 to 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. It’ll take you to all the important and historical places in Deadwood such as Mount Moriah Cemetery,
Visit 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 the 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.
Water Fun in Pactola Dam & Reservoir
Around ten miles away from Rapid City you will find Pactola Dam in Pennington County. The Dam provides control against floods and recreation for its visitors. It’s the largest lake in the area and you can go boating, canoeing, kayaking, or any water sport.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park is the largest park in South Dakota, famous for its wildlife, scenic views, and over 70.00 acres. It has fishing lakes, resorts, and campgrounds.
Explore Custer Park in an open-air van. Get your camera ready in on the scenic Iron Mountain Road, follow Bisons and prairie dogs. Have lunch at Mt. Rushmore, and Relax at Stockade Lake. Reservations here.
Delight your Sense at Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake is located in Custer State Park, right in the middle of the Black Hills. It thrilled us at the very moment we entered to the lake area, the beauty of the landscape will please every sense.
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 as they walked freely around the park. You can get married in front of the lake. You can go tubing, kayaking and board paddling and spend a relaxing and fabulous day.
We saw deers in the evening getting near the lake. At the moment I saw them, I stop moving because I didn’t want to make a noise and scare them away. Well, it turns out that they were not afraid. They are used to humans, you can take as many pics as you want.
Jewel Cave National Monument
Jewel Cave is located 13 miles West of Custer city. It’s the third-longest cave in the planet. You will be able to explore the surface and one of the 208 mapped passages. The scenic tour is our favorite tour at Jewel Cave National Monument, it lasts over an hour, it’s informative and interactive.
Ride 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 scenic drives.
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 national monument the Mt. Rushmore on the other side. But for us, the Doane Robinson Tunnel 2 had the best views of the Mt Rushmore.
Take Pics and Eat ice Cream at Mt. Rushmore
You can go to the Mt. Rushmore, pay a fee, and take pics of the family with Mt. Rushmore right behind them. From all the things to do in Black Hills, this is the one that nobody wants to miss. 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.
You can opt for a guided tour to Mt. Rushmore from Rapid City. You’ll get to learn history and visit places such as Crazy Horse Monument, Iron Mountain Road, Sylvan Lake, and more. On this tour Breakfast and dinner is included. Make reservations here.
Enjoy The Badlands National Park
On our way back home when driving Interstate 90 E, we took exit 110. The rough beauty of the Badlands attracts people from around the globe, and this is an unique area you want to visit. There is an entrance fee, and for a non-commercial vehicle, we paid $15.
Whether you don’t want to rent a car, or you don’t want to get lost, it’s recommended to get tickets for an amazing guided tour. We took this tour two years ago, we learned from our guide historical details of the area, even included pick up and drop-off in Rapid City. Reservations here
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 sent the bison 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.
Go Back in Time in The 1880 Town
You will find the 1880 town on Interstate 90 East, on exit 170. This town has around 30 buildings from 1880 with pictures and furnishings from the old times.
Most importantly, 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 the main street, and I don’t have any idea why, but they always do.
We left 1880 town after I took a thousand pictures, and hubby got killed three times on Main Street. We had a long way to ride back home. Tired and thrilled, and while still on the highway, I thought about all the things to do in the Black Hills and every place we visited. I concluded that our Black Hills Vacation was a total success.
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 a magical beauty to travelers. What an amazing place to visit again, and again.
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