Fun things to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota

If you are looking for a world class adventure perfect for the whole family look no further than The Black Hills in the southwestern corner of South Dakota.

This isolated mountain range of granite outcroppings and lush forests rise out of the Badlands and South Dakota prairies that surround the hills.

The tallest mountain in The Black Hills is Black Elk Peak. It is the tallest peak between Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains and The Rockies to the west.

The Black Hills are the ancient and sacred lands of The Lakota Tribe and I recommend taking time to learn more about their culture and living legacy here while in The Black Hills at

The Black Hills and surrounding areas is so jam packed with so much adventure it is hard to contain Must-See Sites in the Black Hills to one article, but hopefully this sampler of the majesty and mystery of this oasis amid the prairie lands.

Getting there:

  • Rapid City Airport has direct flights to Dallas and other major airports. The airport has several rental car companies. Rapid City is the largest city in the Black Hills with lots of hotels, restaurants and culture – the perfect base camp for your Black Hills adventure.
  • You can also drive to The Black Hills via I-90. One of my favorite road trips is driving from the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming (near Cody) east through The Bighorn Canyon and Bighorn Mountains and Prairie to reach The Black Hills. This is one of the best drives in America!

Where to stay:

  • The Black Hills is lined with welcomed communities filled with local bed and breakfasts, inns and national hotel chains and resorts.
    • I recommend spending the majority of your time in Custer State Park, where you can stay at one of the many historic park lodges or camp at over 9 campgrounds.
      • I camped at Center Lake for two weeks in 2009 when I graduated from college as a post-graduation trip. It was a blast. Most of the campgrounds have showers and lake access.
      • I stayed at The State Game Lodge in 2022 and it provides Wild West Elegance and accommodations where the buffalo really do roam.
  • Deadwood may have a reputation for the Saloon 10 shootout of Wild Bill Hickok in, but today it is a welcoming western town with historic hotels and national chains.
  • If you want The Dancing with Wolves experience in pristine wilderness, I recommend The Spearfish Canyon Lodge. Dancing with Wolves was filmed here in the 1990s.
  • For Mt. Rushmore…Book a room in Keystone, the Gateway town to Mt. Rushmore.

Fun things to do in The Black Hills:

  • Mount Rushmore National Monument – a celebration of America, Mt. Rushmore will astonish you with its craftsmanship (Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln helmed the project in the late 1920s-early 1940s)…We see images of Mt. Rushmore so many times in American Patriotism, that you’d think it would be a let down when you visit, but I continue to fall more in love with the scene on each visit.
    • Daylight at Mt. Rushmore is beautiful with crystal blue skies and beautiful views of the surrounding Black Hills. If you are at Rushmore by day, I recommend hiking the fairly easy Presidential Trail for unique views of The Presidents and see Gutzon Borglum’s studio. (There are a few steps on this trail, but otherwise fairly easy).
    • Night at Mt. Rushmore. In the warmer months, you can experience Mt. Rushmore at night with illuminating laser shows.
mount rushmore national park
Photo by Walter Saravia on
  • Crazy Horse Memorial: This portrait in stone is a work in progress for over seventy years, honoring the Lakota hero Crazy Horse. The museum complex has a number of exhibits honoring all American Tribes. Learn more here.
workers on top of steep rock
Photo by Samuel Karle on

Hill City: A fun historic Old West city with great restaurants and family fun. Check out the 1880 Train.

Custer State Park: One of my absolute favorite spots to visit – a mini-Yellowstone, at 71,000 acres, Custer is the second largest state park in the nation (second only to the Adirondacks State Park).

  • Custer is a spot where the mule deer, antelope and bison and prairie dogs play. (No bears though)
  • The historic lodges are reminscent of the grand hotels of the early 1900s. The State Game Lodge and Sylvan Lake Lodge exude rustic elegance, while Legion Lake and Blue Bell offer relaxing cabin rentals perfect for a family wilderness trip.
  • Custer has endless miles of hiking trails, including the popular Little Devils Tower hike
  • Spend a day at one of the park’s many lakes, including iconic Sylvan Lake
  • Scenic mountain drives including The Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and Wildlife Loop
Sylvan Lake – my pic in June 2022

The Black Hills is Cave Country...explore numerous wondrous caves throughout The Black Hills, my favorite spots for ‘spelunking’ (for me that is the guided tour with electric light) are:

  • Jewel Cave National Monument – only 13 miles west of Custer State Park’s gateway town of Custer, this is a fun morning/afternoon adventure. It is the fourth largest cave in the world.
  • Wind Cave National Park – south of Custer State Park as The Black Hills begin to transform into the wide open prairie grassland where bison and prairie dogs can be seen roadside. This is one of the largest caves in the US and one of the best examples of boxwork formations

Check out the history and test the waters in Hot Springs, SD.

  • Located at the southern tip of The Black Hills, Hot Springs is a charming historical town that was once a prominent resort spa community where countless tourists would come for the natural healing waters. You too can still take in the healing waters and learn about the unique history of Hot Springs. The town is also home to the fascinating Mammoth Site, where Mammoth fossils have been found and you seen an active excavation site.

Spend a few days in Rapid City –

  • Rapid City is known for it’s amazing Dinosaur Park (loved by kids and adults alike) and President’s Park, live music, local restaurants and art galleries.

Scenic Drives abound in The Black Hills…

  • One of my favorite off the beaten track backroads is The Spearfish Canyon scenic byway. Discover gorgeous waterfalls like Roughlock Falls and stop for lunch at The Spearfish Canyon Lodge


  • Visit the historic sites that made Deadwood infamous as the seediest Old West town -from Saloon No. 10 to the elegant Bullock Hotel. You’ll have modern day old west fun. Plan your Deadwood Trip here.

Bike the George Mickelson Trail – This scenic bicycle trail (not motorcycle) is a fan favorite and pilgrimage site for cyclists.

If you like motorcycling – Sturgis is the motorcycle capital of the world, but I recommend taking in The Needles Highway in Custer State Park – where the narrow winding roads demand only the best driving from motorcyclists. Enjoy the view and the road.

Find yourself in the center of it all in scenic Belle Fourche, this town of 5000 in the northern tip of The Black Hills is literally in ‘The Center of the United States.’

Take a Day Trip:

brown rocky mountain under white clouds
Photo by Sonja on
  • Badlands National Park: Roughly 55 miles from Rapid City, you’ll leave the lush forests and jagged peaks of The Black Hills and enter the equally beautiful Badlands River of South Dakota, where exposed sandstone and colorful rock against green endless prairie is beautiful.
    • I camped in The Badlands two nights in 2009 and while it was hot with lots of grasshoppers, the sunset and quiet of the prairie still presses into my memory. You can spend a day or a week in The Badlands depending on your goals (camping/hiking)
    • While in the area drive to Wounded Knee to learn about the tragedy batle and resistence of the Lakota People.
  • Wall Drug – I know some say Wall is a tourist trap with its free water and 5 cent coffee, but it is the perfect kitsch that makes it worthy of a roadside stop. The Wall Drug Complex has a variety of stores from tacky souvenirs to high quality clothing and boots. The food is delicious and a perfect stop before your Badlands adventures.
  • Devils Tower National Monument (roughly 2 hours from Rapid City) on the far western edge of the Black Hills foothills of eastern Wyoming.
    • A sacred spot for The Lakota who refer it as Bear Lodge (nothing devilish about it).
    • Learn more here.
devils tower in wyoming
Photo by Amaury Michaux on

There is so much more to discover in The Black Hills, but I hope this gets you inspired to take a trip to South Dakota’s Black Hills and Badlands region!

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Written by Adele L. – passionate traveler, historian and national park lover. When she’s not working in tech sales, Adele runs American Nomad and our sister site, Art Expeditions (Art History)

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