How to see The Black Hills and BadlandsSo you've decided to come to the Black Hills of South Dakota and check Mount Rushmore off your list! Now, what do you do? First things first. Where are you going to stay? There are a lot of options, but where you stay is going to affect how you do things on a daily basis.
The main places of lodging when visiting the Black Hills and Badlands are Rapid City, Keystone, Hill City, and Custer State Park. Staying in and around Rapid City is the easiest logistically, but may not be the best if you're looking for a quiet getaway surrounded by nature.
I have a few recommendations for lodging in the Black Hills that you might find useful! Next up Is what to do? I know, you've got the checklist:
1.) Mount Rushmore
2.) The Buffalo
3.) Crazy Horse
How will you be able to do it all? Well, first you need to stay for at least 3 days in the Black Hills. That's the least amount of time. Second, in order to see as much as possible, you'll need to hire one of the many Rapid City Tour Companies, and hopefully, they know what they're doing.Black Hills and Badlands Tours
Tour the Northern and Southern Black Hills with a visit to the Badlands National Park. Go ahead, take a look at a map of the Black Hills and tell me what you think. Looks like Spaghetti right? The worst thing you could do is try to navigate all these roads yourself. I recommend you keep your concentration on the sight and sounds of the Black Hills and Badlands as you make your way through.
If possible, take a private tour of the Black Hills and Badlands. If you choose any of the bus tours, you'll have a good time but be limited in what you can see. The big busses can't fit down the roads you want to see, like Wildlife Loop Road, or the many places along Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
Taking the side roads and exploring where others can't is the way to go. Speaking of Spearfish Canyon (my favorite), you can see and feel amazing surprises like Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls, and Spearfish Creek Falls.
All along the canyon wall, there are caves and formations millions of years old. Cheyenne Crossing has the best Indian Fry Bread I've ever experienced. If you've had better, email me! A great place to stay in the Northern Hills is Spearfish Canyon Lodge. It's so special out this direction, but I digress.
Still, want to know how to do the Black Hills in 3 days? Ok, well here it is. We already went over getting a private tour company. Once you've read the reviews on Google and you're happy go ahead and make the call or book online.
You're visiting National Parks so let's make the most of it. Once you've got your Black Hills Tour Company, you need to divide your time between 3 things:
1.) The Southern Black Hills
2.) The Northern Black Hills
3.) Badlands National Park.
You still don't know what you're doing, but hopefully, your Black Hills and Badlands Tour Company does.
Ok, so the Southern Black Hills. This is where you'll see Mt. Rushmore. Yes, it's amazing. As your guide questions and make sure to get a picture of the plaque that lists all the workers. None of them died on the project, and my favorite worker is "Big Dick". See if you can spot him.
Spend about an hour here. Go sit down in the amphitheater and look up at the monument rather than fighting for space with all the people up top. The visitors center is worth a look too. Ok, let's get out of here.
The next places to go are Iron Mountain Road, Custer State Park, the Needles Highway, and Crazy Horse Memorial. This is a full-day excursion. You can expect to be picked up around 8 AM and dropped off at around 4 PM. If the tour company is any good, they'll feed you lunch, have bottled water and snacks in the vehicle.
The Mount Rushmore and Southern Black Hills tour is the most popular. This is an amazing day, and if you didn't see a buffalo, you didn't have a good guide. If you saw a mountain goat, consider yourself lucky!
Next is the Northern Black Hills tour, or Spearfish Canyon Tour. This is the most peaceful and my favorite. Yes, yes, there's Deadwood and bang bang Calamity Jane, Wild Bill, and all the others. Maybe go see Deadwood first and watch a Wild West Shootout in the middle of the road.Northern Black Hills Adventure
If you brought the critters from home, they'll love it. Ice cream, trinkets, and shirts. Have your guide tell you about the hauntings, killings, thievery, gold, and tall tales before you skedaddle out of there.
Near Deadwood is the little town of Spearfish. There's the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery here that your guide will visit. Next drive down the canyon, stop at all the waterfalls and then finish it off with Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary.
Read the "Turkey Shack" before you arrive and it'll all make sense. This is another full day of incredible views.
Last on the list but not least is Badlands National Park, a full-day tour. Tours of Badlands National Park vary, but it's not complete unless the guide visits both the Southern and Northern Unit of the Park. Before you even arrive there look out the windows to see the rolling hills of the plains and think Dances With Wolves.
Alien-like landscapes of erosion are vast in the Badlands. Multiple views are breathtaking. The Badlands has a wonderful road to travel through while you enjoy the landscape.
What's in all that dirt? A lot! Fossils, geodes, agates, and the history of the world. You're traveling through what used to be an ocean many times over. You're also making your way through the missing 7 thousand feet of the Black Hills. It washed all the way down into the Badlands.
Red, green, grey, yellow, and purple are just a few of the colors you'll enjoy as well as wildlife such as the Bison, Big-Horn Sheep, and Prairie Dogs. You can even experience this day on one of the bike tours offered in the park. Why go to the South Unit of the Badlands after all this?
Well, it's located right next to Pine Ridge Reservation, and some of the most important histories of the area took place here. The Southern Unit or Stronghold Unit of the Park is co-managed by the NPS and the Oglala Lakota. Stronghold Table is believed to be the last place the Ghost Dances were performed.
Both Sheeps Mountain Table and the Stronghold table are Holy places to the Lakota to this day. While visiting the park or anywhere in the Black Hills remember that this is Lakota Territory. There you have it. Three days of glorious sights, sounds, and memories.
Owner of My XO Adventures, explorer, daredevil and occasional writer.