The Black Hills of South Dakota is one of the great American road trips. The iconic Mount Rushmore is the crown jewel of any visit to this spectacular part of the United States, but many people do not realize how much more there is to do there. Whether you love history, nature, or kitschy tourist traps, the Black Hills have something for you.
Here are the ten best Black Hills attractions to visit after you’ve seen Mount Rushmore.
1. Crazy Horse Memorial This work-in-progress is a gigantic and impressive tribute to another American legend. The mission of Crazy Horse Memorial is to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians. Work on this monument, the world’s largest mountain carving, has been ongoing since 1948 and relies on admissions and private donations to continue. There is also a museum and cultural center on site.
Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument sprawl underneath the Black Hills. Despite their proximity, the two offer different experiences and cave lovers will want to see both. Visitors to Wind Cave will see one of the best displays of boxwork in the world. The walls of Jewel Cave sparkle, and visitors are treated to formations such as cave bacon and cave popcorn.
3. Custer State Park Drive the wildlife loop in Custer State Park for a chance to see elk, bison, deer, big horn sheep and prairie dogs. It’s hard to miss the park’s famous begging burros on this drive. These wild burros stand near the road waiting for treats from tourists. Bring a bag of carrots or apples and keep the camera ready. Needles Highway to Sylvan Lake and Iron Mountain Highway are both excellent scenic drives.
4. Badlands National Park Badlands National Park is about an hour’s drive east of Rapid City. In Badlands, a colorful and rugged landscape seems to grow right out of the prairie. The park is also the source of many preshistoric fossils, including a saber-toothed cat fossil. Keep your eyes open for living animals too, such as the adorable and endangered prairie dog.
5. Wall Drug If you go to Badlands, stop by Wall Drug in nearby Wall, S.D. Wall Drug is the kitschiest, craziest collection of gift shops, photo ops and curiosities you may ever see. Be sure to visit the animatronic T-Rex, take photos of your kids astride the giant jackalope, buy souveniers and top it off with an ice cream cone from the soda fountain.
6. Reptile Gardens The Reptile Gardens boasts a collection of over 225 species of reptiles. Hug a giant tortoise, see a rare kimodo dragon and get a close-up look at exotic venomous snakes. Be sure to ask for a vacation pass when you purchase admission. It will allow you to return as often as you want during your stay in the Black Hills.
7. Bear Country U.S.A. There are many chances to see wildlife in the Black Hills, but if you want a slam dunk, visit Bear Country U.S.A. Drive through a 250-acre loop to see elk, reindeer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bison, bobcats, cougars and black bears roaming freely around your car in their own enclosures. Afterward, park and walk around Babyland to see grizzly bears and small mammals, such as foxes, badgers and skunks, and a whole yard of playful baby bear cubs. Go early in the day to avoid crowds and see the animals at your own speed.
8. Mammoth Site The Mammoth Site is located about 60 miles south of Rapid City in the city of Hot Springs. The paleontological dig site was discovered in 1974 and now houses a museum where studies are still being conducted. It is the largest Colombian mammoth exhibit in the world, and the 30-minute tour and additional exhibits are worthwhile.
9. Deadwood There isn’t a lot for kids to do in Deadwood, but fans of the Old West will not want to miss this legendary town. Drive up to Boot Hill Cemetery, where Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane and other colorful characters are buried, and enjoy a view of the town and its mountain setting. Downtown Deadwood offers a string of quaint hotels, shops and casinos.
10. Rapid City Rapid City is the largest city in the Black Hills and with its large variety of lodging, restaurants and other services, is a good base for a Black Hills vacation. Downtown Rapid City is walkable and filled with unique shops and restaurants. There is a life-size bronze statue of a U.S. president on every corner.
A couple of miles away, Storybook Island is the best free play park I’ve ever seen for children under age 12. The Dinosaur Park is a collection of concrete dinosaurs, painted green, that stand high on a hill in the middle of Rapid City. The dinosaur statues are corny, but kids can climb on them, the park is free and the hill provides a nice overlook of the city. The Black Hills is a genuine American experience and an outstanding family vacation destination.
Allison Laypath is a family travel blogger at tipsforfamilytrips.com, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She and her husband took their first child on a two-week road trip at four-weeks-old and they have been traveling as a family ever since. Allison loves all types of travel, but especially road trips, national parks and travel within her home state of Utah.