Great American Road Trip
This five- day itinerary represents a whirlwind tour of the Black Hills and focuses on peak season activities. Our national parks & monuments, Custer State Park and Crazy Horse Memorial are open year- round.
Day 1- Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, Rapid City
Traveling west on I-90 take Exit 131 and visit the Minute Man National Historic Site and then follow the Badlands Loop Road. Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of nearly 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires. When the Lakota first encountered the striking, moon-like landscape, they aptly called the area “Mako Sica” or bad land. Visit the Prairie Homestead, which is one of the very few sod dwellings intact today. These little sod shanties and dugouts were common throughout the prairie. Most of them have disappeared, melted away by the prairie rains, caved in and returned to the earth from which they came.
Continue on Highway 240 where the change of scenery will leave you breathless. Don’t miss the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and the tipi village, which is located between the Visitors Center and the Cedar Pass Lodge. Once you leave the park, stop at the World Famous Wall Drug Store. The Wall Drug Store got its start during the depression years by offering free ice water to thirsty travelers. Take an hour to visit the Wall Drug Store and don’t miss the Backyard for some great photo opportunities!
Next you will get back on the interstate and travel 50 miles west to Rapid City. Go ahead and get settled in your pre-arranged Black Hills accommodations.
Visit the Journey Museum in Rapid City. Your journey begins with a natural historical overview of the Black Hills with impressive collections encompassing archaeology, paleontology, western native gardens and our pioneer past, to a beautifully exhibited history of the honorable Sioux people. The Journey Museum will give you an educated overview and some cultural insight into the upcoming Black Hills area. While at the Journey, pick up the City View Trolley which will offer visitors a narrated tour of Rapid City attractions winding through downtown and continuing west to Stavkirke Chapel. Fifteen stops along the route allow guests to get off and enjoy the attractions. Narration through GPS technology provides trolley passengers information about historic and present-day Rapid City.
Enjoy a relaxing evening at Mainstreet Square in Rapid City and get ready for an exciting day tomorrow!
Day 2 – Family Attractions, Adventure Parks & Rushmore
First stop, Bear Country USA, truly fun for all ages. Located in the rolling foothills of the Black Hills on Highway 16 and only minutes away from Rapid City, this drive-through park features North American wildlife roaming free in their natural habitats. Shop, dine, and learn at the visitor’s center. The baby bears at Babyland will have you wrapped around their little paws as you enjoy staff-led demonstrations and informative programs.
The next stop is Reptile Gardens, a site that maintains the largest collection of reptiles in the world. Featuring an impressive walk-through terrarium and four shows that rotate throughout the day, Reptile Gardens is sure to please.
Proceed south to Keystone and take a moment to explore the life and creations of the person who carved Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Gutzon Borglum.
The Rushmore Borglum Story highlights the life of sculptor Gutzon Borglum through gallery displays of his paintings, sculptures, and artifacts. Exploring the Borglum Story will give you a better understanding of the creation of Mt Rushmore National Memorial.
Next, enjoy some downhill excitement! Rushmore Tramway Adventures and the Rushmountain Adventures are the most exhilarating rides in the Black Hills. Rushmore Tramway Adventures offers 2,000 feet of sensational family fun. Experience the rope course, zip line tour and jump. Rushmountain Adventures | Rushmore Cave is Rushmore Cave plus mountain coaster, 7D Gallery and zip line all in one. And, don’t miss Big Thunder Gold Mine.
Take Highway 244 to Mt. Rushmore for the nightly lighting ceremony. This famous lighting ceremony is an educational and patriotic experience. This moving ceremony includes the dramatic gradual lighting of the four faces, a Veterans tribute and short documentary film.
Day 3- 1880 Train, Custer State Park, Keystone
Departing out of Hill City – the 1880 Train is famous for its stunning scenic route, and the unforgettable encounter of a bellowing engine and whining whistle. Approximately 2 hours roundtrip to Keystone and back. Visit the Black Hills Railroad Museum next door.
Take time to wander the Main Street of Hill City and have lunch at one of the wonderful restaurants and visit the wineries and breweries.
Proceed through Hill City and turn left on Highway 87. You will come upon Sylvan Lake, which is part of Custer State Park. This is a great area for a picnic or hiking. Custer State Park encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife including a herd of 1,400 Bison. Within the park, you’ll discover outdoor activities that include hiking (check out 7,242-foot Black Elk Peak), mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing and fishing. Famous for its scenic highways, granite spires, pigtail bridges and rock tunnels framing Mt. Rushmore. Bountiful wildlife, lakes, streams, and historic stone lodges offer sites for all ages.
Proceed to the Needles Highway which curves and winds through 14 miles of magnificent rock formations called “Needles”. One of the most prominent is the Needles Eye, which reaches 30-40 feet in the air with a 3-foot wide slit. The Needles Eye is an excellent spot for rock climbing and taking pictures.
From the Needles Hwy, turn left onto Highway 16A which will turn into the Iron Mountain Road. This will take you over pigtail bridges and through rock tunnels with views of Mt. Rushmore. Take in the beautiful and majestic sight of Mount Rushmore where the four presidents are carved out of solid granite. Explore the extensive grounds, interactive learning center, guided and self-guided tours, the Presidential Trail, a restaurant, and gift shop.
Day 4- the Mammoth Site, Wind Cave & Crazy Horse Memorial
Take Highway 79 from Rapid City (Heartland Express) and travel 50 miles to Hot Springs.
Visit The Mammoth Site , where 61 mammoths have been discovered in an active paleo dig, giving visitors the chance to observe first-hand a real paleontological excavation. Keep your kids fascinated with the Junior Paleontology Dig, offered daily with advance registration required.
Take Highway 385 out of Hot Springs and continue via Highway 87 to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave National Park includes 30,000 acres above ground where antelope, buffalo, elk, prairie dogs roam.
Continue into Custer State Park. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a roadblock of grazing buffalo! A herd of 1,400 roams freely throughout the park and often stops traffic. Besides buffalo, the park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros.
Take a buffalo jeep ride into the herd. Proceed to the Mt. Coolidge Lookout Tower. The view from this vantage point at 6,023 feet is awesome. On a clear day you can see the Badlands, which is nearly 90 away.
Take Highway 16A to the Gordon Stockade. The Gordon party came to the Black Hills in 1874 searching for gold. They built a log fort on French Creek, which served as their base camp. Visit the replica of the original as a reminder of those early Gold Rush days.
Proceed into the town of Custer an onto Crazy Horse Memorial on Highway 385. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began the project in 1948 at the request of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear and other Native American elders. Korczak died in 1982. His wife, Ruth, continued to oversee the project until her death in 2014 and today the Ziolkowski children continue work on the mountain. The Memorial’s visitor complex includes the 40,000 square foot Welcome Center and theaters, the Indian Museum of North America, the Native American Educational & Cultural Center, the sculptor’s log home studio and workshop, indoor and outdoor galleries, museum gift shop, restaurant and snack bar areas and expansive viewing veranda. Many Native American artists and crafts people create their artwork and visit with guests at the Memorial during the summer season.
Day 5- Devils Tower, Spearfish Canyon & Historic Deadwood
Take I-90 75 miles west to Belle Fourche and visit the Center of the Nation Monument and the Tri State Museum. West out of Belle, Devils Tower National Monument rises up unexpectedly over the vast prairie and grasslands of eastern Wyoming. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devil’s Tower the first national monument in 1906. This 1,347- acre park is covered with pine forests, woodlands, and grasslands. Deer, prairie dogs, and other wildlife are seen daily. The interactive visitor center will pique your imagination with the folklore and legends surrounding the landmark, not to mention the scenery and ride – it’s stunning!
Leaving Devils Tower, get back on I-90 and travel west to Exit 205, one mile west of the Wyoming-South Dakota border. Proceed west on the access road (formerly US Highway 14) through the community of Beulah for about 4 miles. Visit the Vore Buffalo Jump, one of the most important archaeological sites of the Late-Prehistoric Plains Indians. Discovered during the construction of Highway I-90 in the early 1970’s, the Vore site is a natural sinkhole that was used as a bison trap from about 1500 to 1800 A.D. Buffalo were driven over the edge of the sink hole as a method for the Native American tribes to procure the large quantities of meat and hides needed to survive the harsh prairie winters.
Proceed into the town of Spearfish to the entrance of Spearfish Park and visit D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery. Spend some time at the park and make sure to feed the fish!
From Spearfish, travel Highway 14A to Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. The narrow canyon walls rise sharply from Spearfish Creek. Don’t miss Spearfish Falls behind Latchstring Inn and Roughlock falls past the resort. Take a left at Cheyenne Crossing to Highway 85 and proceed into Lead/Deadwood.
In the downtown area of Lead, visit the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor’s Center. From the deck, view the 1,250-foot-deep “Open Cut”, a small part of the original Homestake Mine. After completion, it was realized that there was still gold left behind. For the safety of the Miner’s the only way to access the remaining gold was to dig from the top down. The new visitor center tells the story of Lead’s (pronounced leed) history with the Homestake Mining company and the ground-breaking science research happening deep underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility including a 3-D model of the underground at the 8,000-foot level. The Homestake Gold Mine was the biggest, deepest, best producing gold mine in the northern hemisphere.
Three miles away is Historic Deadwood.From the natural setting to the architecture this historic town is on national historic registry and was named one of the picture- perfect towns by Forbes Magazine. You’ll be left wanting to make Historic Deadwood your base camp for a future trip!
First stop, the Deadwood Visitor Center for the most up to date information about the happenings in Deadwood. Enjoy the daily shootout reenactments on Main Street and take a one-hour bus tour and see the historic sites like Mt Moriah where Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Preacher Smith, Potato Creek Johnny, and Seth Bullock are buried. The Days of 76 Museum and Adams House & Museums are a must do. The Deadwood Brothel tour is not to be missed (must be 16 years old). Also, for the age-appropriate, Deadwood has 75 casino style gaming halls and sports betting.
Proceed through Deadwood to Tatanka: Story of the Bison and enjoy the larger than life bronze sculpture featuring 14 bison pursued by 3 Native American horseback riders, a hands-on Interpretive Center, a beautifully displayed Native American Gift Shop, and a snack bar including traditional Lakota meals and snacks.
In the evening attend the Trial of Jack McCall. They will capture Jack McCall at Saloon # 10 on Main Street and drag him to his trial which starts at 8p.m. nightly. Excellent family entertainment!