Planning Your Time

Every small town in the Black Hills has something to offer—a fact that you may find surprising. This region has the highest concentration of parks, monuments, and memorials in the United States, qualifying the Black Hills and badlands as more than just a stopover on the way to and from the huge national parks of western Montana and Wyoming. If you have the time, your must-see list should include Rapid City, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Deadwood, and Custer State Park. Sure, you can see the highlights of southwestern South Dakota in 24 or 48 hours—but if you spend five days or more here you will be amply rewarded.

You might consider a top-down approach, first exploring the Northern Hills around Deadwood. The historic sites, scenery, and casinos will keep you busy, but don't be afraid to explore the hidden treasures of the outlying towns: The new Tri-State Museum in Belle Fourche, the High Plains Western Heritage Center in Spearfish, and the Homestake Visitor Center in Lead are all worth seeing. Afterward, you can move into the central Black Hills, spending some time in Rapid City to shop, check out the Journey Museum, and sample the local cuisine. Rapid City is also a good base for a day trip to nearby Mount Rushmore and Hill City, a tiny town with a vibrant art-gallery district and its own winery and vintage steam train. When you've covered the central region, shift down to the southern hills and visit Wind Cave National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Jewel Cave National Monument, the Mammoth Site, and the historic towns of Custer and Hot Springs—where naturally warm water still bubbles up from the earth. You can approach Badlands National Park to the east as a separate region if you have the time, or you might simply make it a day trip.

Spending a day in each subregion will allow you to explore most of the key attractions in the Black Hills. If you have time to spare, you will probably want to add the central and northern Black Hills, which are relatively unpopulated and offer exceptional natural wonders such as Spearfish Canyon.

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Fodor's The Black Hills of South Dakota: with Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park

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