Best Things to Do in the Black Hills, South Dakota: 12 Essential Places to Visit

by Jen
Best Things to Do in the Black Hills, South Dakota
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Are you thinking about visiting Black Hills this year? Here are some of the most fun and unique things to do in Black Hills. These breathtaking sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for an incredible vacation experience.

The vast American landscape is dotted with destinations that evoke a sense of wonder, but few places capture the imagination quite like the Black Hills. A mosaic of dense forests, winding canyons, and shimmering lakes, this region beckons travelers with its promise of adventure and discovery. As you journey through its rugged terrains, you’ll encounter whispers of history, from the sacred lands of the Lakota Sioux to the echoes of Wild West legends. The best things to do in the Black Hills extend from exploring iconic landmarks to enjoying outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and wildlife viewing in the surrounding areas.

More than the colorful history, the modern Black Hills attractions seamlessly blend with natural wonders. It offers experiences that cater to every kind of traveler. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or someone simply seeking a serene escape, the Black Hills have something special in store for you. Dive into this guide and let’s uncover the best things to do in this South Dakotan gem. This ensures your visit becomes a memory etched in gold. Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in the Black Hills.

The top places to visit in the Black Hills, South Dakota right now
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Best Places to Visit in the Black Hills, South Dakota

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in Black Hills? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this captivating vacation spot. So keep reading to discover all these unique Black Hills places to visit.

Are you looking for a blend of outdoor adventures, from hiking and wildlife viewing to cave exploration? Or would you prefer a visit to historical sites and cultural experiences? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in the Black Hills can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in the Black Hills that you should know about.

1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial

One of the most iconic Black Hills attractions, Mount Rushmore National Memorial stands as a testament to the nation’s history and ambition. Carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, the colossal sculptures of four U.S. presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—gaze out over the land, symbolizing the first 150 years of American history.

Visitors often find themselves in awe, not just because of the sheer size of the sculptures, but also due to the intricate details and the story behind its creation. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his team spent 14 years perfecting this masterpiece. Their dedication is evident in every chiseled feature. As you stand before it, you’ll likely feel a mix of pride, reverence, and wonder.

Beyond the sculptures, the memorial offers a range of activities. The Presidential Trail gives you a closer view of the monument. Additionally, the evening lighting ceremonies are a sight to behold. For those wondering what to do in the Black Hills, going to Mount Rushmore is an undeniable starting point.

Exploring Mount Rushmore is one of the best things to do in Black Hills, South Dakota.
Mount Rushmore is an iconic attraction, with colossal sculptures of four U.S. presidents carved into granite.

2. Badlands National Park

Spanning over 244,000 acres, Badlands National Park is a mesmerizing landscape of rugged beauty. It’s a place where layered rock formations, deep canyons, and towering spires come together to create a surreal, almost otherworldly, environment. For those seeking unique places in the Black Hills, this park is a must-visit.

The park’s dramatic landscapes have been sculpted by millions of years of erosion. This reveals striking sedimentary layers of red, tan, and white. As you traverse its trails, you’ll encounter a diverse range of wildlife, from bison grazing on the vast prairies to bighorn sheep navigating the rocky terrain. Hiking the Door and Window Trails leads to breathtaking panoramic views that capture the natural beauty of the region. This makes it one of the best things to do in the Black Hills.

But it’s not just about the landscapes. The park is also home to one of the world’s richest fossil beds, preserving the remnants of ancient horses, rhinos, and other creatures. For those pondering what to do in the Black Hills, immersing oneself in the natural and historical wonders of Badlands National Park is a top recommendation.

Explore the surreal beauty of Badlands National Park, a must-visit layered rock formations, deep canyons, and towering spires.
Explore the surreal beauty of Badlands National Park, a must-visit layered rock formations, deep canyons, and towering spires.

3. Custer State Park

One of the best places in the Black Hills to truly immerse yourself in nature is Custer State Park. This expansive park, covering over 71,000 acres, is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. With its pristine lakes, rolling plains, and majestic granite peaks, it’s no wonder this park is often dubbed a jewel of the region.

Driving the scenic Needles Highway or the Wildlife Loop Road, you’re bound to encounter a variety of animals. Imagine coming face-to-face with a herd of free-roaming bison or spotting graceful pronghorns in the distance. It’s these spontaneous wildlife encounters that make a trip to Custer State Park so memorable.

For those who prefer a more active adventure, the park offers a plethora of hiking trails. Sylvan Lake, with its clear waters and picturesque surroundings, is a favorite spot for both hikers and picnickers. Things to do in the Black Hills? Make sure to drop by at Custer State Park. It’s a place where nature’s beauty is evident at every turn, promising an unforgettable experience.

Immerse in nature at Custer State Park, offering pristine lakes, rolling plains, and majestic peaks.
Immerse in nature at Custer State Park, offering pristine lakes, rolling plains, and majestic peaks.

4. Deadwood

Stepping into Deadwood is like taking a leap back in time. This historic town, once a booming gold rush settlement, has preserved its Wild West charm. This makes it one of the unique places in the Black Hills. As you stroll through its streets, you can almost hear the echoes of legendary figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, who once called this place home.

For those with a penchant for history, the Adams Museum offers a treasure trove of artifacts and exhibits that tell the tale of Deadwood’s colorful past. If you’re wondering what to do in the Black Hills, attending one of Deadwood’s reenacted shootouts or trying your luck in a historic gaming hall should be on your list.

The town also hosts various events throughout the year, from rodeos to music festivals, ensuring there’s always something happening. And if you’re in the mood for some natural beauty, the nearby Spearfish Canyon promises breathtaking views, especially during the fall when the leaves change colors. In Deadwood, the blend of history, entertainment, and nature makes it a must-see in the Black Hills.

Travel back in time to Deadwood, a historic town where Wild West charm endures.
Travel back in time to Deadwood, a historic town where Wild West charm endures.

5. Wind Cave National Park

If you’re on the hunt for unique things to do in the Black Hills, then descending into the depths of Wind Cave National Park should be high on your list. Recognized as one of the oldest national parks in the U.S., this subterranean wonder boasts a complex maze of caverns adorned with intricate boxwork formations – a sight that’s rare to find anywhere else in the world.

The guided tours here are nothing short of spectacular. As you navigate the dimly lit passageways, every twist and turn reveals nature’s artistry, from delicate helictites to grand chambers. Above ground, the park surprises with a diverse ecosystem. Bison, elk, and prairie dogs roam the vast prairies, offering wildlife enthusiasts a treat.

For those pondering where to go in the Black Hills, Wind Cave National Park serves as a dual destination, combining underground marvels with above-ground beauty. And if you’re a fan of night skies, the park’s minimal light pollution makes it a haven for stargazing. So, pack your sense of adventure and get ready to explore one of the coolest things in the Black Hills.

Delve into Wind Cave National Park for a unique exploration, discovering intricate box work formations.
Delve into Wind Cave National Park for a unique exploration, discovering intricate box work formations.

6. Spearfish Canyon

For those who are constantly seeking the best places to go in the Black Hills, Spearfish Canyon is a destination that promises unparalleled natural beauty. This scenic byway, stretching for 22 miles, is a tapestry of towering limestone cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and vibrant foliage, especially mesmerizing during the fall.

Bridal Veil and Roughlock Falls are the crown jewels of this canyon. Their cascading waters create a serene backdrop, perfect for picnics or reflective moments. For the more adventurous souls, the canyon offers a plethora of hiking trails. Each path leads to a new discovery, be it a hidden creek, an overlook offering panoramic views, or a quiet spot amidst the trees.

One of the coolest activities in the Black Hills is driving through this canyon during sunrise or sunset. The play of light on the rock faces, combined with the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves, creates a magical atmosphere. Spearfish Canyon is nature’s masterpiece waiting to be explored.

Experience unmatched natural beauty at Spearfish Canyon, a scenic byway adorned with limestone cliffs, waterfalls, and vibrant fall foliage.
Experience unmatched natural beauty at Spearfish Canyon, a scenic byway adorned with limestone cliffs, waterfalls, and vibrant fall foliage.

7. 1880 Train: Black Hills Central Railroad

All aboard for a trip back in time! One of the unique things to do in the Black Hills is to hop on the 1880 Train, a vintage steam train that offers a nostalgic ride between Hill City and Keystone. This isn’t just a train ride; it’s a journey through history, nature, and the heart of the Black Hills.

As the train chugs along, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the landscape, from dense forests to open meadows dotted with wildflowers. The narrated tour provides fascinating insights into the history of the railroad, the gold rush era, and the tales of yesteryears that shaped this region.

For those thinking where to visit in the Black Hills, this train ride offers a unique perspective. It’s not every day that you get to travel in a vintage locomotive, feeling the rhythm of the tracks beneath and watching the world go by from a bygone era. It’s a Black Hills attraction that appeals to both young and old. This makes it a perfect family outing. So, grab your ticket, find a cozy spot by the window, and let the 1880 Train whisk you away on an unforgettable adventure.

Ride the 1880 Train, a vintage steam train journeying between Hill City and Keystone offers a nostalgic trip through history and nature.
Ride the 1880 Train, a vintage steam train journeying between Hill City and Keystone offers a nostalgic trip through history and nature.

8. Historic Adams House

In the heart of Deadwood lies a gem that offers a glimpse into the opulent past of the Black Hills. The Historic Adams House stands as a testament to the elegance and grandeur of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For those wondering where to visit in the Black Hills, this beautifully preserved Queen Anne-style home is a must-see.

Built in 1892, the house was home to two of Deadwood’s most prominent families. As you walk through its rooms, you’ll be transported to a time of handcrafted woodwork, ornate chandeliers, and period-appropriate furnishings. The guided tours provide a deep dive into the lives of the Adams family, their contributions to Deadwood, and the broader history of the Black Hills.

One of the coolest activities in the Black Hills is to immerse oneself in its rich history, and the Adams House does just that. From its stained glass windows to the original artifacts that adorn its rooms, every corner tells a story. It’s not just a house; it’s a journey into a bygone era. So, if you’re keen on things to do in the Black Hills, make sure the Historic Adams House is on your list.

Explore the Historic Adams House, a Queen Anne-style gem showcasing late 19th and early 20th-century elegance.
Explore the Historic Adams House, a Queen Anne-style gem showcasing late 19th and early 20th-century elegance.

9. Rushmore Tramway Adventures

For those who crave a mix of thrill and scenic beauty, Rushmore Tramway Adventures is the place to be. It’s one of those unique places in the Black Hills where adventure meets nature’s splendor. Located just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Mount Rushmore, this park offers a plethora of activities that cater to both adrenaline junkies and those looking for a more relaxed experience.

Imagine ziplining through the lush canopy, feeling the wind rush past as you soar over treetops and catch glimpses of the majestic Black Hills landscape. For those who prefer a slower pace, the scenic chairlift offers panoramic views that are nothing short of breathtaking. It’s one of the best places to go in the Black Hills if you’re keen on capturing some Instagram-worthy shots.

The alpine slide is another highlight, allowing visitors to cruise down a winding track amidst the backdrop of verdant forests and rugged terrains. And if you’re traveling with kids, the aerial adventure park promises hours of fun with its treetop obstacles and rope courses.

In essence, Rushmore Tramway Adventures encapsulates the essence of Black Hills attractions – a blend of excitement, natural beauty, and memories waiting to be made.

Rushmore Tramway Adventures offers an exciting blend of adventure and scenic beauty.
Rushmore Tramway Adventures offers an exciting blend of adventure and scenic beauty.

10. Needles Highway

Driving through the Needles Highway is akin to embarking on a magical journey through a land of granite spires and narrow tunnels. It’s one of those cool destinations in the Black Hills that leaves visitors in awe of nature’s architectural prowess. As you navigate the twists and turns of this scenic byway, you’ll be greeted by towering rock formations that seem to pierce the sky, aptly giving the highway its name.

The Cathedral Spires, a group of tall, needle-like granite formations, are a sight to behold and a favorite among climbers. As you continue your drive, you’ll pass through tunnels carved right through the rock. Each tunnel offers a unique view of the surrounding landscape. One of the most iconic tunnels frames the view of Mount Rushmore in the distance. This provides a picture-perfect moment that’s hard to resist.

For those who love to hike, several trails branch off from the highway, leading to vantage points that offer panoramic views of the Black Hills. It’s no wonder that many consider the Needles Highway as one of the must-see in the Black Hills.

In every twist, turn, and tunnel, driving through the Needles Highway is one of the best things to do in the Black Hills that promises an adventure that’s both exhilarating and visually stunning.

Navigate the enchanting Needles Highway, where granite spires and towering rock formations showcase nature's architectural brilliance.
Navigate the enchanting Needles Highway, where granite spires and towering rock formations showcase nature’s architectural brilliance.

11. Sylvan Lake

Tucked away in the heart of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake is a gem that offers visitors a serene escape. It’s one of those unique places in the Black Hills where time seems to stand still, and nature’s beauty takes center stage. The calm waters of the lake reflect the surrounding granite cliffs and lush forests, creating a picturesque setting that’s perfect for relaxation and reflection.

For those looking to get active, Sylvan Lake offers a range of coolest activities in the Black Hills. You can rent a kayak or paddleboard and explore the lake’s nooks and crannies, or take a leisurely swim in its refreshing waters. The lake is also the starting point for several hiking trails. This includes the trail to the iconic Black Elk Peak, the highest point in South Dakota.

Fishing enthusiasts will be delighted to know that the lake is teeming with trout. This makes it a popular spot for anglers. And if you’re in the mood for a picnic, there are plenty of spots along the shoreline where you can set up and enjoy a meal with a view.

In every season, Sylvan Lake offers a slice of paradise. This makes it a must-see in the Black Hills.

Discover tranquility at Sylvan Lake, a serene gem reflecting granite cliffs and lush forests, offering a picturesque escape.
Discover tranquility at Sylvan Lake, a serene gem reflecting granite cliffs and lush forests, offering a picturesque escape.

12. Jewel Cave National Monument

Deep beneath the surface of the Black Hills lies Jewel Cave National Monument, the third-longest cave in the world. With over 200 miles of mapped passageways, it’s a subterranean wonderland that promises an adventure like no other. One of the best places in the Black Hills for those with a penchant for exploration, Jewel Cave is a testament to nature’s artistry.

The cave gets its name from the dazzling calcite crystals that adorn its walls, shimmering like jewels in the lamplight. As you venture deeper into the cave, you’ll encounter a myriad of unique formations, from delicate draperies to intricate helictites. Each chamber reveals new secrets, making every turn a surprise.

Guided tours are available for visitors of all ages and skill levels. The Scenic Tour offers a glimpse into the cave’s most breathtaking chambers, while the Wild Caving Tour is perfect for those looking for a more challenging experience. It’s one of those Black Hills attractions that keeps you coming back for more.

Above ground, the monument offers hiking trails that wind through the forest, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. It’s a reminder that sometimes, the most incredible things to do in the Black Hills just lie just beneath our feet.

Exploring Jewel Cave National Monument is one of the best things to do in Black Hills, South Dakota
Explore Jewel Cave National Monument, the world’s third-longest cave, an unmatched subterranean adventure.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in the Black Hills

Looking for more content on the top things to do in the Black Hills? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to the Black Hills:

When is the best time to visit the Black Hills?

The prime time to visit is during the summer months, from June to August. The weather is warm, and most attractions are open. However, if you prefer fewer crowds, consider the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.

Are there any camping facilities in the Black Hills?

Absolutely! The Black Hills offers a range of camping options, from primitive sites to full-service campgrounds. It’s a camper’s paradise, whether you’re in an RV or a tent.

What is the new attraction in the Black Hills?

Back in 2020, a new attraction opened in the Black Hills at the Fort Hays Chuckwagon. The attraction is an interactive chair lift ride called “The Buffalo Hunt.” Two chairs hang beneath an overhead track, allowing riders to swoop and fly over a simulated “buffalo herd.” Riders have a shooter in hand, attached to the ride, and shoot at buffalo targets that light up, receiving a scorecard at the end of the ride.

This $2 million project had been in planning for five years and includes parts ordered from Germany. The Buffalo Hunt ride lasts about three minutes. It’s really a unique interaction experience like no other.

How many days should I spend in the Black Hills to see the main attractions?

A week would be ideal to explore the major attractions and soak in the natural beauty. However, even a long weekend can give you a taste of what this stunning region has to offer.

Explore major attractions merged with stunning natural beauty, offering a captivating blend of adventure and scenic vistas.
Explore major attractions merged with stunning natural beauty, offering a captivating blend of adventure and scenic vistas.

Is the Black Hills family-friendly?

Yes, the Black Hills is a fantastic destination for families. With a mix of outdoor adventures and educational attractions, there’s something for kids and adults alike.

How do you spend a day in the Black Hills?

Spending a day in the Black Hills of South Dakota offers a chance to explore some of the region’s most iconic sights and natural beauty. Here’s a suggested itinerary for a one-day visit:

Morning: Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial:

  • Arrive Early: Beat the crowds by arriving early at Mount Rushmore to view the famous carved faces of U.S. Presidents.
  • Explore the Grounds: Walk the Presidential Trail for different perspectives and visit the museum to learn about the monument’s history.

Crazy Horse Memorial:

  • Drive to Crazy Horse: A short drive from Mount Rushmore, this monument is dedicated to the Native American leader Crazy Horse.
  • Take a Tour: Consider taking a bus tour to the base of the monument for a closer look.

Afternoon: Custer State Park

Custer State Park:

  • Lunch: Enjoy a picnic lunch or dine at one of the park’s lodges.
  • Wildlife Loop Road: Drive this scenic route to see wildlife like bison, pronghorn, and deer.
  • Hiking: If time allows, take a short hike, such as the Cathedral Spires Trail.

Evening: Wind Cave or Jewel Cave

Choose a Cave to Explore:

  • Wind Cave National Park: Known for its unique boxwork formations, Wind Cave offers guided tours of varying lengths and difficulties.
  • Jewel Cave National Monument: The third-longest cave in the world, Jewel Cave offers different tour options, including a scenic tour suitable for most visitors.

Sunset and Dinner

  • Sunset Viewing: Find a scenic spot to watch the sunset over the Black Hills.
  • Dinner: Enjoy dinner in a nearby town like Custer or Hill City, where you’ll find various dining options.

Are there dining options in the Black Hills area?

You bet! From classic American diners to gourmet restaurants, the Black Hills offers a variety of dining options that cater to all tastes and budgets.

What is the Black Hills known for?

The Black Hills is renowned for its picturesque landscapes, featuring dense forests, unique rock formations, and an abundance of wildlife. Additionally, it’s home to iconic landmarks such as Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and historic towns like Deadwood. This makes it a blend of natural beauty and rich American history.

Is the Black Hills worth visiting?

Absolutely! The Black Hills offers visitors a captivating blend of natural wonders, historical sites, and thrilling outdoor activities. This makes it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts, history buffs, and adventure seekers alike.

Final Thoughts on Touring the Black Hills

The Black Hills is more than a destination; it’s an experience. From the depths of its caves to the heights of its peaks, it promises adventures that linger in memory long after the journey ends. It’s a place where nature and history intertwine, offering lessons and leisure in equal measure. So, pack your bags, set your sights on the horizon, and embark on a journey to one of the most unique places in the Black Hills. Your adventure awaits!

The top things to do in the Black Hills, South Dakota for all types of travelers
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