Western South Dakota delivers a wide variety of spectacular landscapes ranging from the prairies grassland and rock formations of the Badlands National Park, through to the mountains, canyons and forests of the Black Hills for you to explore.
On the man-made side, the gigantic carvings at Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial are iconic monuments of the United States not to be missed. Learn why they were built here, who and why they were chosen, what they represent, and the vision for each project.
These parts were once the very edge of the wild west. Home of the Sioux people, whose ancestors thrived for thousands of generations with a deep physical and spiritual attachment to the environment.
The lure of gold drew many seeking their fortune. You’ll see the one of the world’s richest gold mining operations at the Homestake Mine in Lead.
It also attracted a ragtag group of frontier settlers, lawless gunfighters and adventurers like Deadwood residents; Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
On the Custer Wildlife Loop Road you might spot deer, antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, coyotes and the infamous ‘begging burros’. The buffalo population sits at around 1500.
Another scenic drive is Spearfish Canyon which follows a 19 mile route through 1000 foot limestone walls.
See Great Faces and Great Places in South Dakota.
Start on the I-90 (either arriving from the East or West), or join anywhere along the tour route(s) and pick up the commentary at the next audio point.
We recommend 3 days, which gives you time to explore all three driving loops, as well as tour downtown Rapid City. But if you only have 1 or 2 days, you can still make it work.
Black Hills Loop: Approx 90 miles.
Badlands National Park: Approx 95 miles between Rapid City and the Badlands National Park entrance (one way).
Spearfish Canyon: Approx 60 miles one way between Rapid City and Spearfish, SD.
The Black Hills of South Dakota is an island of mountains rising out of the western edge of the Great Plains. The Black Hills is known for wildlife spotting and hiking in Custer State Park, and the Needles Highway which passes some of the most stunning vistas and breath-taking rock formations.
The rugged beauty of the Badlands’ prairie grassland and rock formations draws visitors from around the world. Badlands National Park is a great place for hiking, fossil hunting, taking a scenic drive and spotting wildlife.
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Mount Rushmore and the surrounding Black Hills area, though winter sports like skiing, snowmobiling, ice-climbing, winter hiking, and others bring adventure enthusiasts year-round. Traffic is heavy from May through September, and the world-famous Sturgis Rally brings upwards of a million motorcyclists to the region in late July and early August.
Allow around 1-1.5 hours to see the memorial, more time if you are planning on taking any of the guided tours. It would be easy to spend a week or more in the Black Hills exploring all the outdoor recreation, tourist locales, art, and culture, but if you can spend three days, you can get a good taste of all those things.
Most people spend a full day exploring the designated Black Hills Loop (one-way) that includes Custer State Park (Iron Horse, Wildlife Loop, Needles) and finishes at Mount Rushmore. Add extra half days if you want to explore Badlands National Park and Spearfish Canyon.
There is no entrance fee for Mount Rushmore National Memorial. However there are fees to park at the memorial.
Yes you can see Mount Rushmore at night, check the National Park Service site for seasonal times.
Evening Lighting Ceremonies occur late May – end September. From October through May there are no ceremonies, but the sculpture is illuminated nightly at sunset.
While there is a 70 foot long vault located behind Lincoln’s head, it’s inaccessible to the public and heavily guarded.
Beneath a 1,200 granite slab, inside a teakwood box that lays within a titanium box are 16 porcelain panels as a time capsule detailing the history of the United States with the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, The Gettysburg Address, and construction of the Mount Rushmore Memorial.
There were fireworks at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in 2020, the first time in over a decade.
The risk of fire danger to the pine beetle infestation trees is considered high, and there were no fireworks held in 2021.