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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.
There is no entrance fee for Mount Rushmore National Memorial. However there are fees to park at the memorial.
Yes. Check the NPS site for seasonal times.
Evening Lighting Ceremonies occur late May – end September.
In 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 1200 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.
Allow around 1-1.5 hours to see the memorial, more time if you are planning on taking any of the guided tours.
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 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, so stay tuned for 2021 announcements.