Black Hills South Dakota Things to do

The Black Hills region beckons with its blend of rugged beauty and rich history. From the iconic Mount Rushmore to the serene waters of Sylvan Lake, there’s no shortage of natural wonders to explore. Delve into the area’s past at the historic town of Deadwood, check out the wildlife at Custer State Park, or uncover the mysteries of Wind Cave National Park.

Outdoor enthusiasts can hike scenic trails, ride horseback through pine-scented forests, or embark on an exhilarating journey along the Mickelson Trail. Whether you’re seeking adventure or tranquility, the Black Hills offer a myriad of experiences waiting to be discovered.

Exploring the Great Outdoors

Hiking the Trails of Black Hills National Forest

The Black Hills National Forest offers a diverse range of trails for hikers of all skill levels. From the serene beauty of Little Devils Tower to the challenging heights of Black Elk Peak, there’s a trail here to satisfy every outdoor enthusiast. The well-marked paths guide adventurers through ponderosa pine forests, over babbling brooks, and up to breathtaking vistas.

Here’s a quick list of some of the top trails:

  • Little Devils Tower + Black Elk Peak
  • Devils Bathtub Trail
  • Roughlock Falls + Spearfish Falls

Each trail promises a unique experience, with opportunities to spot wildlife, wildflowers, and geological formations. Before setting out, make sure to check trail conditions and weather forecasts to ensure a safe and enjoyable hike.

Discovering the Wonders of Custer State Park

Custer State Park - Buffalo

Custer State Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty and outdoor activities. Spanning over 71,000 acres, this park is renowned for its diverse wildlife and scenic landscapes. Visitors can drive through the Wildlife Loop Road to spot bison, pronghorns, and the park’s famous ‘Begging Burros’.

For those seeking a more immersive experience, the park offers a variety of hiking trails. Each trail promises a unique adventure, from the towering granite spires along Needles Highway to the narrow passageways of Needles Eye Tunnel. Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking for a leisurely walk, there’s a path that’s just right for you.

Here’s a quick list of activities you can enjoy at Custer State Park:

  • Drive the scenic Needles Highway
  • Explore the Needles Eye Tunnel
  • Observe wildlife on the Wildlife Loop Road
  • Interact with the friendly Begging Burros
  • Hike to picturesque viewpoints

Remember to check the park’s schedule for guided tours and educational programs that can enrich your visit. With so much to do, Custer State Park is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

Venturing into Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park offers a unique subterranean adventure, boasting one of the world’s longest and most complex cave systems. Explore the intricate calcite formations known as boxwork, a rare sight found in abundance here. Above ground, the park’s mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forests provide a habitat for diverse wildlife, including bison and elk.

The park is not just a haven for spelunkers but also welcomes hikers and nature enthusiasts. The Prairie Vista Trail is a pet-friendly hike that can be completed in 30-60 minutes, making it perfect for visitors looking to enjoy the park’s natural beauty without a strenuous commitment. For those interested in a more immersive experience, the Elk Mountain Campground offers a chance to stay overnight amidst the serene landscape.

When planning your visit, consider the following popular activities:

  • Guided cave tours to witness the fascinating geological formations
  • Hiking on trails like the Rankin Ridge Interpretive Trail for panoramic views
  • Wildlife spotting in the park’s prairies and forests

Remember to check the park’s website for the latest information on tour schedules and trail conditions to make the most of your adventure at Wind Cave National Park.

Catching Fish at Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake Custer State ParkSylvan Lake, often referred to as the “crown jewel” of Custer State Park, offers an idyllic setting for anglers. The serene waters of Sylvan Lake are teeming with trout, making it a prime spot for both shore and boat fishing. Whether you’re a seasoned fisherman or trying your hand at the sport for the first time, the lake’s abundant fish population promises a rewarding experience.

Before you cast your line, it’s important to be aware of the fishing regulations to ensure a sustainable practice. A valid South Dakota fishing license is required, which can be easily obtained online or at local vendors. Here’s a quick guide to the types of trout you might encounter:

  • Rainbow Trout
  • Brown Trout
  • Brook Trout

Each species offers a unique challenge and requires different techniques to catch. Local bait shops are a treasure trove of information, providing tips on the most effective lures and bait for Sylvan Lake’s conditions. According to enthusiasts, trout here are particularly fond of various lures, so experimenting with different types could lead to a successful catch.

Biking the Mickelson Trail

The Mickelson Trail offers a unique opportunity to explore the heart of the Black Hills from the seat of a bicycle. Stretching over 100 miles, this trail is a converted railroad bed that provides a gentle incline, making it perfect for cyclists of all skill levels. Ride through tunnels, over bridges, and past historic towns, while surrounded by the stunning scenery of the Black Hills.

The trail is well-maintained and clearly marked, featuring more than 15 trailheads for convenient access. Here’s a quick guide to what you can expect along the way:

  • Scenic vistas of the surrounding Black Hills
  • Opportunities to spot local wildlife
  • Rest stops with amenities such as water and restrooms
  • Interpretive signs detailing the area’s history and geology

Whether you’re looking for a leisurely ride or an all-day adventure, the Mickelson Trail delivers with its breathtaking views and a chance to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of South Dakota.

Diving into History and Culture

Unveiling the Past at Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial stands as a monumental tribute to four of the United States’ most influential presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Carved into the granite face of the Black Hills, the colossal sculptures are a sight to behold and a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance.

Visitors can delve into the history of the monument at the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, where exhibits and a short film detail the arduous process of its creation. The Presidential Trail offers a closer view of the sculptures, while the Evening Lighting Ceremony provides a dramatic backdrop to these iconic figures.

For those interested in the broader context of the Black Hills and its attractions, the surrounding area is rich with cultural and natural wonders. From the rugged landscapes of the national parks to the historical towns that dot the region, there’s much to explore beyond the gaze of the presidents.

Presidents Year Completed
George Washington 1934
Thomas Jefferson 1936
Theodore Roosevelt 1939
Abraham Lincoln 1941

Stepping Back in Time in Deadwood

Deadwood, South Dakota, is a town that’s frozen in time, where the echoes of the Old West are still heard on its cobblestone streets. Immerse yourself in the rich history of this National Historic Landmark, which sprung to life during the Black Hills Gold Rush of the 1870s. Today, Deadwood offers a unique blend of historical attractions and entertainment.

Visitors can explore a variety of historical sites that tell the tales of legendary figures and everyday folks from the town’s heyday. Notable among these is the Adams House, a beautifully preserved Victorian mansion that offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of Deadwood’s wealthy residents during the turn of the century. Another must-visit is the Mount Moriah Cemetery, the final resting place of Wild West icons like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

For those interested in the broader historical context, the Mt Roosevelt Monument stands as a tribute to the friendship between Seth Bullock and President Theodore Roosevelt. Each site offers a unique window into the past, making Deadwood a captivating destination for history buffs and casual visitors alike.

Learning at the Crazy Horse Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Native American tribes of the Great Plains. Visitors can immerse themselves in the history and legacy of the Lakota leader Crazy Horse through the impressive mountain carving, which is still in progress, and the comprehensive Indian Museum of North America located on-site.

The museum offers a deep dive into Native American art, artifacts, and educational exhibits. Here’s a quick guide to what you can expect:

  • A vast collection of Native American art and artifacts
  • Engaging exhibits on Native American history and culture
  • Live Native American performances and lectures during the summer

While exploring Western South Dakota’s iconic landmarks, the Crazy Horse Memorial provides a unique opportunity to connect with the past and learn about the indigenous peoples who have shaped the region’s history.

Panning for Gold in Historic Lead

The town of Lead, nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, offers a unique opportunity to step into the boots of the prospectors of yesteryear. Gold panning in Lead isn’t just a tourist attraction; it’s a hands-on history lesson. Visitors can swirl their pans in the same streams that once sparked the Black Hills Gold Rush.

Here’s what you need to know before you try your hand at gold panning:

  • Seasonal availability: Gold panning experiences are typically offered from spring through fall.
  • Equipment: Pans and other necessary equipment are usually provided on-site.
  • Guided tours: Opting for a guided tour can enhance your experience with expert tips and historical insights.

While you’re unlikely to strike it rich, the thrill of discovery and the beauty of the surrounding nature make for a memorable adventure. Plus, any gold flakes you find are yours to keep, making for a unique souvenir. Engaging with the local history of mining and the economic impact it had on the region connects visitors to the broader narrative of the Black Hills, where tourism and natural resources continue to shape the community.

Exploring the Journey Museum & Learning Center

The Journey Museum & Learning Center is a gateway to the rich geological and cultural tapestry of the Black Hills region. This interactive museum provides a comprehensive look into the Native American history, pioneer life, and the natural science of South Dakota. Visitors can engage with a variety of exhibits that span across time, from the prehistoric era to the present day.

The museum’s layout is designed to take you on a chronological journey, starting with the geological formation of the Black Hills and moving through the cultural history of the Lakota people and the pioneers who settled the area. Here’s a quick glimpse of what to expect:

  • The Geological Exhibit: Understand the natural forces that shaped the Black Hills.
  • The Paleontology Exhibit: See fossils from the area’s prehistoric inhabitants.
  • The Sioux Indian Exhibit: Learn about the Lakota culture and traditions.
  • The Pioneer Exhibit: Discover the challenges and triumphs of early settlers.

Whether you’re a history buff, a science enthusiast, or simply looking for an educational outing, the Journey Museum & Learning Center offers a unique and enriching experience. It’s a must-visit for anyone looking to dive deeper into the essence of South Dakota.

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Great Faces. Great Places.

South Dakota is an incredibly unique state in that each region offers a completely different experience then the others. Check out each of the regions to see what each has to offer!


Western South Dakota

Featuring the Black Hills, Badlands, the Sturgis Rally. This region tends to be the most popular.


This region of South Dakota offers some of the best hunting and fishing in the entire central US. 

Eastern Region

The eastern region is home to the largest city in the state and provides visitors with a true "prairie" experience.