Are you looking for things to do in the Black Hills South Dakota? Look no further.
In this article, I will walk you through what to do in the Black Hills and tell you everything you need to know about this beautiful area.
While many of us may have never heard of the Black Hills of South Dakota we have all seen one part of them many many times.
For as unknown as The Black Hills are what lies within them is very famous. You have all heard of Mount Rushmore, right? Well, that is in The Black Hills.
Yes, The Black Hills is an area that is home to many manmade and natural wonders.
From Mount Rushmore to underground caves, five million acres of forest, and majestic mountains to the otherworldly nearby Badlands National Park there really is something here for everyone.
The Dakota Black Hills are a great place for a Midwest road trip with roads winding through some incredible countryside.
The South Dakota small towns are some of the most historic gold rush towns around and the wildlife here surpasses most other locations.
A Midwest getaway here is always an adventure with something to see, do,
So if you are looking for things to do in South Dakota that really will please everyone a visit to the Black Hills is a must.
Let me take you on a journey around this area and introduce you to the many Black Hills tourist attractions.
Grab a chair, get yourself a cold drink and let me walk you through some things to do in the Black Hills.
22 Best Things To Do In The Black Hills SD You Shouldn’t Miss
Visit The Crazy Horse Monument
While Mount Rushmore gets all the attention there is another monument that is equally as impressive even though it’s a work in progress.
The Crazy Horse Memorial honors the famous Lakota Chief Crazy Horse who fought against the encroachment of Native American land. Construction began in 1948 and is still ongoing.
The face is the only part of the memorial that is complete although it will eventually be Crazy Horse on Horseback pointing over his land.
It is the world’s largest mountain carving the eyes alone are 17 feet wide to give you an idea of scale.
This is one of the best places to visit in South Dakota.
Drive The Needles Highway
The Needle Highway is a spectacular winding highway and one of the best things to do in the Black Hills.
The 14-mile highway leads through forests, meadows, rugged granite mountains, and some of the Black Hills tourist attractions.
Sylvan Lake and the Needle’s Eye rock formation are the real draws here.
It’s a road to be savored and a road to be careful on so take your time. It will take about 45 minutes to 60 minutes to complete the drive safely.
The road is not RV friendly but you can hire Jeeps nearby if you want to travel down it and you really should.
Marvel At Mount Rushmore National Memorial
On Grandfathers Mountain sits the grandaddy of all Black Hills tourist attractions. What trip would be complete without a trip to this iconic location?
Construction of the sixty-foot faces of these presidents began in 1927 and was completed in 1941.
It’s one of the popular things to do in the South Dakota Black Hills. And one of the best places to visit in the Midwest!
You can hike around the area if you really want to get a feel for the area. It’s one of those bucket list South Dakota attractions.
Iron Mountain Road
Some believe Iron Mountain Road or the 16a is one of the most unusual and interesting roads in America. That’s a lot to live up to for a 17-mile stretch of road.
It snakes through the Black Hills with mountains and valleys as its backdrop. it’s really beautiful.
But it isn’t a drive for the faint of the heart! It has a tremendous amount of curves that are referred to as switchbacks which speak for themselves.
You drive through one-lane tunnels and under wooden bridges called pigtail bridges.
Also look out for wildlife here bison, antelope, deer and turkey, big horn sheep, and mountain lions are often seen sometimes stopping traffic to cross the road.
The speed limit is 35miles per hour and the road will take about 45 minutes to navigate. It’s an incredible drive and one of the best things to do in the Black Hills for sure.
In Custer State Park this lake is probably one you will recognize. It was featured in National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets and is incredibly beautiful.
The lake is flanked by jagged rocks and has an oasis feel about it. It also has a beach where you can relax, swim or launch non-motorized boats, etc.
A day out here is a real must when you are exploring the Dakota Black Hills. Bring a picnic as you won’t want to leave.
Roughlock Falls is a breathtaking multi-tiered waterfall along Little Spearfish Canyon.
The name comes from pioneers who used to ‘rough lock’ the wheels before lowering their wagons down the drop.
It’s one of the most beautiful locations in the Dakota Black Hills and makes for great photography.
This is one of the coolest places to experience fall in South Dakota.
There are walking paths around the area that allow you to explore and get different vistas.
Bird watching, wildlife viewing, fishing, and picnicking are all other things you can do in the area.
Custer State Park
Here you have 71,000 acres of the Black Hills to enjoy. You will find granite peaks rolling plains and a whole array of wildlife, especially bison, it’s famous for its bison herds.
There is so much to do here such as camping hiking, biking, swimming, relaxing, and picnicking.
This park was named one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations and that is why most people come here. The Wildlife Loop is the best way to see as many animals as you can.
Whatever you love doing you will be able to experience it here. This is a great state park and well worth visiting on your South Dakota getaway.
there are so many things to do in Custer, SD. If you have time give the city of Custer a visit.
This creek-carved gorge is more ancient than the Grand Canyon and provides some of the best scenery in the Dakota Black Hills.
The narrow 1000 feet walls are one of the top things to do in the Black Hills in the north of the region and it is so beautiful.
The area is perfect for hiking rock climbing, picnicking, swimming, bird watching, and wildlife spotting.
Thsi is a great place for wildlife enthusiasts too with deer, mountain goats, porcupines, and bobcats all known to frequent the area.
The canyon was once only accessible by horse but now you can drive through it.
The 20-mile highway takes about 30 minutes to drive but add lots of time for stopping as you will want to get out of the car.
There are 3 waterfalls, multiple pools, and rapids along Spearfish Creek and some of the best views and picture opportunities.
This area really is stunning and I advise you to take your hiking boots and get out of the car and explore on foot if you can.
Try Some ATV and Off-Roading
If you looking for a more adventurous thing to do in the Black Hills then how about a little off-roading?
The Black Hills National Forest has one of the largest motorized trail systems in any National Forest.
The trail consists of more than 3,600 miles of open roads. Over 650 miles are designated trails for all types of Off-Highway Vehicles.
There are many places that rent vehicles if you don’t have your own and some places do off-roading tours.
You will require a Black Hills Motorized Trail Permit which is relatively cheap and can be purchased online or at the Black Hills Visitor center.
Get Your Hiking Boots On
When it comes to hiking in South Dakota I can tell you it doesn’t get much better than it does in the Black Hills.
There are about 450 miles of hiking spread across 74 trails all with incredible scenery.
This area is also home to two nationally-renowned trails. George S. Mickelson Trail and the Centennial Trail run the length of The Black Hills.
There are also miles of trails within Custer State Park; and various trails within the nearby Badlands National Park.
If you fancy taking your hiking one step further then how about a spot of backpacking? You will find campsites dotted throughout the area, some are well equipped and others very primitive.
Some of the most isolated backpacking areas are the 9,826-acre Black Elk Wilderness which includes 7,242-foot Black Elk Peak.
Or try the otherworldy Sage Creek Wilderness in the Badlands National Park.
Or take one of the longer trails like the 111-mile Centennial Trail and camp along the way. Custer State Park also offers some great destinations.
The best and often safest time to go backpacking here is spring and fall. This means you don’t have to deal with extreme temperatures.
Some of these locations are very remote so please only do this if you are experienced and have all the essential equipment you need.
If you aren’t very experienced choose some of the easier trails and camp somewhere less remote.
The Black Hills is one of the best places to visit in South Dakota, especially for hiking and backpacking.
Visit Rapid City
If all of the outdoors is a bit too much for you and you need some civilization then head into Rapid City. It’s the hub of this region and a great base for visiting the Dakota Black Hills.
There are so many things to do in Rapid City. For example The Dinosaur Park, The South Dakota Air and Space Museum, and the Chapel In The Hills.
Whatever you love doing you will be able to in Rapid City.
Rapid city restaurants are also great places to have an evening meal. It’s a vibrant happening city with a lot to offer.
A lot of the Black Hills tourist attractions can be found in or around Rapid City SD.
Get Onto Or Into The Water
If you would rather explore this region on the water then the Black Hills can deliver that too. It’s a great way to see the scenery from a different perspective and see some more of the untouched areas.
Canoeing, kayaking swimming, and other water sports are allowed on most of the lakes and rivers in the area but do check before entering.
Angostura Recreation Area near Hot Springs; Bear Butte Lake near Sturgis and Custer State Park are all popular canoeing lakes but there are many more.
Belle Fourche, Cheyenne, or White Rivers are places to go for a slow jaunt in wonderful surroundings.
For the more adventurous try Rapid Creek it has four runs that make the American Whitewater’s list.
Spring and early summer tend to be the best time to get into the water. Of all the things to see in South Dakota a trip to some of the lakes in this region is a must.
Get Your Binoculars Out And Go Wildlife Spotting
There can be nothing more fun than seeing who can spot the first bison. Not only is it a game that will keep the children entertained for hours but the adults too.
And it won’t be long before you spot something here. Encounters with animals are pretty commonplace here.
Keep an eye out for bison, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, elk, and more. You honestly will be spoilt for choice here.
Custer State Park, Badlands National Park, and Wind Cave National Park all have herds of Bison.
The best place to see them is the Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park, where they have the second-largest public, free-roaming herd in the U.S.
If you are looking for things to do in the South Dakota Black Hills with small children they will love going out looking for the animals.
Visit One Of The Small Towns In The Area
If you are wondering what to do in the Black Hills that is more about history than the great outdoors then how about a visit to some of the small towns in the area?
If you love charming old historic towns then The Black Hills has a few.
Keystone is filled with historic buildings and family-friendly activities as well as some great places to shop and eat. It’s a great thing to do near Rapid City if you are that way.
Deadwood is an abandoned mining town and is a real picture. It’s the perfect place to learn about the gold rush in this area.
You will find historic architecture, monuments dedicated to Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, saloon bars, and staged shootouts.
You can even pan for gold at the Broken Boot Gold Mine. It’s a great little town that is more like a living museum and is well worth a visit.
South Dakota attractions don’t get much better than a trip here.
Get On Your Bike
If you are looking for things to do in the South Dakota Black Hills that don’t involve walking or getting in the water how about a bike?
Mountain biking and road touring are popular here and a great way to see the area.
For the most scenic rides try the trail that runs from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore; the Needles Highway; or Spearfish Canyon.
Rapid City also has a 13.5-mile bikeway along Rapid Creek which is well worth a visit. The 109-mile George S. Mickelson Trail, which stretches from Deadwood to Edgemont is also a great place to ride.
For mountain biking in the Black Hills, there are almost 6,000 miles of fire trails, logging roads, and abandoned railroad grades.
These go over ridges, through canyons, and over mountain tops providing even the most experienced riders something to get their teeth into.
If you don’t have a bike there are numerous places that rent them so just ask where you staying and I’m sure they can help you.
Take A Train Ride
One of the best ways to see the Black Hills is one train. The Black Hills Central Railroad was built in the late 1800s and is still as beautiful today as it was then.
The 1880 train is all wood, leather, and stained glass and is just gorgeous and the two-hour trip from Keystone to Hill City is delightful.
The narrated journey takes you through the heart of the Black Hills. Sylvan Lake, Black Elk Peak, and Battle Creek are all highlights along the way.
This is one of the things to do near Rapid City that everyone will enjoy. a trip on this train is one of the best South Dakota attractions in my opinion.
If you are looking for things to do in the Black Hills, SD that are a little different than the norm then how about some rock climbing?
Whether you are an experienced climber or just fancy trying it out for the day the Black Hills can deliver. Let’s face it the view from above the trees is going to be pretty epic.
People have been rock climbing in the Black Hills since 1937 and now there are thousands of climbing routes most in Custer State Park and Spearfish Canyon.
Custer State Park is known as the ‘Needles of South Dakota’ and is great for beginners and more serious climbers.
Fun fact the rocks of the area were featured in the movie ‘National Treasure II so you know it’s going to be picture-perfect.
You can also climb in the area of Mount Rushmore, not the rock that contains the faces obviously but there are plenty of other opportunities.
Ice climbing is also gaining popularity here with Spearfish Canyon tending to be the best palace but this is only for experienced ice climbers.
There are many places that will teach you climbing and take you out on your first climb here so just ask about it or research before you go.
Get Your Camera Out
If you prefer to just get out into nature with your camera then photographing this area is one of the best things to do in South Dakota.
Photo opportunities are everywhere here and you will be in your element.
If you shot wildlife then make sure you bring a zoom lens and a lot of patience as the opportunities here are endless.
If it’s the scenery you want to photograph take your pick. You will find national and state parks, monuments, forests, grasslands, lakes, breathtaking scenery, and incredible views.
The scenic byways and wildlife loops offer great places to start.
Other than Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Crazy Horse Monument some of the most photographed places in this area include the cathedral spires along Needles Highway.
Also, Iron Mountain Road, Sylvan Lake, Spearfish Canyon, and Roughlock Falls.
However, wherever you go you will find picturesque lakes, towering granite formations, incredible vistas, and wildlife galore.
Taking your camera out exploring is one of the best things to do in the Black Hills, South Dakota.
Visit Jewel Cave National Monument Is One Of The Best Things To Do In The Black Hills Of SD
Most of the things I’ve shared so far are overground so let’s share something that’s underground.
There are so many monuments and national parks in South Dakota to explore.
There are two cave systems in the Black Hills and Jewel Cave is the world’s third-longest cave system and is very impressive.
Here you will find stalactites and stalagmites, passageways galore, and the odd glimpses of brilliant color. The guided cave tours are the best way to experience this marvel.
This is definitely one of the best places to visit in South Dakota.
Try Geocaching Is A Fun Thing To Do In The SD Black Hills
If you have never been geocaching before you are going to love it. It’s the perfect thing to do in the Black Hills if you have children.
Geocaching is also a great way to get children out and about walking without them knowing it.
If you haven’t done geocaching before it’s basically a digital treasure hunt. You use digital coordinates to find something hidden at the coordinates. These hidden items are called caches.
All you need to do is download the app and it will tell you what geocaches are near you.
Although the popularity of geocaching has fallen slightly since its initial hype it’s still worth it and fun, especially for children. It gives an endpoint to the walking if that makes sense.
If you are wondering what to do in the Black Hills I highly recommend giving this a try.
There are so many state parks in South Dakota to play geocaching in!
Spending Time At Badlands National Park Is One Of The Best Things To Do In The Badlands
Although often the Badlands, South Dakota, and the Black Hills are referred to as one they are actually separate.
While there are lots to do in the Black Hills alone I really believe if you are in this area you must take a trip to The Badlands.
The Badlands National Park is one of the most popular things to do near Mount Rushmore. Mainly because of its otherworldly landscape that wouldn’t look a miss in a Star Wars film.
You will find strange geological forms, escarpments, and vibrant-hued layered mounds. If you are someone who finds beauty in desolation then this is the place for you.
It’s really hard to describe how breathtaking it is here. The Badlands Loop Road is a great way to see the area and landscape and has some pull-off areas for you to get a better look.
To help get a map of the Badlands and stop at places of interest.
If you want to get a bit up more and personal do some hiking here or even some backpacking and camping but it can get relatively isolated and primitive in some areas.
The trip here is just short of two hours from the heart of the Black Hills but it’s honestly so worth it.
Here are some great tips on how to pack lightly in a carry-on bag for your trip to the SD Black Hills!
Packing List For Visiting The South Dakota Black Hills
If you will be traveling, either by plane or by car to South Dakota, here are some tips on how to pack lightly.
A concealed travel pouch may be one of the most important items you bring along when visiting the Black Hills of SD!
It is always important to protect your personal information. Identity thieves are everywhere.
This unisex RFID blocking concealed travel pouch is lightweight and comes in several colors.
It has lots of organization to give you peace of mind. You can place it under your hiking clothes next to your body to carry your ID safely.
If you have a pouch already that does not come with the RFID protection, as I do, these RFID sleeves are the perfect solution.
his configuration comes with enough credit card sleeves that the entire family would be protected. They are slim too, so they will easily fit into your pouch or wallet.
If you are planning on taking a lot of pictures with your phone you will definitely want to consider an external charging battery.
This Anker high-speed phone charging battery is the exact one I carry with me on all of my trips.
I like that it holds its charging capabilities for several uses so I do not have to worry about it while out and about, and if I forget to recharge it at night, it will still be good to go the next day.
I like that it holds its charging capabilities for several uses so I do not have to worry about it while out and about, and if I forget to recharge it at night, it will still be good to go the next day.
My daughter gifted me with this FugeTek selfie stick and tripod setup for my birthday. I absolutely love it! It is made of lightweight aluminum and is so easy to use.
It has Bluetooth connectivity and is a breeze to use for taking Insta-worthy selfies at all the cool places in the South Dakota Black Hills that you explore.
I never much believed in using packing cubes when traveling. That is until I tried them. Now I am hooked. These are the exact cubes I use to stay organized when I pack for a trip!
You will want to bring your own refillable water bottle with you.
I never leave home on a trip without my Bobble filtration bottle. The 18.5-ounce size is perfect for your adventures and it fits nicely in the pocket of a backpack.
Perhaps you are traveling a long distance and packing space is a premium in your suitcase, or in your car. Then this collapsible silicone foldable water bottle would work well for you. Would not take up much space at all.
You will want a backpack or daypack with you to store snacks, your water bottle, phone, extra clothes, etc.. when exploring these Airbnbs in North Dakota. No matter the time of day or evening.
This foldable water-resistant backpack would be great.
It is very affordable and is available in many color options for you to choose from. The fact that it folds down into a zippered pouch will make it easy to pack!
As you can see when it comes to things to do in the Black Hills, South Dakota there is so much choice. Black Hills tourist attractions are so diverse there will be something for everyone here.
So whether you are visiting the Badlands National Park or looking for things to do near Mount Rushmore I hope I have given you some inspiration.
A Midwest getaway here is always an adventure with something to see, do, and enjoy.
Have an amazing time in the Black Hills, SD, and please come back and tell me all about it.