A Western South Dakota Road Trip Idea, Subtitles Available
This video is on a Western South Dakota Road Trip Idea that travels East to West and then around the Black Hills. South Dakota is home to abundant wildlife, beautiful scenery, rich history, and an array of outdoor activities. This road trip takes the traveler to visit 5 National Park Service Sites, a town that is a National Historic Landmark, Scenic by-Ways, and an area with deep American History. We start in Badlands National Park, and then drive to the Black Hills to see Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Historic Deadwood. This Western South Dakota Road Trip Idea finishes in Wyoming to visit Devil’s Tower National Monument which is an hour and 15 minutes from Deadwood. You’ll need 5-7 days to explore the Black Hills and National Parks but if you only have a few days. I hope to give you enough information for you to decide what
attractions you’d like to visit. From October to April, many facilities are closed for the season but there is still a lot to experience. Western South Dakota has many lodging and camping options in the region but ensure you have a reservation if you are traveling in the summer. It is not recommended to travel to the Black Hills during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which is held for 10 days in August. The area is very crowded during that time period and accommodations will be hard to find. The drive in the Black Hills is absolutely breathe taking! There is a reason motorcycle enthusiasts travel to the region to ride. Along the scenic drive,
you will get a spectacular view of wild animals roaming freely and an abundance of Ponderosa Pine. You will want to ensure that you travel on the Needles Highway, Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, and through Custer State Park. While visiting, you will see Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Prairie Dogs, Elk, Donkeys, and Black-footed ferrets. Western South Dakota also has several Cave Systems to explore. One of which is a National Park, and another is a National Monument. South Dakota was part of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. During the mid-19th century,
Prairie Pioneers settled in Western South Dakota, thanks to the Homestead Act and the Gold Rush. Previously, the region had been inhabited by the Sioux. The Homestead Act was enacted during the Civil War in 1862. It mandated that those who took 160 acres of surveyed government land had to “improve” the plot by building and cultivating the land for five years.
A typical 160-acre farm cost around $18. In 1868, the Treaty of Fort Laramie was agreed upon and was between the United States Government and the Sioux, Native Americans. The treaty promised the Sioux people 60 million acres of reservation land. Forts within the boundaries of this land were abandoned and then burnt down by the Natives. The government broke the terms of the treaty of Fort Laramie four years after it was signed when gold was discovered in the Black Hills.
The Black Hills Gold Rush began in 1874 after Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer led 1,000 troops to the region for an expedition to confirm reports of gold. Prospectors migrated to the region for gold in hopes to strike it rich and mining camps were established near Custer, Hill City, and Deadwood. Our first destination on this Road Trip idea is Badlands National Park. Badlands National Park was originally authorized as a national monument in 1929 and was then redesignated as a National Park in 1978. Badlands contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient three toed horses, saber-toothed cats, and rhinos are among
the many fossilized species found at Badlands. Badlands is made up of over 242,000 acres of land and is the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the country. Badland’s landscape boasts geologic formations of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, claystone, limestone, volcanic ash, and shale. The rocks have created canyons, ravines, gullies, buttes, mesas, and hoodoos.
The most popular road to enjoy the sights of the National Park is Highway 240, Badlands Loop Road. Highway 240 is easily reached from I-90 using exits 110 or 131. The Loop Road is the only fully paved road in the park. A good drive to enjoy wildlife and views of the badlands is from Sage Creek Rim Road which is a dirt road and is in the North Unit of Badlands National Park. I recommend hiking the moderate Cedar Butte trail, driving the dirt Sheep Mountain Table Road, and making stops at Burns Basin Overlook and the Quinn Road Prairie Dog Town. If your schedule allows, visit the park during a sunrise or sunset. Find your favorite scenery in
the park and enjoy the changing of the colors against the formations. From Badlands National Park, we travel to see the World’s Largest Sculpture, Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The Outcrop of Granite from the beautiful Black Hills Forest is an amazing sight. Mount Rushmore
is a Mountainside Colossal Sculpture of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. The name of Rushmore Mountain came from Charles E. Rushmore, a New York lawyer who spent time in the area in 1885 to inspect mining claims in the region. Originally, Mount Rushmore was South Dakota’s plan to create a tourist attraction in the Black Hills. The Sculpture was encouraged by then state historian, Doane Robinson. At the time, the idea was to depict heroes of the West to include, Red Cloud, the Sioux chef who signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie. In 1927, Gutzon Borglum was commissioned by South Dakota and then the United States government to carve the 60-foot-high heads. Borglum was a Nebraskan
native whose parents were Dutch immigrants. George Washington’s head was completed in 1930, followed by Thomas Jefferson in 1936, Abraham Lincoln in 1937, and then Theodore Roosevelt in 1939. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed Mount Rushmore under the jurisdiction of the National Park system and then all responsibility was officially transferred in 1941. I recommend beginning your visit in the Visitor Center and watching the 14-minute film that describes the reason for Mount Rushmore. Junior Ranger program booklets are available for children to complete for three age groups with ages 3-4 being the youngest.
The park offers a self-guided tour wand for rent as well as different ranger led presentations for free. The Ranger programs include a Sculptor’s Studio Talk, an Evening Program, and the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village. I also encourage you to walk around or hike if you can. The area is gorgeous, and the trails are well maintained unless you enter an area shared with horse riding. The .6 of a mile Presidential Trail Loop travels to the rockpile at the base of the Memorial and gives you an up-close experience with the mountain sculpture. Around Mount Rushmore, there is a moderate 4-mile pet friendly hiking trail, Horse Thief Lake, which can be found from Blackberry and Centennial Trails, and features a lake. If you choose this hike, park on the Washington side of Mount Rushmore and then
cross highway 244 to the trailhead. There is also a one-mile gravel trail, the Blackberry Trail, located entirely within Mount Rushmore, and connects with the Centennial Trail in the Black Elk Wilderness. From Mount Rushmore, we drive scenic roads to breathtaking Custer State Park for astonishing landscapes, alluring rock formations and to enjoy wild animals roaming freely. Custer State Park is a prime wildlife viewing area. Free Range Bison, Playful Donkeys, Bighorn Sheep, and Pronghorns are some of the animals that wander the area. Have your camera ready
because there are many pull offs to take advantage of and you won’t want to drive more than 20 mph. While on the scenic roads, you may get caught in a wildlife jam. The best time to view animals here is in the early morning or just before sunset. The Highest Point East of the Rockies, Black Elk Peak, is among the mountains in between the Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway. Iron Mountain
Road, also known as US Hwy 16A, is a 17-mile impressive slow drive that showcases the beauty of the Black Hills. Iron Mountain Road has pigtail bridges and tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore. Drive 14 miles on a National Scenic Byway, SD Hwy 87, the Needles Highway, before arriving at Custer State Park. On the Needles Highway, you will experience sharp turns, narrow tunnels, view needlelike granite formations, and stunning nature. The Wildlife Loop Road, also known as Custer State Park Wildlife Scenic Byway, is part of Custer State Park which has a $20 vehicle admission fee for 1-7 days. The Wildlife Loop Road is a great opportunity to encounter wildlife up-close and is highly recommended for anyone traveling into the Black Hills. Road biking is a great option on the loop for those who travel with their bike. Wildlife
Loop Road has detours onto dirt roads for more wildlife viewing. Throughout Custer State Park, there are trails for hiking, biking, and horse riding. I recommend hiking the moderate 4.2 mile “Lovers Leap Trail” counterclockwise which can be found near the State Game Lodge. The trail takes you into the woods along a stream, and then through a rock scramble up to an incredible view. This trail includes sights of Cathedral Spires, Black Elk Peak, and Mount Coolidge. Dogs on a
leash are allowed. Another moderate hiking option is the 1.8-mile Cathedral Spires Trail that begins steep but then levels off. There is a section with some boulders that will require you to use your hands to get up but the breath-taking views make the trek worth it. Little Devil’s Tower trail is another highly rated hike in the area. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a 19-mile portion of US Highway 14A. The drive includes towering limestone cliffs and a rushing mountain stream. Spearfish
Canyon is a great place for outdoor activities and is an amazingly beautiful natural attraction. While in the area, consider hiking the easy 2-mile Roughlock Falls or lookout Mountain Trail. After Custer State Park and driving the scenic byways, we travel to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is
the first cave system to be designed as a National Park in 1903 and is the 7th oldest National Park. Wind Cave is a Jam-Packed maze-like Cave System with over 150 miles of explored caverns. It is the Densest Cave System known on earth and features 95% of the boxwork formations in the world.
Boxwork is a rare formation of thin calcite fins that resemble honeycombs that project from cave walls and ceilings. The fins cross one another at different angles, creating "boxes" on the cave surfaces. In 1881, two brothers, Tom and Jesse Bingham, found the cave when they noticed air blowing from a hole in the ground. When Tom investigated the hole, his hat was blown
off. The wind effect is caused by pressure changes in the outside atmosphere. This causes the cave’s air to expand and then escape. Wind Cave is a very spiritual place to different Native People and is considered the birthplace of the Lakota Nation. The Lakota people believe that the mysterious hole is where their ancestors first appeared after the creation of the Earth. Unfortunately, as of
February 2021, Wind Cave is closed for tours due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, you can still visit the cave’s ten inch wide Natural Entrance which is ¼-mile from the visitors center. There is a sign outside that provides directions and it is located behind a stone wall where the trail ends. Wind Cave National Park has 30 miles of hiking on their grounds and 2 pet friendly trails. After Wind Cave, we visit, Jewel Cave National Monument. Jewel Cave is the third-longest known cave system in the world and became a national monument in 1908 after a local movement to perverse the cave.
Jewel Cave was discovered and then created into a tourist attraction by brothers, Frank and Albert Michaud. Originally, the brothers found a small hole to Jewel Cave and then used dynamite to create a larger entry. The cave system was named Jewel Cave by the brothers because of how the stunning calcite spar crystals sparked like “jewels” in their lantern light. Calcite is about as hard as your fingernails but still too soft to be considered a true jewel. The cave system is just under four square miles of land but has over 200 miles of passageways. There are four Ranger led tours when Jewel Cave is in season. You must attend a guided tour to visit
the inside of the Cave. During the Monument’s off-season, you can borrow snowshoes from the visitors’ center to hike the surface trails in the snow. The park has two trails that begin at the monument; one is a quarter mile while the other is 3.5 miles long. The moderate 5.5-mile Hell Canyon trail is also nearby in the Black Hills National Forest. Our next destination is Crazy Horse Memorial. While driving along US Highway 16, you can view the 650 feet granite
mountain side working sculpture of the Crazy Horse Memorial. When completed, it will fully depict the Oglala Lakota Warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing to his tribal land. This memorial and the accompanying museums are a tribute to the Native American Culture.
The Crazy Horse Memorial compound features the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center which has a collection of eleven thousand artifacts and art from tribal nationals across North America. Work began on the Lakota funded sculpture in 1948 and the memorial is built on Indian sacred ground. To the Lakota people, the Black Hills are known as “He Sapa or Paha Sapa,” that translates to “the heart of everything that is”. Once the monument is completed, it will become the world’s second tallest statue after the State of Unity in India. The mountain carving depicts Tasunke Witko, best known as Crazy Horse, and who was famous for his role in the resonating defeat of Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn, known to the Lakota as the Battle of Greasy Grass and commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand. Crazy Horse refused to consent to the American government’s attempt to restrict his people to reservations and he never forfeited to the white man. The creation of the memorial
was the idea of Lakota elders who wanted a monument to honor their people and to portray one of their native heroes. The plan was to counter the white man’s tribute at nearby Mount Rushmore. Speaking for the Lakota leaders, Standing Bear, asked Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to take on the project. He wrote, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also.” Korczak was already a noted sculptor, member of the National Sculpture Society, and had recently won a sculpting prize at the World’s Fair in New York before he was asked to carve the monument. The Crazy Horse Memorial is operated by the nonprofit
Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation which funds the site’s operations, the mountain carving, and education initiatives which include the Indian Museum of North America and the Indian University of North America. Admission to the complex ranges from 7 to 35 dollars. Our Last South Dakota stop is Deadwood. Deadwood, South Dakota is a National Historic Landmark and is famous for its Gold Rush history and the famous Wild West characters who spent time there. HBO made a 3 season TV series in the mid-2000s about this once lawless, mining town. Deadwood has been entertaining guests since 1876 when miners looking for gold in the Black Hills illegally settled there eager to mine. The city’s name comes from the dead trees that surrounded the
area. As you drive into the town’s gulch, you will notice that the historic main street, lined with restored gold rush era buildings, is picturesque with the beautiful black hills surrounding it. It’s easy to envision how bars, brothels and gaming halls filled the street in the 1870s where legendary figures like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock, Poker Alice, and Potato Creek Johnny among other notorious personalities once roamed. The downtown is walkable but there is a hop on, hop off trolley bus option which provides visitors a way to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and colorful attractions. Deadwood reenacts famous shootouts on the historic main street from Late May to Late September at 2, 4 and 6 pm along with different times in the spring and fall months.
Look up Deadwood Alive Shows for more information on the reenactments along with tours. To learn more about the areas’ intriguing history and get a glimpse of some of the Black Hills’ greatest relics, visit the Adams Museum. Businessman W.E. Adams founded the museum in 1930 with the purpose of preserving and displaying the history of the region. The museum is open from April through October. W.E. Adams’ house is another great place to visit to view a beautifully well-preserved Queen Anne-style home from 1892, that includes items left behind in the house after Adams died in 1934. The Adams’ house is open from April through October. Another top attraction is Mount Mariah Cemetery, where many of the interesting characters of the old west are laid to rest to include Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, who rest side by side, as well as Seth Bullock, Potato Creek Johnny, and Preacher Henry Weston Smith. The very steep
hillside cemetery also gives a great view of Deadwood from its overlook. Admission is $2 cash or a $8 minimum transaction to use a card and you will be given a map to locate graves. While in Deadwood, visit Saloon No. 10, the bar where Wild Bill Hickok was shot
in the back of the head while gambling by Jack McCall in 1876. Jack McCall was later tried, convicted, and hanged. The poker hand, Dead Man’s Hand of Black Aces and Eights, is said to be what Wild Bill was holding when he was shot dead. Today, displayed above the front door of the saloon is the chair that Wild Bill was sitting in. The location of the present-day
Saloon No 10 is not the site of the original bar since Deadwood was burnt down in 1879 and the exact location is unknown. The current saloon has a museum and restaurant where reenactments are played out several times a day. There is also live music nightly. Some other great Deadwood sites to visit are: the Deadwood History and information center in the restored train depot; the Broken Boot Gold Mine which guides you underground to former gold mines; the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower which was built in 1919 by the famous Deadwood Sheriff, Seth Bullock, as a dedication to his close friend, President Theodore Roosevelt; And then the interesting Tatanka: Story of the Bison Museum which was founded by Kevin Costner and opened in 2003, 13 years after directing and starring in, “Dances with Wolves.” The following is a quote from Costner, “I believe today that this place is bigger than the dream I had for it. What it means to anyone that comes here will be up to them. Tatanka was not designed as the white
man’s version of the Native American. Rather it stands as a centerpiece for two cultures, one whose very lives depended on the buffalo and one who saw it as a means to an end. It recognizes and accepts that this is our mutual history. It can also represent the
chance to move forward." From the Black Hills in South Dakota, we continue to the Black Hills in Wyoming to visit Devil’s Tower National Monument. Devils Tower rises 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. Devil’s Tower is a butte composed of igneous rock, phonolite porphyry, and is the largest example of columnar jointing in the world. Geologists have studied Devils Tower since the late 1800s and still question how it was formed. It is thought that Devils Tower is the core of an ancient volcano.
To over 20 Native American Tribes, Devils Tower is known as Bears Lodge and is considered sacred. There are various stories by different groups of indigenous people but one popular narrative tells of seven girls attacked by bears who were pushed into the sky by the rising Tower to become stars. Another story is of a girl who morphed into a bear and attacked her family, leaving the scratches on the tower. Devils Tower is one of the most famous rock-climbing destinations and the park employs climbing rangers from late spring to early fall. Devils Tower National Monument has 5 easy to
moderate hikes and a campground with no hook-ups available. Devils Tower has been featured in several movies with one of the most popular being, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. An additional attraction in South Dakota you might be interested in while staying the Black Hills is the D.C. Booth National Fish Hatchery. D.C. Booth National Fish Hatchery was established in 1896 and is one of the oldest operating hatcheries in the country. The hatchery site is listed on the National Register
of Historic Places. Visitors can feed the brown and rainbow trout or watch them from underground viewing windows daily from dawn to dusk. Trout from the Hatchery are used to stock regional tribal waters. The D.C. Booth National Fish Hatchery has a museum with the largest collection of fisheries artifacts in the country and is open daily during the summer. The grounds also have an exhibit in the historic Federal Fisheries Railcar as well as displays in U.S. Fisheries Boat #39. D.C. Booth has two hiking trails which will take you to historic sites and scenic overlooks.
Other Nearby Attractions, not featured in this video, but worth looking into before your road trip are: Minute Man National Historical Park; The Wounded Knee Massacre Site; Sturgis to see the Motorcycle Museum as well as the town’s colorful iconography and billboards; Keystone’s World’s Largest Bigfoot Sculpture; The Native American Scenic Byway; Dirt Bike Trails for Mountain Biking in the Black Hills; Buffalo Gap National Grasslands; Laura Ingalls Homestead in De Smet; Yankton with its historic town center; Walleye fishing in the Missouri River; and Fort Laramie in Eastern Wyoming. South Dakota and its Black Hills Region, truly is a beautiful and fascinating destination and should be on the top of road trip bucket lists. I hope that this video gave you some insight into some interesting South Dakota attractions that you could visit while traveling to the state. If you liked this video and are interested in more
road trip ideas, please SUBSCRIBE and check out this channel’s Road Trip Ideas Playlist. If you have tips or stories to share, please write them in the comments section. This has been Kris from Columbus, Ohio for Road Trip Daydreams. Happy Planning!