Looking for that classic All-American vacation? A road trip to South Dakota's Badlands and Black Hills encapsulates everything a trip should be: swaying grasses on the prairie, abundant wildlife, historic sites, and exhilarating outdoor adventures that are just waiting to be explored! From the four monumental faces that shape American history on Mount Rushmore to the marvelous caverns of Wind Cave at Badlands, the Black Hills are home to monumental places, so choose your favorite covid-safe travel companion and get planning!
Whether you're planning to stop in South Dakota on your cross-country road trip, or it's the main destination, you'll be disappointed to not have planned for enough days in this region! Plan at least 3 to 5 days to fully become acquainted with the many diverse and beautiful qualities that this region holds.
The Black Hills of South Dakota is in the southwest region of this Mount Rushmore State. The quickest form of transportation to the area is flying to Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP), where Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Connection, Frontier, United, and Northwest call this area home. But we recommend driving from wherever you are, near or far, to get the feel of the Great Plains before you arrive. Also, keep in mind that public transportation is hard to come-by in these parts!
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is home to the largest protected mixed-grass prairie in the U.S. With more than 160 square miles of indescribable beauty in the shape of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires, Badlands National Park is filled with nature's most stunning forms. Ideally viewed early or late in the day when deep shadows define their forms, Badlands are always an incredible sight to behold.
Explore the park on one of its many hiking trails that range from uphill climbs through Badlands formations to flat stretches on the prairie landscape. One of the most heavily used, which gives visitors a glimpse of its history, is the Fossil Exhibit Trail, where hikers will find fossil replicas and exhibits of animals that once roamed the earth. Currently, the park preserves the world's most significant fossil beds from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals. For a more moderate and strenuous trail, we recommend Notch Trail, Cliff Shelf, Medicine Root Loop, Castle Trail, or Saddle Pass. Remember to carry plenty of water with you as there is no potable water in the Badlands, as well as sunscreen and a hat, during the summer months. The most difficult of this trail is Hike Notch, a 1.5-mile path that begins with a brief stroll through a canyon that leads to a ladder set up against a steep wall. Upon reaching the Notch, you will get to view dramatic panoramic views of the White River Valley!
If hiking isn't your forté, take a drive and explore the entirety of Badlands National Park from the comfort of your own vehicle. Take the Badlands Loop Road, South Dakota Highway 240, where you will be able to cut directly through the park, and experience the beautiful landscapes. This 31-mile scenic road goes through a dozen overlooks, and we recommend you stop at every one of them if you have the time. Each vista provides a different view of the wild labyrinth that is the Badlands!
For a dirt road experience, take Sage Creek Rim Road, on Route 590, where the gravel road will take you along the northern rim of the park, highlighting the South Dakota prairie from the unique landscape below. This drive will run you for about 13 miles, with a few overlooks. Make sure to get your camera ready, because you will for sure see some bison and bighorn sheep on your drive! Before you head onto this route, make sure to ask a ranger about road conditions.
If you stick around until sunset, you will be lucky enough to notice the intensity and layers of the rock formation that Badlands beholds. You will also be able to encounter the many animals that roam these lands such as mule deer, pronghorns, and bighorn sheep!
After spending a few days at Badlands National Park, take I-90 West towards Black Hills National Forest for an equally breathtaking scenery!
Black Hills National Forest
Most visitors get it wrong when they think Mount Rushmore is all that this part of the country has to offer. From stunning parks to historic pioneer towns, you will need at least 3 days to make the most of your explorations around Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. After taking in the monuments, such as Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore, travel north to the Black Hills, where you will run into fewer people and get a hold of better views of this part of the country.
Take another scenic drive between the cities of Cheyenne Crossing and Spearfish along Highway 14. This stretch of road goes through beautiful Spearfish Canyon with its tall walls hugging the road on both sides. While you're at it, check out the amazing waterfalls, including Roughlock Falls and Bridal Veil Waterfalls.
Stop-Worthy Tourist Traps
If you're a fan of all things whimsical, visit Wall, South Dakota. Each year, this isolated town draws in over two million visitors to one of the world's most famous drugstores. Inside, you'll find acres of classic American past-time knick-knacks to leather boots. It will highly be unlikely that you will miss this town for the miles upon miles of signs that advertised this fun town! If you're coming from the east, don't forget to stop at the Corn Palace for everything corn related. You'll be able to gaze at corn murals!
A Stop in Deadwood
For a charming, idyllic pioneer feel of a town, visit Deadwood, South Dakota, where you will be able to find plenty of shops, restaurants and watering holes! If you are a fan of the Old West, Deadwood is surely not to be skipped, as this town is a gambling destination for adults! If you come during the summer, don't forget to visit the town of Sturgis, where the town holds the world's largest Motorcycle Rally every August!
This summer, hit the road and explore the great American outdoors for plenty of fun times, filled with adventures, hikes, swimming, and sun! You will not be disappointed by what you find in South Dakota.
A Last Word About COVID. Please Travel Responsibly
Always travel with precautions and minimize your COVID footprint. Wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet from other people (that includes your kids). Step to the side when people pass. Touch as few things as possible and use hand sanitizer before and after. Avoid benches or picnic tables. Pack water and food to avoid local stores. Lastly, be sure you're not overcrowding a park, so either visit them at off-peak hours such as the break of dawn or switch to other trails.