Black Elk Peak, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custer State Park are the best things to do in the Black Hills of western South Dakota.
Low Tunnels and Road Construction
When visiting the best of the Black Hills by RV or other large vehicle, there are a couple roads with very small tunnels. Here’s three to lookout for:
- Iron Mountain Road between Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore
- Needles Highway in Custer State Park
- Highway 87 north of Sylvan Lake to highway 16
Highway 385 (main north/south route in the Black Hills) is slated for major construction for the next couple years. Check us-385.com for official updates.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Visit in morning when sun is hitting Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and then again in the evening for the lighting program starting at 9pm – a ranger speaks, brief video, and then the faces are lit at 9:30pm. There’s a $10 parking fee, which is good all summer, so save your receipt from the day to park at night.
Crazy Horse Memorial
You can see basic view of Crazy Horse Memorial from road (there’s a pull-off on 385). Museum and history of the build on-site with paid entrance fee and a closer view. You can get a private tour in a van to the top of the monument and walk up to the face for a donation of $175.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park is definitely one of the best things to do in the Black Hills.
- Ask at the Visitor Center or entrance gates where the buffalo are located and go see the wild herd.
- Iron Mountain Road – drive Iron Mountain Road from Custer State Park north towards Mount Rushmore. There are pigtail bridges and three tunnels that from Mount Rushmore off in the distance.
- Needles Highway – drive from 16A north up to Sylvan Lake. Unique views of the granite spires.
- Wildlife Loop Road – if no buffalo are reported on Loop Road, I’d pass.
- Mount Coolidge – A one-mile gravel road off highway 87 goes up to active fire tower, elevated platform open to public with 360-degree views of Black Hills.
D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery
Historic fish hatchery grounds from 1896 managed as a historic site by US Fish and Wildlife Service. This is in the northern Black Hills up by I-90, so maybe a stop on your way in or out of the Black Hills.
One of the best things to do in the Black Hills is get out on the hiking trails and explore the granite rock and pine forests.
- Seven mile round trip to Black Elk Peak, the highest point in South Dakota. CCC-built stone fire tower at summit with 360-degree views of the Black Hills. Park at Sylvan Lake and take Trail #9 up and back, parking lot fills early and Sylvan Lake is very busy area. Native American sacred mountain to the Sioux Lakota.
- Sunday Gulch Trail – Challenging terrain with some rock scrambles and perhaps wet feet depending on time of year. Starts from gravel walking path around Sylvan Lake. (Again, Sylvan Lake parking fills fast in morning)
- Grace Coolidge Trail in Custer State Park – 4 miles from highway 16 to Center Lake. Not a loop, so out and back. Flat with a half dozen stream crossings (little bridges provided) follows creek with more a birch/Aspen forest among the pine forests on the surrounding area.
Wind Cave or Jewel Cave
Need reservations well in advance for underground cave tours at Recreation.gov. Both are National Parks and equally good.
Here’s a few of my favorite restaurants in the Black Hills.
- Purple Pie Place in city of Custer, casual lunch or dessert
- Skogen Kitchen (fine dining $$) in city of Custer, vegetarian options, reservations required
- Hjem, A.M. in city of Custer, breakfast only, Danish inspired menu (reservations recommended)
- Alpine Inn in Hill City- They serve one steak and one vegetarian dish – no choices, cash only. No reservations. Typically a couple hour wait. Once they open at 4pm, you get a pager that works downtown so you can walk around the Jon Crane art gallery and gift shops while you wait.
- GPS frequently not effective in the mountains – carry paper maps and know general route
- Plan distances to take quite longer than expected with hilly and curvy roads and visitor traffic