ADVERTISEMENT
  • Hood Tunnel in Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota
LeftLeft

    Black Hills,

    South Dakota

    Cheri Alguire / iStock

    Save up to 50% on Hotels

    The Black Hills (Lakota: Ȟe Sápa; Cheyenne: Moʼȯhta-voʼhonáaeva; Hidatsa: awaxaawi shiibisha) is a small and isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming, United States. Black Elk Peak (formerly known as Harney Peak), which rises to 7,244 feet (2,208 m), is the range's highest summit. The Black Hills encompass the Black Hills National Forest. The name "Black Hills" is a translation of the Lakota Pahá Sápa. The hills are so called because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they are covered in evergreen trees.Native Americans have a long history in the Black Hills. After conquering the Cheyenne in 1776, the Lakota took the territory of the Black Hills, which became central to their culture. In 1868, the U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, establishing the Great Sioux Reservation west of the Missouri River, and exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. However, when settlers discovered gold there in 1874, as a result of George Armstrong Custer's Black Hills Expedition, miners swept into the area in a gold rush. The US government took the Black Hills and, in 1889, reassigned the Lakota, against their wishes, to five smaller reservations in western South Dakota, selling off 9 million acres (36,000 km2) of their former land. Unlike most of South Dakota, the Black Hills were settled by European Americans primarily from population centers to the west and south of the region, as miners flocked there from earlier gold boom locations in Colorado and Montana.As the economy of the Black Hills has shifted away from natural resources (mining and timber) since the late 20th century, the hospitality and tourism industries have grown to take its place. Locals tend to divide the Black Hills into two areas: "The Southern Hills" and "The Northern Hills." The Southern Hills is home to Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Black Elk Peak (the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies, formerly and still more commonly known as Harney Peak), Custer State Park (the largest state park in South Dakota), the Crazy Horse Memorial, and The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, the world's largest mammoth research facility. Attractions in the Northern Hills include Spearfish Canyon, historic Deadwood, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, held each August. The first Rally was held on August 14, 1938, and the 75th Rally in 2015 saw more than one million bikers visit the Black Hills. Devils Tower National Monument, located in the Wyoming Black Hills, is an important nearby attraction and was the United States' first national monument.
    Find more things to do, itinerary ideas, updated news and events, and plan your perfect trip to Black Hills
    ADVERTISEMENT

    Black Hills Articles

    Inspiration

    Best spots for fall foliage in the mid-west

    MID-WEST Kansas In Northeast Kansas, the Glacial Hills Scenic Byways runs through a distinct landscape named for the rolling hills and the rock-strewn valleys. Its name reflects the receding ice, which left highly fertile farmland. Illinois In Southern Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest is a hiker’s paradise, seated between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and with paths meandering through canyons under forest canopies. Its crown jewel, Garden of the Gods, overlooks views of towering sandstone outcroppings formed millions of years ago. In the central part of the state, the Grandview Drive is considered to be one of Illinois’ most scenic routes. Indiana An hour from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park resembles the Great Smoky Mountains but Indiana’s largest park is fall color hot spot, with nearly 20 miles of tree-lined roads and many scenic vistas overlooking miles of uninterrupted forestland. The 2,300-acre O’Bannon Woods State Park is surrounded by beauty located within the foothills of Southern Indiana and bordering the Ohio and Blue rivers. Credit: Northeast Iowa RC and D Iowa Yellow River State Forest in Harpers Ferry makes for a good fall jaunt. Its Backpack Trail was named Iowa’s best hiking trail by Outdoor magazine in 1996, while Paint Creek Unit is quite the recreational hiking loop. Or catch some fall color via kayaking or canoeing on The Upper Iowa River in Northeast Iowa that can be accessed at Kendallville, Bluffton and Decorah. Minnesota The North Shore “All-American” Scenic Drive stretches 154 miles along the shore of Lake Superior is aligned with yellow aspen, birch trees and scarlet maples. And the Minnesota Great River Road follows the Mississippi River and passes through Chippewa National Forest, Itasca State Park and Frontenac and Great River Bluffs state parks. North Dakota The Rendezvous Region in northeast North Dakota is home to the wooded Pembina Gorge and Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area; hike on marked trails or rent a kayak to paddle along the Pembina River. Next, head west on the Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway and stop at Coghlan Castle and Lake Metigoshe State Park in the Turtle Mountains along the U.S/Canadian border. Credit: North Dakota Tourism Oklahoma The Talimena National Scenic Byway is a 50-mile drive partly through southeastern Oklahoma and touches upon Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest. Also in this region, Beavers Bend State Park is adorned with forests of pine and hardwood plus rugged terrain and waterways for seeing on foot. South Dakota Custer State Park is not only known for its free-roaming resident bison -- it also produces vibrant fall foliage at every turn. The Needles Highway has views of the Cathedral Spires, among birch, aspen and ponderosa pines while the Wildlife Loop leads towards Mt. Coolidge, where burr oak tree leaves burst in orange. On the northern edge of the Black Hills, Spearfish Canyon offers waterfall views from a spruce, pine, aspen, birch and oak tree forest.

    Budget Travel Lists

    7 Great Destinations for An Affordable Weekend Getaway

    The idea of planning a major European jaunt or an exotic island excursion can seem like an overwhelming feat. Long vacations can be extremely pleasurable, but they do come with large price tags and hours on end of planning. These points can easily discourage travelers from going anywhere (can you blame them?). The reality is, anyone with a weekend to spare can visit a variety of great homegrown destinations that are ripe for exploring. These trips can usually be planned or spontaneous and don’t have to break the bank. 1. New York, New York The Big Apple is always going to be a popular destination, whether you live near or far. This whirlwind city has something miraculous to see and do every second of the day and night, from Broadway shows and copious museums to a myriad of restaurants and parks to explore. New York City is packed with things to do – so much you could fill several weekends. New York Hilton Hotels launched a "Weekend Like a Local" package. The 3-night package is ideal for short trips to New York City with travelers saving up to 50% off on Sunday nights, along with many other perks and discounts. 2. Newport, Rhode Island When you live in New England, the hardest part about going on a weekend getaway is deciding on where to visit. There are so many destinations that are less than a tank of gas away. Newport, Rhode Island, coined the crown jewel of The Classic Coast is one spectacular option, known for its grand mansions along the famous Cliff Walk. Just ninety minutes south of Boston and three hours north of New York City, Newport is a drivable destination for more than 30% of US residents – yet, it feels a world away. The year-round destination has an overflow of charm, culture, celebrated restaurants, bucolic trails, iconic mansion walks, a vibrant nightlife and lauded beaches. What are you waiting for? 3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Located within a 90-minute flight of 50% of the US population and a six-hour or less drive from nine states, Pittsburgh is a very accessible city. Have I sold you on this destination yet? The city has reinvented itself from its industrial past and is now the cultural heart of the region. The Warhol Museum, the largest single artist museum in North America, provides seven floors of pop art immersion for less than $20. Just want to hang? Take a tour at Wigle Whiskey distillery and enjoy a cocktail and spirit tasting for $20. Kimpton Hotel Monaco is in walking distance to these activities and has hotel rooms available starting at $149 a night. 4. Temecula, California What if I told you that you could merge the best of Las Vegas and Napa in one affordable trip? Well, you can in Temecula, a burgeoning wine region in Southern California that is home to the largest casino on the west coast called Pechanga Resort Casino. To put it into perspective, the casino floor is even larger than the MGM Grand in Las Vegas! The city is close to the San Diego and Ontario, California, airports, making plane travel a breeze. When you arrive, take your pick at any of the 50 wineries, visit the eclectic Old Town Temecula with restaurants, bars, boutiques or take your pick at outdoor activities such as hiking, hot air ballooning or mountain biking. 5. Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida With 250 kinds of shells, 25 miles of bike paths and 15 mile of beaches, Sanibel and Captiva Islands sound like the perfect dreamy escape for a weekend getaway. And if that doesn’t sway you, the fact that it’s cheaper and closer to home than the Caribbean should do it. Instead of crowded beaches and costly theme park tickets, the two unspoiled islands have an "old Florida" ambiance, with no stoplights, chain restaurants, or buildings higher than a palm tree. Nestled on the tip of Captiva, South Seas Island Resort is a haven for families and nature lovers, situated on 300 acres of protected wildlife with 2 miles of secluded beachfront. Now start hunting for those 250 varieties of shells! 6. Rapid City, South Dakota With direct flights to Rapid City from major cities such as Dallas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City, this metropolis is becoming a weekend getaway destination for its exciting outdoor activities, dynamic art scene and unique culinary options. Looking for a good view? Known for its famous rock formations, travelers can visit Black Hills for diverse rock climbing (or just hiking) opportunities. After your outdoor adventure, check out Art Alley, a passageway of free-form graffiti murals that intermingle with pop art, abstract and cultural works. End your day by pleasing the foodie in your group with a taste of authentic bison entrees such as bison meatloaf or short ribs. 7. Kalispell, Montana Located in the heart of the Flathead Valley, Kalispell is a destination that is easy to get to and has a laid back vibe. For travelers who are dipping their toes back into traveling, a few key elements stand out: no traffic, small city size (23,000 people) and easily navigable. Plus, it's within minutes of some of Montana's most incredible attractions, including Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park. The park is open year-round and the west entrance is a 35-minute drive from Kalispell. Visitors can also explore the quaint downtown area, which is filled with local boutiques, coffee shops, breweries, restaurants and more. It’s the perfect small town adventure for a weekend getaway!

    Adventure

    'Rails to Trails' Near You: 6 Beautiful Paths That Used to Be Railroad Tracks

    Gone are the days when the U.S. was latticed with an extensive railroad network that connected communities big and small, and spurred their vitality. As air and car travel largely replaced the train, thousands of miles of tracks laid derelict and weed-choked. Yet, the demise of train travel brought an opportunity to convert some of these disused railroad corridors to scenic, multi-use paths (rails-trails) for human-powered activities, especially cycling. These paths not only reinvigorate communities and local businesses, but they also protect wetlands, forests, and other natural resources; and provide a safe path for commuting, fitness, communing with nature, and learning about the region’s culture and history. These six rails-trails are among the best in the U.S., each with a different personality, providing you with anything from a short jaunt to a long-distance adventure. 1. Withlacoochee State Trail, Florida Just an hour or so from either Tampa or Orlando, the midpoint of this 46-mile paved trail, historic Floral City, is where the Seminole Tribe established a village in the early 1800s. This path, part of Florida's extensive state park system, feels worlds apart from the state’s theme and water parks. The more serene southern section wends to the wee community of Trilby, winding through Withlacoochee State Forest with its grand cypress trees dripping with epiphytes. Wildlife sightings, from gopher tortoises to opossums, are abundant along the entire route, and the foliage is diverse, including magnolia and sweet gum. Pack your rod and try angling for largemouth bass or bluegill in either the Withlacoochee River or Lake Townsen. (floridastateparks.org) 2. George S. Mickelson Trail, South Dakota Wandering through the Black Hills from Deadwood to Edgemont, this 109-mile trail is named for the South Dakota governor who supported the conversion of the scenic railroad corridor to a rail-trail. Along the dirt and crushed stone path, cyclists find abandoned gold mines and other reminders of the area’s boom-and-bust period. With woodlands of spruce and ponderosa pines blanketing the slopes, and mountain meadows sprinkled with lavender, black-eyed Susans and other blooms, the 32-mile portion from Hill City to Dumont is especially picturesque. Stop in Rochford, a once-thriving mining town, where the Moonshine Gulch Saloon is a popular stop for beer and burgers. (gfpo.sd.gov/parks) 3. Paul Bunyan State Trail, Minnesota As you pedal past almost two dozen lakes on the 123-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail, Minnesota’s moniker, “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” seems apt. Running from Lake Bemidji State Park in Bemidji to Crow Wing State Park in Brainerd, a former railroad town, this paved rail-trail is named for the mythical lumberjack whose giant footprints and those of Babe, his blue ox, created Minnesota’s lakes. (Their statues are on display in Bemidji.) With various towns popping up every five to nine miles or so, you can ride almost anywhere and find a quirky vibe. The town of Nisswa holds turtle races each summer. (paulbunyantrail.com) 4. New River Trail State Park, Virginia Huddled in southwest Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this almost 58-mile crushed stone rail-trail mostly follows the New River through a bucolic landscape of woodland, farm fields, narrow valleys, and rounded peaks. Many cyclists start mid-trail at the park’s headquarters in Foster Falls, a town that grew during the iron industry. (A 19th century iron furnace bears testament to that era.). Music buffs may, instead, want to start in Galax that’s nicknamed the “World Capital of Old Time Mountain Music.” Birdwatchers should keep their binoculars at the ready. Dozens of species, such as red-bellied woodpeckers and eastern kingbirds, have been spotted along the route. (dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks) 5. Rio Grande Trail, Colorado Paralleling the Roaring Fork River, Colorado’s longest rail-trail meanders from Aspen through Carbondale to Glenwood Springs, famed for its geothermal waters. The 42-mile-long, mostly paved stretch features the best of the state’s scenery: soaring peaks, stands of aspen, ranch lands, dry sagebrush, and conifer forests. You’ll have opportunities to spot deer, elk, and even black bear. Great blue herons, belted kingfishers and other birds are attracted to this corridor for its proximity to the river. Popular stops include the Woody Creek Tavern, the former hangout of journalist Hunter S. Thompson; Basalt that’s noted for its trout fishing; and the serene Rock Bottom Ranch, an ideal spot for picnicking and bird watching. (rfta.com/trail-information) 6. Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail, California Taking its name from former Congressman Harold T. “Bizz” Johnson, who was instrumental in this rail-trail conversion, the 25-mile route from Mason Station near Westwood to Susanville is mostly dominated by the dramatic landscape of the Susan River Canyon. Cycling on packed gravel, you’ll crisscross the river numerous times on trestles and bridges, veering into evergreen-dense Lassen National Forest. In Susanville, stop at the circa 1927 railroad depot that serves as a visitor’s center with historical information on the railroad and the area’s logging industry. This is also the site of the annual Rails to Trails Festival where -- on October 12, 2019 -- you can enjoy the salsa competition and chili cook-off. (blm.gov/visit/bizz-johnson)

    List pin
    List pin
    National ParksBudget Travel Lists

    10 State Parks That Give National Parks a Run for Their Money

    There’s no denying the allure of this country’s majestic national parks. But there's plenty of natural beauty to go around, and many state parks offer outdoor experiences that shouldn't be overlooked. State parks tend to have lower entrance fees and more manageable crowds than the marquee-name national parks, plus there’s the added bonus of not being affected by pesky government shutdowns. Here are 10 fabulous state parks to get you started. 1. Custer State Park: Custer, South Dakota (Courtesy South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks) A free-roaming herd of 1,500 bison is the main attraction at this park in the scenic Black Hills, but there’s plenty more wildlife to be spotted along its 18-mile loop road, including pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and even feral burros. Needles Highway, a popular 14-mile scenic drive through the park, is dotted with needle-shaped rock formations, two tunnels, and sweeping views of evergreen forests and lush meadows. Weekly park license, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; gfp.sd.gov/parks/detail/custer-state-park 2. Kartchner Caverns State Park: Benson, Arizona Home to a 21-foot stalactite that ranks as the third-longest in the world, this multi-room cave located 45 miles southwest of Tucson has only been open to the public since 1999. Kartchner Caverns is a living cave, meaning that its formations are still growing, and the park offers two guided tours that explore several different areas. The park is also a designated International Dark Sky Park, so it’s great for stargazing. Tours, from $23 for adults and $13 for youth ages 7-13 (reservations recommended); azstateparks.com/kartchner 3. Petit Jean State Park: Morrilton, Arkansas (Courtesy Petit Jean State Park) Central Arkansas probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind for a mountaintop adventure, but that’s just what Petit Jean State Park offers. Perched atop the 1200ft Petit John Mountain, this park has 20 miles of hiking trails that feature captivating geological formations such as giant sandstone boulders, stone arches, rock shelters, and box canyons. The park’s historic Mather Lodge, a rustic, cozy accommodation built of logs and stone, is a great option if you’re staying a few days. Free entry; arkansasstateparks.com/parks/petit-jean-state-park 4. Anza-Borrego State Park: San Diego County, California A remote and rugged landscape located in southeast California’s Colorado desert, Anza-Borrego State Park has 600,000 acres of varied terrain including badlands and slot canyons. The popular Borrego Palm Canyon trail takes hikers on a rocky stroll to an almost surreal oasis filled with California palms. When you’re visiting, save time to check out the collection of more than 130 giant metal creatures built by sculptor Ricardo Breceda in the nearby town of Borrego Springs. Day fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov/ansaborrego 5. Dead Horse Point State Park: Moab, Utah It’s not the Grand Canyon, but it was a suitable stand-in for filming the final scene of the classic film Thelma & Louise. In other words, the views from Dead Horse State Park are fantastic. Just 25 miles from Moab, this park sits 2,000 feet above a gooseneck in the Colorado River and looks out over Canyonlands National Park. Visitors can pick their favorite view from one of eight different lookout points along the seven-mile rim trail. Entry fee, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse 6. Watkins Glen State Park: Watkins Glen, New York With steep, plant-covered cliffs, small caves, and misty waterfalls, this state park in New York’s Finger Lakes region feels a little like stepping into a fairy tale. Visit in spring, summer, or fall, when you can hike the Gorge Trail, a two-mile journey that descends 400 feet, past 19 waterfalls into an idyllic narrow valley. Visitors can also enjoy the beauty from above on one of the dog-friendly rim trails. Season runs mid-may to early November. Day fee, $8 per vehicle; parks.ny.gov/parks/142 7. Tettegouche State Park: Silver Bay, Minnesota Eight great state parks dot the 150-mile stretch of Highway 61 along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, but Tettegouche stands out for its scenic hiking opportunities through forests, past waterfalls, and along the shoreline. The easy Shovel Point trail takes hikers along jagged, lakeside cliffs to a dramatic lookout over Lake Superior. There are also three loop trails featuring waterfalls. One-day park permit fee, $7; dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html 8. Valley of Fire State Park: Overton, Nevada Drive just 50 miles northeast of the bustling Las Vegas strip, and you’ll find a peaceful valley filled with dramatic red-sandstone formations that take on the appearance of flames on sunny days. The popular Atlatl Rock trail features a giant boulder balanced on a sandstone outcrop 50 feet above the ground. Climb its metal staircase to see the prominent ancient petroglyphs.Entrance fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire 9. Montana de Oro State Park: San Luis Obispo County, California (Courtesy California State Parks) Spanish for “mountain of gold,” Montana de Oro gets its name from the golden wildflowers that cover the area each spring, but you can find colorful views year-round on the seven miles of rocky, undeveloped coastline that comprise the western edge of this state park in California’s central coast region. The 4.6-mile Bluff Trail is a great way to see a large swath of the beaches, tide pools, and natural bridges in the park, or you can hike the Hazard and Valencia Peak trails for summit views. Pebbly Spooner’s Cove Beach serves as the park’s central hub.Entry fee, $20 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov 10. Baxter State Park: Piscataquis County, Maine With no electricity, running water, or paved roads within its boundaries, this 200,000-acre park in North Central Maine offers mountain, lake, and forest adventures for those who like their wilderness truly wild. The park’s 5,200-foot Mt. Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, but there are more than 40 other peaks and ridges to explore, and five pond-side campgrounds that offer canoe rentals. Entry fee, $15 per vehicle; baxterstatepark.org

    Inspiration

    The Wonders of South Dakota

    Mistakenly believing that it's hard to reach, many Americans fail to visit the greatest human monument in all the nation, chiseled into the Black Hills of South Dakota. It's called Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and (for Americans) it's on a par-artistically and emotionally-with the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal. It's also only one of many wonders in the southwest corner of the state. They include the otherworldly rock formations of Badlands National Park, the burgeoning bison herds at Custer State Park, the dramatic Native American history and culture at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the Crazy Horse Monument-the world's largest sculpture in the making. There couldn't be a better time to visit these grand landmarks, in an area of the country where lodging, food, and sightseeing costs are among our nation's least expensive. A Swift Visit to Rapid City Though Sioux Falls is the state's largest town (and airport), you are much better situated for the drive we suggest by beginning the trip in Rapid City, five-and-a-half hours to the west (and thus much nearer to The Badlands and Mount Rushmore). Delta, Northwest, and United Express all fly into the quiet Rapid City Airport (usually via Denver), with United Express tending to be the cheapest of the three. Low-cost car-rental companies at the airport include Thrifty, Budget, and National. Most tourists on their way to Mount Rushmore speed through Rapid City without stopping, but this neat, clean, and historic town is worth at least a full day's exploration. With well-tended gardens, historical signs everywhere, and interesting shops and restaurants, the city is a standout. And the downtown landmark you won't want to miss is the Hotel Alex Johnson (523 Sixth St., 605/342-1210, www.alexjohnson.com), a 75-year-old, ten-story tower with chalet motifs that somehow fit in. Pick up a walking-tour brochure that describes the property's ornate lobby, woodwork, chandeliers, and artwork. And why not stay here your first night? Doubles start at just $59 in winter, $89 in summer. If it's full, try the modern Microtel Inn & Suites (1740 Rapp St., 605/348-2523, www.microtelinn.com), where rooms start as low as $57 in winter, $82 in summer. Take time to see the rest of the downtown, with its boutiques, Indian arts stores, and western shops. One store not to miss is Prairie Edge (606 Main St., 800/541-2388), which showcases remarkable Native American arts and artifacts like drums, pipes, jewelry, herbs, and clothing; it's free and interesting to browse, even if you don't buy a thing. Then have lunch or dinner around the corner at the Firehouse Brewing Co. (610 Main St., 605/348-1915), housed in a former old-time, brick fire station whose huge meals-like Hyperventilation Wings and Rings of Fire Fightin' Nachos-sell for only $7.95. You'll see real-life cowboys with Stetsons and tight jeans stuffed into their boots, sauntering about just like in olden times. Even if you don't stay in Rapid City, stop by the Journey Museum (222 New York St., 605/394-6923, www.journeymuseum.org; $6) before heading on. Recently opened amid much controversy (it went way over budget and is in an awkward, hard-to-find location), the collection here is nothing short of first-class, with all kinds of multimedia and interactive displays on Native American culture and history-everything you'd want to know about South Dakota history, geology, and mythology. Good times in the Badlands Now, from Rapid City, head east along Interstate 90 for roughly 60 miles to the famous town of Wall. With billboards and signs for Wall Drug (which began by giving away ice water for travelers during the Depression) stretching from here to the South Pole, the town has become a running joke for cross-country motorists. The actual Wall Drug store (605/279-2175, www.walldrug.com) is a huge souvenir emporium taking up more than one building, offering mostly tacky but fun ashtrays, mugs, and fake bows and arrows, as well as singing mannequins and historical photos of Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, and Annie Oakley. If you're hungry, Cactus Cafe & Lounge (519 Main St., 605/279-2561) in downtown Wall serves up Mexican food, steaks, and seafood in a down-home atmosphere for rarely more than $10. From Wall, head south on 240 until you reach the Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands National Park. The $10 car entrance fee is good for seven days ($5 for cyclists or hikers), and you'll want to spend at least two days at this magical outdoor U.S. attraction, rich in visuals and atmosphere. How did the Badlands get their name? The French Canadian fur trappers called them les mauvais terres ... traverser, or the "bad lands to travel across." The Native Americans' name for them, mako sica, also meant "bad lands." The reference captured the imagination of the American pioneers who had to traverse this unrelenting terrain in the 1800s. Named a national monument in 1939 and a full-fledged national park in 1978, Badlands, with its rock spires of different hues, is a mystical experience for intrepid domestic travelers. It's a place of intense history and controversy, which continues as Native Americans keep fighting for their land rights in this unforgiving land. Recent sit-in protests by activists postponed the digging up of ancient graves at Stronghold Table, a sacred area claimed by both the Lakota Nation and the National Park Service. With pointed, jagged peaks made from water-sculpted, crumbling rock, stark canyons in yellow and red tones, and frequent thunderstorms (legend says caused by the mythical Thunder Birds) creating a dramatic purple backdrop, it's amazing it took so long for the beauty of this area to be appreciated and accepted on its own terms. The Badlands lie 62 miles east of Rapid City, on I-90. Turning west on Creek Rim Road after the Pinnacles Entrance, you'll begin to witness the distinct badland formations and see some of the last virgin prairie land in the U.S. Five miles west from the entrance is Roberts Prairie Dog Town filled with mounds of earth dotted with peeking little heads of dogs. A vital member of the ecosystem due to their soil churning, the irresistibly cute prairie canines are endangered by ranchers who would rather see them all gone. Their natural predator, the black-footed ferret, once thought extinct, is still unusually rare. Badlands is one of the few places left to see such amazing creatures. The one main road east through the park is the Badlands Loop Road, which takes you through most of the park's natural wonders. A must-do is a hike along the Castle Trail near the Interior Entrance to the park. The Mars-like terrain will seem like the setting for a science fiction movie. Ranger talks are free during the summer, on topics ranging from fossils to prairie dogs. More information: 605/433-5361, www.nps.gov/badl. Near the park entrance are the only lodging facilities in the park at Cedar Pass Lodge (Cedar St., Interior, 605/433-5460), with individual cottages and a decent diner (under $10 for most meals) and gift shop. Doubles start at $55. You can also try the Badlands Budget Host Hotel (Hwy. 377, 605/433-5335), just outside the park entrance and open from May 1 to October 1. The 21 units start at $46 per double. Camping in Badlands National Park is available at two campsites. One campsite is free, the other charges only $10 a night (14-day limit). Call 605/433-5361 for information. And for your meals, try A & M Cafe (605/433-5340), just outside the park on Highway 44 in Interior. It's a very local diner where you can witness real cowboys and Indians munching on fried chicken, homemade pies, and Indian tacos, all under $9. The place feels like a living room. As you drive west back out of the park on Highway 44, you can take in the wide-open vistas of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland (which, unfortunately, has no buffalo on it but is leased to cattlemen for somewhat destructive grazing by livestock), adjacent to the Badlands National Park. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee A visit to Badlands wouldn't be complete without a detour south to Wounded Knee. Located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (second largest in the U.S.) about 60 miles south of Badlands National Park, this unassuming valley masks a horrific history-it's the site of a genocidal massacre of hundreds of unarmed Indian men, women, and children by the U.S. Cavalry in 1890 (including the Sioux leader Chief Big Foot). A somber graveyard marks the spot, and there's a friendly little visitors center affiliated with the American Indian Movement, with information on current-day Native American politics and the tribes' rough handling by the federal government. (The long, brutal history of Native Americans in this country can be read in the classic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.) Obviously weary of outside government intervention but extremely friendly to guests, the residents of the Pine Ridge reservation welcome respectful visitors to their famous Sun Dances and powwows-cultural events not to be missed. To witness the ancient rhythms and colors of these Native American rituals is to fall in love with our great country and its land and people once again. For an event schedule, go to www.travelsd.com/history/sioux/powwows.htm, or call 605/867-5821, and also check out the political site www.fireonprairie.org. There's no place to stay within the reservation, but if you choose to spend a night in the area, do so just south of Pine Ridge near the Nebraska border at the charming Wakpamni B&B (605/288-1868, www.wakpamni.com), a family-run farmhouse getaway amid cornfields, with tepees to sleep in if the spirit moves you. Prices start at $60 for a double. You're soaking in it Heading northeast from the town of Pine Ridge on Highway 18, you'll begin the ascent into the Black Hills. One of the first towns you'll encounter is delightful Hot Springs, a turn-of-the-century resort with over 50 buildings built from blocks of pink sandstone. The warm-temperature Fall River goes through the heart of town, and you can bathe in the healing thermal waters at Springs Bath House for only $8 for the entire day (146 North Garden St., 888/817-1972, www.springsbathhouse.com). Whether or not you do have a soak, get out of your car and stroll along the Freedoms Trail, a mile-long sidewalk that follows the banks of the river. You'll also want to stop by the Mammoth Site Museum in Hot Springs (1800 W. Hwy. 18 By-Pass, 605/745-6017, www.mammothsite.com; $6.50), a mass graveyard of over 100 mammoths and other prehistoric animals where you can watch paleontologists work on the bones. Now you'll want to head north on Highway 385 toward Custer State Park. The hills become forested as you approach Wind Cave National Park (605/745-4600, www.nps.gov/wica), one of the world's longest and most complex cave systems (they still haven't found the end of it). Cave tours of the intricate box work, "cave popcorn," and flowstone formations cost only $6. Just north of Wind Cave is the superb, 73,000-acre Custer State Park (605/255-4515, www.custerstatepark.info), which is surely as impressive as any national park. These green, rolling hills are home to one of the largest bison herds in the world (at 1,500), as well as an 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road full of pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros that often come right up to your car. The Needles Highway (Hwy. 87), which snakes through the northwest corner of the park, is like a visual fairyland, with thin rock spires magically jutting up above the forest canopy. A must for outdoor types is a hike up the 7,242-foot Harney Peak, a sacred mountain for the Sioux, with breathtaking 360-degree views of the Black Hills from a stone watchtower on its summit. Seven-day passes for the park are $12 per vehicle in summer and $6 the rest of the year. All the lodges in Custer State Park are impeccably run and world-class-you will definitely want to spend at least one night here. One special recommendation (for which you'll want to make reservations) is the historic stone and wood State Game Lodge and Resort, which President Calvin Coolidge used as his "summer White House" in 1927; its rooms start at $75. Another you can opt for is a full-fledged modern log cabin with a double bed and sleeper sofa that can comfortably sleep four for $99, booked through the Blue Bell Lodge and Resort. Info for either property: 800/658-3530, or www.custerresorts.com. The heads of state We finally arrive at the grand finale of the trip: overwhelming, majestic Mount Rushmore National Memorial (605/574-2523, www.nps.gov/moru; $8 parking fee). One of those phenomena that needs to be seen to be believed, the four stunning, 60-foot presidential heads were built between 1927 and 1941 by the eccentric genius Gutzon Borglum (with the help of 400 workers, of course). An excellent visitors center shows films and houses displays of little-known facts and artifacts, like the large, cave-like shrine that is half built behind Lincoln's head, the original plans to also carve out the upper torsos of the presidents, and the controversial decision to include Borglum's friend Teddy Roosevelt in the sculpture. Schedule at least half a day to take in this human achievement that Borglum proclaimed would stand over 10,000 years from now (and no one doubts it). Nearly every visitor to Mount Rushmore makes a pilgrimage to the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial (605/673-4681, www.crazyhorse.org; $9) off Highway 385, which is also home to the comprehensive Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Cultural Center. Be sure to see Mount Rushmore first, because it will pale in comparison with Crazy Horse, which will be the largest sculpture in the world when it is finally completed (heaven knows when). The carved-out mountain of Crazy Horse sitting on his horse pointing outward is a three-dimensional monument so enormous that the four heads of Mount Rushmore could fit inside of Crazy Horse's head alone. At the request of Native Americans, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began the project in 1948, and his family has since kept the blasting and carving going, relying entirely on private funds. Avoid the touristy area of Keystone, where everyone stays in cookie-cutter motels while visiting Mount Rushmore (but check out the fun President's Slide, where visitors plunge down a long mountain on a toboggan run for $8-605/666-4478, www.presidentsslide.com). Head instead to more secluded areas of the Black Hills for accommodations. For instance, the Harney Camp Cabins (605/574-2594), located on a creek four miles south of Hill City, are only $45 per double, and that includes the use of a sundeck and hot tub. Or mosey north to Deadwood (800/999-1876, www.deadwood.org), a historic town and National Historic Landmark popular for its Old West casinos and 1800s buildings. After a gold rush in 1876, prospectors, Chinese laborers, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok all converged on the town to make it one of the most colorful spots in the West. By all means, try to get a room at the historic Bullock Hotel (633 Main St., 800/336-1876, www.heartofdeadwood.com/bullock), the first real hotel in Deadwood, opened in 1885 (before then, the town had only been full of flophouses and bordellos). Refurbished and full of character, it's the place to stay in Deadwood ($74 a room; slightly higher in summer). Or try the Deadwood Inn (27 Deadwood St., 877/815-7974; rooms start at $69), once a feed store and now a 19-room Victorian hotel with casino.

    Road Trips

    Road Trip: South Dakota's Badlands and Black Hills

    Get ready to visit historical monuments like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, see the Old West come to life in historic Deadwood, and experience plenty of brag-worthy encounters with nature-where else can you say you were caught in a traffic jam because a herd of wild buffalo decided to cross in front of your car? Leave your trusty GPS behind (there's no reception in the mountains, anyway!), break out the old road map, grab your friends and family—or take on the adventure solo like I did—and whatever you do, don't forget your camera. DOWNLOAD OUR FREE ULTIMATE ROAD TRIPS APP HERE! WALL & BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK 55 miles From Rapid City Regional Airport, it's about an hour drive to Wall, a funky little town that's home to Wall Drug, an area institution since 1931 where you'll find everything from souvenir shops to a giant animated T-Rex, and plenty of space for the kids to unwind after a long day on the road. Stop by the Western Art Gallery Restaurant for their famous homemade donuts, bison burgers, and five-cent coffee. The best part: admission is free, as is the ice water—a marketing tool that has brought in visitors since the 1930s. As you leave Wall, stay on Highway 240 and head south into Badlands National Park along the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway, driving west to east through some of the most amazing prairie landscapes and impressive canyons in the country. Keep an eye out for bison, pronghorn, deer, eagles, prairie dogs, and hawks as you drive and be prepared to pull over every time there's a sign that says, "Scenic overlook." Trust me. The park is never too crowded and you can spend hours just admiring the views around you in relative peace and quiet. Stick around for the evening program, usually around 9 p.m., where kids can meet Smokey the Bear, stargaze, and learn about how the park was formed. Park entrance fees are valid for seven days: $15 per vehicle, $10 for motorcycles, $7 for hikers and bicyclists, or $30 for an annual pass. Stay at Frontier Cabins, located just off I-90 on the way into Badlands National Park (rates from $108-$149 per cabin from May-August; lower in shoulder season months). BEAR BUTTE STATE PARK & DEADWOOD 100 miles Cruise down I-90, turn off at Highway 79, and drive through Sturgis on the way to Bear Butte State Park. While a popular hiking spot for travelers, the site is still considered to be sacred to Native Americans—as the ranger in the Visitor Center explained it to me, hiking up Bear Butte is kind of like going to church, so remember to be respectful. It's only about a 30-minute drive heading the opposite way on Highway 79 from here to Deadwood, but you might as well be driving 200 years back in time to the Old West. Visit during the summer to see the Days of '76 PRCA Rodeo—you can still go to the Days of '76 Museum year-round to see exhibits about Deadwood's first settlers (admission is $5.50 for adults, $2.50 for children ages 7-13, while children ages six and under get in free). Stroll around town-a dead ringer for any western town you've ever seen in the movies-and take the Alkali Ike Tour around historic Deadwood and up to Mt. Moriah Cemetery to see the gravestones of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane-real, legendary characters who once called Deadwood home ($10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-16, $9 for seniors). Catch a free reenactment of an Old West shootout in front of the Franklin Hotel (several times a day, just follow the crowd!) and witness the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok inside Saloon #10 daily at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. Their website proudly states, "Bring the kids!" Stay at the Springhill Suites by Marriott, located on Main Street about a 15-minute walk from the historic downtown area (rooms from $79 a night). MOUNT RUSHMORE & CUSTER STATE PARK 72 miles Take a scenic ride down highway 385, then highway 16, and follow the signs to Mount Rushmore, one of America's most iconic attractions featuring the larger-than-life faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln carved into the side of the mountain. Take a walk on the boardwalk trails that lead up to the base of the mountain for a better view, and stop by Carver's Café for lunch and the chance to try out Thomas Jefferson's original ice cream recipe! (Admission to the park is free, but you must pay $11 to park your vehicle). Drive along Iron Mountain Road, or Alt. 16, a winding two-lane road that will take you through one-lane tunnels (honk first!) and past beautiful mountain vistas. As you get closer to the park, get your cameras ready-buffalo roam in and around Custer State Park and will often decide to randomly cross in front of your car. Resist the temptation and only take photos from inside your vehicle—these animals are majestic but strong and big enough to cause some major damage. Pay $4 per person to enter Custer State Park and stay in the middle of all the action at the State Game Lodge, the former Summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 (room rates from $115 a night in June for a lodge room). While you're there, sign up for a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour to get up close to the park's resident buffalo, prairie dogs, and other wildlife on a bumpy, off-road adventure through the native wilderness. End the day with a chuck wagon cookout in the wild, where cowboys sing as you feast on your choice of sirloin steak or hamburger, beans, cornbread, potato salad, coleslaw, watermelon, and fresh lemonade ($85 per adult and $65 for children under 12 for the combination Jeep Tour and Chuck Wagon Cookout; $45 per adult and $38 for children under 12 for just the Jeep Tour; $49 per adult and $40 for children under 12 for just the Chuck Wagon Cookout). CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL, HILL CITY & RAPID CITY 69 miles Drive along Needles Highway (Highway 87), another mountain road with several one-lane tunnels and beautiful views of Sylvan Lake along the way. When you get to the end of Highway 87, turn left and head south on Highway 385/16 for about 20 minutes to Crazy Horse Memorial. Started in 1948 as a way to pay homage to the legendary Lakota leader and our nations' Native American heritage, Crazy Horse Memorial is funded by admissions and donations rather than the U.S. Government—the upside being, it will never close if there is another National Parks shutdown, the downside being the stone carving is still a work in progress. Tour the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center while you're there, and stop by the restaurant for the best Tatanka Stew in the area—people kept telling me to try it at Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park the day before! ($10 for adults, $27 per carload, $5 for motorcycles, and free for children under age six, Native Americans, active military members, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in uniform, and all residents of Custer County, South Dakota). Visit the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City on your way back towards Rapid City on Highway 385/16—it's 20 minutes up the road and kids will love seeing enormous dinosaur skeletons and a room full of shiny gemstones (admission is $7.50 for adults ages 16 and up, $6 for seniors, veterans, and U.S. military members, $4 for children ages 6-15, and free for children ages five and under). From here, it's a half-hour drive on Highway 16 into Rapid City, home to the Museum of the American Bison, a vibrant downtown with concerts and outdoor festivals year-round, and have your picture taken with life-size bronze statues of your favorite former Presidents that line the streets of the historic district. Stay at the Adoba EcoHotel Rapid City, a newly renovated hotel that is stylish and eco-friendly (room rates from $99 a night).

    ADVERTISEMENT
    ADVERTISEMENT