Looking for things to do near Mount Rushmore? The Black Hills of South Dakota offers an array of unforgettable attractions to explore. From hiking to scenic beauty, and history, there are amazing experiences and things to do in the Black Hills during your visit to Mount Rushmore.
The Black Hills of South Dakota
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Where Are The Black Hills in South Dakota?
Well, if you’re at Mount Rushmore, you’re actually already in the Black Hills! The Black Hills of South Dakota are a mountain range located on the western side of South Dakota that extends further west into Wyoming.
The Black Hills make up 1.2 million acres of forests and mountains, with South Dakota’s must-see attractions scattered throughout. Places like Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave (to name a few), all call the Black Hills home.
It is also here, in the Black Hills, where the birthplace of the Lakota people happened. These hills and mountains are sacred places, and once you visit, and see their beauty, you’ll soon understand why.
Check out our 7-day South Dakota Itinerary to help plan your South Dakota vacation!
Why Are The Black Hills Called “Black”?
The first people to call the Black Hills home were the Lakota. And it was the Lakota to give the Black Hills its name. “Paha Sapa” translates to “hills that are black.” When looking at the Black Hills from the distance, the way tall pine forests cover the mountains and hills, makes the area appear black.
Of course, when you get closer, you’ll clearly see the hills are far from black, but a gray granite.
How Many Days Do You Need In The Black Hills?
There is so much do to within the Black Hills of South Dakota! If you can allocate 5 days to the area, you’ll have an ample amount of time to see and experience everything on our below list. If you are tight on time, 1-3 days, you’ll need to pick and choose between the list below as covering everything will be difficult or impossible to do.
When looking for accommodations within the Black Hills, there are a few popular and conveniently located towns for you to consider.
For more Black Hills accommodations, check the latest availability and pricing here.
Of course, this all depends on where you call home while you are in the Black Hills, but staying at one of the above towns will put you on average anywhere from 1 hour to 1.5 hours away from your farthest Black Hills attraction. Your closest attraction could be just miles down the road.
We stayed in Custer State Park at Bismark Lake Campground and absolutely loved it! The scenery was beautiful and the location was great.
Things To Do In The Black Hills – Top Attractions
For the below list of things to do in the Black Hills, you’ll want to plan to fly in and out of Rapid City. Rapid City is the closest and largest airport to the Black Hills, making it a great access point for your vacation to South Dakota.
If you are driving to South Dakota, the Black Hills are located on the western side of the state.
1. Mount Rushmore
One of the most historically iconic national memorials in all of South Dakota, and the United States, is Mount Rushmore. Starting in 1927, Mount Rushmore took over 400 workers and 14 years to complete the carvings of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson into the hillside of the Black Hills.
Today, visitors can walk the Avenue of Flags to get to the viewing platform where you can snag your own photo of the four Presidential faces. Costing around $10 to park (the only fee to visit Mount Rushmore), Mount Rushmore is best experienced in the morning (before 9 am) to beat the crowds.
You can walk the 0.9-mile Presidential Trail loop, check out the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center to learn more about how Mount Rushmore was built, stop at the Sculptors Studio, and grab an ice cream cone at Memorial Team Ice Cream.
2. Crazy Horse Memorial
Located 30 minutes away from Mount Rushmore is Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse Memorial is dedicated to Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior famous for his role in the defeat of General Custer at Little Bighorn. Crazy Horse was deemed the perfect symbol for this Memorial for the way he fought against the US Government to defend Lakota land and culture.
The memorial is far from finished, but what is finished is impressive. You can view Crazy Horse from the viewing deck of the Native American Educational And Cultural Center or, opt to pay to take a bus to the base of the mountain.
The cost to enter is $15/per person in a vehicle and $10/per person on a motorcycle. Your entrance fee dollars go to help the completion of the monument.
3. Custer State Park
Our favorite thing to do in the Black Hills is hiking through and exploring Custer State Park! Located outside the town of Custer is Custer State Park. Home to amazing hiking trails, lakes for fishing or kayaking, scenic drives, and wildlife viewing.
Grab your fishing rod or kayak and head to Sylvan Lake or Center Lake. Or, lace up those hiking boots to tackle Sunday Gulch Trail, Cathedral Spires Trail, and hike to Black Elk Peak. Black Elk Peak is the tallest point in South Dakota and the tallest point east of the Rockies and west of Pynrenne’s!
You can easily spend a few days in Custer State Park camping and enjoying the great outdoors!
4. The Needles Highway
The most popular scenic drive in Custer State Park is The Needles Highway. The Needles Highway is a 14-mile 2-lane road that weaves through the Black Hills. The highway has pull-offs where you can pull over and park your vehicle to take in views of Black Hill National forest. The highlight of the highway is the Needles Eye, a narrow passage through a rock. Only one car at a time can go through!
Off the Needles Highway, you can find the Cathedral Spires trailhead, one of the best trails in the park and in South Dakota.
TIP: Make sure you check the clearance requirements before driving the Needles Highway, especially if you’re in a van or RV!
5. Wildlife Loop
The 18-mile wildlife loop is south of Custer and on your way to Wind Cave National Park. The wildlife loop is famous for its roaming bison, big-horned sheep, prairie dogs, and begging burros (yes, donkeys!). Drive the loop early in the morning or after sunset for your best chance to see wildlife
Outside seeing the beautiful herds of bison, the begging burros are a crowd-pleaser! These donkeys will come right up to your car window and expect a treat, so be sure to pack some carrots! While you can feed the burros, you should not interact with or feed the other wildlife on the loop.
Tip: If you are wanting to tackle all three scenic drives in one go, consider driving the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. This is a 70-mile route that combines the Needles Highway, Wildlife Loop, and Iron Mountian Road.
6. Wind Cave National Park
The third largest cave in the US, the 7th largest cave in the world, and home to the largest concentration of boxwork, Wind Cave National Park is a must-visit when looking for things to do near Mount Rushmore.
When visiting Wind Cave National park, you have two options for things to do. Explore below the ground and explore above the ground.
For above-ground activities, you can drive the park road, take a hike to Rankin Ridge, or hike the Lookout Point to Centennial Loop trail. As for below-ground activities, you need to book a cave tour in order to go inside Wind Cave.
There are three options when it comes to Wind Cave Tours:
- Garden of Eden Tour
- Natural Entrance Tour (we took this one!)
- Fairground Tour.
Wind Cave Tours cost $12-$14 and take anywhere from 1 hour – 1.5 hours. These tours do sell out so make your cave tour reservation ahead of time. Also plan to bring a jacket! The cave is a standard 54-degree year round so tours can get chilly!
7. Jewel Cave National Monument
Thirty minutes away from Wind Cave is Jewel Cave, the second-largest cave in the United States. Like Wind Cave, visitors are required to take a guided tour in order to access Jewel Cave’s caverns and chambers.
Located 1+ hours north of Mount Rushmore and about 45 minutes away from Rapid City, you’ll find Deadwood. Deadwood, the former rough and rowdy gold rush town of the 1800s is a great place for any history lovers.
Have a drink at the bar where Wild Bill’s run came to an end, visit the Mount Moriah Cemetery where the graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane can be found, watch a Main Street reenactment shootout, or take a history tour of the town!
9. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
Spearfish Canyon is a 20-mile road (highway 14) that carves through a gorge with the Black Hills surrounding you on both sides. From hiking and waterfalls, the drive through Spearfish Canyon is a beautiful one!
Stop at Spearfish Falls, Rouhglock Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. Hike the 76′ trail to get panoramic views of the canyon, and bring a swimsuit to take a plunge in Devil’s Bathtub.
10. Honorary Mention – Badlands National Park & Devil’s Tower
Ok, while technically not in the Black Hills, both are so close (a few hour’s drive) we had to add them to the list!
Badlands National Park may be one of the most unique and underrated National Parks in the US. From its rugged Mar’s-like terrain and active wildlife like big horn sheep and bison to its stunning colorful sunrises and sunsets, one day in Badlands National Park is all you need. So if you can swing a visit, please swing away!
Now for Devil’s Tower. Located a little less than an hour’s drive over the state line into Wyoming, you’ll find the big ol’ butte known as Devil’s Tower. Perfect for those looking to make a day trip on their South Dakota Road Trip, or as a stopping point on your way out to Yellowstone or Grand Teton, Devils Tower is an impressive formation that if you have the time, should see.
Black Hills Attractions Map
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)