It’s possible to hit all the main attractions of the South Dakota Black Hills in a day. My daughter and I did it a few weeks ago. I had never seen Mount Rushmore and my daughter hadn’t since she was very young. We both had a free long weekend so we decided to take the six hour drive from Loveland, Colorado to the South Dakota Black Hills.
Friday we drove to Hot Springs, South Dakota and stayed in a hotel there. Saturday we woke up, got breakfast, then headed to our first destination; Wind Cave National Park.
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave is a small National Park. It only takes about twenty minutes or so to drive through. The main attractions of the park are the small herd of Bison and the actual cave. There are ranger-guided cave tours and programs throughout the year. There are also thirty miles of hiking trails. Since we were on limited time, we just drove through, snapping some photos along the way. We were lucky enough to see a few bison and a pronghorn in the park.
Heading north from Wind Cave National Park, the next point of interest was Custer State Park.
Custer State Park
This state park is actually bigger than the neighboring National Park. Custer State Park encompasses over 70,000 acres of the South Dakota Black Hills. It’s claim to fame is its herd of 1,300+ bison. We saw one of them. Some other activities in the park include hiking, camping, boating, horseback riding, and fishing.
We decided to take a scenic drive on the Wildlife Loop Road. It’s an eighteen mile long road that circles around the park through forests and open prairie. The park information says there’s a chance to see pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, deer, elk and burros along the road. Hunting is of course prohibited in these areas but if you are interested in hunting, you should check out the hunting knife buying guide available here. Meanwhile we saw a bison as soon as we got on the road, but never spotted another after that. We did see some pronghorns at a distance as well as a few burros.
There are miles of trails in Custer State Park, but the only hiking we did was checking out Heddy Draw Overlook, just off of the Wildlife Loop Road. If you call walking a hundred yards down a trail hiking.
Next, we headed to the small tourist town of Custer.
Custer is a small touristy town nestled in the middle of the South Dakota Black Hills. It’s close proximity to all the surrounding attractions make it a popular place to stay for a Black Hills vacation. There are lots of hotels, motels, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
After a quick stop in Custer we made our way north to the Crazy Horse Monument.
Crazy Horse Monument
This partially finished mountain carving depicts Crazy Horse, a Lakota leader, on his horse. The carving is much bigger than Mount Rushmore. The head of Crazy Horse alone, at 87 feet tall, is one and a half times bigger than the heads on Mt. Rushmore.
The carving was started in 1948 by a New England sculptor who was working on Mount Rushmore. Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota chief, invited him to make a memorial honoring Indians. more information can be found at Crazy Horse Memorial website.
We took a few pictures and then headed back through Custer State Park towards Mount Rushmore. This isn’t the most direct route, but it’s what we did.
The main attraction of the South Dakota Black Hills is the iconic Mount Rushmore. Every American learns about this granite mountain carving in elementary school. It depicts the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
Approaching Mount Rushmore from the south, visitors are treated to views of Mt. Rushmore from overlooks and framed by mountain tunnels. We waited in a crowd at one tunnel to get a shot of Mount Rushmore for almost twenty minutes. It’s a popular shot and mine didn’t come out very well.
Once you arrive, the monument is only a short walk from the parking garage. The path to Mount Rushmore is lined with the U.S. state flags. There are restrooms, a souvenir store, and an ice cream shop on the grounds.
Our next stop was Bear Country USA (look for my next post) on our way to the hotel in Rapid City.