Blog, Travel Tips, & News

Exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota

Scenic view at Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA at sunset

As much as I love traveling internationally and discovering new destinations, sometimes there are interesting spots in the United States that are worth time on your vacation calendar. The upcoming 4th of July and some clients who are currently traveling inspire this week’s article…

The Black Hills – An Unexpected Destination

Many Americans have heard of the Black Hills, but few have experienced their beauty and magnificence. Nestled into the scenic region of western South Dakota, the Black Hills and Badlands area features an outdoor dreamscape that covers 10,000 square miles of nature. Explore a variety of the American natural landscape: from vast prairies to buffalo-roamed grasslands, to incredible mountain vistas.

Quite frankly, South Dakota had never been on my travel dream list, but in my heighted desire to travel after having so many trips cancelled in the spring of 2020, I jumped on the opportunity to travel anywhere. I’m glad I did, as I loved discovering the area of the Black Hills and the Badlands, and can recommend it has a wonderful destination highlighting nature, wildlife, history and a sense of reverting back to a more traditional road trip travel style of my youth.

The Black Hills and Badlands region features many intriguing sites and there are many more details and unique experiences I could describe, but here are some of the notable landmarks you may have heard about:

Mount Rushmore

Known by many, Mount Rushmore is a feat of engineering that must be seen to be believed. Sculpted from the Black Hills rock itself by Gutzom Borglum, the landmark features the 60-foot tall heads of Presidents George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). The four men were chosen specifically by Borglum to represent America’s birth, growth, development, and preservation.

This national park is open all year and tourists come over not just to admire the enormous sculptured faces of the former presidents, they also immerse themselves in many educational activities. Taking the stroll through The Avenue of Flags, you will reach the Grand View Terrace from where you can clearly view the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Numerous hiking trails provide the opportunity to experience the area through active pursuits.

Crazy Horse Memorial

The Crazy Horse is a multiple-decade project that started as a vision of Chief Henry Standing Bear. Just like the La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the project is still being worked on.

Once finished, the memorial will be the tallest monument in the world – showing Crazy Horse atop his horse and pointing to the distance ahead. The visit not only showcases the incredible ingenuity of American engineering but will also take you through the rich heritage of Black Hills Native Americans.

Badlands National Park

For those wishing for an authentic outdoor experience, the Badlands National Park covers over 244,000 acres of protected land. Co-managed by the US Park Service and Oglala Indian Tribe, the Badlands Natural Park showcases the beauty of South Dakota. Named the “mako sica” – or “bad lands” – by the Lakota people, the Badlands feature majestic rock formations and extreme terrain developed over millions of years of natural exposure. Once covered in water, the Badlands have emerged over the years to show a beautiful, ornate layering that shows history come alive; driving the Loop Road provides the opportunity to view the changing landscape and stop at scenic overlooks.

Because South Dakota is one of the most accessible places in the country that has significantly low levels of light pollution, the Badlands is known as a premier stargazing site. The park’s Night Sky Program features park rangers and volunteers who provide telescopes and guidance on where to look for constellations.

Spearfish Canyon

Showcasing nature’s ability to change the face of the earth, Spearfish Cayon is a perfect example of nature’s majesty. A deep and narrow gorge in the Black Hills landscape offers visitors a chance to witness beautiful waterfalls and scenic views while experiencing the many flora and fauna the region has to offer.

Custer State Park

Named for none other than famous Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, Custer State Park offers another of South Dakota’s beautiful landscapes with a unique twist – the chance to see incredible wildlife up close and personal. Custer State Park is known for its wild-roaming herd of over 1500 bison, who amble across the landscape in freedom.
This was one of the highlights of the trip – we took a jeep safari, which allowed us to leave the designed roads and drive paths right into the middle of the herd. We saw the buffalo up close and personal, and got to ride up to their waterhole and view hundreds of buffalo.

Road Trip in South Dakota

There’s so much more I haven’t covered – looking through the tunnels on Iron Mountain Road designed with views of Rushmore, exploring world-famous Wall Drug, eating a chuckwagon steak dinner by the fire, riding the 1880’s train, driving Needles Highway, enjoying the old west flavor of Deadwood. Whether you are looking for an exotic overnight featuring a truly magnificent sunrise or a chance to catch a glimpse of once-extinct wildlife, your Black Hills adventure will not disappoint. As you begin to plan your future vacation calendar, perhaps it’s time to consider a Black Hills adventure. You can go more rustic and adventurous, or add some VIP experiences and more luxurious accommodations.