It’s heart-pounding excitement in the Black Hills. Here, you can explore South Dakota’s natural landscapes, outdoor activities, and attractions. Our visit to the Black Hills was filled with many things to see and do.

Explore the Black Hills and discover adventure around every corner. No matter what kind of traveler you are, the Black Hills offer a wide range of experiences that will capture your senses and leave lasting impressions. Whether you’re exploring winding trails, capturing the picture-perfect photo, or simply taking in the view, the Black Hills provide a canvas of experiences just waiting to be painted by your personal sense of adventure. Get ready to embark on your next exciting adventure in the Black Hills.

Discover the Norbeck Overlook is one of the most scenic viewpoints in the Black Hills.
The Norbeck Overlook is one of the most scenic viewpoints in the Black Hills.

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Natural beauty abounds, from the rugged peaks of the Black Hills to the tranquil serenity of pristine lakes. Hiking trails wind through lush forests, waterfalls cascade in awe, and the fall foliage is vibrant. Witness the sunrise over iconic landmarks, capturing breathtaking moments that only Mother Nature can orchestrate.

Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country. 
Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country. 

Exploring the Beauty and Thrills of South Dakota’s Diverse Playground

South Dakota is often referred to as the “Rushmore State.” While Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park are undoubtedly the most famous, there are many hidden gems and lesser-known attractions to explore throughout the state. In this blog post we want to highlight some of the off the beaten path attractions.

Before we explore the lesser known attractions, here is a list of the well known must-see attractions and activities in South Dakota. This state is home to wonderful national parks and attractions:

Discover Great Adventure in the Black Hills with Skyline views of Rapid City SD
  1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial: This world-famous tourist spot shows carvings of four U.S. presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
  2. Custer State Park: There’s plenty of wildlife, scenic drives, and outdoor recreation in this huge park. Wildlife Loop Road lets you see bison, pronghorn, elk, and more in the wild. The begging burros were delightful!
  3. Badlands National Park: Despite being technically outside the Black Hills, the Badlands offer rugged canyons, colorful rock formations, hiking opportunities, and photographic opportunities.
  4. Scenic Drive: You’ve got the Black Hills Scenic Byway, Spearfish Canyon and Needles Highway to choose from for breathtaking vistas.
  5. Crazy Horse Memorial: While this monumental work-in-progress is gaining recognition, it’s still often overshadowed by Mount Rushmore. Visit to learn about the Native American heritage and the ongoing carving project.
  6. Wildlife and Nature: Beyond Custer State Park, the Black Hills provide habitats for diverse wildlife species. Birdwatching, fishing, and simply enjoying the natural beauty are part of the experience.
Discover Great Adventure on a ride in the 1880 Train locomotive Black Hills of South Dakota

Journey Back in Time: Riding the 1880 Train Through History

If you’re anything like me, you’ve often daydreamed about what it would be like to live in a different era–a time when the pace of life was slower, and locomotives ruled the tracks. Well, guess what? You can actually ride a vintage steam locomotive, a marvel of engineering that harkens back to the golden age of rail travel. We recently had the pleasure of embarking on a nostalgic adventure aboard the 1880 Train, and let me tell you, it was a trip back in time I won’t soon forget.

Discover Great Adventure in the Black Hills at the 1880 Train depot and water tower.

The journey began in the charming town of Hill City. As I arrived at the historic train depot, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement. Stepping aboard the train takes you on a remarkable nostalgic voyage that transports you to a bygone era of steam-powered locomotion. The smell of coal and the rhythmic chugging of the steam locomotive created an atmosphere that transported me straight to the late 19th century. The train’s gentle swaying and the clickety-clack of the wheels only added to the sense of adventure.

1880 train in Hill city entrance sign

A History Lesson on the Rails

I learned about the history of the railroad, the gold rush that brought settlers to the region, and the challenges they faced in this rugged terrain. It was like being in a history class, but way more fun! The time in Keystone was short, just a bit of shopping. Of course, the 1880 Train isn’t a one-way journey. We hopped back aboard for the return trip to Hill City, giving us a chance to soak in the beauty of the Black Hills once more. And just like that, my brief but memorable journey through time came to an end. If you’re ever in the Black Hills, the 1880 Train is an absolute must-do. It’s not just a ride; it’s a captivating experience

Rooftop Trail from the Visitor Center
Ponderosa Pines of the Black Hills

Mount Rushmore Tramway: Soaring Views and Scenic Adventures in the Black Hills

The Mount Rushmore Tramway provided us with an incredible view of the Black Hills. Located just 2 miles west of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Mount Rushmore Tramway is a fun family adventure.

When it comes to adventure, age doesn’t matter. You’re gonna love this zipline ride through the Black Hills. We ziplined through the treetops and it was awesome. You’ll feel the rush of adrenaline as you explore the jump tower and the alpine slide. If you want a relaxing ride, you can ride a chairlift. As anticipation builds, the tram glides up the hillside. Already, the views are spectacular as we climb through the trees. There are lush forests all around me, and the crisp mountain air feels good. As you reach the top, Mount Rushmore National Memorial suddenly comes into view. Let me tell you, the sight is jaw-dropping. It creates an unforgettable scene, just spending a few moments taking it all in.

Formations inside Wonderland Cave South Dakota

Observe the Hidden Treasures: Exploring the Underground Wonders of the Black Hills

We loved exploring Wind Cave and Jewel Cave in the Black Hills, uncovering a world of mystery. Over centuries, these caverns have been carved by dripping of water and the dissolution of limestone.. They give you a sense of wonder you can’t get anywhere else. Black Hills spelunking has something for everyone, regardless of experience level.

A soda straw formation hangs precariously from a ledge
A soda straw formation hangs precariously from a ledge

Near Nemo is Wonderland Cave, a lesser known gem worth exploring. There’s something special about Wonderland Cave. Guided tours take guests underground. There’s a fascinating limestone formation called Paha Sapa beneath the ground. There are different formation such as stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, and flowstone, in this cave. During the tour, our guide told us how these subterranean chambers have served as a natural shelter for centuries. Our guide’s narration led us to learn more about Native American history, early explorers, and stories of those who sought refuge here. Wonderland Caves is a truly beautiful place.

"Dances with Wolves" film set
“Dances with Wolves” film set Aaron Vowels Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Chowing Down and Step Back in Time: Our Fort Hays Dinner and Museum Experience

Delve into the Old West’s legends and find out who shaped the history of this land. The Fort Hays Dinner and Museum honors the pioneers and adventurers who shaped the American frontier. Featuring family-friendly entertainment and activities for all ages, this is great for the whole family. Known for “Dances with Wolves,” Fort Hays has become a popular tourist spot, where visitors can step into the movie’s world. Some of the fort’s buildings were actually built for the movie, so visitors can see the structures and learn how the movie was made.

Check out the legends of the Old West to find out who shaped it. The Fort Hays Dinner and Museum celebrates the pioneers and adventurers who shaped America. The whole family will enjoy family-friendly entertainment and activities. “Dances with Wolves” has made Fort Hays a popular tourist destination. Some of the fort’s buildings were actually built for the movie, so visitors can see the structures and learn how the movie was made.

Little Red Dog-Bison @ Wind Cave National Park
“Little Red Dog”-Bison

A Wild West Adventure

You get to wander around a set that looks like a military fort at Fort Hays. Film production used the fort in several scenes, including exterior and interior shots. The fort’s structures and the surrounding landscape create an authentic Western feel. There’s stuff about frontier life, Native American history, and more at the museum. This is the place for people who want a little history with their trip.

Quote-" Solitude is an unmarked place beyond the borders of a map, a place where most fear to tread. It's no surprise, then, that this is where the greatest secrets and most valuable treasures are hidden. Cristen

Apart from its connection to “Dances with Wolves,” they also have a chuck wagon dinner.. They serve a western-style meal in a rustic setting. As soon as we got to the chow line, the smell of food made our stomachs dance. The dinner includes classic cowboy fare such as grilled meats, beans, biscuits, and dessert. I love this place because of the grub, but I love the whole experience too. The show doesn’t stop at dinner. There’s some good ol’ Western entertainment afterward. Performances, cowboy music, and comedy are all part of the program. It’s worth the ride just for the chuck wagon feast. Giddy up!

Ty Rex Replica at Dinosaur Park Rapid City

Discovering Prehistoric Wonders at Dinosaur Park

Dinosaur Park in Rapid City is like a blast from the past, quite literally! It’s on a panoramic hilltop spot where life-sized dinosaurs are just hanging out, ready to give you the lowdown on the prehistoric Mesozoic era. Cross the road and bam you are face-to-face with these ancient giants. Kids (and let’s be real, adults too) go bonkers for it.

Kids get a kick out of pretending they’re in a dino movie, minus the running-for-your-life part. Plus, the views from up here are a bonus–you can see the whole city sprawled out below you. So if you’re in Rapid City and you’ve got a thing for T-Rex and friends, Dinosaur Park is where the Jurassic Park action happens! Admission is FREE! Don’t overlook a walk through the visitor’s center to find that rare gift.

Hangmans Tree Rapid City

On your way up, Skyline drive on a bend in the road is an unassuming singular fenced tree. It is known as the hanging tree. On June 21, 1877, this was the site where a lynch mob swiftly brought three horse thieves to justice. A.J. “Doc” Allen, Louis “Red” Curry and James “Kid” Hall were all hanged on that lawless day. It is said that they still haunt “Hangman’s Hill,” today.

Black Bear eating grass

Bear Country USA: A Day Among the Wild

If you are looking for animal encounters, I would consider Bear Country, USA, a good option. On our recent trip, we had the chance to spend a day among the wild in this incredible place. From curious black bears ambling right up to the car to massive grizzlies playing in their own little bear paradise, it’s a wildlife lover’s dream come true. But it’s not just bears; there are mountain lions, bison, and other critters that call this place home. The best part? You don’t even have to leave your car to enjoy these magnificent creatures up close. It’s a wild, unforgettable adventure that’s as close to nature as it gets!

Black-tailed Deer in a garden
Credit: Cindy Moss

They have many species of animals roaming free, including elk, bears, mountain goats, lynx, bison and others. The drive through experience mimics the animals’ natural habitats. We were required to drive very slow while keep our window up the entire time. Our favorite area of the park was the baby animals. It was a heartwarming experience. The wildlife walkway is a great way for the kids to encounter the different animals and interact. For keepsakes, there’s a giant gift shop with anything you can think of. Bear Country USA is open spring through late November and requires a couple of hours to really see everything. It’s a family-friendly attraction that allows visitors of all ages to appreciate the diversity of the region’s native animals.

NOTE: This is essential a zoo. Animals are contained, which may be offputting for some. Since we visited the park, has had some issues and negative press. We do not condone this type of behavior. We did not observe any of these negative actions during our visit.

Copperhead snake in the rocks and vegetation

Reptile Gardens: A Journey Through a World of Scales and Tails

Reptile Gardens is a place where slithering snakes, enormous alligators, and colorful lizards are the stars in the show. It’s like stepping into a real-life Jurassic Park, minus the dinosaurs. I mean, who knew that spending a day with cold-blooded creatures could be so thrilling? From daring venomous snakes to the tiniest, most vibrant poison dart frogs, this place has it all. There’s even a giant tortoise named Gus, who’s older than your grandma and moves slower than a Monday morning. But it’s not just about the reptiles; the lush botanical garden there is an oasis of calm amidst all the scaly action. So if you’re ever in the Black Hills area, do yourself a favor and check out Reptile Gardens–it’s a wild ride you won’t forget!

Poisonous dart frog on a log

Chapel in the Hills: A Tranquil Escape in the Black Hills

In 1884, they moved a 13th-century church from Norway into a museum in Oslo like a jigsaw puzzle piece. Now fast forward to 1968-69 in Rapid City, where they figured, “Hey, that’s pretty cool,” and built a replica of the same church. The Chapel in the Hills itself is a masterpiece of architecture. A little piece of Norway, pretty neat, right?

One of the few stave churches in North America, it is a replica of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal in Norway. As we stepped into the chapel’s interior, it was a simple yet elegant space with wooden pews. The stained-glass windows cast a warm and inviting glow, and the natural light streaming through the windows creates a sense of tranquility. Admission to the chapel is free, but donations are welcome.

Taking the path behind the church gets you to a museum. It’s in a log cabin built by Edward Nielsen in 1876. It’s full of antiques and artifacts. Afterwards, we walked the prayer trail through the forest, which was peaceful. Before leaving we visited an authentic grass-roofed stabbur (storehouse). This is the place to find that perfect Scandinavian gift to bring home.

Norwegian Stave church replica-Chapel in the hills

Delving into the Old West at 1880 Town

In Custer, I stumbled upon a hidden gem in the heart of the Black Hills. On our way back from Jewel Cave, we found it’s a place where time travel isn’t just a sci-fi dream. Welcome to 1880 Town, a living, breathing slice of the Old West. Wooden boardwalks line the dirt streets, saloon doors swing open, and hitching posts await weary cowboys. It’s like the set of a classic Western film brought to life.

There’s an actual opera house, a blacksmith’s shop, a schoolhouse, and even a livery stable with horses. Each building is a meticulously restored piece of history, filled with original artifacts from the era. It’s like walking through a living museum where you can touch, feel, and sometimes even sit on the history. Carve out some time for a trip to 1880 Town. It’s a one-of-a-kind adventure that’ll make you feel like a true pioneer, if only for a day.

Culpepper saloon 1880 town in murdo south dakota
Credit: Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Savoring the Essence: Culinary Delights and Local Flavors of the Black Hills

Raise your glass to the art of libation visiting vibrant local wineries and breweries in the Black Hills region. Exploring these establishments can be a fun and delicious way to experience local flavors and learn more about the area’s craft beverage scene. Sample handcrafted wines and savor brews that embody the spirit of the region.

Prairie Berry Winery Catawba wine and crackers

Wineries:

  1. Prairie Berry Winery: in Hill City, Prairie Berry Winery offers a variety of South Dakota wines made from local fruits, as well as traditional grape wines. Their tasting room and outdoor seating area provide a comfortable environment to enjoy the wines. The food was delicious!
  2. Naked Winery: Located in Hill City and Custer, Naked Winery has a unique approach to winemaking. You’ll find cheeky names and labels on their wines, and they’re all flavorful. We enjoyed a sample of the wine on a visit to the Powderhouse restaurant for a casual dinner.
  3. Firehouse Wine Cellars: The Rapid City location is housed in an old fire station. There is a tasting room where you can enjoy their wines made from locally grown grapes. We visited their Smokejumper Station Hill City location. We enjoyed the wine tasting, but the service was less than desired.

Breweries:

  1. Crow Peak Brewing Company: Crow Peak Brewing Company is known for its handcrafted ales that capture the spirit of the West. There’s a taproom where you can try their brews. On our day in Spearfish, we stopped for a quick draft. The Black Currant Gose was tasty.
  2. Hay Camp Brewing Company: in Rapid City, Hay Camp Brewing Company offers a range of beers with creative and often historic names. Their taproom provides a cozy atmosphere to savor their brews.
  3. Sick n Twisted Brewery: This brewery is in Hill City and offers a range of unique and flavorful beers. Their outdoor seating area is an excellent spot to enjoy a cold drink on a hot afternoon.
Purple Pie Company in Custer SD

Do Not Miss the Purple Pie in Custer

The Purple Pie Place in Custer is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. They offer the most delicious homemade pies, ice cream, and other treats. The restaurant is known for its signature purple color, which is reflected in both the décor and the food. This place is a must-visit for anyone visiting the Black Hills. The pies are incredible, and the staff is so helpful. I highly recommend the bumble berry pie. Hubby had the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. This, for us, was a meal. If you’re in Custer, South Dakota, and you have a sweet tooth or a hankering for some tasty pies, visiting the Purple Pie Place is a best idea.

Black Hills-Needles Highway Granite Spires
Credit: R. Betts

Hiking: Unplug, Unwind, and Reconnect with Nature

You can get both invigorating and awe-inspiring outdoor adventures in the Black Hills. You won’t find a better hiking experience anywhere else. The Black Hills are a hiker’s paradise with their rugged terrain, lush forests, and gorgeous vistas. Take a hike to discover the hidden gems of this natural wonderland by putting your boots on, grabbing your bottle, and a. No matter what level you’re at, there’s no shortage of hiking options in Custer State Park, from the iconic Black Elk Peak to the serene Sylvan Lake. The Black Hills will leave you refreshed and reconnected with nature no matter if you’re a trekker or just taking a leisurely stroll. It’s time to pack your sense of adventure and take a hiking adventure in this South Dakota gem!

Views of Black Elk Peak from the Cathedral Spires
Credit: R. Betts

The Black Hills offer both awe-inspiring and thrilling outdoor activities. There is no better hiking experience anywhere else. Hikers will find the rugged terrain, lush forests, and beautiful views in the Black Hills to be a hiker’s paradise. Get your hiking boots on, grab your water bottle and your snack, and explore this natural wonderland. From the iconic Black Elk Peak to the serene Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park has hiking options for every level. You’ll feel refreshed and reconnected to nature, whether you’re trekking or just walking in the Black Hills. You’re going to love hiking in this South Dakota gem, so be sure to pack your sense of adventure!

NOTE: Weather here can be unpredictable. Be prepared by dressing in layers, bring rain gear and a day pack with essentials.

Sylvan Lake Rock Wall View above the lake
Sylvan Lake-Custer State Park-Black Hills of South Dakota

Final Thought on Discovering Your Next Great Adventure in the Black Hills: Things to Do

South Dakota is full of surprises, from quirky attractions like Fort Hays West Dinner Show to the intriguing geological formations at Wonderland Cave. Exploring these lesser-known spots added a sense of adventure to our trip. In the Black Hills, you can create lasting memories and discover the wonders of the American heartland.

What are your favorite activities or hidden gems in the Black Hills? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.