21 Unique Black Hills Experiences to Try in 2021
Written by Darian Block
April 30, 2021

Traveling is an important part of life because of the experiences and memories you get to take home and share with your friends and family. Here in the Southern Black Hills, you can discover new sights and adventures each day. And even if you’ve already partook in an experience, don’t be scared to try it again, or try it a little differently… things are changing all the time and you’ll make new/ different memories! Here is a list of some of our favorite unique experiences in Custer and the Southern Black Hills.

  1. Riding in a helicopter: Yes, you can ride in a helicopter almost anywhere you go. However, you will never experience the beautiful scenery of the Black Hills like you would in a helicopter tour. Driving, biking, and hiking will expose many picturesque views of the Hills, but a helicopter tour will show you new angles and never-before-seen sights of Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, and much more.

  2. Riding in a hot air balloon: Just like in a helicopter, a hot air balloon ride through the Black Hills shows many amazing views. The balloon ride is a bit more of a relaxed ride, though. It is quite a unique experience to be up in the sky in the early hours of the morning and to see panoramic views of the Hills.

  3. Driving through Custer State Park in the “off hours”: Custer State Park in itself is an amazing experience that everyone should get to see in their life. Cruising through Custer State Park in earlier hours of the day, like 6:00am to 8:00am, can be a very unique experience due to the fact that more animals could be out while the crowd of people isn’t as big. Custer State Park right before dark is also an interesting experience because some animals are just starting their “day” and are a bit livelier. The Park, though, is beautiful at any time of the day and is always a stunning sight.

  4. Traveling by the 1880 Train: Riding on a train is already a pretty cool thing to do, but riding on a train made in 1880 through incredible views is on a whole new level! The 1880 Train travels from Hill City to Keystone and back, and it is a fun experience for the whole family!

  5. Biking on the Mickelson Trail: Whether your party is an avid bicyclist group or if you’re a family with some little ones, the Mickelson Trail is a great, unique way to venture into the Black Hills. The trail stretches for more than 100 miles, so you can bike one end and it could be completely different at the other end; there could be rain/ snow, there could be more people, there could be horses on the trail, etc. You can either bring your own bike or rent a regular or an e-bike (Check out the South Dakota Outdoor Store)! The Mickelson Trail itself is quite unique due to its history of being a railroad, but each bike ride can create unique, new memories for you!

  6. Being underground: Caves are not an abnormal thing here in the Black Hills, which can be weird for tourists not from around here. Jewel Cave and Wind Cave are in the top 10 longest caves in the world, and going down into them is not something everyone can say they’ve done! The visitor centers are a must as well. However, the hours of cave tours and visitor centers can vary, so check out https://www.nps.gov/jeca/index.htm and https://www.nps.gov/wica/index.htm for information!

  7. Seeing a Mammoth: In the town of Hot Springs, the Mammoth Site, which is a research facility that examines fossils along with a museum-like touch, is quite a unique adventure due to the information you learn from visiting. Researchers are working hard to collect and protect the fossils there and to preserve the area. This facility is focused on mammoths and sinkholes, which is very intriguing to anyone who visits! The Mammoth Site is open year-round with varying hours depending on the season.

  8. Visiting Crazy Horse Memorial: Spotting a huge rock with a carving in progress is an amazing thing to check off the to-do list. While it has not officially been finished, that’s what makes Crazy Horse even more special. Crazy Horse Memorial is a carving in the face of a rock and a museum just north of Custer. Because it’s still being worked on, it is constantly changing and is always going to be a new experience. The museum and restaurant attached to it makes it even more of a great place to visit, too.

  9. Visiting Mount Rushmore: Just like Crazy Horse, the carvings on Mt. Rushmore National Memorial is a beautiful sight. It is not being worked on anymore, but the surrounding environment is consistently being updated. For example, if you haven’t seen it in a while, the entry way is finishing up construction and has a whole new look! The museum and restaurant, as well, have been recently updated, so make sure to find some new memories there!

  10. Hiking Black Elk Peak: Yes, there are sooo many hikes to experience in the Black Hills area, but hiking to the top of Black Elk Peak gives you a different feeling. Because the Peak is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains, hiking to the top makes you feel like you are on top of the world. Not a lot of people can reach a point that gives you that feeling. Plus, that feeling never gets old!

  11. Experiencing a “ghost” town: Four Mile Old West Town is a very unique experience that anyone in the family will enjoy! It is a family-run business that educates visitors on the history of the old west while giving tours through an immersive ghost town. It is definitely an experience that is rare, unique, and fun!

  12. Having fun in an Adventure Park: Just outside of Mt. Rushmore, the town of Keystone has a hidden gem that fits just about any party! Whether you are a daredevil or more laid-back, the Rush Mountain Adventure Park holds something that will top off any vacation with a unique adventure. There is an aerial course, a zipline, a rollercoaster, a cave, and more! With new crowds coming in everyday and the chance to try something new there, it will always bring a unique experience to you.

  13. Visiting the 1881 Courthouse Museum: The Custer County Courthouse building was built in 1880, constructed with bricks from a local kiln. It opened January 1881 in Custer City, Custer County, Dakota Territory, eight years before South Dakota became a state. The 1881 Courthouse Museum is a fantastic way to learn about the history of not just Custer but also the Black Hills and the state of South Dakota. This is a great and unique experience that is a wonderful opportunity that not all small towns can say they have. The museum is open in May until September.

  14. Swimming in multiple lakes in one day: The Black Hills Area is home to many different lakes, mainly in Custer State Park. There is Stockade, Center, Sylvan, and Legion Lake specifically in the Park with neighboring lakes, like Pactola, Bismark, and Angustora. Because the weather in South Dakota is never predictable, each lake could bring different temperatures that will make each one a special experience.

  15. Looking out over Custer: Custer is a beautiful small town that has wonderful views wherever you look. However, the Custer Skywalk hike, which starts near the center of town, leads to a couple of lookout points with aerial views of Custer and the Black Hills. This view, any time of day, is a great sight to see that not a lot of people know about.

  16. Shopping local: The Southern Black Hills is home to multiple towns that have their own characteristics. One of these characteristics is the shopping opportunities in each of them. There are boutiques, souvenir shops, art galleries, candy stores, and many more places that are unique to their town and are typically run by local individuals and families. Plus, attractions, like Custer State Park, Crazy Horse, etc., provide some stores themselves!

  17. Eating local: Just like stores, the dining options in the Southern Black Hills consist of a variety of food. There is dining in the area for anyone in the family, ranging from Mexican to bar-style to higher-end. And, with the Black Hills always changing and adding new faces to the area, new restaurants are constantly coming in. So make sure to try some new places during your visit!

  18. Experiencing a community-wide event: The town of Custer is very community-oriented, and it is always welcoming new people. Two of the biggest events are the 4th of July Celebration, which takes place on the 3rd and 4th, along with Gold Discovery Days, which is July 15th through the 18th. Both of these events include a parade down Main Street that is open for everyone to watch. Gold Discovery Days is a very unique experience because it is the only of its kind. There are activities for all ages throughout the weekend, like a carnival, bed races, a volleyball tournament, and much more. Plus, these events are consistently upgrading certain aspects, so you never experience them the same way twice.

  19. Running through the Black Hills: Because of the plenty of trail options, you can always find one that matches your running style. There are certain trails that are a bit more strenuous or crowded, but there is a variety of others that are great for the runner in your party. Whether it’s running in the early morning or later in the evening, there is sure to be a trail that matches your interests. Plus, there are so many to choose from that you can experience a new Black Hills view on each run.

  20. Going UTVing: In the Southern Black Hills area, there are many ways to escape to the outdoors, and one of the coolest ways is riding in a UTV! Either bring your own or check out one of the rentals throughout the Black Hills. There are plenty of roads that you can experience nature to its fullest, especially during the warmer, summer months.

  21. Experiencing 4 seasons on your trip: The weather in the Black Hills area is a story in itself. While during the summer months, the weather tends to stay on the hotter side, it can easily switch up. In the morning, you could wake up to a dusting of snow on the ground, eat lunch under a clear blue sky, go hiking and get stuck in the rain, and go to bed with a crisp wind coming through your window. Not a lot of places can give you a whole year of weather in one day, but it gives you a great story for your friends and families.

The Southern Back Hills is full of wonder and adventure that is waiting for you to come and enjoy it! Even if you’ve been here before, there’s something new for you to experience. Make some vacation plans now and invite your friends and family!

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