5 Must See Stops in the Southern Black Hills
Written by the Southern Hills Vacation Guide
March 12, 2021

The information below is from the Southern Hills Vacation Guide.  To read more click here or to request a copy of the guide mailed to you click here.

We’re home to bucket list sites like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, but allow us to add onto that list: we have one of the top 10 longest bike trails west of the Mississippi, the second largest bison herd in the nation, and an active dig site with fossils as old as the ice age.

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
While most of South Dakota’s economy is powered by agriculture, the Black Hills aren’t as conducive to farming.  Mount Rushmore was originally designed to bring tourists to the area and boost the local economy.  Now, almost 80 years after its completion, it is one of the most popular national memorials in the country.

Mount Rushmore is the perfect balance of art and engineering.  Every inch of the faces was pulled out of the mountain using dynamite, drilled into shape and finally finished by hand.  The process took 14 years and over 400 men and women to complete.  Even then, the mountain was declared complete before it fully realized Gutzon Borglum’s vision. A combination of unsuitable rock, lack of funding, and the escalation of WWII caused the drilling to stop.  In the fall of 1941, they officially declared the memorial finished.

If you’re wondering what the original design was, you’re in luck: a visit to the Sculptor’s Studio on site has a 1/12th scale model of the mountain as envisioned by Borglum.  You can also see authentic tools used for carving the mountain.

The Sculptor’s Studio isn’t the only place you should visit while on site.  Don’t miss the Lincoln Borglum Visitor’s Center, where you can see a 14-minute film about the creation of the mountain.  The Presidential Trail is a great way to get up close to the presidents if you’re ready for a short walk – just know there are 422 stairs involved.  If your kids take part in the Junior Ranger program, make sure you pick up a booklet at one of the information desks so they can earn a new badge.

After you’ve explored the memorial, come back to the main plaza for snacks and souvenirs.  You’ll find a variety of fare for lunch or dinner, and a variety of shirts, postcards, books and toys to take home.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Rarely do you get to witness history in the making.  While you’re visiting the Black Hills, a stop at Crazy Horse Memorial will be a highlight of your monumental experience.

The Indian Museum of North America is home to a large collection of art and artifacts reflecting the diverse histories and cultures of over 300 Native Nations.  The Museum, designed to complement the story being told in stone on the Mountain, presents the lives of American Indians and preserves Native Cultures for future generations.

The Museum collection started with a single display donated in 1965 by Charles Eder, Assiniboine-Sioux, from Montana, still on display.

Today, thousands of visitors and locals alike enjoy artisan displays, film showings in the theatres, and entertainment throughout the year.  Stop by Korczak’s Heritage, Inc Gift Shop and purchase a memento to take home.

Once you’ve completed your tour through the displays of artwork, head outside to the viewing deck.  Here, you can use the binoculars to watch carvers work on the Mountain and see the 1/34th scale model.

Step inside to the original lobby, affectionately referred to as the “Back Porch,” and see the lighted exhibit showing the carving of the Mountain and the progression on the face of Crazy Horse in the 1990s.  In the winter, this room is fully decorated for the holidays and is a place you won’t want to miss seeing.

Whether you’re ready for a quick treat or a meal, don’t leave Crazy Horse Memorial without stopping into the Snack Shop or Laughing Water Restaurant.  Enjoy local favorites like Native American Tacos or Buffalo stew both served on homemade fry bread.

The Dream of creating a place to honor the Indians of North American began in 1948 and is being carried out working toward completion today.  You are a part of history in the making when you visit this beautiful place.  Treasure the memories and make it part of your Black Hills adventure.

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial.jpg

Mickelson Trail
The constant boom and bust of industry is nothing new to the Black Hills, but one in particular has been a backbone to our region: railroads.  When gold was discovered here in the 1870s, the railroad followed shortly after to transport mined materials.  Passenger and freight transport were close behind, and for a while there was almost always a train passing through the Black Hills.

Luckily, a local outdoor enthusiast group saw potential in our defunct railways and started a campaign to turn them into a trail system.  With the backing of then-governor George S. Mickelson, the project picked up steam in the late 80s.  When efforts stalled, the Rails to Trails Conservancy group stepped in.  Their help and legal support was the push we needed.  Soon after, the Black Hills became home to one of the premier rail-trails in the country.

Today, there are 15 trailheads throughout the Black Hills.  While mostly primitive, trailheads provide parking, picnic tables and vault toilets.  Biking is the most common activity, but runners, horseback riders and even bird watchers enjoy use of the area.

If you don’t want to do an out-and-back ride, there are businesses throughout the Southern Hills who are happy to help shuttle you and your bike to a trailhead.  They can also assist in rentals and have a range of gear on hand for purchase.


Custer State Park
Custer State Park is the oldest and largest state park in South Dakota.  We were once home to a zoo, but we’ve ditched the cages and we invite you to frolic in our spectacular open wilderness.

We are home to the second-largest buffalo herd in the country.  While we can’t guarantee you’ll see them – we have over 71,000 acres of land – your chances are better here than anywhere else.

The park is also home to elk, coyotes, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorns, prairie dogs and two species of deer.  We have a small pack of burros, too.  They’re descended from a herd that used to take visitors up Black Elk Peak, but now they mostly pose for photos and beg for snacks.

We have three stunning drives around the park, and we hope you’ll have time for all of them.

Wildlife Loop is where you’ll get to see the animals that call Custer State Park home.  Even on a day where the animals are scarce, enjoy a drive on the prairie’s edge through the rolling hills and creek valleys.

Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway are more about the scenery.  Iron Mountain Road was intentionally crafted to showcase all the best parts of the Black Hills to visitors.  They’ll take you an hour each, but they’re masterpieces of engineering that prove roads can be art.

There are many options for lodging in the park, including 9 campgrounds, 5 lodges and 6 well-appointed cabins and ranch houses.  Wherever you stay, you’ll have stunning views.

The Game Lodge is worth a stop even if you don’t stay, but if you do, you’ll be in good company: President Eisenhower stayed for a weekend, and President Coolidge stayed so long in 1927 it was known as the “Summer White House.”


The Mammoth Site
With a giant mammoth greeting you at the road, The Mammoth Site is an ancient treasure in the Black Hills you won’t want to miss while you are visiting the area.  This active dig site is a gem of the Black Hills and is something you won’t find elsewhere across the nation.

Researchers from all over the world visit this state-of-the-art research facility to learn more about Ice Age (11,000+ years old) fossils.  To date, at least 61 mammoths have been discovered and excavated here, along with the remains of two Giant short-faced bears, camelops, llama, and a vast amount of invertebrates.

When you visit, you’ll start in our Learning Center.  Opening its doors during the spring of 2015, the Center includes two 53-seat theaters where you will be able to view a short, 10-minute HD introductory video.  The film walks you through the history of each of the findings at the Site.

After seeing the film, walk around the in situ exhibits (fossils still in place from where they had been originally found) and watch the scientists and volunteers as they work on uncovering Ice Age fauna.  Tour the facility via accessible walkways that provide a close-up view of the fossils and the work being done at the Site.

Guests can tour at their own pace with a self-guided tour, courtesy of pamphlets provided by The Mammoth Site or by downloading the Self-Guided App.  Explore at your own pace as you make your way to the Ice Age Exhibit Hall featuring a working lab, full size replicas of mammoths, short videos, and site history.  Take a short journey down to the Laboratory where you can view work being done.

Looking for more fun?  Learn more about nature and geology in the Black Hills when you travel back in time while walking the Botany and Geology Walks.

Where you lay hour head at night is just as important as where you’re exploring next.  We have every style of accommodation you could want – because your lodging should be as exceptional as your Southern Hills adventure. For a list of lodging accommodations in the Custer area, please click here and then start planning your Southern Hills vacation today!

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