Southern Black Hills Adventure Bucket List
Written by Dolsee Davenport
April 6, 2020

When you’re up for adventure, stay in Custer, South Dakota and be minutes, not miles, from the best climbs, trails, and family fun of the Black Hills. Located on the edge of Custer State Park, Custer and the surrounding area offers travelers unique lodging, dining, and shopping opportunities, as well as unlimited family fun.  This uncrowded mountain town is a natural playground for all adventure seekers. Plus, you’re just minutes from Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, and Jewel Cave National Monument.

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Witness untouched wilderness, a breathtaking 360-degree sunrise & local wildlife from a hot air balloon with Black Hills Balloons. Flights take place daily, weather permitting, May – October; sunrise one-hour flights include a traditional champagne toast & 1st flight certificate.  Reservations are required.

Enjoy a Helicopter Ride
Black Hills Aerial Adventures has been taking visitors for thrilling aerial tours since 1990. A wide variety of tour packages and price points are available featuring eye level views of Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monuments, the unique to this area Cathedral Spires, Needles Highway, Custer State Park, the Badlands National Park and so much more.  Age is no limit. Reservations are not required. 

Experience Rock Climbing in the Black Hills
Rock Climbers have been enjoying the crags in the Black Hills since the late 1930's. If you are here on vacation and want to experience your first technical rock climb or are looking to maximize your time on the rock instead of endlessly searching for routes, Sylvan Rocks Climbing Service & Guide Service will set you up with everything you need. 

Try Horseback Riding
Rugged terrain, maintained trails and miles and miles of open spaces make Custer and the Black Hills a great place to ride a horse.

Blue Bell Stables and Trail Rides offer guided horseback rides that depart from Blue Bell Lodge and are one of the most peaceful, scenic ways to experience the Custer State Park’s trails. All ages are welcome, with pony rides at the stables available for the youngsters. However, to go out on the trail, children must ride alone and meet minimum safety requirements. Open through the end of September.

Capture the spirit of the Old West with horseback adventures from Rockin’ R Trail Rides, located just one mile south of Crazy Horse Memorial. Specializing in small groups with friendly, knowledgeable guides and a variety of rides ranging from 1 hour, 1½ hour, 2 hours and half-day.

Rent a UTV
The forest surrounding the city of Custer has become a very popular destination for off-roading enthusiasts. Since it was founded in 2017, Adventure Rentals has fast become a must-see attraction when visiting the Black Hills or driving through the wilds of Western South Dakota. Explore like never before!

Rental guests are invited to take scenic trails through the beautiful Black Hills National Forest, go and visit abandon mines, get beautiful views from outlooks where you can literally see for miles of scenic lands of the Black Hills. And most importantly create memories for your family.

Spend Time on a Lake
Get out on the water and explore the solitude of a mountain lake. Clear waters, sandy beaches, and picturesque rock outcroppings—you could spend all day.

Watercraft rentals are available at both Sylvan Lake and Legion Lake.

The perfect way to relax and enjoy the outdoors is with a kayak from Adventure Rentals or High Mountain Outfitters. The South Dakota Outdoor Shop offers stand-up paddle board and kayak rentals for paddling around one of the many area lakes. (Stand-up paddle boards are great fun and an awesome way to spend a day on the water!)




Take a Hike
At 5,318 feet above sea level, Custer is a natural playground for anyone who loves to hike. You’ll find a variety of trails in the area that offer easy to strenuous climbs. Located just outside the Custer Chamber of Commerce building, you’ll find two trailheads—one that leads you to the top of the Custer sign and the other that takes you to the 109-mile Mickelson Trail.

Located inside Custer State Park, hikers will find some of the best trails in all the Black Hills. Wander along mountain lakes, through rolling prairies and up forested mountain peaks as you explore the natural beauty of western South Dakota. Trail maps can be obtained at the Peter Norbeck Visitors Center or by visiting the Custer State Park website.

There are two self-guided trails at Jewel Cave National Monument, and one U.S. Forest Service trail, which begins approximately 1 mile west of the Jewel Cave visitor center. Printed information on all three trails is available at the visitor center, and at the historic ranger cabin (in the summer). The trails are diverse: from a ¼ mile to over 5.5 miles, from level to steep and rugged, and everything in between. There is bound to be at least one trail just right for you.

Over 30 miles of hiking trails meander through mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forest within Wind Cave National Park. Check their website for a list of easy, moderate, and strenuous hikes.

Bike the Southern Hills
Old logging trails, backcountry roads and over 6,000 miles of Forest Service land (except in the Black Elk Wilderness) are open to cyclists. It doesn’t matter if you are out for a leisurely ride or looking for an extreme challenge, you will find it here!

One of the most popular biking trails is the 109-mile George S. Mickelson Trail. Mountain bikers on the Mickelson Trail will find themselves surrounded by raw, natural beauty as they cruise along gently rolling slopes and across old converted railroad bridges.

The 111-mile South Dakota Centennial Trail is another biking destination. This moderate trail, open to hikers, bikers and horseback riders, starts at Bear Butte State Park in the north and ends near Custer at Wind Cave National Park.

Try Your Hand at Fishing
Much like the landscape, the fishing in western South Dakota is a unique experience.   There are 14 mountain lakes and hundreds of streams brimming with brown, brook and rainbow trout. Most waters are regularly stocked, but quality habitat has also allowed wild trout to thrive.

Have Fun at an Adventure Park
You will find fun on all levels at Rush Mountain Adventure Park!  Explore Rushmore Cave on a scenic cave tour, cruise down the mountain on the Rushmore Mountain Coaster, soar through the air on the Soaring Eagle Zipline Ride, shoot 'em up at the Gunslinger 7-D Interactive Ride, and find your inner daredevil at the Wingwalker Challenge Course. It's a mountain of family fun!  Open May-October.  Located 5 miles east of Keystone on Highway 40.



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