Touring the South Dakota Black Hills in a Day

Updated on May 30, 2020
Chad Claeyssen profile image

Chad and his daughter drove through the Black Hills of South Dakota in a day. Here are his tips for making the most of the drive.

A Bison at Wind Cave National Park
A Bison at Wind Cave National Park

It's possible to hit all the main attractions of the South Dakota Black Hills in a day; my daughter and I did it a couple of years ago. I had never seen Mount Rushmore, and my daughter hadn't since she was very young. We both had a free long weekend, so we decided to make the six-hour drive from Loveland, Colorado, to the South Dakota Black Hills.

Friday we drove to Hot Springs, South Dakota, and stayed in a hotel there. Saturday we woke up, got breakfast, then headed to our first destination; Wind Cave National Park.

A pronghorn at Wind Cave NP in South Dakota
A pronghorn at Wind Cave NP in South Dakota

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave is a small National Park. It only takes about 20 minutes or so to drive through. The main attractions of the park are the small herd of bison and the actual cave. There are ranger-guided cave tours and programs throughout the year. There are also 30 miles of hiking trails.

Since we were on limited time, we just drove through, snapping some photos along the way. We were lucky enough to see a few bison and a pronghorn in the park.

Heading north from Wind Cave National Park, the next point of interest was Custer State Park.

Burros along the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park
Burros along the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park

Custer State Park

This state park is actually bigger than the neighboring National Park. Custer State Park encompasses over 70,000 acres of the South Dakota Black Hills. Its claim to fame is its herd of 1,300+ bison. We saw one of them. Some other activities in the park include hiking, camping, boating, horseback riding, and fishing.

We decided to take a scenic drive on the Wildlife Loop Road. It's an 18-mile road that circles around the park through forests and open prairie. The park information says there's a chance to see pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, deer, elk, and burros along the road. We did see a bison as soon as we got on the road, but we never spotted another after that. Later we saw some pronghorns at a distance as well as a few burros.

There are miles of trails in Custer State Park, but the only hiking we did was checking out Heddy Draw Overlook, just off of the Wildlife Loop Road. If you call walking a hundred yards down a trail hiking.

Next, we headed to the small tourist town of Custer.

Heddy Draw Overlook in Custer State Park
Heddy Draw Overlook in Custer State Park

Custer, South Dakota

Custer is a small touristy town nestled in the middle of the South Dakota Black Hills. Its close proximity to all the surrounding attractions makes it a popular place to stay for a Black Hills vacation. There are lots of hotels, motels, restaurants, and souvenir shops.

After a quick stop in Custer, we made our way north to the Crazy Horse Monument.

Crazy Horse Monument

This partially finished mountain carving depicts Crazy Horse, a Lakota leader, on his horse. The carving is much bigger than Mount Rushmore. The head of Crazy Horse alone, at 87 feet tall, is one and a half times bigger than the heads on Mt. Rushmore.

The carving was started in 1948 by a New England sculptor who was working on Mount Rushmore. Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota chief, invited him to make a memorial honoring Indians. More information can be found at the Crazy Horse Memorial website.

Mount Rushmore

The main attraction of the South Dakota Black Hills is the iconic Mount Rushmore. Every American learns about this granite mountain carving in elementary school. It depicts the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Approaching Mount Rushmore from the south, visitors are treated to views of Mt. Rushmore from overlooks and framed by mountain tunnels. We waited in a crowd at one tunnel to get a shot of Mount Rushmore for almost 20 minutes. It's a popular shot and mine didn't come out very well.

Mount Rushmore through a tunnel
Mount Rushmore through a tunnel

Once you arrive, the monument is only a short walk from the parking garage. The path to Mount Rushmore is lined with the U.S. state flags. There are restrooms, a souvenir store, and an ice cream shop on the grounds.

Mount Rushmore in the South Dakota Black Hills
Mount Rushmore in the South Dakota Black Hills


After leaving Mount Rushmore, we even had time to check out Bear County USA on the way to our next hotel in Rapid City. So it's definitely possible to hit all the main attractions of the Black Hills in one day. We did a little walking around and souvenir shopping, but if you're planning on doing any serious hiking or shopping, some extra time would be advised.

Have you ever visited the Black Hills of South Dakota? How long did you stay?

Black Hills, South Dakota:
Black Hills, United States

get directions

© 2020 Chad Claeyssen


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 weeks ago from UK

      This sounds like a great trip. Was Mount Rushmore as impressive close up as it looks in photos? I thought your tunnel one was good.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)