The Black Hills is a beautiful area to visit and vacation. We visited the Black Hills in South Dakota. This location was our last stop for National Parks on our 2019 National Parks Trip. There is so much to do and see in this area. Two National Parks, two National monuments, one of the best state parks in the country, and more! I had no idea there was so much concentrated in this region. We stayed in Rapid City. It was a good central location to all the attractions. If we could have, we would have stayed at Custer State Park. It is one of the best, if not the very best, state parks in the country. Not just my opinion, but the opinion of many including this website that ranked the top 25 state parks in the US and they ranked Custer #2 overall: https://www.wideopenspaces.com/25-absolute-best-state-parks-u-s/
Custer State Park
“The granite peaks and rolling plains are calling. The clear mountain waters are inviting and the open ranges are waiting to be discovered. Bring your family to Custer State Park and let yourself run wild.
Encompassing 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is home to abundant wildlife and adventure; camping, hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, or relaxing, there’s something here for everyone.”
We saw bison, antelope, and wild donkeys at Custer State Park. There is a wildlife loop through the park that you can drive when you are there to visit the Black Hills. It is a beautiful drive and you are sure to see amazing wildlife. Don’t miss this awe inspiring location. It is incredible to me that this location does not have National Park Status. It surpasses at least five National Parks we have visited. The landscape is incredible, wildlife, plentiful, and rock formations rival many national parks. Drive the Needles Highway and you will see what I am taking about. We visited this park at the end of our day, after visiting Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. I wish we had set more time aside for this State Park, because it is amazing beyond words! Three hours at the park was not enough!
I looked at booking us at Sylvan Lake Campground inside Custer State Park for next July, but they were already fully booked a year in advance. So bummed! I can see why people book a full year in advance. It is an one of the best camping locations in the country!
Wind Cave National Park
The cave elevators were not working when we visited. Which meant no cave tours. They have been in repair the past few months. This was okay though. We drove the above ground part of the park one morning and we saw some of the biggest herds of Bison we have ever seen! I can’t comment on the cave, because we didn’t see it, but the above ground park was incredible and worth the visit! We had no idea they had such an abundance of bison, elk, and prairie dogs here. All of which we were able to see in one morning as we drove the dirt roads in the upper portion of the park. We stopped by the visitor’s center and they were able to tell us that roads #5 and #6 inside Wind Cave National Park were the best for wildlife viewing. The drive did not disappoint! Below are the photos of the herds of bison we saw. This National Park boarders Custer State Park. You can enter Custer from the northern border of Wind Cave.
Jewel Cave National Monument
This National Monument is a cave system that ranks the third longest cave in the entire world! Impressive! It has over 200 miles of mapped cave passages, according to the National Parks Service. No cave will ever surpass Carlsbad Caverns in my opinion, but this one is a pretty amazing cave system and tour if you are in the area. I wouldn’t want to miss it if I was in the Black Hills. We booked the scenic tour, which took about 1 hour and 20 minutes. They said it was for children over the age of 6. However, if you think your kids are capable of walking over 700 stairs, you can book this tour. I am glad we did. Our kids have plenty of energy and did better than some of the adults on our tour. We also had a three-year-old in our tour group. He did not do so well and I probably would not advice a three-year-old to be on this tour. Especially since all children must do the stairs and hold the railings themselves.
This cave is a great place to tour while visiting the Black Hills. Make sure you have clothing that is warm, since the cave is cold year round. I recommend pants, long sleeve shirt, and a light jacket. You must also wear closed toe shoes. The cave remains at a constant 49 degrees year round.
To purchase tickets, you can get them at the cave the day of your tour. However, you should arrive before mid-morning, because we were told most tours book completely by late morning. We arrived at 9am sharp and only afternoon tours were available. You can book tours up to 90 days in advance (depending on the tour) at: http://www.npsreservations.com/jewel-cave/
Go. See it. You can’t miss Mount Rushmore if you are in the area.
Badlands National Park
Incredible landscape! The Badlands will astound and amaze you! There is also wildlife to be found in this National Park. We saw antelope while we were there. You can also hike these buttes and canyons. It is a great adventure. Our kids especially loved hiking up the buttes.
The landscape in the Badlands is bizarre, eerie, beautiful, and awe inspiring. There is a scenic drive that you can take. It has many place to stop, take photos, and enjoy the scenery. The scenic road is Badlands Loop Road, 51 miles of badlands and buttes that will certainly amaze and impress. There are many National Park books and websites that recommend two days or more at this National Park. I recommend one day. We spent about 6-7 hours at the park and in my opinion that was good. It is hot there in the summer. We hiked, attended a ranger talk, spent time at the Visitor’s Center, and drove the 51 mile loop. All of that was done in 7 hour or less. We stopped many times for photos and enjoyed the scenery. Below you can see our photos of the Badlands.
The Black Hills is a great place to vacation during the summer. I highly recommend it! It is a destination that is full of activities, historical locations, and National Parks and Monuments. I was shocked to find that there was so much to see and do in one area. We hope to plan a visit there again in the future!