Written by: Anna Sibal and Julian Fenn
06/12/2013 10:30 AM
If you haven't been to South Dakota, there are two big reasons why you should go; the Badlands and the Black Hills. These two places are unlike anywhere else in the world. Coming from the flat and seemingly endless prairies east of South Dakota, you will no doubt be taken by surprise when you see these dark and rugged landscapes suddenly rising before you. The Badlands are what you imagine the surface of Mars to be like with ridges, spires and canyons stretching as far as the eye can see. Black Hills so-called because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they are covered in trees, are home to the tallest peaks of continental North America east of the Rockies. Their majesty is almost unreal; it's no wonder that these places are sacred to the Native Americans who live here.
While the prospect of exploring the Black Hills and the Badlands should be enough to motivate you to take a road trip to South Dakota, there are other reasons that could entice you to go. This place is rich in Native American history and culture; it is where Lakota war chief Crazy Horse fought for the freedom of his people. It bore witness to a gold rush in 1876 that established the mining town of Deadwood and transformed the area into a frontier of the American Wild West. It is home to Mount Rushmore, one of the most important icons of American democracy andif that it is not enough, it holds one of the richest mammal fossil beds in the world.
There are so many things you can see and do while visiting the Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota. A road trip through here is one you should take at least once in your life.
When to Go
You can visit the Black Hills and the Badlands any time of the year. However, the best time is during May, June or September. The weather is much milder and more pleasant then. Plus, you won't have to deal with the summer heat and the summer crowds. Especially avoid August unless motorbikes are also your passion. It gets very crowded and noisy as thousands of motorbike enthusiasts descend on the Black Hills for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Besides, temperatures can rise up to 100°F in July/August. It can be very cold here in winter, on the other hand, although the climate is too dry for any thick snowfall.
How to Get There
For this road trip, we recommend starting at the town of Wall. You can reach Wall by driving along the Interstate 90 and taking the 109 and 110 exits. South Dakota doesn't have an extensive public transportation system, so you'll really have to do a lot of driving in your own vehicle. If you're going to fly, the nearest airport is in Rapid City, which is 50 miles away from Wall.
How Long Should the Trip Be?
Ideally, a week would not be enough to enjoy the Black Hills, the Badlands and all the attractions in this area of South Dakota in their entirety. But if you don't have a lot of time, you can check out the most important stop points in this place in four days. You can start your road trip at the town of Wall and end it at the city of Spearfish.
What to See and Do
The Black Hills and the Badlands present a lot of wonderful opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. You can go hiking and explore the backcountry, where you're sure to encounter wildlife. If traveling by foot doesn't appeal to you, you can conduct your exploration by bike or by horseback. There are also great trails for ATVs and motorbikes here. Visit here in winter and you can ride snowmobiles or go cross-country skiing. If you're interested in prehistory and geology, you can go on fossil hunts or study the unique rock formations. The night sky in this area is dark enough for stargazing. And, of course, the Black Hills and Badlands region is a photographer's dream.
There are many scenic byways in the area. The Black Hills Parkway, for instance, will take you to the heart of the Black Hills. The Badlands Loop Road will show you the most dramatic landscapes of The Badlands. If you're not scared of dark and dank places, take a guided tour at Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument. And then, there are places of cultural significance that you must see in this region. Among these are Mount Rushmore, the City of Deadwood, Black Hills Mining Museum and Crazy Horse Memorial. There are also quaint roadside stops that you shouldn't miss like Wall Drugstore.
Itinerary: Four-Day Visit - Wall to Spearfish - About 332.8 Miles
Day One - Wall to Rapid City - 120 miles
Start early as we have a full day planned for you.
Day Two - Rapid City to Custer State Park - About 60 miles
Day Three - Custer State Park to Custer - About 76 miles
Day Four - Custer to Spearfish - 90 miles
Tips for Road Trips among the Black Hills and Badlands
Here are a few tips to keep in mind to make your road trip among the Badlands and Black Hills safer and more enjoyable.
The Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota is a place of rugged beauty that you will not find anywhere else in the world. The sights here are majestic and, in some ways, surreal. The opportunity to behold this beauty with your own eyes and experience the rich history and heritage of the area is an opportunity that you should not miss.
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