A little more of a hike, in Wyoming is Devil's Tower National Monument. This is a very cool landmark that you can start to see from miles away. The park has a few hiking trails, including one that circles the tower. Take the time to walk this trail and see the Tower from all sides. Definitely worth the time (about two hours) it takes to travel over there.
hutchsky points out that this is not a true Black Hills attraction, and he is correct. However, I included it here because we did take a side trip over to it while staying in Hill City and I suggest this as an option.
The 1880 Train operates between Hill City and Keystone. You can get tickets and board from either location. The trip between the two cities takes about an hour one way. The layover at Hill City for those arriving from Keystone is about an hour.
A narrator will explain the sites along the way. The sites include Harney Peak (the highest point in the Black Mountains), the Holy Terror Mine, and the Kennedy House (a building of local historical significance). Wildlife, like deer, can be seen from time to time. The train struggles up a 6 percent grade outside of Hill City en route to Keystone.
A fair portion of the journey is along a roadside. The county road was built along the railway as the path was already cut through the hills. Other portions of the trip take you well enough away from the road where you can image what the trip would have been like back in 1880.
1880 Train refers to the route more than the actual vehicles. The steam engine that pulled us along the way was from the early part of the 20th Century. The passenger cars are beautifully restored.
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
Badlands National Park
It's a bit of a hike from Hill City, but this is definitely worth the trip. You'll want to get out and see the barren landscape of this park. There are a few opportunities to spot some wildlife. There are also a couple of choice hikes you can take. A fairly quick trip to see most everything in the park will probably take you 4-5 hours. I don't think you will be sorry if you take the time to see it!
Wall Drug Store
This is a bit longer of a trip, but if you're going out to see the Badlands, take a stop at Wall Drug to see what all those signs are about. Basically, this is just a huge souvenier store, but if you're in the area, you really should stop and see it and snag your free ice water.
Between Spearfish and Deadwood on Route 14, you have the opportunity to pull off the road and see a couple of waterfalls. While there were many people moseying around Bridal Veil Falls, a few miles south you can see Roughlock Falls, which was flowing with a little more force. If you like waterfalls, be sure to stop off here to get a snapshot.
Custer State Park
By far, one of the most exciting parts of our trip was to Custer State Park. You get a great mix of natural formations and wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities. Be sure to keep your eyes on the road, because there will be points where traffic just stops because folks are taking picture of the bison, rams, donkeys, or other creatures in the park. Another great place to stop is Sylvan Lake. There are some hiking trails along this beautiful lake. You'll easily spend several hours here - don't miss the Wildlife Loop Road.
Wind Cave National Park
South of Custer State Park lies Wind Cave. Great on hot summer days to take a cave tour and get out of the sun. We took the Natural Entrance Cave Tour, and while somewhat informative, we found it to be less so than other tours we've taken. The formations in this cave aren't as exciting as others, the main point of attraction is "boxwork" formations. Plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities above ground, including prarie dogs, bison, and even a coyote.
Mt. Moriah Cemetery
If you're in Deadwood, you might as well make a quick stop at the Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where some of it's famous citizens ar buried. The first stop is Wild Bill himself. For a couple of bucks, you can get in and receive a map of the various points of interest. Watch out for tour buses! If they're in the cemetery, you may have too large of crowds to see what you want without jockeying for position!
I'm a sucker for gambling towns, so we definitely took the trip up to Deadwood. It has that old mountain town feel to it, and there are plenty of casinos and places to eat. We stopped at a buffet in the Four Aces casino, and while not up to Vegas quality, it was a fairly inexpensive lunch. We stopped at the #10 Saloon to watch a re-enactment of Will Bill's untimely demise. If you're up for some shopping or gambling, you'll find plenty to do here.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Down the road from Hill City, you can check out the other massive stone carving in the area, Crazy Horse. It's $10 or so per person to come in, and you get access to a short film, an Indian museum, and a chance to browse some exhibits on sculpting. You can pay extra for a trip to the base of the mountain, but we passed on that. I got the feeling of how abitious a project this was, but would like to see it after a little more work is done...
About 20 minutes out of the Hill City lies Keystone, home of Mount Rushmore. It's amazing to gaze upon these stone carvings and hear how they were created. There's a short walk along the base of the mountain as well as several other points of interest within the memorial. I recommend hitting this first thing in the morning, before the crowds hit - not only do you avoid the traffic, you can get a good parking spot and the lighting is best for pictures.
The Black Hills
There is no single 'Black Hills Park' where you can see a representative sample of this area, (and I wouldn't support the formation of another park either). However, much of the land in the Black Hills National Forest is crossed with hiking trails and beautiful drives. The classic look of the Black Hills is one of large granite outcroppings standing above a sea of evergreen trees. (See Black Hills, South Dakota for a photo that I took in this area.) The Black Hills also contain some aspen, and I remember seeing them changing colors on some of my hikes.
One of the best hikes in the Black Hills is to Harney Peak. Harney Peak can be reached from many trails in the area, but the shortest and most popular trip is from Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. The hike is mostly uphill on the trip to the peak and downhill on the trip back to the lake. This is only fitting because Harney Peak is the highest point in South Dakota. At the top is an old stone fire tower where rangers used to watch for fires in the surrounding hills. When I was there in '93, people could still walk the stairs to the tower and enjoy the view. Because the tower is made of stone, people who are afraid of heights can climb the tower without the frightening feel of walking the open stairways of most fire towers.
I haven't hiked enough different trails in the Black Hills to write any kind of guide. I always called a South Dakota tourism office prior to my trips and requested a trail guide. I then bought good hiking maps and read the descriptions while checking the map. There are some nice trails in the Sylvan Lake area, and I've done some of them. Otherwise, one can pick any trail from the guide and have a nice time walking in such beautiful surroundings.
Wind Cave National Park, Jewel...
Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument
In my younger days, I was heavily involved in the sport of caving, and I explored many caves back in the southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee area. When I came to South Dakota in '88, I was determined to see Jewel Cave and Wind Cave because they were such well known caves. I'm sad to say that I now no longer remember any distinguishing features of either cave.
My lack of memory is not to suggest that these are great caves or that the tours aren't worthwhile. I enjoyed each of them and am glad to have taken the tours. I didn't try to take the wild tours but only the standard park tour. I think either would be a neat part of the Black Hills experience. If one has time, I'd recommend both.
If it helps anyone to decide, Wind Cave NP is a much bigger place to visit. As a national park as opposed to a national monument, it covers more ground and has more features. I didn't stay there, but I think Wind Cave NP has a campground and some hiking trails. I remember seeing herds of bison near the visitor's center where one enters the cave. The current Rand McNally map doesn't show camping at Wind Cave NP, so I'd recommend calling ahead. The trails are probably still pretty neat.
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