South Dakota and the Black Hills have so many hidden gems that I did not realize prior to visiting there. South Dakota has 6 National Parks. Each of South Dakota’s National Parks are unique and have many qualities worth visiting.
We have visited South Dakota several times and I am always so impressed at the beauty and kindness here. Although there are many things to do across the State of South Dakota, this road trip focuses on the best national and state parks in the south west of South Dakota and, as a bonus, a park right across the border into Wyoming.
The Road Trip Itinerary
This itinerary can be taken in any direction and adapted to suit your needs. Feel free to adjust the trip based on the amount of time you have and activities you’re interested in.
Link to the Itinerary on Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/XftQH4stDsVgsDJW8
Day 1: Badlands National Park and Wall, South Dakota
Badlands National Park
The Badlands National Park was established in 1978. Badlands National Park is totally underrated. You will be driving on flat prairies for a while to get there and then all of sudden, the prairie turns into deep canyons of every shade of orange and red. It is absolutely beautiful. I think that Badlands is a great place for families or those needing accommodations because there are so many pretty views to see without needing to hike to get to them.
Another awesome thing about the Badlands is the wildlife. Since the Badlands are less visited than many other national parks, there is more wildlife in the park than you may see at other national parks. Here you can get close up views of prairie dogs, bison, and rams. There are certain parts of the park good for viewing each of the different animals which I describe in my Badlands National Park blog post.
I have an entire blog post on visiting Badlands National Park which you can read here:
Wall, South Dakota
Wall, South Dakota is an eccentric town that is close to Badlands National Park. The most popular thing to see in Wall is Wall Drug which has many different shops and things to see within. On your way to and from the Badlands, you will see many billboards advertising the famous Wall Drug Store. The town of Wall is definitely worth a stop on your South Dakota Road Trip.
I talk more about the town of Wall in my Badlands National Park Blog Post which you can check out for more details about Wall:
Day 2: Wind Cave National Park, Stay in the town of Custer or Camp at Wind Cave National Park
+ If you have extra days on your trip, you can spend part of a day at the nearby Jewel Cave National Monument
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park had more things to see than I expected. I usually don’t like visiting caves, but I really enjoyed Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is a unique cave that is unlike most other caves in the world. There are various cave tours that you can go on to see the cave. There are not currently any self guided tours of the cave. Some parts of the cave are narrow and small, so even if you take a tour, it doesn’t necessarily feel like you are in a large group. There are unique features of Wind Cave including box work rock structures and popcorn rocks.
Outside the cave, there is also a great deal of wildlife throughout Wind Cave National Park. There are bison throughout the park. I loved stopping at the roadside pull offs where you could see huge groups of prairie dogs, playing and running along.
If you have extra time near Wind Cave and you enjoy caves, Jewel Cave National Monument is also nearby which is the 3rd longest cave in the world.
Read more about visiting Wind Cave in my Wind Cave National Park Blog Post:
The Town of Custer
Custer is a cute little town that is a great central hub to visiting South Dakota. There are plenty of places to stay in and around Custer. It is especially close to Custer State Park. One of my favorite places we stopped (multiple times) in the town of Custer was The Miners Cup Coffee Co. They have delicious coffee and great breakfast food. Another place we loved was Baker’s Bakery and Cafe. They had a ton of delicious desserts.
Day 3: Custer State Park
+ if you have extra days on your trip, you can spend multiple days at Custer State Park
Custer State Park
Custer State Park is definitely the place that surprised us the most when visiting South Dakota. We absolutely loved Custer State Park. It is huge and gorgeous and we actually like it more than many national parks. There are many things to do in Custer State Park, whether you’re looking for hiking, kayaking, or wildlife viewing. My favorite thing we did in Custer State Park was hike to Black Elk Peak which is the tallest point in South Dakota. At the top there is a tower and 360 degree views of wilderness. If you’re able to hike it, I recommend hiking to Black Elk Peak.
If you rather see Custer State Park from your car, then there’s 2 great places for you. First, the Needles Highway. The Needles Highway is a cool drive with many overlooks, trailheads, and a tunnels through stone. Note that you can’t drive this road if you have a huge vehicle or you’re in an RV. Second, the Wildlife Loop Road is a good option for driving in the park. On this road you’ll have the opportunity to see lots of wildlife, especially bison and burros.
For more information on visiting Custer State Park, check out my Custer State Park blog post:
Day 4: Mount Rushmore National Monument, stay the night in Rapid City
+ if you have more time, you can stay near Mount Rushmore in the town of Keystone
Mount Rushmore National Monument
Mount Rushmore is an iconic monument of the United States, even landing a place on the 25 cent quarter. Mount Rushmore depicts the heads of 4 presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. It is located close to Keystone.
Of course the main attraction at Mount Rushmore National Monument is the 4 giant faces carved into the side of a mountain, but there are also other things to do there as well. One thing I like to do at Mount Rushmore is the trail that takes you up close and personal below Mount Rushmore and also down to the Artist Studio that has various exhibits about how Mount Rushmore was designed and created.
For more information on visiting Mount Rushmore, check out my blog post:
Day 5: Drive to Devil’s Tower Wyoming and visit Devil’s Tower
Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
While Devils Tower is actually located in Wyoming, it is close to the border of South Dakota and is worth adding to your South Dakota road trip. Plus driving to Devils Tower will allow you to drive through Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota. Devils Tower is a large butte that is about 1.5 hours from Rapid City, SD. It is called Devils Tower due to a legend of a local Native American tribe.
Devils Tower rises up tall from the middle of flat land. When you’re driving towards it, you can see it from miles away since the surrounding land is so flat. The butte is tall and so much bigger than you expect it to be as you get closer to it. If you visit on a crowded day like we did, you may be waiting for a while outside the monument area to be able to drive your car in. There’s not a ton of parking at the top, so keep in mind that you may have to wait for parking for a little bit. At the top there are some trails that take you around the base of the Devils Tower. One of my favorite things we did here was have a roadside picnic with our own private view of the Devils Tower.
Read more about how to visit Devils Tower National Monument in my blog post:
I hope this itinerary helps you in planning your trip to South Dakota!
If you have any questions or comments, let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for Reading!