Explore South Dakota’s Black Hills region, a natural wonder in its own right. Located about six hours from Yellowstone, the Black Hills are home to seven national sites—Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Missouri National Recreational River, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park.
In this natural playground, you can enjoy an abundance of recreational opportunities, gorgeous scenic drives—which include the beautiful Spearfish Canyon—and wildlife-watching. This region is also packed with cultural and historical sites. Here are some traveler favorites.
National Parks in South Dakota
Badlands National Park
Good Things in the Badlands: See bison and bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park.
While you won’t see saber-toothed cats or rhinoceroses roaming the Badlands like they once did, you may see their remains in this stunning national park with some of the world’s richest fossil deposits.
Located in Imlay Township in South Dakota, Badlands National Park has a Fossil Preparation Lab where you can watch paleontologists at work, literally uncovering the ancient history of the area. At the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, kids can use a touchscreen to assemble a virtual skeleton and touch fossilized animal replicas. You also can watch the film Land of Stone and Light in the center’s 95-seat air-conditioned theater.
Then head out to see the wildlife that roams the park today. Spot bison, bighorn sheep, black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs as you drive the Badlands Hwy. 240 Loop Road or explore the park by foot on one of its many hiking trails.
Favorite Hike: Castle-Medicine Root Loop
This 4.2-mile trip loops through prime bison habitat and million-year-old glacial formations.
Learn more about Badlands National Park at nps.gov/badl.
Wind Cave National Park
Journey deep into the Earth on a tour of one of the world’s most complex cave systems. The caverns here feature an impressive collection of boxwork—a honeycomb-like pattern composed of thin calcite fins and other geologic formations. Above ground, this park also boasts prairie and ponderosa pine forest ecosystems perfect for hiking, camping, and wildlife-watching.
Favorite Hike: Wind Cave Canyon Trail
This 1.8-miler cruises through a classic limestone canyon where birdwatching is excellent. Watch out for great horned owls and cliff swallows.
Wind Cave by the Numbers
miles of cave passageway, making it the sixth longest on earth.
new miles of cave discovered every year.
U.S. national park, designated by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.
maximum depth of the cave from its entrance.
stairs you'll climb or descend on the cave's natureal entrance tour.
maximum recorded wind speed at the cave's entrances.
Other Attractions in South Dakota
Jewel Cave National Monument
At nearly 153 miles long, Jewel Cave is the second longest in the world. Visitors who venture into the cave can gaze at calcite crystals, stalactites and stalagmites, and various other formations (such as ribbonlike “cave bacon”).
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
This epic trail courses through 11 states as it follows the route that famous explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took from 1804 to 1806. In South Dakota, the trail follows a tranquil portion of the Missouri River, along which the expedition met with members of the Yankton Sioux tribe.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
During the Cold War, the Minuteman I and II intercontinental ballistic missiles represented the threat of nuclear war. This park preserves two 1960s missile sites to educate the public about the arms race, missile technology, and how such weapons affected America’s politics and strategy.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Here’s a pop quiz. Name the U.S. presidents who are carved into the granite hillside of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
If the names didn’t come to you in five seconds, step on the gas and head to the memorial. Constructed from 1927-41, the memorial features the faces of four U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Why did sculptor Gutzon Borglum choose these men? He felt they presided over the country during its most important moments.
Learn more at nps.gov/moru.
Custer State Park
Get an up-close look at 1,300 wild bison, hike dramatic granite spires, catch a trout, and stargaze at this standout state park in the Black Hills near Mount Rushmore.
Favorite Hike: Black Elk Peak (formerly known as Harney Peak)
Take the Harney Sylvan Lake Trail to South Dakota’s 7,242-foot high point, then return via the Cathedral Spires and Norbeck trails for a 6.8-mile loop.
Bear Butte State Park
The igneous-rock mountain that gives this park its name (called Bear Mountain in Lakota) is sacred to several Native American tribes. Visitors can fish, camp, hike, and learn about the Northern Plains tribes.