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Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota

Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota: A Monumental Holiday

By Victoria Shepherd

A region that’s well known for its spectacular terrain and abundance of wildlife, South Dakota is full of rugged landscapes, Old West history and Native American culture. On a recent visit to the picturesque state, I stayed in the historic towns of Deadwood and Rapid City, which are ideal for visiting the numerous outdoor attractions of the Black Hills and Badlands region.

Magnificent Mount Rushmore

I very much looked forward to my first destination: To actually see Mount Rushmore National Memorial in person was unforgettable. The iconic faces of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln looked down from the mountainside, surveying the surrounding Black Hills. Gutzon Borglum, his son, Lincoln, and 400 workers carved these 60-foot-tall sculptures over a period of 14 years, and the sculptures are visited by millions of people each year.

I took a stroll through the impressive Avenue of the Flags, representing the 50 states, District of Columbia, three territories and two commonwealths of the United States. Afterward, I took the easy walk along the Presidential Trail to get a little closer to the famous hillside residents.

Colossal Crazy Horse Memorial

About 15 miles from Mount Rushmore stands what will be the largest mountain carving in the world when it is finished. The Crazy Horse Memorial will be 641 feet long and 563 feet tall.

Crazy Horse, a legendary Lakota warrior and honourable leader, is known worldwide for fighting alongside Sitting Bull during the Battle of Little Bighorn, or Custer’s Last Stand. Boston-born sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, began the carving of the humble warrior in 1948, and in 1998, the head was completed. Now, the hand, arm and horse are being carved.

After watching, and participating in, one of the regularly performed Native American tribal dances, I was fortunate enough to be taken up the mountain to witness the carving at close quarters. Both the views of the surrounding countryside and the head of the warrior were breath taking.

After taking a tour of the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center, I made a small donation and was able to take a piece of the rock that had been blown off Thunderhead Mountain home with me.

Bison in Custer State Park

Next, I “beefed” up my itinerary by taking a Buffalo Safari Jeep Ride from Custer State Game Lodge through Custer State Park, a huge wildlife preserve. Hundreds of American bison surrounded us. It was breeding season, so there were plenty of males being a little vocal and showing what they were made of.

Afterward, I drove the Needles Highway through the park, 14 miles of hairpin curves with towering granite spires. Driving through The Needle’s Eye, a very narrow tunnel carved into the rock, was a little nerve-racking, but well worth the effort.

Badlands National Park

Another thing to include in your itinerary is to spend the night at historic Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands National Park. The night skies here are spectacular, and even during the day – with its varied and striking landscape that changes colour depending upon the time and weather – you’re guaranteed a surreal and magical experience. To explore the park, drive the Badlands Highway 240 Loop Road, or hike one of the many trails available.

When you’re ready to plan your stay, both Deadwood and Rapid City offer excellent lodging options and are ideally located to see all of the fabulous attractions, making it even easier to have a good time. If you’re like me and are always looking for a wide variety of things to do and see, bring your family to the “Real America” and run wild in the Black Hills and Badlands region of South Dakota. 

For more information, please visit us:

Black Hills and Badlands Official Travel Information

When you go

Things to do

Badlands National Park
Crazy Horse Memorial
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Custer State Park
Custer State Park Resort Buffalo Safari Jeep Rides

Places to stay

Cedar Pass Lodge, Badlands National Park
Custer State Game Lodge, Custer State Park

For more information

Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association

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