black hills, south dakota travel guide

Black Hills, SD Travel Guide | Are you looking to spend time in Custer, Keystone, or Mount Rushmore this summer? This travel guide has 5 (+ a bonus!) MUST SEE things to do when in Badlands country! Click through to read about camping, restaurants, and activities in the Black Hills!

if there’s one sentence in the world i never thought i would say, it would be “wow, south dakota is so pretty!” you have to agree with me- it sounds kind of silly. but honestly! one visit to the black hills and i was suddenly in love with the entire state of south dakota (okay, that’s an exaggeration… but i will never underestimate south dakota again!).

i’m a firm believer of adventuring any chance you get, so when my roommate and i saw we had a four day weekend over Easter, we immediately planned a roadtrip. she had family that lived in custer, sd, and since i’m also a firm believer in adventuring without spending a lot of money, we called up her grandma and asked if we could stay at her house.

since custer is only a few minutes from mount rushmore, the businesses rely heavily on tourist traffic during the summer. it was so much fun to stay in this little tourist town in the off season, but i must admit i was disappointed when the 3 for $10 souvenir t-shirt shops were closed. nevertheless, my roommate and i made sure to hit up all the popular spots.

sylvan lake

this lake is definitely the most iconic part of custer state park. and for good reason! the scenery is beautiful any direction you look and there are tons of trails around the lake to explore. since the trails around the lake aren’t really marked, we’re not quite sure how, but we found the prettiest hike on the west side of the lake.

after hiking around the back of the huge rocks for a few hours, we sat by the lake watching the sunset and just enjoyed the serenity of it all. also, i’d be lying if i said i didn’t climb around the huge rocks with all the 10 year olds. i could honestly spend an entire day at this lake alone and be perfectly content.

harney peak

i am going to be straight up and let you guys know that this hike is not for the faint of heart. in fact, i almost died like, 3 times and i don’t think there was a minute that i wasn’t out of breath. but dammit look at these views!

totally worth the 17,000 steps and 52 flights of stairs.

this hike can take anywhere from 2 hours to 6 hours depending on how fast you climb and how long you take at the top. you also have the option of camping at the top, if you plan to stay the night and catch the sunrise/set (which is definitely on my to-do list for next time i visit). the trail gets a little rocky at some points, but this is a hike that anyone can do with the right determination! on my way down, i even saw some supermoms hiking with a baby on each hip and i smiled and waved as i passed, trying to act like i definitely wasn’t still wheezing from the climb up.

i recommend to start your hike early in the morning. that way the trail is less crowded, it won’t be (super) hot on your way up, and you can take a lunch break at the top and enjoy the views! and don’t forget the sunscreen!

wildlife loop

this 18-mile road loops through custer state park’s 71,000 acres of land and gives visitors up-close-and-personal access to the 1,300 bison that claim the park as their home. yeah, you read that right. 1,300 bison. and that’s not all folks. the park also houses prairie dogs, antelope, mountain goats, turkeys, donkeys, deer, and elk, all of which are visible from the wildlife loop road. if you want to see any wildlife during your time here, this is definitely the place to be!

we went off the main road a bit to see most of the wildlife that we did, but it was so worth it. the back roads are not well marked, so it is pretty easy to get turned around, but as long as you have a map of the park handy you should be able to find your way back to the main road pretty easily!

its pretty common for the bison to wander over/on the roads, so make sure you’re careful while driving! and of course, be respectful of the wildlife. bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds- you definitely do not want that amount of force charging into you or your car!

keystone and mount rushmore

of course, this travel guide wouldn’t be complete without mention of mount rushmore! we spent the afternoon in keystone, sd, which is another tourist town kind of similar to custer but way more touristy, before stopping on the side of the road to take pictures with mount rushmore lol. who needs to pay for parking? i told you guys i’m all about saving money!

keystone has a ton of places to eat and shop, so if you’re into souvenirs (and let’s be honest- who isn’t??) you need to make a trip.


honestly, my favorite part of traveling is the food. but can you blame me? since my roommate and i were there in the off season, a lot of the restaurants weren’t yet open, but we did make sure to hit up a couple of winners.

  • Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. – this place was SO. GOOD. i don’t eat meat, so i was worried there wouldn’t be many options besides fries, but there was actually two (two!!) veggie burgers. i got the lousy hunter burger, which i ate in approximately .2 seconds, and the fries which were to die for. i also had the hummus platter which was equally as delicious. highly recommend this place if you’re in the area.
  • Our Place – this cute little diner was a great breakfast spot. i was boring and just ordered toast and hashbrowns, but they were great and super reasonably priced. you know when you get hashbrowns at places and they’re just soggy and meh? not here! these babies were crispy as can be. delicious.

if you just can’t get enough of me and want to check out the video version of our black hills trip, you can watch that right here!

bet you didn’t think south dakota could be a place worth exploring! are you planning a trip to the black hills? have you ever been? what was your favorite part? lemme know in the comments below!


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