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gs logo Rafter J Bar Ranch Camping Resort
Hill City, South Dakota

South Dakota: Take a new look at the Old West

Explore the rugged land that lured Native Americans and Western pioneers alike. From the Badlands to the bad guys of the Old West, South Dakota never fails to inspire.

Drive 187.3 miles, 2 hours, 55 minutes

1. Interior

Starting Point

The Lakota called this area “mako sica” (land that makes you sick), but this tiny town is the gateway to Badlands National Park, perhaps North America’s most surreal public land. The rugged vistas of this region are stunning, with eroded buttes, spires and pinnacles that give the landscape an otherworldly feel. Badlands National Park has the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the U.S. and is home to an abundance of wildlife, including jackrabbits, ferrets, bison and bighorn sheep. It also contains one of the richest fossil beds of ancient mammals in the world.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

2. Rapid City

75.5 miles, 1 hour, 11 minutes

Here is an adventure set in stone and Rapid City provides the ultimate launching point for the Mount Rushmore National Memorial experience. This awe-inspiring granite mountaintop features 60-foot sculptures of four American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Glean fascinating facts about this year-round destination at the Lincoln Borglum Museum, devoted to the stories behind the creation of this larger-than-life monument. Take a breezy stroll along the Avenue of Flags, where 50 states and six territories are represented; plan to be on hand at the end of the day for the breathtaking lighting ceremony of the mountain.


Rafter J Bar Ranch Camping Resort
Hill City, SD
(605) 574-2527
Rapid City RV Park and Campground
Rapid City, SD
(605) 342-2751
Rushmore Shadows Resort
Rapid City, SD
(800) 231-0425

3. Custer

40.7 miles, 50 minutes

Custer offers more than rugged views and crisp mountain air: It’s home to Custer State Park, where the rumble of more than 1,300 bison can be heard as they pound their way down into the valley for the annual Buffalo Roundup. Take it slow and cruise the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway for dramatic views of the Black Hills, or get up close and personal on Wildlife Loop Road. Visit the awe-inspiring Crazy Horse Memorial, over 60-plus years in the making. The sculpture-in-progress of the Lakota warrior depicts him sitting astride his horse with an outstretched hand.

4. Deadwood

55.9 miles, 1 hour, 13 minutes

Deadwood is a rough-and-tumble Old West town where anything can happen. Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, Poker Alice and Wild Bill Hickok strolled these streets in the late 1800s in search of adventure; follow in their footsteps as gunslingers re-enact shootouts on Main Street. Witness the trial of Jack McCall, the poker player charged with the murder of Wild Bill Hickok. Tour the 100-year-old Broken Boot Gold Mine, then explore the Historic Fairmont Hotel, where ghosts are said to roam. Pay your respects at Mount Moriah Cemetery, better known as Boot Hill, where Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and Potato Creek Johnny were all laid to rest—with their boots on.

Getty Images/Comstock Images

Getty Images/Comstock Images

5. Spearfish

15.2 miles, 21 minutes

Spearfish offers a variety of adventures for outdoor enthusiasts; fly fishing is “reel-in” in these parts, home to one of the best populations of wild rainbow trout in the Black Hills (averages size is 29 feet) while fishermen can also net walleye, trout and largemouth bass in local streams and lakes. Spearfish Canyon is a hiker’s paradise with several trails offering rustic canyon views or massive limestone cliffs. In the winter, don’t miss Community Caves with their frozen waterfalls; Iron Creek is lined with summer wildflowers; the day is darker at 11th Hour Gulch, which gets only one hour of sunlight every 24 hours, and Devils Bathtub is the local’s favorite canyon hike.