Black Hills South Dakota and Custer State Park
Updated: May 6, 2022
Our brood liked the Black Hills area for the following Reasons
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse
Needles Highway and panoramic views
Custer South Dakota
Custer State Park bison
Custer State Park prairie dogs
The Black Hills of South Dakota are just South of I-90. In fact I-90 goes around the Black Hills to the North. With cities like Custer, Hill City, Keystone, Deadwood, etc. you know you are in the West and in for a great time. We spent a few days here on our way back from Yellowstone. It broke up our trip and gave us something to look forward to after Yellowstone.
There is a lot to see and do in the area and we just touched the major sights. Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills. The drive can include Needles Highway. If you are hauling a trailer or in an RV don’t take Needles Highway. You will get stuck at the tunnels and it will make for a long day. Mount Rushmore was built to bring tourism to South Dakota. That’s right, tourism. The sculptor Gutzon Borglum was identified by South Dakota for his previous work at Stone Mountain, Georgia. It is a great history lesson and we encourage you to google and learn more about the inception of Mount Rushmore and Gutzon Borglum and his son. The four figures at Mount Rushmore are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
The drive to Mount Rushmore is a lot of turns and switchbacks and elevation changes. So, we made sure to put sea bands on the kids so that they wouldn’t get car sick. There are a few views of the Presidents as you drive to the entrance. At the entrance, you pay for parking and park in the parking garage. That is your only fee into the National Memorial. It is surprisingly overwhelming. The parking garage is large. The walk from the garage to the gift shop is significant both in length and grandeur. The gift shop and accompanying buildings are busy and full of activity. After the gift shop there is a long walk through monuments with state flags on each one. It really sets the stage for viewing the Presidents. At the end of the flags there is a large viewing area for taking pictures and spending time marveling at the sculpture. Pictures really do show the magnificence and actual experience of Mount Rushmore. If you have time, walk the Presidential Trail. The trail is a little more than ½ mile and includes over 400 stairs. From the trail you get a strong perspective of the height of the rock face and the boulders that were blasted to make the sculpture. We spent about an hour visiting Mount Rushmore and will forever remember it as our trip to see the blockheads.
We drove by Crazy Horse a number of times but did not go in to see the sculpture up close. It is currently in process and progress is being made. However, like Mount Rushmore, there is a long story of the sculpture with conflict, delays, funding issues, and hope for what it will represent to future generations. It’s a great view from the road. If you view Crazy Horse up close we would like to hear your perspective.
The Needles Highway is a 14 mile road. This is an experience that must be taken at your pace. There are scenic views, beautiful pines, black hills views, rock tunnels and everything that makes a Sunday drive memorable. We drove the highway with a manual transmission car and it was a blast for me. My kids and wife had to keep me reserved so that I didn’t make them sick. Again we had the kids wear sea bands and we highly recommend them. 25 mph and slower is the best way to travel the highway and it took us about an hour. We stopped a few times to take pictures and revel in the landscape. The tunnels are one car width and of limited height. So, as you come upon a tunnel, drive slow and make sure you understand oncoming traffic and enjoy the ride.
Custer State Park for us was a quick drive through the Park. We didn’t have time to go hiking, boating, paddling, horseback riding, or cycling. The wildlife loop drive is worth the admission. It is a slow drive that takes you through the park to see the rolling plains. We first encountered prairie dog communities. We stopped and watched them communicate and work for about 10 minutes. Next up we enjoyed watching bison cross the road in front of us. Other animals you might see are elk, pronghorn, deer, mountain lion, and turkey. Finally, we were stopped at a traffic jam made by the resident burros. The begging burros have been in the park for generations. They are fun to socialize with and will stop you on the road hoping for carrots, apples, and other food that keep them coming back for more. They are friendly and it is acceptable to feed them and socialize with them.
Custer, South Dakota is a nice small city in the Black Hills. We stopped for lunch and to explore a little. We were enamored with the bison sculptures on the main street, mount rushmore road or highway 16a. The bison are painted in all different ways. One is a skeleton, one has goats on it, and there is even one that is just painted like a bison. The people are nice, the streets are clean, and the history is all around. We enjoyed our time in Custer viewing the architecture and lunch was good, too.
To say we enjoyed our stay in the Black Hills is an understatement. We have more to do here and in the Badlands and would love to make a return trip to South Dakota some day. We missed a lot of cities and didn’t do any hiking. We didn’t go in to see Crazy Horse. We would love to go horseback riding. However, with what we accomplished above we will have many memories and photos to enjoy. We recommend a short stay in South Dakota or longer as there is plenty to see and do. Thank you for your time at CampBrood reading our story of the Black Hills and Custer State Park. Let us know your memories and feel free to leave a comment or ask questions.