From Rapid City to Badlands: 5-Day South Dakota Road Trip

Advisor - Magali Preston
Curated By

Magali Preston

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  • USA

  • South Dakota

  • Wyoming

  • Active Travel

  • Domestic Travel

  • Nature Escapes

  • Road Trip Travel

  • Outdoors

  • Hiking

  • Sightseeing

large canyon during sunset
Curator’s statement

What is there not to like about being out on the open road? Make a few presidential friends along the way and come face-to-face with one of America's most majestic mammals. Drive along pines and spruce forests on Needles Highway and through the 8'4" wide Needles Eye Tunnel. Hike up to Black Elk Peak at 7,242 feet, making it the highest elevation between the Rocky Mountains and the Pyrenees Mountains. Stop at Crazy Horse, and take the tour. Either halfway up or all the way up for a small donation. Spend a day at Badlands National Park, where you will feel as if you have traveled to another planet. Take a drive through Wind Cave National Park and make sure to keep an eye out for the coveted Burros of the land. The two-hour drive into Wyoming to Devil's Tower is a must and taking a chance at the poker tables in Deadwood, why not? Discover all of the must-see sights and outdoor activities with this road trip guide to South Dakota.

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Where to stay

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K Bar S Lodge, Ascend Hotel Collection

Set in South Dakota's Black Hills, this hotel has causal rooms and an outdoor terrace.

Black Hills Luxury Suites

Comfortable stay located in Black Hills National Forest.

The Bank Hotel Deadwood

Luxury boutique hotel located in downtown historic Deadwood, South Dakota.

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Day 1: Arrive in Rapid City

buildings in snow during nighttime

Arrive at Rapid City Regional Airport. Rental car pickup is located conveniently in the airport and just a few steps from luggage pickup. Venture into Rapid City and drive down Main Street. Keep an eye out for presidential statues located on every street corner. While in Rapid City, grab a bite to eat, visit The Chapel of the Hills, look out for the big American Flag and take a quick stroll down Art Alley. Drive 30 minutes to your hotel destination, either in Keystone or Hill City. Both are small, quaint and picturesque towns. Time permitting visit Crazy Horse.

Day 2: Explore some of America's most famous sites (plus an optional hike)

sculptures of faces on the side of the mountain

Today visit, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse (if yesterday was not possible), and drive to Custer State Park on Needles Highway. Make sure you STOP after going through the tunnel and take a picture of the needle eye rock formation, usually overlooked by most visitors. Have a picnic lunch at Sylvan Lake, and afterwards hike around the lake, or through the boulders, for some amazing views. Drive out Custer Park through Wildlife Loop Road and head over to Wind Cave National Park. Here you will see all kinds of wildlife, come face to face with Buffalo, encounter thousands of praise dogs, and if you are lucky, you will have an encounter up with the wild burros. Make sure you take a tour of the cave, you won't be disapointed.

Day 3: Get moving and take in the views

rock formations next to trees during daytime

Today hike up the famous Black Elk Peak at 7,242 feet. It's a 6.4 mile up and down the trail which is found in Custer, SD. It is considered a moderately challenging route. It can take an average of 3.5 hours to complete, however, I recommend you take your time and soak it all in. After your hike stop at The Custer Wolf for lunch, the Fish 'n' Chips and BCJ Burger are amazing but make sure you leave room for their famous bread pudding, it's finger liking good!

Drive to Jewel Cave National Monument which claims to be one of the longest caves in the world. Explore the underground magic of cave formations and wilderness.

Head back to your hotel and rest up, tomorrow is another eventful day.

Day 4: Visit Wyoming, take a dip in the waterfalls and party the night away

large stone structure during daytime

Check out of the hotel and drive up to Wyoming, to Devils Tower National Monument, America's first national monument. Spend as much or as little of time here. Rock climbing is a common recreation activity if you're up for a climb, enjoy! You can also hike around the tower or sit and enjoy the magnificent view.

In the afternoon, visit Spearfish City and its waterfalls another hiking opportunity here.

Drive to the town of Deadwood, where you will be spending the night. Enjoy the casinos and nightlife, and don't forget to visit the cemetery.

Day 5: Drive to Badlands (it's out of this world)

vast canyon during nighttime

Check out of the hotel and drive over to and through Badlands National Park. There are quite a few trails, some short, some long, some easy and some more adventurous. My favorite is Notch Trail, known for its log ladder and fantastic views. Stop at the many panoramic overlooks and soak it all in.

Visit the town of Wall, and its 76,000 sq ft mall, Wall Drug Store. Buy those souvenirs and have a Buffalo Burger and onion rings, followed by a $.5 coffee and one of their famous donuts.

Drive back to Rapid City, where you will spend the night for an early departure in the morning.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out my guide to Cozumel: Things to Do While on a Cruise to Cozumel, Mexico.

Advisor - Magali Preston

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Magali Preston

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