14 Things to Do in the Black Hills National Forest

Herd of Bison in the Black Hills of South Dakota

My husband and I have traveled plenty of places together, but we still keep wanting to go back to the Black Hills to recreate our absolute favorite camping trip!

If you or your family are planning a vacation to Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota, you won’t be without entertainment and excitement!

There are plenty of “tourist” destinations, but also, some great things to do off the beaten path. Most things are very affordable and there are even plenty of activities you can do for free. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite destinations and things to do to help you plan your visit!

14 Top Things To Do in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Make sure to check out our post on Camping in the Black Hills.

Where the Heck is Wall Drug – Wall, SD

Wall Drug Storefront
Wall Drug Storefront

Cost: Free

I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper stickers and, if you’ve driven through South Dakota, you’ve seen the billboards. This isn’t in the Black Hills, but I had to include it as it’s definitely an attraction you have to see to say you’ve visited South Dakota!

I’ll admit, Wall Drug is definitely one of those kitschy tourist destinations, but it is a lot of fun, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Wall Drug has all sorts of “attractions” that bring the Wild West back to life. They also have several different stores where you can purchase anything from throwing stars to beauty products.

Have the kids check out the fun activities in their Backyard (even see a T-Rex) and wrap up your visit at their restaurant, which is famous for it’s doughnuts.

If you’re driving from the East into the Black Hills, you’ll start to notice a huge change in scenery as you get further West. After leaving Wall, the barren Badlands will be to the South. This desert looking area later becomes hilly land covered in lush pine forests. We felt like we traveled to a completely different world by the time we arrived in Custer, SD! 

Chapel in the Hills – Rapid City, SD

Chapel in the Hills - South Dakota

Cost: Free

Although visiting a chapel may not be everyone’s ideal vacation destination, the Chapel in the Hills is certainly one of the must see things to do in the Black Hills. The architecture and history of the chapel and other buildings on site is truly amazing.

The welcome center and gift shop are located in a stabbur (sod-roofed house) that was actually built in Norway. The on site museum was built by a Norwegian prospector and has Scandinavian relics displayed, and you betcha there are wood statues of Ole and Lena available for photo ops!

The chapel itself is an exact replica of a famous Norwegian Stave church called Borgund Stavkirke. The chapel grounds have a marked prayer/meditation trail for guests to walk during their visit. Services are offered here nightly during the summer months for interested travelers, no special dress required!

Hill City, SD

The Alpine Inn in Hill City
The Alpine Inn in Hill City

Cost: Free 

Stop in the Heart of the Black Hills, Hill City, during your trip and experience this exciting small town. Hill City boasts art galleries, museums, and regularly hosts fun activities like their summer brew and BBQ fest.

There are plenty of restaurants and shopping as well. Our favorite restaurant in Hill City is The Alpine Inn. They have a somewhat limited menu, but if you’re a steak lover, you have to stop for their dinner Filet Mingon special. Be sure to arrive early, because they fill up fast! 

Mt. Rushmore – Keystone, SD

Mount Rushmore Avenue of Flags

Cost: Parking fee of $10, a discounted rate of $5 for seniors, free parking for active duty military personnel

Mt. Rushmore is certainly one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Dakota, and for good reason. This monument is an engineering miracle filled with rich history and perched in an extremely beautiful region of the Black Hills.

The monument is inexpensive to visit and your parking pass is good for 24 hours from purchase. There are well defined walking paths for you to admire the monument from various viewpoints. You may even see a mountain goat or other wildlife during your visit.

Visit the Lincoln Borglum Museum (located in the park) to learn more about the creation of this massive monument. Park Rangers lead informational sessions about the monument’s history during the summer months. There are also audio tours if you’d prefer to tour on your own. One of the best times to visit Mount Rushmore is during their evening lighting ceremony held May-September. 

Crazy Horse – Crazy Horse, SD

Cost: $30 per car (2 or more people), see website for other pricing options

Crazy Horse Memorial is one of the things to do in the Black Hills that everyone just has to see!

Crazy Horse Memorial is a privately owned site still under construction. You can see workers continue to make headway on this massive monument.

The site will one day depict the Native American leader Crazy Horse. You can visit their museum and even grab a bite to eat at the Laughing Waters restaurant. We personally haven’t been to this site yet, but hope to on one of our next trips. However, plenty of visitors find their museum, history, food, and laser show to be worth the visit. 

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway 

View from Norbeck Scenic Byway

Cost: Weekly park license $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle when you enter Custer State Park

This scenic byway covers plenty of ground and brings you to multiple picturesque locations.  Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway includes parts of Custer State Park, Needles Highway, Black Elk Peak, views of Mt. Rushmore, and more. It takes anywhere from 4 hours to a day to complete the entire scenic byway, but the drive is definitely worth it.  

Custer State Park – Custer, SD

A Bison Roaming in Custer State Park
A Bison Roaming in Custer State Park

Cost: Weekly park license $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle

Custer State Park offers endless activities for you to do with your family anytime of year.

Winter activities include snowshoeing, hiking, and cross country skiing. Some park amenities are not available during the winter, so be prepared.

During the warmer months, you can bike, hike, fish, camp, canoe or kayak, fish, go horseback riding and more. The park also includes the scenic Wildlife Loop where you can see bison, deer, elk, prairie dogs, and more. 

Hiking Black Elk Peak – Custer, SD

Black Elk Peak - Lookout Tower - South Dakota

Cost: Black Elk Peak is located in Custer State Park, no additional fees are required after purchasing a weekly or annual park license

If you enjoy hiking, take the trek up the summit of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) via trails 9S or 9N. Leaving from Lake Sylvan, you can make it to the summit in a few hours.

Dogs are welcome on the trail if kept on leash. Hiking is usually best in the warmer months, but if you hike in winter, be aware the snow might be deep! From the top of Black Elk Peak, you can see beautiful scenery in the Black Elk Wilderness as well as views of neighboring states. 

Needles Highway – Custer, SD 

The Eye of the Needle

Cost: Needles Highway is located in Custer State Park, no additional fees are required after purchasing a weekly or annual park license

Needles Highway SD Hwy 87 is a scenic highway located in Custer State Park of the Black Hills. The scenic drive is breathtaking in more ways than one.

The scenery is absolutely beautiful, but some of the hairpin turns, low tunnels, and steep grades may have you on the edge of your seat! Take your time driving through this beautiful area and make sure to stop at the Eye of the Needle for some fun photos! 

Wind Caves – Hot Springs, SD

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Cost: Entering/driving through Wind Cave National Park is free, tours of the Wind Caves range from $12-30 per person

The Wind Caves are amazingly beautiful works of natural art and one of my personal favorite things to do in the Black Hills!

We took a tour through the caves during our last visit to South Dakotan and were absolutely in awe of the different rock formations. The tours are excellent and give a great details of history and discovery of the caves. Be sure to pack a light jacket or wear long sleeves as the caves are always cooler!

Spearfish Canyon – Lawrence County, SD

Waterfall at Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota
Waterfall at Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

Cost: Free

Take a drive through Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to experience amazing scenery including limestone bluffs, waterfalls, and forest. This has been noted to be one of the top scenic byways in South Dakota! 

Biking Mickelson Trail – Lead, SD

Sunset of Deadwood, South Dakota
Sunset of Deadwood, South Dakota

Cost: $4 per person aged 12 +, Under age 12 can use the trail for free

The George S. Mickelson biking trail runs for 109 miles from Edgemont in the Southwest to Deadwood in the Northwest. Take all or part of the trail to see the beautiful scenery South Dakota has to offer. Some of this trail can be strenuous and cell service is poor, so make sure you’re prepared. For a fun afternoon, you can plan a picnic with your family at one of the picnic shelters along the route! 

Geocaching the Black Hills

sylvan lake and granite formations in the Black Hills
Sylvan Lake and granite formations in the Black Hills

Cost: Free

Geocaching is essentially treasure hunting in a modern world. Geocachers hide and search for caches (typically hidden containers with a log book inside to document your find) using GPS devices or phone apps.  It is a great way to spend time outdoors with your family and best of all, it’s free (unless you buy app upgrades). Apps are available for iOS and Android devices! My husband and I loved geocaching in the Black Hills and found lots of interesting caches! 

Hiking the Black Hills

Hiking in the Black Hills, South Dakota
Hiker in the Black Hills, SD

Cost: Typically free, some state or national parks have an entrance fee

The Black Hills have plenty of amazing hiking trails of varying difficulty making it easy for you to get out in the fresh air and experience the Black Hills on foot.

Custer State Park has several great trails including Sunday Gulch Trail, Cathedral Spires Trail, and Black Elk Peak. Horsethief Lake Trail is another beautiful trail located near Mt. Rushmore National Monument. Be certain you are adequately prepared for the difficulty of the terrain as some hikes may be tougher than others. 

We hope this list helps you to plan an unforgettable trip to the Black Hills! Happy trails! 

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