Great American Road Trip Itinerary

Time spent on the road can be one of the most memorable aspects of a family vacation. From the bonding time to the variety of things to see, do and explore, few family vacations stand out like a great American Road Trip in the Black Hills and Badlands Region.

Day 1

Traveling west on I-90 take Exit 131 and visit the Minute Man National Historic Site and then follow the Badlands Loop Road. Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of nearly 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires. When the Lakota first encountered the striking, moon-like landscape, they aptly called the area “Mako Sica” or bad land. Visit the Prairie Homestead, which is one of the very few sod dwellings intact today. These little sod shanties and dugouts were common throughout the prairie. Most of them have disappeared, melted away by the prairie rains, caved in and returned to the earth from which they came.

Continue on Highway 240 where the change of scenery will leave you breathless. Don’t miss the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and the tipi village, which is located between the Visitors Center and the Cedar Pass Lodge. As an added bonus, stop at the World Famous Wall Drug Store. The Wall Drug Store got its start during the depression years by offering free ice water to thirsty travelers. Take an hour to visit the Wall Drug Store and don’t miss the Backyard for some great photo opportunities!

Next you will get back on the interstate and travel 51 miles west to Rapid City. Go ahead and get settled in your pre-arranged Black Hills accommodations.

Visit the Journey Museum in Rapid City. Your journey begins with a natural historical overview of the Black Hills with impressive collections encompassing archaeology, paleontology, western native gardens and our pioneer past, to a beautifully exhibited history of the honorable Sioux people. The Journey Museum will give you an educated overview and some cultural insight into the upcoming Black Hills area. While at the Journey, pick up the City View Trolley which will offer visitors a narrated tour of Rapid City attractions winding through downtown and continuing west to Stavkirke Chapel. Fifteen stops along the route allow guests to get off and enjoy the attractions. Narration through GPS technology provides trolley passengers information about historic and present-day Rapid City.

Enjoy a relaxing evening at Mainstreet Squre in Rapid City and get ready for an exciting day tomorrow!

Day 2

First stop, Bear Country USA, truly fun for all ages. Located in the rolling foothills of the Black Hills on Highway 16 and only minutes away from Rapid City, this drive-through park features North American wildlife roaming free in their natural habitats. Shop, dine, and learn at the visitor’s center. The baby bears at Babyland will have you wrapped around their little paws as you enjoy staff-led demonstrations and informative programs.

The next stop is Reptile Gardens, a site that maintains the largest collection of reptiles in the world. Featuring an impressive walk-through terrarium and four shows that rotate throughout the day, Reptile Gardens is sure to please.

Proceed south to Keystone and take a moment to explore the life and creations of the person who carved Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Gutzon Borglum.

The Rushmore Borglum Story will be an exciting tour for those young and old. Embark on an adventure into Borglum's life as the spectacular museum and gallery displays his paintings, sculptures, and artifacts. Exploring the Borglum Story will give you a better understanding of the creation of Mt Rushmore National Memorial. The realistic narrated tour will take you to a replica of the top of Mount Rushmore. Sit and watch in awe as the tour displays a reenactment of the granite blasting.

Next, enjoy some downhill excitement! Rushmore Tramway Adventures and the Rushmountain Adventures are the most exhilarating rides in the Black Hills. Rushmore Tramway Adventures offers 2,000 feet of sensational family fun. Riders control the speed of their individual sleds and small children may ride with adults. Experience the new rope course, zip line tour and jump tower, and don’t miss the outdoor grill on top…featuring an elevated view of Mount Rushmore. Rushmountain Adventures | Rushmore Cave is Rushmore Cave plus mountain coaster, 7D Gallery and zip line all in one.

Take Highway 244 to Mt. Rushmore for the nightly lighting ceremony. This famous lighting ceremony is an educational and patriotic experience. This moving ceremony includes the dramatic gradual lighting of the four faces, a Veterans tribute and short documentary film. Head back to your lodging in Rapid City for the evening and get ready for another exciting day!

Day 3

As you have noticed, you are surrounded by some of the most impressive scenery in the world. What better way to relax and soak it all in than a ride on the 1880 Train? Departing out of Hill City, this vintage steam train is famous for it’s stunning scenic route, old world charm, and the unforgettable encounter of a bellowing engine and whining whistle. Approximately 2 hours long, this tour takes you to Keystone and returns you to Hill City. Your ride starts at 10 AM and you should arrive about 15 minutes early. Visit the Rail Road Museum next door.

Take time to wander the Main Street of Hill City and have lunch at one of the wonderful restaurants and visit all four wineries.

Proceed through Hill City and turn left on Highway 87. You will come upon Sylvan Lake, which is part of Custer State Park. This is a great area for a picnic or hiking. Custer State Park encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. Within the park, you’ll discover outdoor activities that include hiking (check out 7,242-foot Harney Peak), mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing and fishing. Famous for its scenic highways, granite spires, pigtail bridges and rock tunnels framing Mt. Rushmore. Bountiful wildlife, lakes, streams and historic stone lodges offer sites for all ages.

Proceed to the Needles Highway which curves and winds through 14 miles of magnificent rock formations called “Needles”. One of the most prominent is the Needles Eye, which reaches 30-40 feet in the air with a 3 foot wide slit. There are several places that you can get out and hike around the area. The Needles Eye is an excellent spot for rock climbing and taking pictures.

At Legion Lake turn left onto Highway 16A which will turn into the Iron Mountain Road. This will take you over pigtail bridges and through rock tunnels each with a view of Mt. Rushmore. Take in the beautiful and majestic sight of Mount Rushmore where the four presidents are carved out of solid granite. Your American pride will swell as you explore the extensive grounds, interactive learning centers, guided and self-guided tours, restaurants and gift shops.

Next you will journey to the town of Keystone on Highway 16A. Walk on the famous boardwalk and enjoy the many shops that Keystone has to offer. Don’t forget your Salt Water Taffy! We would suggest having dinner at one of their fantastic restaurants.

Head back to Rapid City for the evening.

Day 4

Take Highway 16 south out of Rapid City. Take truck route 16 to Highway 70 (Heartland Express) and travel 50 miles to Hot Springs.

Visit The Mammoth Site , which will provide you the opportunity to travel back in time to when Ice Age beasts roamed the Great Plains of North America. Including a 30 minute guided tour plus a 10-minute video, this paleontological dig site offers visitors the chance to observe first-hand a real paleontological excavation. Keep your kids fascinated with the Junior Paleontology Dig, offered daily with advance registration required.

Take Highway 385 out of Hot Springs and continue on Highway 87 to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave National Park includes 30,000 acres above ground where antelope, buffalo, elk, prairie dogs, and other creatures roam.

Continue into Custer State Park. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a roadblock of grazing buffalo! A herd of 1,300 roams freely throughout the park and often stops traffic. Besides buffalo, the park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros.

Visit the Blue Bell Lodge for many family activities. Take a buffalo jeep ride into the herd. Proceed to the Mt. Coolidge Lookout Tower. The view from this vantage point at 6,023 feet is awesome. On a clear day you can see the Badlands, which is nearly 90 away.

Take Highway 16A to the Gordon Stockade. The Gordon party came to the Black Hills in 1874 searching for gold. They built a log fort on French Creek, which served as their base camp. Visit the replica of the original as a reminder of those early Gold Rush days.

Proceed into the town of Custer and visit the Custer Courthouse Museum. This was built in 1881 and offers a ton of history about the area.

Go back through Custer and take a right at the stop light and proceed to Crazy Horse Memorial on Highway 385. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began the project in 1948 at the request of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear and other Native American elders. Korczak died in 1982. His wife, Ruth, continued to oversee the project until her death in 2014 and today the Ziolkowski children continue work on the mountain. The Memorial's visitor complex includes the 40,000 square foot Welcome Center and theaters, the Indian Museum of North America, the Native American Educational & Cultural Center, the sculptor’s log home studio and workshop, indoor and outdoor galleries, museum gift shop, restaurant and snack bar areas and expansive viewing veranda. Many Native American artists and crafts people create their artwork and visit with guests at the Memorial during the summer season.

Enjoy the laser show at Crazy Horse in the evening and then make your way back to Rapid City. Put your feet up tonight.

Day 5

Get back on I-90 and proceed 75 miles to Belle Fourche. Visit the Center of the Nation Monument and the Tri State Museum. Take Highway 34 out of Belle Fourche to Devil’s Tower. Devil’s Tower National Monument rises up unexpectedly over the vast prairie and grasslands of eastern Wyoming. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devil’s Tower the first national monument in 1906. This 1,347 acre park is covered with pine forests, woodlands, and grasslands. Deer, prairie dogs, and other wildlife are seen daily. Also known as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site for many Native American Indians. The interactive visitor center will pique your imagination with the folklore and legends surrounding the landmark, not to mention the scenery and ride – it’s stunning!

Leaving Devil’s Tower, get back on I-90 and travel west to Exit 205, one mile west of the Wyoming-South Dakota border. Proceed west on the access road (formerly US Highway 14) through the community of Beulah for about 4 miles. Visit the Vore Buffalo Jump.

The Vore Buffalo Jump is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Late-Prehistoric Plains Indians. Discovered during the construction of Highway I-90 in the early 1970’s, the Vore site is a natural sinkhole that was used as a bison trap from about 1500 to 1800 A.D. Buffalo were driven over the edge of the sink hole as a method for the Native American tribes to procure the large quantities of meat and hides needed to survive the harsh prairie winters.

Take I-90 and head east to Spearfish. Proceed into the town of Spearfish and drive through Main Street visiting some of their great shops and boutiques. Take a right at the stop light on Hudson Street and proceed 2 blocks to Canyon Street. Travel about 6 blocks to the entrance of Spearfish Park and visit D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery.Spend some time at the park and make sure to feed the fish!

Jump back on Main Street and take a right on Highway 14A where you will travel on Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. The narrow canyon walls rise sharply skyward from Spearfish Creek and the highway sculpted along the canyon bottom. Stop at the Latchstring Inn and take a walking path down to Spearfish Falls. Take a camera for some great shots. Follow the signs at Spearfish Canyon Resort to visit Roughlock Falls, which is another beautiful area where you can walk down to the falls and take great pictures. After spending time at Roughlock, head back to Highway 14A and continue south through Spearfish Canyon. Take a left at Cheyenne Crossing to Highway 85 and proceed into Lead/Deadwood.

Follow Highway 85 to the downtown area of Lead and visit the Homestake Visitor’s Center. Observe the deep “Open Cut” at the Homestake Mine and enjoy the history of the Miner’s that created it. This is just a small piece of the original Homestake Mine. After completion, it was realized that there was still gold left behind. For the safety of the Miner’s the only way to access the remaining gold was to dig from the top down. Take time to understand the history and the unbelievable hard work that went into mining. One point of interest at the Visitor’s Center is a large rock with the names of the miners who worked at the Homestake. The Homestake Gold Mine was the largest gold mine in the northern hemisphere. Next you will get back on Highway 85 and head north into Deadwood.

From the natural setting to the architecture this historic town was named one of the picture perfect towns by Forbes Magazine. Enjoy the daily shootout reenactments on Main Street and take the Alkali Ike Bus tour. Enjoy the historic sites of Deadwood and visit Mt Moriah where Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Preacher Smith, Potato Creek Johnny and Seth Bullock are buried.The Days of 76 Museum and Adams Museums are a must do.

Proceed through Deadwood to Tatanka: Story of the Bison and enjoy the larger than life bronze sculpture featuring 14 bison pursued by 3 Native American horseback riders, a hands-on Interpretive Center, a beautifully displayed Native American Gift Shop, and a snack bar including traditional Lakota meals and snacks.

In the evening attend the Trial of Jack McCall, which takes place at the Masonic Lodge next door to the Silverado Casino. They will capture Jack McCall at Saloon # 10 on Main Street and drag him up to the Masonic Temple for the trial. It will start about 7:45 and the trial will start at 8 PM. Excellent family entertainment!