Native American Culture Itinerary

If you’re traveling from east to west, we recommend adding a few stops to your itinerary prior to arriving in the Black Hills. 

The Dignity sculpture is a stunning combination of art and history, located on a bluff between exits 263 and 265 on Interstate 90 near Chamberlain.  The stainless steel, 50-foot-tall statue was specifically designed by sculptor Dale Lamphere to honor the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people. “Dignity represents the courage, perseverance and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota culture in South Dakota,” Lamphere said. “My hope is that the sculpture might serve as a symbol of respect and promise for the future.”

Also in Chamberlain, the Aktá Lakota Museum provides exceptional research, exhibit and educational services to scholars, the students of St. Joseph’s Indian School and all those interested in learning more about the culture and heritage of the Northern Plains Indian people.  The museum is a tribute to the Sioux Nation and offers visitors a rare glimpse into the Lakota culture.

Day 1: The Journey Museum & Crazy Horse Memorial

Start your day with visit at the Journey Museum, located in downtown Rapid City and take a trek through time, from the violent upheaval that formed the mystical Black Hills over 2.5 billion years ago to the continuing saga of the Western Frontier. The Journey Museum brings together four major prehistoric and historic collections to tell the complete story of the Western Great Plains – from the perspective of the Lakota people and the pioneers who shaped its past, to the scientists who now study it. Discover where dinosaurs lie buried beneath the prairie soil. Learn why the Sioux call their sacred Black Hills the “Center of the Universe”. Experience the hardships of the homesteaders as they settled the formidable wilderness.

Located between Hill City and Custer on Highway 385 visit the eighth wonder of the world, Crazy Horse Memorial, a monument under construction depicting the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski at the request of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear started the Memorial in 1948 to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians. Korczak died in 1982 and his wife, Ruth, continued to oversee the project until her death in 2014. Today, the Ziolkowski children are continuing the dream of their parents. Explore the visitor’s center, The Indian Museum of North America, the Educational and Cultural Center and gift shop. Take the bus ride to the base of the mountain.  Enjoy dinner at the Laughing Water Restaurant at Crazy Horse. Stay for the nightly laser light show, “Legends in Light” presented at dark from May through September.

Upon returning to Rapid City, visit the Prairie Edge Emporium at Main Street Square and Sioux Indian Pottery.

Day 2: Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Badlands National Park

This all- day tour starts in Rapid City and travels to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and includes stops at Red Cloud School and Wounded Knee Memorial.  The Heritage Center of Red Cloud Indian School opened as a museum in 1982. It offers an outstanding collection of Native American fine arts and Lakota tribal arts, in a recently renovated facility located on the main campus of Red Cloud Indian School. The Heritage Center’s fine arts collection includes over two thousand paintings, drawings, and sculptures representing many different Native American tribal traditions. Its tribal arts collection concentrates on traditional Lakota Tribal Arts. The Heritage Center serves as a valuable cultural resource not only for the students of Red Cloud Indian School but also for students of the other reservation schools and for all the Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Your tour also includes a stop at the Wounded Knee Massacre Monument located at the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. The conflict between the North American Lakota People and the U.S. government resulted in deaths of hundreds of Lakota men, women and children.

Depending upon the tour company, you’ll also visit Oglala Lakota College and the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce both located in Kyle. From its conception in 1971, the mission of the Oglala Lakota College has been to provide the education credentials to students for them to compete for employment opportunities on and off the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in fields such as teaching, nursing, human services, business, computer and vocational education. The Oglala Lakota College was one of the first tribally controlled colleges in the United States.

Badlands National Park is co-managed by the Oglala Lakota Tribe. Once known as Mako Sica (a Lakota phrase meaning “land bad” – the park features 244,000 acres of geologic deposits and is one of the world’s richest fossil beds. The South Unit of the park features ranger talks about the significance of the Badlands in Lakota heritage.

Tours must be booked in advance by calling Black Hills Vacations at 605-578-7702.

DAY 3 Bear Butte State Park, Tatanka Story of the Bison, Journey Museum

Take I-90 northwest towards Sturgis. Exit at Exit 30 and continue east on Highway 34, then north on Highway 79 to Bear Butte State Park. Mato Paha or “Bear Mountain” is the Lakota name given to this site. This geological formation is one of several intrusions of igneous rock in the Black Hills that formed millions of years ago. The mountain is sacred to many American Indian tribes who come here to hold religious ceremonies. Many American Indians see Bear Butte as a place where the creator has chosen to communicate with them through visions and prayer. During your visit, you will see colorful pieces of cloth and small bundles or pouches hanging from the trees. These prayer cloths and tobacco ties represent the prayers offered by individuals during their worship. Please respect these offerings and leave them undisturbed.

Head back towards Sturgis and continue west on Highway 14A to Deadwood. Then, take Highway 85 north about 2 minutes to Tatanka Story of the Bison, on the northeastern edge of Deadwood. Experience the larger- than- life bronze sculptures featuring 14 bison pursued by three Native American Horseback Riders. Wander through the hands-on Interpretive Center. Then, visit the Native American Gift Shop and enjoy lunch at the snack bar.

Possible Add-On Activities: Vore Buffalo Jump, west on I-90 out of Spearfish. A natural sinkhole used as a bison trap from about 1500 to 1800 A.D. and is today one of the most important archaeological sites of the Late-Prehistoric Plains Indians.