The Black Hills region in South Dakota’s southwest corner is full of monuments that celebrate nature and America’s history. Yes, there is Mount Rushmore, which marks its 75th anniversary since its completion this year. But from tributes to Native American culture to incredible up-close encounters with wildlife to great food in Rapid City, there’s so much more to explore.
Not to be missed, of course, is the grand Mount Rushmore National Memorial (13000 Highway 244, 605-574-2523). Walk the Presidential Trail for an up-close look of George, Tom, Abe and Teddy, and visit the Sculptor’s Studio to see where creator Gutzon Borglum made a scale model of the site (open May to September). Head to nearby Crazy Horse Memorial (12151 Avenue of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, 605-673-4681) to see the impressive work-in-progress sculpture of the legendary Native American chief. And for a spectacular view of both, consider a helicopter tour with Black Hills Aerial Adventures (starting at $49; multiple locations). Where to stay: The rustic, charming log cabin Buffalo Rock Lodge (24524 N. Playhouse Road, 605-666-4781) has amenities like private Jacuzzis in each of the three rooms and a delicious homemade breakfast each morning. The deck affords a prime view of Mount Rushmore and is the perfect place to observe the lighting ceremony at night.
The rugged beauty of Badlands National Park (multiple entrances, 605-433-5361) is a must. Home to both ancient fossils and wildlife ranging from big-horn sheep to bison, the eroded buttes and pinnacles create a colorful and striking landscape like no other. On your way out, be sure to stop at the famous roadside attraction Wall Drug (510 Main St., 605-279-2175) for free ice water, five-cent coffee, insanely delicious maple doughnuts and every souvenir you could ever imagine. Where to stay: You don’t have to rough it to spend a night inside the Badlands. The recently rebuilt cabins at Cedar Pass Lodge (20681 SD Highway 240, Interior, 877-386-4383) have custom-made handcrafted pine furniture from Lonepine Lodgepole, a family-owned Montana company, a lovely back porch with deck chairs for admiring the gorgeous view and Wi-Fi.
See the buffalo roam in Custer State Park (13329 US Highway 16A, 605-255-4515), as well as pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys and a band of friendly burros along the wildlife loop. You can also hike along one of many trails, go for a boat ride on idyllic Sylvan Lake and drive along famous Needles Highway, which is surrounded by imposing granite spires. And if you’re there in September, don’t miss the annual Buffalo Roundup. Adventurous eaters should head to the State Game Lodge restaurant at Custer State Park Resort (closed November through April; 13389 US-16 Highway 16A, 605-255-4541), located inside what was Calvin Coolidge’s “Summer White House.” Order the rabbit and rattlesnake sausage to start and the elk osso bucco or buffalo short ribs. In the mood for something lighter? Try the walleye, South Dakota’s state fish. Where to stay: Custer State Park Resort features five lodges that range from log cabins to lakeside retreats.
The small city has plenty to offer. Find life-size bronze statues of all 44 presidents throughout downtown (get a map at the visitor’s center). Stroll through Art Alley between Sixth and Seventh streets, a public art project started in 2005. Shop for quality handmade Plains Indian crafts at the massive Prairie Edge Trading Company & Galleries (606 Main St., 800-541-2388), leather goods at Tandy Leather Factory (514 Seventh St., 605-342-2221) and accessories and art at Sage & Silver Americana (629 Main St., 605-791-4640), the only Native American-owned shop in Rapid City. For food, Kol (504 Mt. Rushmore Road, 605-791-1600), a hip, open-kitchen restaurant that opened last year, hopes to transform the city’s dining scene with its unique pizzas and ambitious cocktail program. Tally’s Silver Spoon (530 Sixth St., 605-302-7621) is popular among locals and visitors alike for breakfast and lunch. The buffalo hangar steak with eggs are guaranteed to fill you up. And for a sweet treat, head to Silver Lining Creamery (512 Main St., 605-791-1141) for a sundae in a jar. Where to stay: The historic (and reportedly haunted) Hotel Alex Johnson (523 Sixth St., 605-342-1210) recently became a member of the Hilton Curio Collection and is in the process of updating all of its guest rooms, with many already finished (ask for one of those). Before heading upstairs, be sure to admire the gorgeous lobby with Native American details like a chandelier made out of spears and the exquisitely painted ceiling, and head to rooftop bar Vertex for a nightcap and great views of the city.