Many vacationers miss a most beautiful portion of the country when they bypass the Black Hills. But that just leaves more room for savvy travelers like us to explore the curving mountain roads enveloped by great pine forests, the quaint old mining towns and the astounding creativity and effort of stone carvers and dynamite experts.
Most history aficionados can name the four presidents commemorated at Mount Rushmore: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt (Teddy, that is). But seeing this amazing man-made creation in person is the only way to capture its true grandeur.
Celebrating 91 years since inception, Mount Rushmore National Park is not only a memorial to four significant American leaders, but an example of the fortitude and determination of sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
Borglum worked on the project from 1927 until his death in 1941, when his son took the reins, finishing what was intended to be a publicity piece to promote tourism in the region. I’d say it worked, as today nearly 2 million people visit the site annually.
The monument has an information center, complete with a park bookstore and restrooms at Grand View Point. Inside the Lincoln Borglum Center is an amphitheater, museum, and two indoor theaters. There’s also a nature trail you can hike to the bottom and wander among the granite remnants. There, you can also tour the artist studio where Gutzon Borglum worked—or follow the Presidential Trail to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village to learn more about the original inhabitants of the area.
Crazy Horse Memorial
For more mountain-carving fun on an even bigger scale, be sure to visit Crazy Horse Memorial, located 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. The sculpture got its start in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski. As a memorial to all Native American Indian tribes, Crazy Horse Memorial will be the world’s largest sculpture when completed.
Originally commissioned by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear, the sculpture—located 17 miles from Mount Rushmore—is still being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain.
When finished, the project will be 641 feet wide and 563 feet high, but the memorial includes more than just the sculpture. In fact, the Indian Museum of North America and a Native American Cultural Center are already open to the public and well worth the visit. The museum and cultural center display Indian artifacts and artwork from tribes across the U.S. and during the summer months, Native American artisans and dancers are on hand to talk and demonstrate their craft.
Custer State Park
As one of the largest state parks in the nation, Custer State Park contains an enormous array of wildlife, several fishing lakes, and plenty of campgrounds catering to all types of campers. Enjoy a scenic drive through prairie grasses, rolling hills and mountain topography. And don’t be surprised if your vehicle is suddenly surrounded by bison—nearly 1,300 of them call the park home.
Horsethief Lake is a sparkling gem situated within the rolling hills and pine forests of the park. Rent a peddle boat or canoe to cool off, then stop by the Blue Bell Lodge for a western meal served up cattle-drive style.
If you want to experience some of the Wild West, drive an extra hour and a half to Deadwood, where poker games and shootouts are synonymous with the colorful characters of the 1880s. You’ll find historic hotels, saloons and festivals all situated in a tight mountain valley. There are any number of restaurants to suit every palate here; just make sure you don’t sit with your back to the door or you could end up like Wild Bill Hickock!
If you plan your trip accordingly, you could share the streets with thousands of motorcyclists from the Sturgis motorcycle rally as they hold “The Legends” memorial ride—proving that the Wild West still exists in South Dakota.
Make Your Way to the Black Hills
With attractions around every corner, the Black Hills offer a pleasant surprise to travelers crossing the northern plains.
Be sure to look into an RV rental from Outdoorsy and hit the road to explore this hidden gem for a great weekend getaway.