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Unmissable South Dakota Road Trip: 4 + 7 Days Itinerary

Unmissable South Dakota Road Trip: 4 + 7 Days Itinerary

South Dakota offers travelers an unforgettable road trip filled with stunning scenery, amazing hikes and the perfect opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors.

If you are trying to decide where to go on your next bucket list US road trip and want to escape the crowds of Utah or California, this in-depth road trip vacation planner will help you decide if South Dakota is the state for your next adventure.

We accounted for 2 of the 14 million+ visitors to South Dakota in 2019 as we were fortunate enough to explore the extraordinarily attractive Black Hills National Forest on our very first 3 month US road trip.

Each state we visited brought its own unique dish to the table. South Dakota brought a blend of natural beauty, diversity and dramatic scenery right out of a fantasy novel to conjure up a perfect road trip destination.

We must admit we were utterly besotted by western South Dakota, which may in part be down to the fact we visited in peak fall season. Nevertheless, we are sure it would be equally as stunning in any season.

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South Dakota Road Trip Update

When driving across the US from New York City to Seattle in April 2022, we couldn’t resist returning for a second dose of South Dakota Black Hills action.

We were able to tick off many of the places we didn’t have time for the first time around. As a result, we have updated this road trip guide to include both a 4 day itinerary and a 7 day itinerary.

Our 4 day itinerary remains as though traveling through South Dakota from east to west, whereas our 7 day itinerary begins and ends at Rapid City airport as a loop route.

These are the two most common ways to visit the Black Hills, so we are sure you can use one or the other to help with planning your South Dakota vacation.

Important: Are you planning to visit South Dakota and Yellowstone on the same trip? If that sounds more like the trip you want to take, read our popular Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone road trip guide instead.

Mark and Kristen Morgan from Where Are Those Morgans sat together on rocks at the end of Notch trail hike in Badlands National Park when driving a road trip through South Dakota

What Can You Expect From This South Dakota Road Trip Guide?

We will show you the 4 most unmissable places to visit in South Dakota and the best of the rest, including one stop right over the border into Wyoming.

You will find efficient and detailed itineraries for 4 days and 7 days road trip through South Dakota. Use both example itineraries to tailor your own South Dakota road trip.

Here’s a short YouTube video we put together with GoPro from our first visit to South Dakota.

Introducing South Dakota

Before we dive into the road trip itinerary, here’s a roundup of what you can expect from your South Dakota vacation.

You will find key information, top reasons to visit South Dakota and some fun facts.

South Dakota road trip infographic with places to visit fun facts and important information

Why You Should Road Trip South Dakota

Let’s take a quick look into what you can expect if you choose this beautiful part of the US Midwest for your next road trip:

  • Spectacular landscapes
  • Exhilarating scenic drives
  • Dark night sky stargazing
  • Fantastic hiking trails
  • Wildlife spotting
  • Oh, and a granite sculpture you might have heard of before called Mount Rushmore!

South Dakota offers a diverse range of tourist attractions, suitable for families and perfect for nature lovers.

In truth, of all the states we passed through on our first US road trip, South Dakota was among our favorites.

Helpful planning resources:

Stunning scenery near Custer State Park Black Hills National Forest meadows and hills green and yellow

Travel To South Dakota

How are you planning to travel to South Dakota?

The way we see it is road tripping any region of the US is likely to be done in one of two ways:

  • A short trip encompassing just a few areas and National Parks (for example a 7 day vacation).
  • Part of a wider regional or national road trip over a longer period (such as a 3 month road trip).

Whatever type of trip you are taking, you are going to need a car to explore the Black Hills of South Dakota.

If you are driving across country in your own car, great. If not, you will have to hire a car at Rapid City airport.

1. Driving To South Dakota

Are you driving from point A to point B and South Dakota happens to be somewhere in between? Use our 4 day itinerary below to plan your time in SD.

This was the case for us as we drove the I-90 west from Chicago towards Yellowstone. Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park were on the way and far too important to pass up.

2. Flying To South Dakota

Are you flying to South Dakota to explore the region for a week? Use our 7 day itinerary below instead.

We can tell you from experience that western South Dakota is well worth a visit of its own. It maybe gets overlooked in favor Wyoming, Utah or California but this small region is an awesome alternative for you to consider.


Unmissable Stops On Your South Dakota Road Trip

What are the top places you simply cannot miss on your visit to South Dakota?

Well, we personally think South Dakota’s Black Hills should be considered among the best places to visit in the USA.

You will be shocked by how much there is to do in South Dakota and your major problem will be finding the time to fit everything in.

So, we have narrowed down all of the fun things to do in the area into what we believe are the 4 must visit parts of your road trip through South Dakota.

If you have time for more, great! We will cover more fantastic places to visit in the area later in the guide.

Awesome rocks formations at Badlands National Park stop on South Dakota road trip

1. Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park simply can’t be missed if you are visiting South Dakota. This vast open landscape is filled with a deep blue endless sky contrasting against dramatic topography as far as the eye can see.

Badlands is the perfect family friendly National Park, featuring a number of very short and easy hiking trails that allow you to see its most awe inspiring rock formations – such as the Badlands Wall – with very little effort.

A loop road dissects the entire park, which means you could drive the loop and not miss a thing. There are a number of overlooks to stop off along the loop, each offering its own perspective of this remarkable terrain.

Badlands is one of the best US national parks for those who like to escape the crowds. It can be visited in around 4-5 hours, but we recommend spending a night at one of the campgrounds or in a nearby hotel.

Staying over allows you to stargaze underneath an exceptionally clear night sky and affords you the best opportunities for wildlife spotting, both earlier and later in the day.

Read more in our Badlands travel guides:

Mount Rushmore at golden hour before sunrise near Keystone South Dakota

2. Mount Rushmore National Memorial

How could you go to South Dakota and not see one of America’s most famous monuments?!

Mount Rushmore is located just 5 minutes drive from Keystone, which is one of the most popular places to set up base up base for a South Dakota road trip.

The striking National Memorial is carved into a towering granite rock facing directly into the sun at dawn. Our top recommendation is to get up early and arrive at Mount Rushmore before sunrise.

We were impressed not just by the intricately detailed carving, but the whole memorial complex. It is very well laid out, clean, easy to navigate and offers multiple areas to gaze up at the former presidents.

You can choose to go only as far as the amphitheater, or you can walk around the Presidents Trail, a boardwalk with over 200 steps taking you closer to the giant sculpture.

Read more in our Mount Rushmore travel guides:

South Dakota road trip needles highway narrow tunnel along road gorgeous greens and yellows trees

3. Custer State Park

Custer State Park is renowned as one of the largest and best State Parks in the United States. We won’t argue with that label.

Custer offers a one-way 18 mile wildlife loop through rolling meadows and hills, where it is very likely you will be stopped by herds of Bison crossing the road!

There are Burros, Prairie Dogs, Elk, Pronghorn, Mountain Goats, Bighorn Sheep and 1,500 Bison in Custer State Park. That is more Bison than anywhere else in the country.

Within the boundary of the park are entrances to 2 incredibly scenic highways. One is Iron Mountain Road (watch our Iron Mountain Road time-lapse) and the other is Needles highway.

Both are exhilarating driving experiences featuring hairpin bends, tunnels and fantastic views over the Black Hills. We can’t recommend driving both roads highly enough.

Our top rated hiking trails in Custer State Park are Black Elk Peak (which we feature below) and Cathedral Spires.

The latter is a lovely moderate 3 mile roundtrip hiking trail through beautiful forest leading to needle-like granite rock formations.

The trailhead to Cathedral Spires can be found on Needles highway, right on a hairpin bend.

Read more in our Custer State Park travel guide:

Black Elk Peak Summit incredible views over Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota

4. Black Elk Peak Hike

Hiking to the summit of Black Elk Peak was our favorite part of the first South Dakota road trip. We have included Black Elk Peak in our popular list of the 50 top rated hikes in the US because it is simply awesome.

It is a moderately difficult 7 mile roundtrip hike that should take around 4-5 hours depending on how many stops you take.

You will walk through gorgeous forested areas along dry dirt paths and around booming granite rocks. Once you reach the summit (formerly known as Harney Peak), you will notice a stone watchtower.

Harney fire lookout tower was once used as an early warning fire detection overlook.

The trail offers stunning scenery and truly breathtaking views, particularly from the summit at which you can see into South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana.

We were blown away by the 360 degree panoramic views at Black Elk Peak summit. If you enjoying hiking, this is the one part of your South Dakota road trip you can’t miss.

Read more in our Black Elk Peak hiking guide:

Hiker stood on rocks looking up at a huge rock tower

Places To Visit In The Black Hills With More Time

Listed above are the absolute must visits on your South Dakota road trip. But there are many more fantastic places you can add to your itinerary if you have extra days or you don’t hike.

Here’s where you should consider visiting if you will be in the region for 4-7 days (these places will all be included in the 7 days South Dakota road trip itinerary later):

1. Deadwood

Deadwood is a popular historic Wild West gold rush town, which has retained elements of its old western appearance.

Stop for a hot chocolate in a quaint cafe next to the site where Wild Bill Hickok was assassinated in 1876, walk the historic main street and enjoy the architecture.

2. Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse is a partially carved mountain monument, which has been under construction since 1948 and is still a long way from completion.

If it is completed it will be much larger than nearby Mt Rushmore.

Entry fees are surprisingly steep but all proceeds go directly into furthering construction efforts.

3. Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower is a remarkable and quite literally unmissable rock feature just over the border into Wyoming. An enormous igneous rock formation dominates the skyline and it is even more impressive close up.

Hike a wonderful and relaxing loop trail around the base but don’t miss the awesome view from Joyner Ridge.

Want to see Devils Tower? Read our complete guide to visiting Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming so you know what to expect.

4. Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave is one of the longest and most complex cave systems on the planet, featuring unique formations known as boxwork.

There are a handful of hikes with excellent views and wildlife roam freely on rolling prairie. Daily tours allow visitors to walk through vast cave network routes.

5. Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world, with 208 miles of mapped and surveyed passages.

Similarly to Wind Cave, ranger led tours are the only way to go inside the cave network.

6. Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon scenic byway turned out to be a huge surprise for us on our second visit to South Dakota.

There are a handful of waterfalls and trails to hike as you descend through a stunning deep gorge on snaking roads.

South Dakota Road Trip 4 Day Itinerary

Now you know the best places to visit on your road trip to South Dakota, let’s start with a 4 days itinerary as though you were driving through the region on a longer road trip.

For Example: You enter South Dakota from the east after visiting Chicago, Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa. You then plan to continue driving west towards Yellowstone or Glacier.

Flip this itinerary if you are heading the opposite way across country.

Mark and Kristen stood on rocks in front of Sioux Falls Park South Dakota

Day 1 – Sioux Falls, Mitchell + Badlands

The first day includes a lot of driving and it covers points of interest to the east of the Black Hills.

1. Sioux Falls

As you enter South Dakota from the east, your first stop along I-90 is Sioux Falls. Turn off I-90 and drive 10 minutes to Falls Park.

This is the perfect quick stop off to look upon lovely waterfalls flowing through a park, before quickly hitting the Interstate again.

2. Mitchell

Just 1h 15m further west, you will reach your second stop off, in the form of Mitchell and its famous Corn Palace. Yes, corn palace!

This is a building with an exterior facade made entirely out of corn, with certain sections formed like ornate murals. Inside, you can learn about the sweet history of the World’s Only Corn Palace.

About 3 more hours of driving will lead you to the northeast entrance of Badlands National Park.

Resist the temptation and take the right turn instead to make a quick visit at Minuteman Missile Museum. You will learn all about the Cold War, including US Nuclear Missile locations.

You can also visit decommissioned missile silo’s in the area.

3. Badlands National Park

Let’s assume you are arriving at Badlands entrance around 3-4pm. You’ll either pay $25 or use your America the Beautiful Pass to enter.

Spend the next few hours cruising around Badlands Loop road, stopping off at every overlook along the way.

If you are camping at Cedar Pass campground or Sage Creek Campground (primitive), now is the time to set up before it gets dark!

After you cook up a storm and when it eventually does get dark, it is the perfect time for some amazing stargazing. Check the ranger programs for stargazing activities or go to your own secluded spot.

If you are not camping, drive to Wall, which is just outside the northwest entrance. Stay at one of five hotels in town (see lodging at the end).

Check out Wall Drug Store, which you will have seen advertised on billboards for the last 300 miles!

Bighorn Sheep close up shot at badlands national park

Day 2 – Badlands + Keystone

The second day is far more relaxing and takes in some of the top highlights.

1. Badlands National Park Sunrise

Get an early start on day 2 for the best chance of seeing wildlife at Badlands National Park. Animals are usually more active in the morning and your double bonus is far fewer people will be around.

Head to the east part of the park (Big Badlands Overlook and Door Trail) to watch the alien landscape illuminate red with the first light of day.

Spend the morning hiking Door, Window and especially Notch trails. They won’t take long and give you the best views in the park.

Our must visit overlook is yellow mounds because it is just so unique, you will see why when you arrive.

Exit via Sage Creek Rim Road towards Scenic. If you stayed at Sage Creek Campground you will have already driven some of the dirt road.

This is a much quieter dirt track road with excellent wildlife spotting opportunities.

2. Keystone

By leaving via Scenic, it means you can avoid Rapid City on the I-90 which isn’t too bad for traffic, but it is also is far less scenic.

Take 44, 16BYP and 16 into Keystone. It should take just over an hour driving time.

Check into your hotel in Keystone and grab dinner at old-west themed Red Garter Saloon.

You can go to an evening lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore (Jun-Sept), or spend the evening relaxing in Keystone.

Mount Rushmore illuminated by pink sunlight at sunrise Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Day 3 – Mount Rushmore + Custer State Park

Your third day is action packed in the heart of the Black Hills.

1. Mount Rushmore Sunrise

The best way to start day 3 is to get up exceptionally early in order to get inside Mount Rushmore before the sun rises. As awful as that may sound, trust us, it is worth it.

You will pass through the gorgeous colorful phases of golden hour (no light or shadows), light and dark pinks, then light and deep oranges as the sun fully rises over the sculpture.

Each light phase contrasts wonderfully against the stone colored granite of Mount Rushmore. Next, walk the Presidents Trail, check out the Sculptor’s Studio and enjoy the Memorial.

2. Needles Highway Scenic Drive

Continue on 244 until you hit the main road (16). Turn left onto 16 and take an immediate left onto Needles Highway (87).

Needles is an awesome drive around tons of switchbacks and through narrow tunnels. You will pass Sylvan Lake where Black Elk Peak trailhead begins.

Drive right by, you will be back here tomorrow.

3. Cathedral Spires Hike

Just over 2 miles further along the highway, you will see cars parked on a hairpin bend. Park here and begin the Cathedral Spires hiking trail.

This should take around 1h 30m to 2h total.

Don’t expect a magical far reaching viewpoint at the end of the trail, it is more of a flat plain encircled by towering needle rock formations but it is definitely worth it.

Once you’ve finished the hike, continue driving to the end of Needles Highway.

4. Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

Turn left onto 16A and drive 6 miles to Custer State Park Visitor Center.

Watch the visitor center movie (narrated by Kevin Costner) and then hit the 18 mile long, one way wildlife loop.

It should be early evening by this point which means you have arrived at one of the two best times of day for active animals.

The loop will take around 1h 30m but may be longer if you get stuck in a wildlife-jam!

Head back to Keystone via 87, 753, 359 and 40. That might sound a lot, but it is really just a straight line along different roads.

Avoid 16A for now, you will drive that first thing tomorrow.

Kristen at Harney Peak summit Black Elk Peak

Day 4 – Iron Mountain Road + Black Elk Peak

The fourth day is another wonderful fun filled day in the Black Hills.

1. Iron Mountain Road

The early bird gets the worm in western South Dakota. Don’t give up now!

Grab an early start, start the car and hit 16A, which is also known as Iron Mountain Road.

This is another fantastic and exhilarating scenic drive consisting of curves, hairpins, narrow tunnels with Mount Rushmore views and even pigtail turns.

By starting early, you get to drive this road without sun and glare or too many other cars on the road impacting on your experience.

2. Custer Wildlife Loop (Part 2)

Another benefit awaits at the end of Iron Mountain Road. You arrive into Custer State Park wildlife loop at the other best time of day for round 2 of wildlife spotting.

The pass you paid $20 for is valid for 7 days, so you might as well get the use out of it. Plus, you are likely to see different animals in different areas of the loop today.

3. Black Elk Peak Hike

Once you complete the loop, turn left onto 16A and take 89 north to Sylvan Lake. Park up at Black Elk Peak trailhead and begin your 5 hour hike.

This is the perfect way to cap off a fantastic 4 days South Dakota road trip. Those summit views from Black Elk Peak are something else.

Are you heading west towards Yellowstone National Park?

You could get on the road after hiking Black Elk Peak. It is around 3 hours drive to Buffalo, WY which cuts out plenty of the drive the next day.

4 Days South Dakota Road Trip Map

Map created with Wanderlog, a road trip planner

Click into this interactive map, zoom in / out, scroll around and click on any icon to see details of attractions on each of the 4 days.

You can see exactly where each day takes you!

7 Days South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary

Let’s move onto a slow paced 7 days itinerary for a South Dakota vacation for those planning to fly into Rapid City, hire a car and road trip the stunning Black Hills region.

For Example: You land in Rapid City on Saturday lunch time, spend 7 days in South Dakota and fly out of Rapid City the following Saturday.

This is a loop route, flying in and out of the same airport and hiring a car to drop off at the same location. All of which means less admin and fewer headaches.

Use this example itinerary for ideas about how to build your own vacation. We will keep it as general as possible to suit the average visitor but it might not be perfect for everyone.

Woman in Badlands National Park on a South Dakota Road Trip

Day 1 – Badlands National Park

The first day is easy going because it is a travel morning with just the afternoon free.

1. Badlands National Park

Pick up your hire car at Rapid City airport and drive straight over to Badlands via I-90. It should take just over an hour.

Spend the late afternoon soaking up extra-terrestrial views from scenic overlooks and spotting wildlife.

Either camp in the park, stay at Cedar Lodge or drive to Wall to stay in a hotel.

Wind Cave National Park steps lit up yellow

Day 2 – Badlands + Wind Cave

The second day is a South Dakota National Park double day.

1. Badlands National Park

Start early to get inside the park for sunrise. Hike Door and Notch trails at the very least. If you are a big hiker, try Castle trail afterwards.

Photography is stunning here in the morning.

Once you are done in Badlands, it is time to drive to the furthest point south on this road trip. Either take I-90 or the scenic drive through the town of Scenic to SD-79.

2. Wind Cave National Park

Stop in at Wind Cave visitor center to get information about cave tours for the next morning. There is a nice short hike here called Wind Cave Canyon.

Drive to a hotel in nearby Hot Springs.

Stunning needle like granite rocks with ponderosa pine trees green and yellow on a south Dakota road trip itinerary

Day 3 – Wind Cave, Needles Highway + Cathedral Spires

Your third day is diverse and the perfect introduction to the Black Hills.

1. Wind Cave

Get an early start and be at Wind Cave visitor center around 30 minutes before it opens for the day. Cave tours are all first come first served and they sell out quickly after opening.

Take one or two (if you can get onto two) cave tours.

Drive up SD-87 as far as Rankin Ridge trailhead and hike the trail to a wonderful vantage point overlooking prairie from a watchtower.

2. Needles Highway

Follow SD-87 all the way to the east entrance to Needles Highway scenic drive.

Drive Needles Highway slowly and soak up the awesome views. Stop once you reach Cathedral Spires trailhead and park on the tight U-bend.

3. Cathedral Spires

Hike Cathedral Spires and really appreciate the beauty of these famous granite rock formations. This is a stunning trail but it does not have a climactic viewpoint.

Drive back to Custer to spend the night.

Sylvan Lake reflecting on still water with blowers and snow and ice

Day 4 – Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake + Black Elk Peak

The fourth day is centered around the heart of the Black Hills.

1. Custer State Park

Another early start gets you into the Custer wildlife loop when the animals are most active. Drive slowly through the one way park and maybe even get out of your car to walk up a hill for a better view.

Don’t forget binoculars or a telephoto lens for your camera.

2. Sylvan Lake

Drive back along US-16A and choose either Needles Highway again or if you need a normal road, take SD-89 to Sylvan Lake instead.

Sylvan Lake is the perfect place for families to relax and have a picnic.

You can swim, hike around the lake in a loop and even take on one of the best hikes in the Black Hills called Sunday Gulch.

This moderate to strenuous trail starts right behind the gigantic boulders on the far side of the lake.

3. Black Elk Peak

However, as you already know, we are big fans of the Black Elk Peak hike and highly recommend this trail if you have the luxury of choosing between hikes.

Views from the summit of Black Elk Peak are just spectacular, really opening up the granite rocks and ponderosa pine trees.

Once you are down, drive back to Custer again for the night.

Mount Rushmore grey on a cloudy day

Day 5 – Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, Iron Mountain + Mount Rushmore

The fifth day is action packed and features plenty of top attractions.

1. Jewel Cave

Arrive to Jewel Cave early to ensure you get onto a cave tour before they sell out. Jewel Cave is just 15 minutes drive from the town of Custer.

After your cave tour you could hike 5.5 mile roundtrip Hell Canyon Trail if you have plenty of time spare.

2. Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse is an unfinished sculpture and your quite hefty entrance fee does help go towards the building fees, but it does look cool and is worth visiting if you have the budget and time.

With that said, you can actually see it from the main road so it is not absolutely necessary to enter if you are traveling on a low budget during your road trip through South Dakota.

The entrance to Crazy Horse is 11 minutes from Custer but you would then drive back on yourself to continue this itinerary.

3. Iron Mountain Road

Getting back to free and amazing things to do in South Dakota, Iron Mountain scenic drive is simply awesome.

Drive from the town of Custer to Custer State Park visitor center and continue on US-16A as it begins to bend and wind through the hills.

Pull over often to enjoy the special views along this truly scenic drive.

4. Mount Rushmore

Finally it is time to arrive at Mount Rushmore! By now it will be getting to the later part of afternoon or early evening.

It might be a good idea to grab an early dinner in Keystone before entering Mt Rushmore parking lot.

You could then see the sculpture in daylight and wait for the evening light show without having to leave in between.

Sleep in Keystone.

Spearfish Canyon hike devils bathtub SD

Day 6 – Deadwood + Spearfish Canyon

On the sixth day you head into the northern reaches of the Black Hills in South Dakota.

Note: If you are interested in photography, we highly recommend you wake up early and see Mt Rushmore at sunrise. It is just a few minutes drive from Keystone so you are perfectly located.

1. Deadwood

Take US-385 north for 1 hour until you reach the small town of Deadwood.

Once you arrive, walk down the historic main street, learn about famous Wild West characters and stop in somewhere for a coffee.

2. Spearfish Canyon

The stunning Spearfish Canyon is one of our favorite parts of the Black Hills.

From Deadwood, take US-14 southwest as far as Cheyenne Crossing and Savoy. Stop first at Savoy to see Roughlock Falls.

Follow the road north as it drops into an enormous and deep gorge with huge canyon walls to the side.

Hike Iron Creek or Devils Bathtub. We personally hiked the Bathtub and it was a fun interpretive trail with several stream crossings.

Stop at Bridal Veil Falls on the roadside and enjoy the drive.

Sleep in Spearfish at the bottom of the canyon.

Devils Tower National Monument from Joyner Ridge an amazing way to end a south dakota road trip

Day 7 – Devils Tower + Rapid City

Your final day is about one more amazing attraction, before spending the evening in the largest built up area around the Black Hills with a great meal and a celebratory beer.

1. Devils Tower

Take either I-90 and US-14, or WY-24 to Devils Tower. We took the latter and it was a very quiet drive.

Spend the morning admiring nature and geology, before asking yourself the same question we did, how on Earth did that happen?!

Don’t miss the easy half mile loop hike around the base of Devils Tower. Our favorite viewpoint is from Joyner Ridge so be sure to stop there on your way out.

2. Rapid City

It will take around 1h 40m to drive I-90 as far as Rapid City, which is the best place to spend the night before flying out of Rapid City airport the next morning.

Rapid City is filled with excellent eateries to sign off in style.

What To Pack For Your South Dakota Road Trip

Packing for South Dakota will depend entirely on what time of year you decide to visit.

We first visited South Dakota in October when the weather was perfect for hiking in shorts and t-shirts but it was cold in the morning and at night.

The second time we visited the Black Hills in April and there was a lot of snow on the ground, which of course meant it was much colder.

If you visit in summer you can expect hot days so your packing list will look very different.

Here is a quick packing list of items to remember no matter when you take your road trip:

If you are on a road trip, you should read through our road trip packing list to make sure you have everything you will need for your trip.

Planning a long term trip? You also might like our long term travel packing list which covers almost every type of scenario.

Couple crouched down on rocks pointing to a sign

Where To Stay On Your South Dakota Road Trip

You won’t have any issues finding places to stay in South Dakota.

We have written a comprehensive guide to the best hotels near Mount Rushmore, which goes into far greater detail on choosing the perfect places to stay in the entire region.

You might also want to read our ultimate guide to booking the cheapest hotels to learn about ways you can save money.

Below you can find our recommended lodging options for each stop along this South Dakota road trip itinerary.

1. Badlands Lodging


There are 2 campgrounds inside the National Park: Cedar Pass RV Park and Campground has facilities and Sage Creek Campground is primitive (without facilities). More information.


Cedar Pass Lodge is the only accommodation located within the park. More information.


There are five hotels in Wall near Badlands National Park:

2. Mount Rushmore Lodging


Camping is very popular around the Mount Rushmore area. Black Hills National Forest has around 30 campgrounds to choose between. More information.


Arguably the most convenient place to stay near Mt Rushmore is Keystone. It has a very central location among the best things to do in the area.

Here are some of the top rated hotels in Keystone:

Read our complete guide to the best hotels in Keystone SD on our sister site Best Hotels Anywhere for more details about lodging.

3. Custer State Park Lodging


Custer State Park has 10 campground options available, including right at the foothills of Black Elk Peak (Sylvan Lake). More information.


If you’d prefer to set up a home base closer to Custer State Park’s wildlife loop and Black Elk Peak, stay in the town of Custer which is in between the two attractions.

Here are the best value hotels in Custer to consider:

Camping Special

Are you planning to camp during your road trip through South Dakota?

We have teamed up with The Dyrt to offer our readers an exclusive no strings attached 30 day free trial with The Dyrt PRO.

This is our favorite camping app because it helps you find the best campgrounds along your specific driving route with no additional booking fees.

You can also use Dyrt Alerts to receive notifications when sold out campgrounds have recent cancellations.

Our Popular South Dakota Guides
More US Road Trips

Want more South Dakota content? Head over to our South Dakota Travel Guides to explore Mount Rushmore, Badlands, the Black Hills and beyond.

We hope this South Dakota road trip itinerary guide helps with planning your Black Hills vacation!

Please let us know if you have any questions or need help planning your trip in the comments section below.

Happy road tripping,

Mark and Kristen

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Jim Johnson

Monday 19th of December 2022

6 Seniors going on a South Dakota trip in May, Not many hikers in our group. What would be the best location to stay so we only have 1 location to drive out from each day. Moving each day is not real practical for us. Also, any ideas replacing the hiking parts of the tour. Great info, thanks so much.

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Friday 23rd of December 2022

Hi Jim, great to hear you have a trip to SD planned. Rapid City could be the best place for you to stay - it has a greater hotel selection, more places to eat and drink, and it has easy access to I-90 so you can easily reach Badlands, Devils Tower and all other spots in the Black Hills. If you'd rather be right in the Black Hills, you can stay in Keystone near Mt Rushmore, or in Custer which is close to Sylvan Lake and Wind Cave. It depends on how many days you are going for and what you would prefer to see, but there's plenty to keep you occupied even without the hikes. Have a great trip!

Graham Bedford

Thursday 4th of June 2020

Really enjoying your national park posts, keep them coming.

Mark & Kristen Morgan

Thursday 4th of June 2020

Glad you're enjoying the US National Park posts Graham, we're enjoying writing them!