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An Awesome South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary


by Malorie Prevost



Embarking on a thrilling road trip is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the adventurous spirit of South Dakota. With its incredible natural beauty, iconic landmarks, and rich history, this Midwestern state offers a diverse range of experiences for travelers. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or simply seeking an unforgettable journey, South Dakota has something to captivate every adventurer.


From the rugged landscapes of Badlands National Park to the monumental carvings of Mount Rushmore, there is no shortage of awe-inspiring sights to discover. This comprehensive road trip itinerary will guide you through the best that South Dakota has to offer, ensuring you make the most of your time and experience the true essence of the state.


Over the course of ten days, you’ll encounter breathtaking natural wonders, delve into the rich history of the Black Hills, and marvel at the engineering marvels of the Needles Highway. You’ll also have the opportunity to encounter diverse wildlife, explore charming towns, and indulge in outdoor adventures that will get your adrenaline pumping.


Be prepared to journey through vast prairies, traverse winding mountain roads, and witness the splendor of South Dakota’s national parks. Along the way, keep an eye out for elusive bison, majestic elk, and soaring eagles. Immerse yourself in the fascinating stories of the Wild West, as you visit historic towns like Deadwood that once thrived during the Gold Rush era.


Whether you choose to embark on this road trip solo, with friends, or with your family, South Dakota promises an unforgettable adventure that will leave you with cherished memories and a longing to return. Pack your sense of curiosity and wonder, and let’s hit the road to discover the wonders that await in this incredible state.


Day 1: Arrival in Rapid City

Your adventure begins as you arrive in Rapid City, the gateway to the incredible attractions of South Dakota. After settling into your accommodations, take some time to explore the downtown area. Stroll through Main Street and admire the vibrant murals that dot the cityscape.


For an intriguing start to your journey, visit the Journey Museum and Learning Center. This interactive museum will provide you with a fascinating overview of the region’s history, geology, and Native American culture. Explore the exhibits and gain a deeper understanding of the land you’re about to discover.


In the afternoon, head to the nearby Dinosaur Park. This outdoor sculpture park features life-sized replicas of various dinosaur species overlooking the city. Take a leisurely walk among the towering creatures and learn about the prehistoric past of this area.


As the day winds down, make your way to Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve for a scenic hike. Enjoy the tranquility of the natural surroundings, and keep an eye out for the remnants of ancient marine fossils embedded in the rocks.


For dinner, indulge in some delicious local cuisine at one of the many restaurants in Rapid City. Whether you’re craving a juicy steak, mouthwatering BBQ, or international flavors, you’ll find a plethora of dining options to satisfy your taste buds.


After dinner, take a leisurely stroll through Art Alley, a vibrant alleyway adorned with colorful street art. Explore the murals and graffiti that showcase the creativity of local artists.


As the first day comes to a close, take some time to relax and recharge for the exciting adventures that lie ahead in the beautiful state of South Dakota.


Day 2: Exploring Badlands National Park

On day two, prepare to be mesmerized by the striking beauty of Badlands National Park. Located just an hour’s drive east of Rapid City, this otherworldly landscape is a must-visit for any adventurer.


Start your day early and arrive at the park before sunrise to witness the majestic colors of the Badlands come to life. Find a vantage point and watch as the sun paints the sky with hues of pink, orange, and gold, creating a breathtaking scene you won’t soon forget.


Once the sun is up, head out on one of the park’s numerous hiking trails. The Door Trail is a great choice for beginners, offering an easy stroll through the unique rock formations and the chance to explore an ancient sea bed.


For a more challenging hike, embark on the Notch Trail. This 1.5-mile trail takes you along the edge of a cliff, offering panoramic views of the Badlands below. Be prepared for a short but steep ladder climb to reach the final viewpoint, where the surrounding landscape stretches out before you in all its splendor.


After hiking, take a drive along the Badlands Loop Road to fully experience the park’s diverse terrain. Marvel at the towering spires, deep canyons, and expansive prairies as you wind your way through this geological wonderland.


Make a stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn more about the park’s unique geology, flora, and fauna. Rangers are available to provide information and answer any questions you may have.


As the day comes to an end, find a spot to sit and witness a memorable Badlands sunset. The ever-changing hues of the rocky landscape under the golden light are a photographer’s dream.


After a day of exploration, return to Rapid City and treat yourself to a well-deserved meal at one of the local restaurants. Reflect on the beauty and wonder you experienced in Badlands National Park and get ready for another day filled with adventure in South Dakota.


Day 3: Journey through the Black Hills

Day three of your South Dakota road trip takes you to the stunning Black Hills region, a majestic mountain range known for its lush forests, granite peaks, and rich history.


Start your day by driving to Custer State Park, a true gem nestled in the heart of the Black Hills. Embark on the scenic Wildlife Loop Road, a 18-mile route that offers incredible opportunities to spot native wildlife, including the park’s famous bison herds. Keep your camera ready as you may also encounter pronghorn antelope, deer, and bighorn sheep.


After your wildlife adventure, make your way to Sylvan Lake, a picturesque alpine lake surrounded by towering granite walls. Take a leisurely stroll around the lake or rent a kayak to explore its tranquil waters. The reflection of the surrounding hills on the lake’s surface creates a breathtaking scene.


Next, head to the iconic Crazy Horse Memorial, a monumental sculpture in progress that pays homage to the Native American heritage of the region. Learn about the fascinating history behind this ambitious project and admire the incredible craftsmanship that goes into creating the world’s largest mountain carving.


Continue your journey to the charming town of Hill City, where you can visit the South Dakota State Railroad Museum. Delve into the history of the railroad in the region and enjoy interactive exhibits that showcase the importance of trains in shaping the Black Hills.


As the day comes to a close, treat yourself to a delightful dinner at one of the local restaurants in Hill City. Sample the flavors of the region, from hearty game dishes to delectable homemade pies.


End your day by gazing at the starry night sky in the Black Hills. The region’s remote location and minimal light pollution provide the perfect setting for stargazing. Take a moment to appreciate the vastness of the universe and the tranquility of nature.


With another day of exploration in the Black Hills complete, rest up for the adventures that await you on day four of your South Dakota road trip.


Day 4: Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park

Day four of your South Dakota adventure is packed with iconic landmarks and breathtaking natural beauty. Get ready to explore Mount Rushmore and immerse yourself in the rugged splendor of Custer State Park.


Begin your day by visiting the world-renowned Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Marvel at the granite faces of four former U.S. presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – carved into the mountainside. Take your time to explore the visitor center, educational exhibits, and walking trails that offer different perspectives of this awe-inspiring tribute to American history.


Next, make your way to Custer State Park, where you’ll find a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Drive along the scenic Needles Highway, a winding road that takes you through narrow tunnels and past towering granite spires. Admire the stunning rock formations and keep an eye out for bighorn sheep that often graze along the roadside.


Stop at the Sylvan Lake Lodge for a delightful lunch surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills. The lodge offers a cozy and rustic atmosphere, perfect for a midday break.


After lunch, explore the park’s wildlife loop once again to spot any creatures you may have missed the previous day. Custer State Park is also home to a stunning herd of wild American bison, with opportunities to witness these magnificent animals up close.


For the thrill-seekers, consider embarking on a scenic horseback ride through the park’s picturesque trails. Enjoy the tranquility of nature and the stunning vistas that surround you.


As the day comes to an end, find a spot to watch the stunning sunset over the rolling hills of Custer State Park. The warm hues painting the landscape provide a truly magical experience.


After a day filled with history, natural wonders, and wildlife encounters, return to your lodging for a restful night’s sleep. Tomorrow awaits with more adventures in the beautiful state of South Dakota.


Day 5: Wildlife and Nature in Wind Cave National Park

Day five of your South Dakota road trip takes you to the underground wonders and abundant wildlife of Wind Cave National Park. Prepare for an unforgettable day immersed in nature’s beauty.


Start your day by exploring the unique underground world of Wind Cave. Take a guided tour to marvel at the intricate labyrinth of passages and stunning cave formations. Descend into the depths and witness the mesmerizing beauty created by nature over millions of years.


Once back on the surface, embark on a hike through the park’s expansive prairies and rolling hills. Follow the walking trails lined with wildflowers and take in the breathtaking scenery around you. Keep an eye out for the park’s resident wildlife, including bison, elk, pronghorn, coyotes, and a variety of bird species.


For the adventurous, join a ranger-led wildlife viewing program to increase your chances of spotting the park’s elusive creatures. Learn about the conservation efforts implemented to protect these remarkable animals and gain a deeper appreciation for their importance in the ecosystem.


After a morning of exploration, find a serene spot for a picnic surrounded by the park’s natural beauty. Enjoy a packed lunch while breathing in the fresh air and appreciating the tranquility of the park.


In the afternoon, head to the visitor center to learn more about the park’s rich history and geology. Engage with the interactive exhibits that showcase the unique features of Wind Cave and the surrounding ecosystem.


If you’re up for another adventure, consider joining a guided hiking or wildlife watching tour offered by the park. These tours provide a more immersive experience and the opportunity to learn from knowledgeable guides who can uncover hidden gems and share fascinating stories about the park’s natural wonders.


As the day draws to a close, take some time to relax and reflect on the beauty and wonder of Wind Cave National Park. Enjoy a delicious dinner and make sure to get a good night’s rest for the next day’s adventures.


Day 6: Historic Deadwood and Spearfish Canyon

Day six of your South Dakota road trip takes you on a journey back in time as you explore the historic town of Deadwood and the natural wonders of Spearfish Canyon.


Start your day by immersing yourself in the Wild West history of Deadwood. Take a stroll along Main Street and soak in the atmosphere of this once lawless town. Visit the Adams Museum, which showcases artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of Deadwood’s colorful past, including its association with famous figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.


For an interactive experience, join a guided tour or attend a reenactment that brings the town’s history to life. Walk the same streets where notorious characters roamed and hear captivating tales of the Gold Rush era.


While in Deadwood, try your luck at one of the historic casinos. Channel your inner gambler and enjoy the lively atmosphere that still carries the spirit of the town’s early days.


After exploring Deadwood, head to Spearfish Canyon, a scenic gorge known for its towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and vibrant foliage. Drive along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, a route that winds through the heart of the canyon. Stop at iconic landmarks such as Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls, where you can stretch your legs and soak in the natural beauty surrounding you.


If time allows, consider embarking on a hike in the canyon to fully appreciate its enchanting landscapes. Trails like the Devil’s Bathtub Trail and the Community Caves Trail offer opportunities to discover secluded spots and connect with nature.


As the day comes to an end, head back to Deadwood for a hearty dinner at one of the local eateries. Indulge in a delicious meal and toast to the adventures of the day.


Before retiring for the night, take a moment to reflect on the vibrant past of Deadwood and the breathtaking scenery of Spearfish Canyon. Tomorrow holds more excitement and exploration as you continue your South Dakota road trip.


Day 7: Discovering the Beauty of the Needles Highway

On day seven, prepare to be amazed as you embark on a scenic drive along the iconic Needles Highway. This stretch of road in the Black Hills is renowned for its jaw-dropping views and unique rock formations.


Start your day early to make the most of your time on the Needles Highway. As you drive, be prepared for narrow tunnels, hairpin turns, and breathtaking vistas at every turn.


Marvel at the granite spires that give the highway its name – slender, towering formations resembling needles reaching toward the sky. The twisting road winds through these incredible rock formations, offering a truly remarkable driving experience.


Be sure to stop at the pullouts scattered along the route to take in the panoramic views and capture memorable photos of the scenic landscapes. Look out for the distinctively shaped Cathedral Spires, a cluster of granite formations that resemble a cathedral rising from the earth.


During your journey, keep an eye out for wildlife that may graze along the roadside or dart across the forested areas. Bighorn sheep, deer, and even mountain goats may make an appearance, adding to the enchantment of the drive.


Midway through your journey, take a break at Sylvan Lake. This tranquil alpine lake nestled among the granite peaks offers a serene setting for a picnic or a leisurely walk along its shores. The surrounding nature is breathtaking and provides an opportunity to soak up the tranquil atmosphere.


As you near the end of the Needles Highway, make a stop at the Needles Eye, a unique rock formation with an arch-like opening. Snap some photos and take a moment to appreciate the natural wonders of the Black Hills.


Finish your day by watching the sunset over the rugged hills from a scenic viewpoint along the Needles Highway. The golden hues painting the landscape create a captivating scene and serve as a fitting end to a day filled with awe-inspiring beauty.


After a day of traversing the remarkable landscapes of the Needles Highway, head back to your lodging for a well-deserved rest. Reflect on the incredible sights you witnessed and prepare for the adventures still to come on your South Dakota road trip.


Day 8: Outdoor Adventures in Custer State Park

Day eight of your South Dakota road trip is dedicated to outdoor adventures in the stunning Custer State Park. Get ready to immerse yourself in the natural wonders and outdoor activities this expansive park has to offer.


Start your day by embarking on a scenic hike in Custer State Park. With miles of well-maintained trails, you have a multitude of options to choose from. Whether you prefer a leisurely walk or a more challenging trek, the park offers something for every outdoor enthusiast.


For a moderate hike, consider the Cathedral Spires Trail. This three-mile loop will take you through a forested area and lead you to the base of the awe-inspiring spires. Marvel at the towering granite formations and take in the breathtaking views from the summit.


If you’re up for a more challenging adventure, tackle the Harney Peak Trail. As the highest point in South Dakota, reaching the summit of Harney Peak rewards you with panoramic views of the Black Hills and beyond. The hike is approximately seven miles round trip and offers a truly memorable experience.


After your hike, cool off with a refreshing dip in one of the park’s pristine lakes. Sylvan Lake and Legion Lake are popular spots for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Enjoy the crystal-clear waters surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills.


For those seeking a more leisurely activity, consider exploring the park on horseback. Custer State Park offers guided horseback riding tours with experienced wranglers who will lead you through the park’s scenic trails. This unique perspective allows you to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the area.


As you explore the park, keep an eye out for the incredible wildlife that calls Custer State Park home. Bison, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep roam freely throughout the park, providing numerous opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography.


As the day comes to a close, find a scenic spot to witness a memorable Custer State Park sunset. The vivid colors painting the sky over the dramatic landscapes create a truly magical experience.


After a day full of outdoor adventures, return to your lodging and relish in the stories and memories you’ve made in Custer State Park. Rest up for the final days of your South Dakota road trip, knowing that more incredible experiences await.


Day 9: Journey to the Jewel Cave National Monument

On day nine of your South Dakota road trip, get ready to explore the fascinating underground world of Jewel Cave National Monument. This day is dedicated to uncovering the hidden beauty and mysteries beneath the surface.


Start your day by driving to Jewel Cave National Monument, located in the scenic Black Hills. Upon arrival, join a guided cave tour to experience the awe-inspiring formations and intricate passageways of this remarkable underground marvel.


As you venture into the cave, be prepared to witness an incredible display of stalactites, stalagmites, and other unique formations that have been developing for thousands of years. The knowledgeable guides will provide insights into the cave’s geology, history, and fragile ecosystem.


Choose a tour that matches your comfort level and interests, from the easy and family-friendly Scenic Tour to the more adventurous and physically demanding Wild Caving Tour for those seeking a hands-on exploration experience. Whichever tour you choose, be prepared to be astounded by the hidden wonders of Jewel Cave.


After your underground adventure, take some time to explore the surface trails around the monument. Embark on a nature hike that winds through the surrounding forested areas, revealing more of the natural beauty of the Black Hills.


If you’re up for a different kind of adventure, consider participating in a ranger-led program offered at the monument. These programs cover a wide range of topics, from wildlife encounters to photography workshops, and provide an opportunity to learn more about the area and its natural wonders.


For a relaxing end to the day, find a picturesque picnic spot near the visitor center to enjoy a packed lunch amidst the tranquil surroundings. Reflect on the unique experiences of the day and savor the memories made in the underground realm of Jewel Cave.


As the day draws to a close, bid farewell to Jewel Cave National Monument and head back to your lodging with a sense of wonder and amazement for the hidden treasures that lie beneath the surface of the Black Hills.


Day 10: Departure and Final Thoughts

As your South Dakota road trip comes to an end, day ten is dedicated to departure and reflecting on the incredible experiences you’ve had throughout your journey.


After breakfast, take some time to pack up your belongings and bid farewell to the beautiful landscapes and warm hospitality of South Dakota.


Before you depart, consider making one last stop at Wall Drug in the town of Wall. This iconic roadside attraction offers a unique mix of shopping, dining, and entertainment. Grab a delicious homemade donut or browse through the quirky shops for souvenirs to remind you of your South Dakota adventure.


As you hit the road, take a moment to reflect on the unforgettable memories you’ve made during your time in South Dakota. From the awe-inspiring natural wonders to the rich history and charming towns, this road trip has truly been a journey of discovery.


Remember the mesmerizing sunsets over the Badlands, the faces of the presidents etched into Mount Rushmore, the tranquil beauty of Custer State Park, and the hidden underground gems of Jewel Cave. Cherish the moments spent connecting with nature, encountering wildlife, and immersing yourself in the vibrant history and culture of the region.


As you drive away, keep in mind that South Dakota’s enchanting landscapes will always be there, waiting to welcome you back for another memorable adventure.


Whether you’re heading home or continuing on to your next destination, let the memories and experiences of your South Dakota road trip inspire you to seek out new adventures and appreciate the wonders this world has to offer.


Safe travels, and until we meet again on the road!