48 Hours in the Black Hills

The Black Hills are an explorer’s paradise. From rugged granite cliffs and ponderosa pine forests to pristine lakes, quaint communities, and abundant wildlife, visitors can easily devote an entire week to exploration and still not see everything the region has to offer. But let’s face it, not everybody can afford to take an extended vacation. Short on time but eager for adventure? No problem: even 48 hours in the Black Hills are enough for a memorable experience. 

Here’s a guide to a few must-see attractions you’ll want to check out during your (brief) stay. They’ll be enough to whet your appetite…and we bet you’ll be planning a longer return trip before this one is even over!

Day One

There are lots of great communities in the Black Hills, but if you’ve only got two days, Rapid City makes a perfect home base. It offers a wide variety of lodging accommodations for all price ranges, is close to the airport, and provides easy access to the highways that will whisk you through the Black Hills. Be sure to spend a little time exploring the City of Presidents; life-size bronze sculptures of 44 U.S. presidents line the downtown street corners and offer brief history lessons, and Main Street Square offers shopping and entertainment year-round. Grab a coffee and pastry to go from one of the city’s coffee shops and hit the road!

Mount Rushmore Road turns into U.S. Route 16A, your direct connection to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. No visit to the Black Hills is complete without a stop at Gutzon Borglum’s mountain carving honoring George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. It’s an awe-inspiring, patriotic sight you’ll never forget! Afterward, continue along Iron Mountain Road, famous for its granite tunnels, pigtail bridges, and spectacular scenery, to Custer State Park. Take the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road for an up-close look at one of the largest bison herds in South Dakota, as well as prairie dogs, pronghorn antelope, and the park’s famous “begging burros.” From there, head south to Crazy Horse Memorial, the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. When complete, it will depict Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse astride a horse, pointing to his ancestral lands. Though far from finished, it’s still an impressive sight and well worth the stop. Don’t miss the Indian Museum of North America, which houses a vast collection of artifacts and memorabilia. 

Custer is just a short drive away and worth a visit, especially if you’re hungry. Grab a burger from Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. or a slice of pie from Bobkat’s Old Fashion Purple Pie Place (with its colorful decor, you can’t miss it!). 

That’s a pretty full day, so head back to Rapid City for dinner and a cold beer, glass of wine, or craft cocktail. Be sure to get to bed at a decent time, though—you’ve got another full day of exploring to do!

  • Start your stay in Rapid City
    • Walk downtown to see the presidents
  • Head to Mt. Rushmore
  • Take Iron Mountain Road to Custer State Park
  • Drive the Wildlife Loop and meet the begging burros
  • Venture south to Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Grab a bite in Custer before heading back to Rapid City

Day Two

Begin your second day by heading west on Interstate 90. Take exit 32 and drive through the town of Sturgis, famous for its annual Motorcycle Rally every August, before turning north onto U.S. 79. Bear Butte is a short 15-minute drive away; this igneous rock formation rises dramatically above the surrounding prairie and is considered sacred to many Native American tribes. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and take a few photos. Retrace your route and continue west along U.S. 14 to the historic town of Deadwood, a former mining camp and home to infamous Wild West figures like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock (all of whom are buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery on a bluff overlooking the city—guided tours are available if you’re interested). Plan on spending a couple of hours exploring Deadwood; try your hand at blackjack, roulette, or slots in one of the casinos lining Main Street, stop by the Adam’s Museum for a glimpse into the town’s notorious past, and catch a historical reenactment of a Wild West shootout. Deadwood’s sister city Lead is just a few miles away on U.S. 85 South; check out the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center, perched on the edge of the 1,250-foot-deep “open cut” where gold was mined for over 100 years, or take a guided walk through the Black Hills Mining Museum. From Lead, turn onto U.S. 14A at Cheyenne Crossing for the 22-mile drive through scenic Spearfish Canyon, renowned for its towering granite peaks and cascading waterfalls. You’ll emerge in the town of Spearfish, your perfect opportunity to grab dinner and a drink at one of the restaurants or brewpubs lining downtown’s Main Street. 

Once you’ve satisfied your appetite, hop back onto I-90 for the return trip to Rapid City. Then, start planning your next visit!

  • Take I90 from Rapid City to Sturgis
  • Get outside and hike Bear Butte – or just drive to see it!
  • Keep heading west to Deadwood
    • Enjoy the events, casinos, and historical venues
  • Venture a little beyond Deadwood to Lead
    • See the open cut, the Visitor Center, and Mining Museum
  • Wrap up your day driving through Spearfish Canyon and grab dinner downtown before driving back to Rapid City.