South Dakota is full of amazing sights. From National Parks and Memorials to State Parks and Wild West History, there’s a lot to add to a South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary.
Allow us to take out the guesswork as we share the Ultimate 7-day South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary. If you only have time for a long weekend, you’re in luck! Check out our 3-day weekend South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary for a quick trip around the Black Hills.
Driving or Flying to South Dakota
When we visited South Dakota we were on a cross-country road trip from New York to Wyoming. We hit South Dakota on the return trip and completed this portion of the trip from West to East. I would complete this itinerary in reverse.
If you are flying into South Dakota and renting a car, fly into Rapid City Regional Airport. After renting your car, complete the South Dakota road trip Itinerary in order from Day 1 – Day 7.
Ultimate South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
To make the most of your 7 days, we recommend checking the 6 best places South Dakota has to offer off your list. Here we will walk you through each National Park, National Monument, State Park, and beyond so you can easily plan your 7-day South Dakota Road Trip.
Badlands National Park
- 25216 SD-240, Interior, SD 57750
- Badlands National Park is open 24/7 and costs $30 per vehicle
Badlands National Park is known for its dramatic landscape and the number of fossils found. The many unique rock formations are sure to leave you in awe of this park and it is definitely a must-see on your South Dakota Road Trip.
Day 1 of your South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
Drive from Rapid City to your first stop, Badlands National Park. Depending on when your flight is, you might have time for a short afternoon hike (try the Cliff Nature Trail) and a stunning sunset. If your flight arrives later in the day you’ll only be able to snag a good sunset view.
Choose any of the pull-offs or overlooks along Sage Creek or Rim Road. We broke out the camp chairs and cracked a cold one as we watched the sunset on some stunning rock features. If you’re driving Sage Creek Road, be sure to stop at Roberts Prairie Dog Town to watch all the cute little prairie dogs go about their business.
While you’re in Wall, be sure to check out Wall Drug Store. Wall Drug Store is a famous historical and cultural site that combines a drug store, eatery, and gift shop into one. Be sure to stop for free ice water, a Wall Drug Store favorite.
Camp: Badlands Boondocking Area or Sage Creek Campground, Cedar Pass Campground & Lodge
Hotel: Americas Best Value Inn Wall, Days Inn Wyndham Wall
Day 2 of the South Dakota Itinerary
Wake up and head to Badlands National Park for an early hike. Check out the Notch Trail of the Window Trail for a short and sweet park staple before checking out the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
Before you leave the Badlands, plan for a longer hike with amazing views. Saddle Pass will bring you to one of the highest accessible points in the park and lead you to a beautifully barren landscape. Hike a bit of the Castle Trail or complete the Medicine Roots Loop if you’re looking for a longer hike.
Exploring the Badlands after a good rain is your best chance at finding some fossils! Be sure to follow the proper procedures for fossil discovery as they are explained in the visitor center.
If you have longer than 7 days, stray from this South Dakota road trip itinerary and spend another day in the Badlands. Here’s a list of hikes and things to do!
If you’re sticking to our 7-day South Dakota trip, get in the car and drive to Mount Rushmore National Memorial for a quick stop to end your first full day of exploring.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- 13000 SD-244, Keystone, SD 57751
- Mount Rushmore hours vary by season and cost $10 per car
Mount Rushmore National Monument features four 60-foot faces carved into a granite mountainside. This patriotic tribute to the United States of America and the four presidents who have had the greatest impact on our young nation is a must-see.
Day 2 continued
Mount Rushmore is open from 5 AM to 9 PM 7 days a week, all year long with the exception of Christmas Day. It’s an incredible space filled with patriotism.
There are trails to walk, museum exhibits to learn from, and the sculptor’s studio to visit. Take a walk along the presidential trail to get a closer look at the faces.
Learn about the four presidents who, at the time, represented the most important events in US history. My personal favorite, Theodore Roosevelt, was chosen to represent the development of the United States. You’ll have to visit to learn why George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln were selected by the artist, although, I’m sure you might have a few good guesses!
A few hours at Mount Rushmore National Memorial is more than enough time. If your schedule allows, the evening lighting ceremony is a special event and an incredible way to see the president’s face.
Camp: Mount Rushmore KOA, Centennial Trailhead Samulies
Hotel: Roosevelt Inn, Battle Creek Lodge
Custer State Park
- 13438 US Highway 16A, Custer, SD 57730
- Custer is open 24 hours a day with a $20 entry fee per car
South Dakota’s largest and first state park is a hot spot for visitors. It’s home to an abundance of wildlife, hiking trails, biking, swimming, and camping, making it a no-brainer for outdoor enthusiasts.
Day 3 of the South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
Wake up and head to Custer State Park via Iron Mountain Road. If you’re an avid hiker who likes a challenge, you’ll want to check out Black Elk Peak. It is the highest point in South Dakota and the highest point east of the Rockies at 7,242 feet above sea level!
Complete the hike in a loop from Sylvan Lake Parking lot, heading towards Little Devil Tower and Cathedral Spires fires. This 8-mile loop includes just about 1500 feet of elevation gain and will take you a majority of the day; make sure you’re properly prepared.
If strenuous hikes aren’t your thing, post up at Sylvan Lake for the day. It gets busy in the summer months, but it’s still a beautiful place to swim and paddle. Additionally, the Sunday Gultch trail is a shorter, more mellow option than Black Elk Peak at 3.9 miles RT and 797 feet of elevation gain.
When you’re done with your Custer State Park hike of choice, take a scenic drive. Needles Highway (route 87) is absolutely breathtaking. Be sure to pull over where safe to really take in all the amazing views. Keep driving South on 87 towards your next stop, Hot Springs.
Camp: Elk Mountain Campground, Sunrise Ridge Campground
Hotel: Red Rock River Resort, Hot Springs Hills Inn
Wind Cave National Park
- Wind Cave National Park Visitor Center, 26611 US-385, Hot Springs, SD 57747
Wind Cave is one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world. It’s also the first cave to named a National Park.
Day 4 South Dakota Itinerary
Wake up early and get an early start today! Head to the Wind Cave National Park Visitor Center to snag a ticket for a Cave Tour! The Fairground tour was truly remarkable. We learned so much about Win Cave National Park and had an absolute blast while doing it.
Try to schedule an early cave tour so you can head out for a hike after. I recommend checking out Rankin Ridge Fire Tower as it is the highest point in the park and offers expansive views of the Southeastern Black Hills and surrounding Great Plains.
Take A Hot Spring Dip
- 1145 N River St, Hot Springs, SD 57747
- Evans Plunge is open Wednesday through Monday
Evans plunge offers an indoor pool fed by naturally warm mineral water from a thermal spring & water slides.
- 1829 Minnekahta Ave, Hot Springs, SD 57747
- Moccasin Springs is open Wednesday through Sunday
Moccasin Springs offers spa treatments and four outdoor natural mineral spring pools.
Day 4 Continued
There are two main places where visitors enjoy natural hot spring water in Hot Spring South Dakota. If you’re traveling with little ones and are looking for more of a water park vibe, check out Evans Plunge. As the oldest attraction in the Black Hills, this naturally spring-fed pool certainly deserves a visit.
The more serene, adult-only option is Moccasin Springs. A natural mineral spa that features a number of hot pools, each with varying temperatures and spa services. It’s a wonderful way to relax after a few long days of travel and exploring.
Jewel Cave National Monument
- 11149 US-16 B-12, Custer, SD 57730
- Open Wednesday-Saturday between 8:30 and 4:30
Jewel Cave is the third longest Cave in the world. There are over 210 miles of mapped, surveyed passages full of fragile formations and brilliant pops of color.
Day 5 of your South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
Wake up on day 5 and head to Jewel Cave National Monument. Tours fill up early, so be sure to plan accordingly and arrive early.
The scenic tour is the most popular ranger-led tour offered at Jewel Cave National Monument. It’s a moderately strenuous hike that lasts about an hour and a half ad includes 734 stairs.
If you’re looking for something extra adventurous, try to snag a ticket to the Historic Lantern Tour. This strenuous tour enters from the cave’s original entrance and the only light comes from the lantern that tour participants carry.
There are also three different surface hikes worth your while at Jewel Cave. The Roof Trail is a short quarter-mile trail that meanders through wildflowers and ponderosa pines. If you’re looking for something more strenuous, the 3.5-mile Canyons Trail brings you through Lithograph and Hells Canyon and passes the historic entrance to Jewel Cave.
When your morning and early afternoon at Jewel Cave is over, head north to Deadwood.
- 102 Sherman Street, Deadwood, SD 57732
Historic Deadwood is known for its gold rush history and lawlessness. A great place for history buffs and adventure seekers alike, the town of Deadwood offers great access to Spearfish Canyon and exploration of Wild West History.
Day 5 Continued
When you arrive in Deadwood take a walk along the historic Mainstreet and grab a drink at Wild Bill bar!
If time permits and Wild West history interests you, check out Adams Museum. It is considered the oldest museum in the Black Hills and shares the legendary history of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Deadwood Dick, and the Black Hills Gold Rush.
Camp: Days of ‘76 Campground, Mt. Roosevelt Dr. in Black Hills National Forest
Hotel: The Lodge at Deadwood, Historic Bullock Hotel
- US-14A, Spearfish, SD 57783
Spearfish Canyon is an amazing natural recreation area equipped with hiking and biking trails, perfect pools for fly fishing, and a 19-mile stretch of scenic highway.
Day 6 of the South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
Wake up and take the 15 minutes to drive to Spearfish Canyon! While you’re here there are so many outdoor activities for you to choose from. Here are some of our favorites:
- Spearfish Community Caves
Spearfish Community Caves is a moderately strenuous hike because of how steep it is. It may only be a half mile from the road but you’ll be scrambling over loose rocks.
You’ll be able to enjoy incredible views of the canyon and the unique features of the Community Caves.
- Chase Waterfalls
Drive Spearfish Canyon and check out Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls, and Spearfish Falls.
Bridal Veil Falls is the most accessible of the three with a large viewing platform for visitors to enjoy the 60-foot cascading waterfall. Roughlock Falls includes maintained walking paths and picnic tables. Spearfish Falls is located in the heart of Spearfish Canyon and although it is a little off the beaten path if you choose to hike it, there is an overlook for those wishing to skip the hike.
- Climb Mountains
Check out Crow Peak or Lookout Mountain if you’re looking for a mountain hike.
Crow Peak is a 6.8-mile out and back that provides expansive views of the Black Hills. To climb the must more mellow lookout mountain, you’ll have to pay Lookout Mountain Park a visit. Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are permitted here and you’ll likely see a little bit of all three!
- Drive the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
Take a 22-mile drive through Spearfish Canyon and be enthralled by its beauty. With stunning pull-offs throughout the drive, we encourage you to stop, stretch your legs, and take in the views along the way.
After a full day exploring the Spearfish Canyon area, return to Deadwood for one final night in South Dakota. The nightlife in Deadwood is surprisingly good with a number of saloons staying open until 2 AM.
- 300 6th St. Rapid City SD 57701
Known as the city of presidents for its close proximity to Mount Rushmore and for the 43 life-size presidential statues scattered throughout the city, Rapid City is certainly worth a visit.
Day 7 of your South Dakota Road Trip
This final stop is for anyone driving to Rapid City to catch a flight or anyone who might be driving back through Rapid City to continue their road trip.
If you have any extra time to spend in the city, here are the best ways to spend your time:
- Visit the Museum of Geology for free exhibits focusing on paleontology and mineralogy.
- If you’re traveling with kids, head to Story Book Island for a children’s book-themed playground
- Explore the Downtown Area of Rapid City to experience a variety of art exhibits, museums, theaters, and a variety of other educational opportunities.
- Check out WaTiki Waterpark for a lazier type of adventure and splash around South Dakota’s largest indoor water park.
What Can I Do With My Extra Time?
If you find yourself with extra time or looking to replace one of the stops on your South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary, take a look at these options!
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located in North Dakota, about 4 hours from Rapid City. Here’s a full list of fun activities you can do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
- Bear Country USA
A seasonal drive-through wildlife safari highlighting native Black Hills wildlife. Take a three-mile drive through a number of enclosures and see black bears, elk, feer, cougars, bobcats, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and bison!
- Corn Palace
The world’s only corn palace, or multipurpose arena, where guests can experience corn murals, sporting events, and festivals.
- Crazy Horse Memorial
Currently under construction, but open for visitors, Crazy Horse Memorial is the largest mountain carving in the world. Learn about the culture, tradition, and living heritage of North America’s Native Americans.
- Sioux Falls
This is a great stop for anyone heading east to finish off their road trip. Sioux Falls is a city in South Dakota where the Big Sioux River tumbles over a series of rocks at falls park. Sioux Falls is a scenic city with a handful of really fun things to do!
If you’re looking to extend your South Dakota Road Trip or simply replace something on this list that doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, check out these # Must-See Road Trip Spots in South Dakota.
South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary: Long Weekend
Take the scenic route and explore the Black Hills for some of the best views South Dakota has to offer.
South Dakota Long Weekend Day 1
- Leave Rapid City on route 16 and drive through Bear Country USA if you’re looking for a drive through wildlife experience.
- Then continue to 16A until it becomes Iron Mountain Road. This scenic route takes you through a 17-mile stretch of the Black Hills dropping you in Custer State Park.
- Check out Sylvan Lake and go for an evening paddle. Stay the night in Custer State Park at Sylvan Lake Lodge or a campground within the park.
Long Weekend Day 2
- Get an early start and hike the best trail in Custer State Park, Black Elk Peak. Enjoy panoramic views from the highest point in South Dakota before returning to the parking lot.
- Take the scenic drive down Needles Highway to Wind Cave National Park and choose a fun hike at this unique National Park. For a short, fun little loop with big views try Ranking Ridge. For a longer, more challenging loop check out the Lookout Loop Trail on the Centennial Trail.
- Spend the night in Wind Cave National Park at Elk Mountain Campground
Long Weekend Day 3
- Wake up early and get in line at the Wind Caves Visitor Center. Today, you’re trying to snag a tour of one of the longest, most complex caves in the world. The Fairgrounds Cave tour is a great option!
- After your cave tour, head north on 385 past Crazy Horse Memorial and to Mount Rushmore
- Spend the night in the nearby town of Keystone
3 thoughts on “7-Day Ultimate South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary: Black Hills Best”
Pingback: 20 Unique Things to do in Wind Cave National Park
Great post !
We used to travel with camp van is very beautiful !
One good tip you need a really good equipment I have bought a few things on this website http://www.parrotias.com
You can find really useful things.
Nice! Thanks for the tip. We road trip in our jeep and tent it!