Mt Rush KOA at Palmer

Trip Planning

The Black Hills of South Dakota

Jeff Crider gives the ultimate guide to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

For most of the country, one of more remote destinations in the Lower 48 is the Black Hills of South Dakota.

But while most people associate the Black Hills with Mount Rushmore, the famous 81-year-old mountain sculpture featuring the faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, visitors can easily spend a week or more exploring the many scenic and historical sites in the greater Black Hills area.

There’s Wind Cave and Jewel Cave national parks. Wind Cave is one of the world’s longest cave systems. “The cave is still being explored with no end in sight,” according to the National Park Service website.

Jewel Cave, for its part, is the world’s third longest cave, with over 210 miles of mapped and surveyed passageways.

One hour east of Rapid City is Badlands National Park, a desolate, yet strikingly beautiful area with eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires and protected mixed grass prairie. The park also preserves fossil beds from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals, with the skeletons of saber-toothed cats, ancient camels and three-toed horses being among the fossils discovered there.

Another attraction close to the Badlands is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which preserves two facilities that once housed Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, nuclear missiles that were used to protect the United States and its allies during the Cold War.

About an hour’s drive north of Mount Rushmore is the historic city of Deadwood, the site of the gold rush of 1874 that drew miners and Western folk heroes to the Black Hills, including Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

Many Black Hills visitors also visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, another mountain sculpture that is being designed to depict the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing to his tribal land. Crazy Horse has been a work-in-progress since 1948.

There are also scores of rodeos, state fairs and other annual events that make trip to the Black Hills worthwhile. These include the 103-year-old Black Hills Roundup, June 30 to July 4th, in Belle Fourche. The event, one of the oldest continuously operating outdoor rodeos in the country, includes rodeos, a parade, a carnival, concerts and a golf tournament.

Deadwood has its Days of 76 Rodeo and Parade in Deadwood, scheduled for July 24th - 30th.

Late summer attractions include Custer State Park’s annual Buffalo Roundup & Arts Festival, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, in which cowboys, cowgirls and park rangers round up and drive a herd of 1,400 bison through the 71,000-acre state park.

Some campgrounds even offer their own rodeo events.

The Mount Rushmore KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch has rodeo events with barrel racing, bull riding, team roping and other activities planned for June 11 and 25 and August 4, 20 and 27.

Hart Ranch Camping Resort in Rapid City, for its part, offers an adventure camp for kids that includes horseback riding and other activities. This 459-site membership park is located about eight miles south of downtown Rapid City. Amenities include an Olympic-size swimming pool and hot tubs; volleyball, basketball, tennis and pickleball courts; a miniature golf course; disc golf; a gaga ball pit; and kiddie train rides.


The good news for RV enthusiasts is that there are plenty of campgrounds in and around the Black Hills. Here’s a sampling of some of the campgrounds in the greater Black Hills area:

Big Pine Campground in Custer: This park offers both shaded and secluded campsites.

Custer Crazy Horse Campground in Custer: Amenities at this campground include a solar-heated swimming pool and playground and a rock outcropping for kids to climb on.

Custer’s Gulch RV Park and Campground in Custer, S.D.: This park features RV sites with full hookups.

Custer’s Last Chance RV Park & Campground in Custer: This campground offers dry camping for up to 20 to 25 RVs.

Fort Welikit Family Campground in Custer: This campground features RV sites and rental accommodations, including park model RVs. Amenities include private family bath houses, a unique fort playground and large play area for kids, a fenced dog park, and a camp store.

Heartland RV Park & Cabins in Hermosa: This park has 210 sites and a 5,000-square-foot event center, which provides breakfast and evening food service daily from early May until the end of September. The event center is also used for free live musical entertainment four nights a week and for free wine tasting every Thursday night during the summer camping season.

Rapid City / Black Hills KOA Holiday in Rapid City: This park offers RV sites and  as well as unique amenities, including a hot tub, an herb garden, pancake breakfasts and Black Hills tours.

Jeff Crider


Jeff Crider, President and CEO of Crider Public Relations, has been involved in covering the campground industry for over 25 years. Jeff has worked as a freelance writer for publications such as RV Business, Motor Home Magazine, Trailer Life, Highways and other Affinity Group Inc. publications since 1995. He has also successfully pitched many of the nation's top tier media outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Financial Times, Reuters, The Associated Press and National Public Radio. In addition to writing, Jeff is also a talented photographer and humanitarian.