Are you looking for things to do in the Black Hills? You’re in luck because this summer we spent a week discovering the area including hitting some of the top attractions.
We had a blast Jeep trail riding and camping with our family. We even celebrated our daughter’s 4th birthday on the trails.
From Mt. Rushmore to off roading in South Dakota’s Black Hills we plan to cover it for you here in one place so you can properly plan your next trip.
Whether or not you have a Jeep or off-road machines you will have plenty of things to do while you’re there.
The Black Hills of South Dakota is an off-roading playground so if you have the chance to even rent a machine for the day you should consider it.
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Things to Do in the Black Hills
Let’s just get the trail riding out of the way right up front then get to the other things that you may want to know.
Jeep Trail Riding in South Dakota Black Hills
We stopped at a gas station in Hill City, SD and got a trail map to tell us where we could and couldn’t ride. We had a mix of riders in our party from UTVs to Jeeps so we needed to be able to find places to ride together.
Are UTVs street legal in South Dakota?
This comes straight from the Forest Service site, “Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Visitors to the Forest will find over 3,600 miles of roads and trails designated open for motorized travel.”
It’s important that you grab one of those maps so you know where you can and can’t ride.
Do not ride into Wyoming with a SD permit because you will get a ticket. They require you to have a permit for Wyoming to travel on their roads in your OHV. 
Where do I buy my permit to ride on trails and roads?
You can purchase your permit online, at a visitors center on I-90, online or at a local vendor. To find that information you can go here.
For Jeeps, you don’t need anything extra because you are a licensed vehicle already.
What is OHV trail riding?
OHV trail riding is also called ATV or UTV trail riding. Off highway vehicles are popular in the area due to the thousands of miles of trails you can ride there.
Our Favorite Trail Rides
To find places to ride you should definitely download the trail maps app. This will show you where you can and can’t ride depending on what you’re driving.
Some of our favorite places were:
- Sheridan Lake
- China Gulch
- Calumet Road
Out off Sheridan Lake there are a couple of trails that take you out and you could be out there all day long. In fact, we were out there all day and that was the day it ended up hailing on us in 80 degree temperatures. It was incredible. We even managed to find a more difficult black hills jeep trail out there.
China Gulch was a neat place to ride as well with giant boulders hanging out near the roads. We did quite a bit of night riding here because there are more roads than trails for us to safely navigate in the dark.
Needles Highway & Iron Mountain Road
If you aren’t looking to off-road really but still want to take a scenic route these two roads won’t disappoint.
We ended up taking the Needles Highway ride twice because it was so much fun! Plus threading the eye of the needle makes for pretty epic footage.
All in all the trail riding in the Black Hills of South Dakota was really tame. Nothing quite like our ride in 2018 to Taylor Park, Colorado. We will have to do another trip there in our Jeep and do some real rock climbing.
Where can I camp in the Black Hills?
-Images needed: boondocking camp, trailside photo, dutchman camp
There is a ton of Black Hills South Dakota camping options available. From primitive dry camping, RV campgrounds and even fancy resorts.
When we arrived in South Dakota we arrived ahead of most of our family so we stayed in the Ducthman Campground north of Hill City. This is dry camping in a national forest. It’s $20 per night and it was not my favorite.
The camp hosts were super nice and accommodating and turned out to be fellow full-time RVers.
If you choose to stay in Dutchman Campground there are a few things to know before you go…
- Look into this water bandit so you can get water in your RV. You cannot attach a regular hose to their spigots.
- There isn’t a dump station there either. So dump your tanks before you head out. You may even take your poop caddy if you plan to stay for more than a few days because it’s out in the middle of nowhere.
Black Hills Trailside Park Resort
Then we stayed for several nights in the Black Hills Trailside Park Resort to get caught up on laundry and have our daughters birthday party near family.
Part of our family camped in RVs there and part of them stayed in the cabins up on the hill.
Overall it’s a nice place but it is near the road so you will hear road noise and when we stayed there was road work to tend with as well.
It’s over $60 per night so this isn’t a place we would normally stay at for extended stays.
There are other places for RV camping in the Black Hills if you’re looking for more affordable options but you will have to do quite a bit of calling around.
Primitive Dry Camping
We just gave up and moved to a primitive site out off of Calumet Road.
Can you camp anywhere in the Black Hills?
If you’re looking for primitive dry camping options in the Black Hills then you need to look on places like Campendium or freecampsites.net to find camping in the national forest areas.
Things to Do in the Black Hills (that aren’t off-roading)
Now let’s get down to business with the activities that won’t take you off the beaten path.
I’m going to give you a rundown of what we did and throw in a few honorable mentions that we didn’t get to do.
Take a Deadwood Day Trip
We took a day trip over to Deadwood, SD. The ride itself is quite a ways from Hill City but not long enough you’d need to pack a lunch or anything.
This is one of those heavily touristy areas we prefer to avoid but since our family was going we decided to tag along.
You can wander in and out of the shops, museums and even the cemetery there taking in the history of the city.
It’s quite miraculous the city is built right up on the mountains. I can’t imagine riding horseback or wagons through there hundreds of years ago… not to mention the winters there.
What is there to do in Deadwood SD?
- Visit Mount Moriah Cemetery
- Adams Museum
- Broken Boot Gold Mine
- Walk Main Street
Visit Mt Rushmore
You can’t go to the Black Hills of South Dakota and not visit Mt. Rushmore. It’s something every American should do at least once.
We want to go back so we can get a family photo of the 4 of us since our daughter was with our other family members when we finally got there the day we visited.
When you get there you should definitely take the Mount Rushmore Presidential Trail. Along the way you will get to see so many good views of the monument.
You will also be able to tour the sculpture studio too and see the machinery they used during the process. You can also learn about the sculptors and what they endured during their time there.
Hiking Cathedral Spires Trail on Needles Highway
If there’s one thing that is plentiful in the Black Hills of South Dakota it’s hiking. Grab a good set of hiking shoes and your favorite camelbak and hit the trails.
We really enjoy hiking cathedral spires trail on needles highway. It’s about 1.6 miles out and back with gorgeous views.
It’s not just a flat path either but it’s not a difficult trail. You can definitely get some hiking with kids in during your trip.
Swimming at Pactola Lake
If you aren’t afraid of cold water you should definitely head out to Pactola Lake and take a dip. There are some cliffs you can jump off of there. Our family really thought this was a ton of fun and it was the first time Natalee jumped off of a cliff. It’s safe I promise.
We got some pretty neat drone footage while we were there.
Spend a Day in Custer State Park
We spent an entire day out in Custer State Park. If you have kids that get car sick make sure you take some bags because the roads are a bit windy.
There are a lot of places to stop out there including the visitors center.
We stopped and had lunch at the State Game Lodge and had an amazing buffet lunch. This isn’t an ordinary buffet… The food, the coffee, the pie… Just trust me and go eat there.
- Crazy Horse Monument
- Wind Cave National Park
- Black Elk Peak
- Black Hills Central Railroad
That about wraps up the things to do in the Black Hills. There is enough to keep one family busy for a month there and you still wouldn’t see and do everything.
If you love the outdoors, stamping your passport book and hitting the trails then you will love the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Start planning your trip today!