Road Trip: Southwest South Dakota

This 223-mile journey is chock-full of American beauty and Western history.
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Credit: Dieter Braun

Credit: Dieter Braun

1)Between the Badlands and the Black Hills, this corner of South Dakota packs history and adventure into this modest road trip. Starting in Badlands National Park, home to one of the world’s richest fossil beds and largest mixed-grass prairies, visit the Fossil Prep Lab, or take a driving tour through the park’s 224,000 acres to see everything from bison to black-footed ferrets. Also not-to-miss is Wall Drug, just outside the park and in operation since 1931.

2) On your way to the Black Hills, stop in Rapid City for a must-have shopping opportunity at Prairie Edge Trading Co., specializing in Native American beadwork and other Western art. Follow your shopping spree up with a stroll through downtown for photo-ops with the statues of each of our past American presidents—the perfect warm-up to visiting Mount Rushmore National Monument, celebrating its 90th year in 2015.

3) The next leg of the trip takes you on a jaunt that offers three different historical and national treasures within 25 miles of each other—Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave National Park. Each site is a tribute to the extensive history and diverse topography that characterizes the incredibly unique Black Hills. Try traveling the Iron Mountain Road from Mount Rushmore to Custer State Park, designed to literally make you slow down and enjoy the journey—a true road-warrior’s dream come true. This way, it won’t be hard to miss the 1,300 bison that make up one of the largest publicly owned bison herds in the world, especially if it’s during their annual roundup, which occurs in late September this year. 

4) Finally, no American Cowboy journey to the Black Hills is complete without visiting the National Historic Landmark and Wild West town that is Deadwood. Named for the gulch full of dead trees found near the creek full of gold in 1876, Deadwood was once home to the likes of Poker Alice Tubbs, Wild Bill Hickock, and Calamity Jane. Visitors today can tour the 1878 Broken Boot Gold Mine, which ultimately produced more fool’s gold than real gold, but still allowed prospectors a decent profit. If you’re lucky enough to be traveling through in July, be sure to check out either the Deadwood Stagecoach Days (July 10–11) or the Days of ’76 Rodeo (July 22–25). If you miss the events, get your fill on the history behind them by visiting the museums in town, like the Adams Museum or the Days of ’76 Museum. You won’t be disappointed.