Black Hills

This Summer, Spend a Long Weekend in the Black Hills

Adventure Publications colleague Ryan Jacobson enjoyed a long weekend in the Black Hills with his family. To plan his family’s getaway, Ryan used the Black Hills Family Fun Guide by Kindra Gordon; to be sure, fun was had by all!

If you’re planning a summer trip on a budget, put the Black Hills at the top of your list. My family wanted a long (but inexpensive) weekend away from home. When my wife suggested Mount Rushmore, my first reaction was a yawn. Driving across two states to see a few giant heads sounded, well, boring. I’m happy to report that I was wrong!

Four-Day Vacation

The first tourist stop of our Friday-to-Monday trip was South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. We planned on a relatively quick drive through the loop. Instead, we discovered boundless hiking and climbing adventures. Honestly, if our vacation had ended there, I think our two boys would’ve been satisfied. We finally lured them away with the promise of lunch at Wall Drug.

Black Hills

A couple of hours later, we arrived at our hotel in the Black Hills: the affordable Rushmore Express Inn of Keystone. The rooms were dated but nice, and the inn had what every family vacation needs: a swimming pool.

The Memorials

We visited the Crazy Horse Memorial on Friday evening, and I was initially underwhelmed. But the memorial was redeemed by the add-on bus ride to the base of the mountain. It was infinitely more “wow” to see it up close—and my wife was thrilled to discover that we could take home a mountain rock (for her garden) in exchange for a donation.

We saved Mount Rushmore for Sunday morning, and it was equally impressive. We walked the Presidential Trail to get an even closer view of the sculptures. Note: To avoid a strenuous hike, start on the left end and turn back when you get to all the stairs.

Black Hills

More to Do in the Black Hills

On Saturday, we drove to Custer State Park and its noted Wildlife Loop. This loop ate up a lot of time, and there wasn’t much wildlife to see. The park’s Needles Highway, however, was the most beautiful scenery of the trip. Be warned: This involves a lot of white-knuckle driving.

Our next destination was the boys’ favorite: Evans Plunge, a naturally spring-fed pool. (Another reason to skip the Wildlife Loop: we saw plenty of buffalo on the drive from Custer to Hot Springs.) It’s a unique water park, and we once again had to leave before the boys were ready.

Everyone’s other favorite part of the Black Hills trip was right across from our inn: the Rushmore Tramway Adventures. Our boys have tackled ropes courses before—but not like this. Even the easy, introductory course included challenging obstacles and a zip line. It was awesome to watch our boys climb higher and get more daring with every course they tried. Due to construction and a sudden rainstorm, we didn’t get to attempt any other offerings, like the chairlift/alpine slide or the longer zip lines.

This family vacation was so surprisingly fun that we’re already talking about a return trip to the Black Hills. The area has countless unique sights, exciting activities, and educational opportunities jam-packed into a few days—and all for just a few hundred dollars.

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Liliane Opsomer
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