For More Details
For more information, contact Mount Rushmore National Monument, (605) 574-2523 or visit online at; South Dakota Department of Tourism at 1-800-SDAKOTA (800-732-5682), or visit online at; Wyoming Travel and Tourism, (307) 777-7777 or click on

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Into the high country
Explore the border territory of Wyoming and South Dakota to find stunning sights, grand geologic formations and historic towns

Published: May/Jun 2002
Story and photos
By Jack Olson

A hiker getting an up-close look at one of the interesting formations in Badlands National Park.
For Midwesterners, one of the shortest drives to high country is a jaunt to the South Dakota/Wyoming border territory. This attractive region combines forested mountains, unique geologic formations, caves, lakes, wildlife, and stirring historic sites. It is a compact area loaded with a variety of activities.

Mount Rushmore

Just about everyone visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota will visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Some 2.7 million visitors annually marvel at this icon of the American spirit.

The features of four great presidents– Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln–still stir visitors. The Avenue of Flags now leads openly and directly toward the giant figures. The new Lincoln Borglum Museum tells the story of the monument’s creation, and has massive picture windows framing the 60-foot-high faces. There are two 125-seat theaters and informative interactive displays, including one depicting the dynamite blasting Borglum used in creating the sculpture.

If possible, walk the Presidential Trail. Leaving from the viewing terraces, the trail wanders about a half-mile to the base of the sculptures. At night, Rushmore is lit for dramatic effect. From mid-May through September, the lights go on at 9:30 p.m.

Peak visitation time at Mount Rushmore and in the Black Hills is June through August. To avoid crowds, arrive at Mount Rushmore at daybreak and watch the sun paint the presidential faces in warm light. There’s even breakfast at the memorial’s Buffalo Dining Room. Another tip for avoiding the most crowded times is to plan your visit for the usually stable weather in September and October; an alternative, with less settled weather, would be April and May.

Mount Rushmore and the Lincoln Borglum Museum are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, except on Christmas. The information center is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the summer and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter. There is no entrance fee to Mount Rushmore. However, there’s a parking fee to park in the garage. To avoid the fee, there’s limited free parking at the nearby Sculptor Studio; you’ll have a short walk up some stairs.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Near Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial, a work in progress. The work began in 1948, and the face of Crazy Horse was finished in 1998. The small crew is now blasting out the horse’s head, which stands 22 stories. View the sculpture from the observation deck.

There’s also an excellent Indian Museum of North America at the memorial. A model of the final sculpture sits on the deck, in view of the emerging figure. When finished, the monument–563 feet high by 641 feet long–will dwarf the size of the figures at Mount Rushmore. A completion date for the Crazy Horse Memorial is not known.

Buried treasure

Wind Cave National Park, south of Mount Rushmore on state Route 87, features one of the longest systems (more than 100 miles) in the United States. Take the tour of the cave, which contains the unique “boxwork formation” on the ceiling and walls. Above ground, Wind Cave is a lovely region of forested hills and wide meadows. Don’t miss exploring this area where buffalo roam and prairie dogs dig.

Jewel Cave National Monument, west of Rushmore on U.S. Highway 16, offers a one-hour scenic tour year-round through a maze of subterranean rooms festooned with calcite crystal formations. There’s also a four-hour spelunking tour offered in the summer to give you an idea of real cave exploring. Jewel Cave is the world’s third-longest known cave.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park, one of the largest (73,000 acres) of American state parks, adjoins Wind Cave National Park. This is a delightful park of rolling hills and broad meadows. Spring and summer bring fields of wildflowers. Year-round, visitors can be almost certain to discover wildlife, especially buffalo. The state park herd numbers about 1,500. A buffalo jam may stop your car. Be warned to stay safely inside. There is also a herd of wild burros that are very used to human contact and hang out by the roadside. Your best bet for viewing wildlife is to take the aptly named Wildlife Loop Road.

Custer State Park offers a few resorts for your Black Hills adventure. There’s the State Game Lodge and Resort, Sylvan Lake Resort, Legion Lake Resort, and Blue Bell Lodge and Resort. In addition to enjoying the wildlife and lakes, take a drive on the Needles Highway. There are twists, turns, and a very tight tunnel to squeak through along the way.

Badlands National Park

East of the Black Hills, but usually considered part of that region by visitors, is Badlands National Park. There’s entry off Interstate 90 at two locations onto state Route 240. A loop road through the park allows the visitor to enter at one end and exit at the other. This area is the epitome of “badlands,” with eerily sculpted formations unlike anything you may have seen before. While in the area, consider a stop in Wall, South Dakota, home of Wall Drug. It’s an eclectic shopping stop made famous by billboards and free ice water.

Black Hills National Forest

Straddling the South Dakota/Wyoming border, the Black Hills National Forest is laced with hiking trails and dotted with campgrounds. There are lakes, streams and waterfalls. One of the most scenic areas is Spearfish Canyon, down U.S. Highway 14A on the north edge of the Black Hills. Bridal Veil Falls is right by the highway, and Roughlock Falls is only a short hike away.
Devils Tower

In eastern Wyoming, still part of the Black Hills, stands a spectacular obelisk, made famous in the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Devils Tower National Monument protects a volcanic core that rises 865 feet above the base. There’s a 1.3-mile trail, beginning at the visitor center, which circles the tower.

For a different and less-crowded view of the Tower, turn off on a gravel road about a half-mile before the Visitor Center. It’s called the West Road, and an expansive meadow offers an unobstructed view. There is also a short trail from the end of the road.


There are several towns scattered throughout the Black Hills. Custer, S.D., is centrally located with proximity to many of the main attractions. Other central locations are pleasant Hill City and bustling Keystone. Deadwood is historic and provides casino gambling. Nearby is the old mining town of Lead (pronounced Leed). Hot Springs, in addition to its springs, is the location of the fascinating Mammoth Site. Spearfish and Sturgis anchor the northern edge of the hills. Rapid City is the major city in the area and gateway to the Black Hills. Travelers arriving by air will land here. In Wyoming, there is Sundance, near Devils Tower.

Jack Olson is a contributor from Denver, Colo.

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