Do you live in South Dakota and planning a trip to the Black Hills? Are you or hoping to visit Mount Rushmore on a summer vacation? Either way, when you get here you will find many awesome adventures waiting for you and your family.
Adventure tours mean different things to different people.
For some people, taking a hike to Black Elk Peak is an extreme adventure. For other people, they may have the need to rock climb on the granite spires of Custer State Park. Luckily the Black Hills of South Dakota offers all that and more. Here are a few suggestions.
#1 Rock Climbing Tours.
Rock Climbing has become pretty main stream these days. There are rock climbing gyms all over the country. 2 new climbing gyms are slated to open in South Dakota in 2020. Rock Climbing Gyms are awesome, but nothing can compare to climbing outdoors and enjoying the view from the top of a granite spire in Custer State Park or near Mount Rushmore.
If you have never been climbing before, hiring a climbing guide is an awesome adventure the whole family will enjoy. Finding a tour that your teenager and your 9 year old and you will all remember forever is difficult. The staff at Sylvan Rocks Climbing School and Guide Service works with families every day. They outfit everyone with all the needed climbing equipment and get you climbing on the rocks as smoothly as possible.
South Dakota is well known for the awesome rock climbing in the Custer State Park. Many are surprised to learn that Palisades State Park also has some beautiful quartzite climbing near Sioux Falls. While not as magnificent as the rocks in the Black Hills, Palisades State Park is a great little top rope climbing area hidden in the midwest.
#2 Hot Air Balloon Tours in the Black Hills
Morning is the best time. Black Hills Balloons meets just before dawn and heads out for their sunrise flights. Drifting over the pine trees, pastures and animals in the Black Hills in the basket of a balloon makes a vacation experience that will always be remembered. Not many of us will become hot air balloon pilots, but nearly all of us can enjoy the magic of viewing the world from above everything.
#3 Self Guided Hiking Tours
Hiking in the Black Hills has a little something for everyone. A quick look at a map and you will find that there are short hikes such as heading around the beautiful Sylvan Lake if you are staying in Custer or Hill City. If you are in Rapid City, SD you can rally in the morning for a run or relax in the evening with a hike or Mountain Bike ride up the trails of Hanson Larsen Memorial Park if you are staying in Rapid City.
There are medium hikes such as the trip up to Black Elk Peak (formerly known as Harney Peak) or up to Little Devils Tower in Custer State Park. Hells Canyon is a great 5.5 mile loop on the Black Hills National forest and right near Jewel Cave National Park. Lovers Leap, Grace Coolage trail, Big Rock Park hiking in Custer City, and many many more hiking tours you can enjoy while you are here.
You can also plan to enjoy backpacking in the Black Elk Wilderness or along the 100 mile Centennial Hiking trail. The Centennial Hiking Trail does allow for motorized use on some sections and that makes it less great for backpacking and hiking, but many sections such as those in the Southern Black Hills where it begins in Wind Cave National Park, and climbs into Custer State Park then heads into the Black Elk Wilderness on its way to Black Elk Peak and down the other side is an awesome hiking tour.
#4 Cave Tours
There are not very many places where you can go rock climbing in the morning and climbing through the dark into a cave in the afternoon. Jewel Cave National Park celebrated 200 miles of passage in 2019 and Wind Cave National Park clocked in at 150 miles. Wind and Jewel are 2 of the worlds longest explored caves and there are many miles of passage that have yet to be discovered. Who knows, perhaps one day we will discover a passage that links the 2 cave systems.
Each Cave system has its own special character so if possible, plan to take the walking tour of each. Both tours begin with an elevator ride and the formations that you see along the walking tours will make you scratch your head in amazement and wonder at how they were formed. Wind Cave National Park is know for its box work formation. Everybody who goes on the Jewel Cave Tour enjoys seeing the big Bacon Strip that hangs along the wall.
True adventurers will want to learn more about the Wild Cave tours that are sometimes offered. Both Wind and Jewel caves have limited slots available to go and get dirty with kneepads and headlamps crawling and exploring off the normal walking tour trail. Exposure to wild caving like this might lead explores to learn more about grottos (caving clubs) that exist all over the country.
#5 Horseback riding tours or trail rides
Riding horses through the trees and rocks on a trail ride seems to be an American tradition for people heading west on vacation. It is not for me, but many folks think that horseback riding is awesome. There are 4 places I know of around the town of Custer that people seem to really love.
If you are staying at the Palmer Gultch KOA, you will want to check out The Stables there. They have saddled up for the trails in and near the Black Elk Wilderness for decades of Black Hills Visitors.
Near Custer City you will find the friendly folks at Rocking R Trail Rides. They guide horse riding tours through the Black Hills National Forest near Crazy Horse Mountain Carving. Seeing a HUGE stone carved face staring at you through the trees is sometimes startling.
If you have some experience riding and want to take your own tour through the forest, you can check out Hollingsworth Horses near Custer City. If you can saddle your own horse and demonstrate that you have the needed skill set to handle a horse in the woods, they will let you guide yourself rather than head out in the normal nose to tail affair.
Bluebell Stables in Custer State Park has been making vacation memories forever it seems. Along with the horseback rides, they offer Chuckwagon Tours featuring great food and music.
These are our top 5 Black Hills Tours but there are so many more.
There are walking tours in Downtown Rapid City, Daves World Tours will share awesome Black Hills facts as you enjoy the sights out the van window. Helicopter Tours are pretty popular. Many folks enjoy ATV and Side By Side (aka Razor) tours. If water is your thing, you can enjoy a tour on one of the Black Hills lakes. You can rent an inflatable Paddle Board at the South Dakota Outdoor Shop and spend the day paddling around at your own pace. You will also want to check out the Minute Man Missile site where you can tour the launch facility of a nuclear missile. You are not getting this kind of entertainment just anywhere. See you in South Dakota soon!!!