MOUNT RUSHMORE / BLACK HILLS: The Proven Itinerary For Your Trip

Mount Rushmore - Black Hills

This itinerary to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore has been proven to be the ultimate vacation guide for all who’ve followed it. So, let’s go to South Dakota!


Day # 1 — Travel day
Day #2 — Badlands / Arrival in Black Hills
Day #3 — Mount Rushmore / Bear Country / Wildlife Loop
Day #4 — Wind Cave
Day #5 — Crazy Horse / Needles Highway / Sylvan Lake / Cathedral Spires
Day #6 —Travel home

Travel (Day 1)

In case you don’t live anywhere near the Black Hills, we’ll assume this first day is a travel day.

Badlands and Black Hills Arrival (Day 2)

To begin, go to Badlands National Park, taking scenic Highway 240 loop through the park (heading south from I-90), stopping at various outlooks along the way.

In reality, if you stopped about four different times for 30 – 45 minutes each, that would be enough to feel like you had visited the area.

Badlands landscape in South Dakota

You could also visit this park on your way home, depending on which direction you’re headed.

After leaving the Badlands, head to Custer State Park, which is about an hour drive.

Where to stay: Mount Rushmore / Black Hills

We stayed at Custer State Park Game Lodge Campground and would definitely recommend it. Truly, a GREAT location and beautiful area!

Really, though, most all the places in Custer will be a great location. Plan to stay in the same spot each night and then just venture out for daytrips for sight-seeing inside and outside the park.

Trip Tip (if you’re camping)

Instead of hauling a rental camper all the way from home – thus costing more time and gas money – pick one up at Jack’s Campers in Rapid City, SD, which is only about an hour from Custer State Park.

Mount Rushmore, Bear Country, Wildlife Loop (Day 3)

Drive Iron Mountain Road on your way to Mount Rushmore. This 17-mile stretch is an extraordinary journey with tons of curves, and even has one lane tunnels that were built to showcase Mount Rushmore as if in a picture frame. So cool!

Mount Rushmore framed in road tunnel

Explore Mount Rushmore in the morning. We spent about three hours or so here and that was enough time, truthfully. Additionally, you can go back at night to see it lit up.

Mount Rushmore - Black Hills

Have lunch next in the cute town of Keystone (just 12 minutes from Mount Rushmore). Afterward, be sure to take the Scenic Chairlift via Rushmore Tramway Adventures up to some cool views. 

Chairlift over Alpine Slide -Tramway Adventures (Black Hills)

Then, if you’re up for the thrill, ride the Alpine Slide down. 

For the afternoon, I recommend spending it at Bear Country USA (just 20 minutes from Keystone). As you drive through this secured area, some of the wildlife walk right next to your car! Or, you can get out at certain places to watch the animals play.  

After dinner, you’ll love a drive on the Wildlife Loop Road at sunset (it’s the best time to see wildlife). Beware of bison! They cause traffic jams, believe it or not. Whoa, what a view from your windshield! 

Wind Cave (Day 4)

Wind Cave is about 1.5 to 2 hours from most campgrounds, but it’s SO worth the drive, in all honesty. A highlight of our trip for sure! (God even did some masterful work underground; you gotta see it!).  

Have a picnic lunch at the Wind Cave area or on the drive back. And, be sure to stop by one of the prairie dog sites! We had a blast chasing them as they popped up from their various holes in the ground.

Wind Cave Entrance Stairs - Black Hills

Crazy Horse, Needles Highway, Sylvan Lake (Day 5)

Go to the Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s the world’s largest mountain carving and the history behind it is pretty cool, actually. Just a few hours there, however, will be enough time.

Crazy Horse Memorial - Black Hills, South Dakota

In the early afternoon, head 7 miles north to the start of Needles Highway. Navigate south through this amazing scenery! This is only a stretch of 6 total miles, but with all the stops along the way and due to traffic (some of it being one-way as one car at a time passes through) it will take you at least an hour. 

There are some nice trails/hikes near Sylvan Lake, but be sure to leave enough time to continue further east along Highway 87 to the Needles Eye Tunnel and Scenic Overlook (5 minutes from Sylvan Lake).

If you’re up for it, drive a mile further and park at the Cathedral Spires Trailhead. The hike up to the viewing spot is a bit strenuous and will take about 45 minutes to get up there, but well worth it.

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park

More time in Mount Rushmore / Black Hills?

  • Devil’s Tower – national monument northwest of Custer State Park.
  • Deadwood – historic town, which was booming during the Gold Rush, has all kinds of rich history and attractions. 
  • Jewel Cave – another cave system that is highly promoted in the area. If caves are your thing, be sure to go.
  • Cosmos Mystery Area – interactive optical illusions built on the site of an old summer cabin; great for all ages.

Nah… skip it.

The Corn Palace and Wall Drug are well promoted, but for me, not worth the hype. They were classic “tourist traps”. If you’re tight on time, drive right by and get to the good stuff in the Black Hills.


4-Day Black Hills Itinerary

More ideas for Mount Rushmore / Black Hills.

What do YOU recommend? Kindly, include your tips in the comments section below

And, be sure to follow “Whoa, What a View” on social media to see the comments from other travelers about their favorite parts of the Black Hills.

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Tags: Badlands, Black Hills, Custer State Park, Itinerary, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, Travel
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    • Samantha
    • February 24, 2020

    This website is so easy to navigate, and the pictures are really helpful.

    • Elizabeth
    • March 1, 2020

    Oh my gosh! I love your travel itineraries! So great that you lay out days of what can be done together. Also, I love that you have a part that tells what’s not worth the hype! So great! Thank you for sharing your expertise.

    • Kourtney
    • March 5, 2020

    Love all these great ideas and tips to get the most of your time.

    Beautiful site!

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