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Black Hills, South Dakota
Fast Facts
Natural Wonder
Historic Interest
Points of Interest Nearby
Family Travel Tips

The Needles, Custer State Park


Photo by Alfredo De Simone

The Black Hills of South Dakota, known as Paha Sapa to the Lakota, are a place warriors once awaited visions. And while this Native American tradition is all but lost the images remain vivid. Gigantic granite carvings, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, set the stage. Indian lore and Wild West legend provide the characters. - General Custer, Red Cloud, Wild Bill Hickok, Poker Alice, George Hearst, Gutzon Borglum, Peter Norbeck, and Korczak Ziolkowski to name a few. - Ponderosa pine forest, scenic caves, gold camps, historic trains, hiking trails and wildlife (most notably bison) round out the experience. And while it may be difficult to envision the Black Hills as the center of the universe, it is easy to picture this sacred spot as a place of beginning.
Getting There
The Black Hills are located on the western flank of South Dakota and are situated 314 miles (505 km) from Denver, CO. The nearest airport is in Rapid City, SD. (Northwest, Allegiant, Delta, United and Frontier service this regional airport with direct flights from Chicago, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver.) Amtrak doesn't stop anywhere close.
Getting Around
There are two ways to experience the Black Hills: hike and drive. Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and Wildlife Loop are three scenic drives in Custer State Park. The first two boast winding roads and picturesque scenery; the third is a game viewing route. Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway affords mountain views in the northern Black Hills. Of the many Black Hills trails, the following are ideal for families. 1) Cathedral Spires Trail, part of the South Dakota Centennial Trail, is one of the most beautiful trails in Custer State Park. This strenuous trail, 1.5 miles one way, features the granite formations unique to the Black Hills. Of note, the hard work is at the beginning. 2) Sunday Gulch Trail, also in Custer State Park, traverses a gully, stream and hardwood forest. This 2.8-mile loop has one steep climb (down), requires some scrambling, and has more than one rock river crossing. 3) Ranking Ridge Trail in Wind Cave National Park offers a chance to spot wildlife. This 1-mile self-guided loop is graded easy. 4) The easy 1.8-mile Wind Cave Canyon Trail, also in Wind Cave National Park, is a great birding route.
When to Travel
While there are is no right or wrong time of year to visit the Black Hills there are a few things to consider when traveling with kids. July is the warmest month (75°F or 24°C); January is the coldest (25°F or -4°C). Summer storms can be severe but tornados are a rarity. A katabatic wind called the Chinook can move the mercury 40°F in just 2 minutes. The western plains are semi-arid but the forests are not. The hills are the coolest spot in summer. The northern Black Hills receives more snow than elsewhere.
Travel Trivia
Wisconsin is:
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