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Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

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Virginia Beach...
posts: 518
reviews: 3
Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

We are newly retired active 60 yr old couple driving from the East Coast and enroute to Grand Teton and Yellowstone NPs. Love enjoying beautiful natural sites - with easy to moderately strenous hikes. Would appreciate answers to my specific questions and any suggestions.

Aug 19 - Driving from Sioux Falls and staying at Circle View Guest Ranch in Interior for the night. Upon arrival about 1 pm, plan to do the Badlands 240 Loop and hike the Door/Windows Trail and Notch Trail, if time permits. (Should I do the 240 Loop from East to West and just backtrack on 240 to get to the Ranch for the night or should I go up to the Wall exit and travel the 240 Loop from West to East?)

Aug 20 - Would like to do Minuteman Missile Silos - but unlikely since we will not arrive early since breakfast at the Ranch is not served until 7:30 AM. Drive on I-90 to truck Rt 16 to the Heartland Expy-79 - head south to 36 and take this to Iron Mt. Rd., driving from south to north. to Mt Rushmore. Visit Monument and do the Presidential Trail. Drive to Quality Inn in Hill City (3 nights). Dinner at Alpine Inn.

Aug 21- Early start from Hill City to Custer SP to do Wildlife Loop, Mt Coolidge Fire tower, Needles Highway, and Sylvan Lake hike - would like to do the buffet lunch at State Game Lodge. ( Do I take Rt. 16/385 thru Custer to access 16A and the Wildlife Loop going counter-clock wise? What time do I need to leave Hill City so it is early enough to increase chances for wildlife viewing? How long is the drive in minutes?)

Aug 22 - Leave about 7:45 am to Jewel Cave for 8:30 opening to get tickets for first tour. Drive by Crazy Horse Memorial and view from road only. Thinking about driving to Spearfish Canyon for the scenic drive and some hikes. (How long to drive from Hill City to Spearfish and enjoy sights and hikes in area? Is Jewel Cave worth the visit? We were really disappointed with the Waitomo Gloworm Caves in NZ during our January visit there - it was nothing compared to Luray Caverns in the VA Blue Ridge Mts.)

Thanks for any help.


Apple Valley...
posts: 625
reviews: 24
1. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

I do not think it matters too much which direction you do the badlands scenic loop rd. If end at wall then can visit wall drug if interested.

Seems like a nice plan overall. There is also the Sunday gulch trail and harney peak trailheads at sylvan lake if interested as well as trails in the needles/cathedral spires area.

you may have time to see minuteman missile site and tour...just depends and worth a stop to check and see maybe that day before moving on.

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,558
reviews: 35
2. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

I would estimate about 35-45 minutes from Hill City to the Wildlife Loop. If you can leave between 7 and 7:30, I'd recommend it. However, the nice thing about the loop is that you can see animals on it just about any time. You can do the route counter clockwise as you mentioned; doing it that way will enable you to get on the route faster.

I agree with Iowagirl that the Badlands; it doesn't make much different what direction you drive those routes. And you could always check the missile site. If you don't want to wait for a tour, you could always just head out, as you are staying fairly close by.

As for Jewel Cave, to me, it's worth it. I haven't been to Luray yet, but from the pics I;ve seen and speaking to others who have visited, Luray is much showier than most caves and has been acclaimed one of the best in the U.S. I don't know if Jewel would compare to you, but I really enjoy the tours the rangers provide. I really think they do an excellent job and are typically much better tour guides than those in privately run caves.

It will take about an hour to get to Spearfish Canyon from Hill City. I'd allot another 1.5-2 hours to include waterfall hikes and driving the road.

Overall your plan is very good. You've obviously done your homework! :) Let us know if we can assist further.

Virginia Beach...
posts: 518
reviews: 3
3. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

Thank you both for your comments.

To get from Hill City to the Wildlife Loop - do I take Rt. 16/385 thru Custer to access 16A and the Wildlife Loop - is this the road with construction? Or should I take Rt. 87 to Rt 89 to 16A?

I really want to do the lunch buffet at the State Game Lodge and we will likely be too early if we start the Wildlife Loop at 8 am. Are there some hikes or other activities around the Game Lodge to enjoy while waiting for lunch to start? Maybe we could go to Legion Lake for some water activities there - how far back to the Game Lodge? If we swim, are there changing facilities there?

What are all the gravel roads ( i.e. Fisherman Flats Road) shown on the Custer SP map around the Wildlife Loop? Is there anything on these roads of any interest?

How about the hikes in Custer SP by Sylvan Lake - are these in the full sun or is there any shade? How buggy - do we need insect repellent? (we even have insect repellent hiking clothes - LOL- purchased for our NZ trip due to the preponderance of sand flies)

Cedarville, Ohio
posts: 542
reviews: 58
4. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

We went to Wind and Jewel Caves. They are a slight disappointment if you expect to see anything like Luray. The only thing memorable is the boxwork...so take the shortest time tour that shows you the boxwork. Prepared to be disappointed in light of luray. I even liked Ruby Falls better, and Mammoth Cave, and Ohio Caverns.

As far as the Slyvan Lake hike it is alternately sunny and dappled shade with the majority being sun. Parking can be a PAIN and it has a family beach feel rather than an Idyllic peaceful feel as I expected.

As far as needles highway...if I had to do it all over again, I would do the first few miles after Slyvan Lake (to the second tunnel) and then I'd turn around and go back and proceed traveling south or north on 385 whichever way I was heading. The whole last two thirds is a serpentine waste of time.

Virginia Beach...
posts: 518
reviews: 3
5. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

solascmark - Thank you for your candid comments about the Caves. My friend told me the same thing about the Gloworm caves in NZ and I did not listen. Went out of our way several hrs to see them enroute to the airport and paid about $35 each for the pleasure - a real disappointment compared to Luray. Given the lack of reservations for the Jewel Cave this summer - I think that we may just head to Spearfish Canyon.

South Dakota
posts: 2,331
reviews: 138
6. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

You have two options to change clothes at Legion Lake. There is no dedicated locker room or bath house. You can change in the restrooms at Legion Lake Lodge or there is a restroom with flush toilets right on the beach. It is often suggested that you arrive at Sylvan Lake in the morning due to the parking situation. Legion Lake is less crowded and is also scenic, but I think Sylvan is more scenic.

I have found that mosquitoes in this part of the country bite if you are in the shade or when it is getting dark. They generally do not bother people in direct sunlight.

Sioux Falls, South...
posts: 2
reviews: 27
7. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

Hey Queen!

Sounds like you've got quite the itinerary going for your Black Hills visit! I make it out to the Black Hills every 8 to 12 weeks.....simply beautiful out there! In fact, I'm looking for work out there so I can move to either Custer or Hill City. Love the Southern Hills better than the Northern Hills only because the Northern Hills cater to the gambling in Deadwood....I'm not a gambler.

First, I'd drive from Interior to the West through the badlands so that you end up at Wall Drug when you're done....they've got free ice water and a few good restaurants to have supper and/or a cold beverage! I was just in Wall three weeks ago.....stayed at Ann's Motel which is a block away from Wall Drug....charming place, friendly people and clean!

Either way to Custer State Park will work....personally, I always take Exit 61 off of I-90 and take Hwy 16a (truck route) around Rapid City past the exit to hwy 79 a few more miles and you'll come to an Intersection that takes 16 South and turns into 385 this will take you directly to Hill City. From Hill City, Custer is 12 miles. Once you get into Custer, turn left on Mt. Rushmore Road (first lighted intersection) and follow for approximately 2 miles to Custer State Park. The attendants at the gate are really nice and they will answer ANY questions you may have! Be sure to stop in Keystone which is at the bottom of Mt. Rushmore to the North. Good food at the Red Garter Saloon on main st.

From Hill City to Spearfish canyon is about 55 miles....beautiful drive! When you get to Deadwood/Lead, take a left to Lead and about a quarter mile up the road to Lead is a little waterfall to your left. Keep following it up through downtown and up the hill to the stop light. Take a left on Hwy 85 and about 10 miles you will come to Cheyenne Crossing which is the entrance to Spearfish Canyon. Once you get to the Spearfish canyon Lodge if you take a left to the back of the Lodge, there is a dirt road that takes you up to the Waterfalls.....they are beautiful and with the rainy spring they've had it is going at full capacity!

Hope you enjoy the Hills as much as I do! I'm heading back in a couple of weeks for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally....the Hills (and the smell of pine) are even more beautiful from the back of a motorcycle!

posts: 556
reviews: 108
8. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

The South Dakota Air and Space Museum just west of Rapid City offers tours of a Minuteman Missile silo.


This might be a good alternative since you probably won't get a spot on the NHS silo tour.

Virginia Beach...
posts: 518
reviews: 3
9. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

We are going to leave VA in a few days for our trip - stopping in Milwaukee for a few days to visit my daughter.

Since we are not going to do the Caves, our last day will basically only be to visit Spearfish Canyon. Did a bit of research and there is a Hatchery that we can also visit. Any other suggestions for things to do, we are NOT into gambling or shopping.

THanks for everyone's help. Your guys are the best!


South Dakota
posts: 2,331
reviews: 138
10. Re: Suggestions on Black Hills Itinerary for Aug 19-23 (4 days)

TimeShareQueen, at the Fish Hatchery you will also find a small museum complex that might interest you. We did not spend a ton of time there as the kids aren't really into museums, but you could easily fill an hour or more. I thought the fish RR car was worth a look. The hatchery is pretty scenic as far as fish hatcheries go. I actually took some photos. About a half hour from Spearfish is Bear Butte State Park. There are reviews on TA and random photos online you can check out to see if this is something you want to see. It has historical significance and is very important to the Native American community.