The Black Hills on a budget

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One of the great things about visiting the Black Hills is that fun activities are never in short supply. Best of all, you don’t have to break the bank to have a great time. There are plenty or free and low cost attractions to keep you and your family entertained, educated and some even offer a little exercise. From scenic Spearfish Canyon in the Northern Hills, to Mount Rushmore in the Central Hills and everywhere in between, the Black Hills and Badlands has a little something for everyone. Keep these attractions in mind during your stay in South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore- The Shrine of Democracy is located roughly 5 miles south of the Powder House and offers an amazing opportunity to learn a little bit about our country’s, as well as South Dakota’s history. Mount Rushmore is the state’s most iconic attraction. Surrounded by rolling hills of pine, Mount Rushmore offers spectacular views of the Black Hills. While the park itself is free, there is a small parking fee but if you keep your parking pass, you are welcome to return free of charge. There is so much to do during your visit, including a scenic hike on the Presidential Trail, a self guided tour, which will bring you around the property and close to the rubble pile at the base of the monument. For a more through tour of the Monument, ranger tours are also available. On your way to the Grand Terrace, take a stroll through the Avenue of Flags to see if you can spot your home state’s banner!  A quick elevator trip will take you below the Grand Terrace, inside the sculptor’s studio, where you can see the actual tools used to carve out the mountain as well as learn about sculptor Gutzlom Borglum and the history of Mount Rushmore.

Wild West Gunslingers – As you wander the boardwalk in downtown Keystone, you’ll be transported back in time with the sights and sounds of the old west. You may find yourself in the company of Wild Bill himself. You can catch a bit of the action for free, as the rough riders roam the streets of keystone, cracking their whips, shooting their guns, and of course, stopping to smile for a picture with visitors. Deadwood and Custer also offer similar Wild West gun shows during the summer.

Wall Drug- Before heading out into the rugged beauty of the Badlands, stop by the world famous, Wall Drug. This eccentric attraction offers loads of quirky family entertainment, (I mean, have you ever seen a giant Jackalope before?) as well as plenty of South Dakota keepsakes, dining options and of course their legendary free ice water.

Outdoor Campus West- If helping your family become one with nature is the goal for your vacation; make a quick stop to the Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City. This South Dakota Game Fish and Parks attraction is a community campus that is free to the public that offers an educational adventure through the wilderness of the Black Hills and Badlands without even leaving the city limits. The outdoor campus provides a hiking trail, learning stations and many hands on activities. Rain or shine, kids and parents alike will learn about the different ecosystems in South Dakota as well as about the flora and fauna that inhabit this great state. 

The Mickelson Trail- Another way to take in the great outdoors is with a hike or bike ride on the George S. Mickelson Trail. This popular outdoor attraction is a rails to trails project that spans 109 miles North and South throughout the Black Hills. There are a number of places to hop on or off the trail, so you can make your outdoor adventure as long or as short as you want. Ride or hike surrounded by the natural beauty of the Black Hills.

Presidential Walking Tour- Rapid City is, the City of Presidents. This patriotic attraction features a life sized replica of one of our nation’s great leaders on every corner of downtown Rapid City. Stop by the City of President’s office on Main Street in Downtown Rapid City to pick up your tour map and information. From George Washington to George W. Bush, this self guided tour will give you a sense of who these men who shaped our nation truly were.

Story Book Island – Storybook Island is a great stop in Rapid City for families with young children. This free children’s park brings characters of your favorite childhood stories to life with sets little ones can play and climb on. Visit Tiger, Piglet, Eeyore and Pooh at Pooh Corner, see Cinderella and her pumpkin carriage, or visit the homes of The Three little pigs.

Dinosaur Park- Built in the late thirties as part of a WPA project, Dinosaur park is free to the public offering spanning views as it overlooks Rapid City. The park features replica’s of some of the area’s very first inhabitants, dinosaurs. Families are able to enjoy a little fresh air and exercise as they make their way up the stone stairway that leads them to the top of Dinosaur Hill. The park includes five dinosaur figures made of reinforced concrete and steel representing the Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus), Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Trachodon (Anatotitan). The Apatosaurus, perched atop the hill, can be seen from a number of vantage points throughout Rapid City.

SDSM&T Museum of Geology - The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology houses one of the State’s natural history museums which feature dinosaur skeletons, fossils and geological displays. The museum is free to the public and is famous for its impressive collection of fossils, many of which were found right here in South Dakota.

Remember the Powder House Lodge is centrally located to all of these attractions and many more that the Black Hills have to offer. We’ll make sure you get a delicious meal and peaceful night’s sleep to prepare you for another day of exploring the beautiful Black Hills.

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