Sometimes we get caught up in the rush of trying to get from one place to the next without bothering to slow down and enjoy the ride. If you find yourself craving a slower pace, scenic views, and some old-fashioned roadside fun, the Black Hills of South Dakota are just what you're looking for. Set your sights on Route 16A between Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore. This 17-mile stretch of pavement, also known as Iron Mountain Road, was specifically designed with switchbacks, curving pigtail bridges, and narrower lanes to force a 35MPH speed limit, so that those driving along would be able to appreciate the Badlands scenery. As you enjoy life in the slow lane, make a point to stop at some favorite old-school attractions along the way!
Crazy Horse Mountain Memorial
The incredible cultures and traditions of the North American Indian are preserved in this monument of a Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota, Crazy Horse. It is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain, between Custer and Hill City, just 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. The cost of admission and donations keep the educational experience running, and fund construction of the memorial itself, which is not yet complete. Once it’s finished, Crazy Horse will be the world’s largest statue. Eat at the Laughing Water Restaurant, check out the Indian Museum of North America, and tour the grounds and monument for hours of fun.
1881 Courthouse Museum
Located in the original Custer County Courthouse, this museum was opened in 1976 by the Custer Country Historical Society. It features exhibits on topics such as Native Americans, local wildlife, mining and minerals, women at work, and Victorian life, just to name a few. There are three outbuildings, including The Carriage House, which contains cars from the 1870s to the 1920s, The "Old Outhouse," which holds old blacksmith tools, and a log cabin with printing equipment from the town's first newspaper. Take the time to see as much as possible! Perfect for a rainy or chilly day, this inexpensive tourist attraction offers insights into the history of the Black Hills that you can't find anywhere else.
Four Mile Old West Town
For just $6 per person, you can step back in time at this 50-building Old West town. Check out the town hall, old general store, the historical saloons, the bank, and even the sheriff's office! There are demonstrations of life from back in the day, and kids will love interacting with the townspeople, who are dressed exactly as they would have in the 1800s. If you're hungry, the grounds include an ice cream shop and an old chuckwagon where you can grab a bite to eat. This stop is perfect for a nice walk around a quaint western town replica for those wanting to learn some history, or just simply stretch their legs after a long drive!
Blue Bell Lodge at Custer State Park
This lodge prides itself on providing visitors with a stay inspired by the way cowboys back in the day lived... but with modern amenities! Every cabin has a fire pit outside, perfect for a romantic night or a family s’mores roast. Stables offer horseback trail riding for the more adventurous, and after a long day of excursions, you can join one of their chuckwagon cookouts, followed by a hayride into a canyon on the grounds. Expect to see some wildlife while enjoying the convenience of both a general store and a lodge restaurant nearby!
Named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, whose expedition here first discovered gold back in 1874, Custer State Park is as full of activities for anyone and everyone as it is U.S. history. It’s a well-known spot, as the park is where President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 made his "summer White House," and is also where he announced that he would not seek a second term in the election of 1928. Camp, stay in lodges or cabins, visit the restaurant, fish, hike, or see how much wildlife you can spot! The park even has a playhouse for those wanting to experience some theater in the Black Hills. This place has it all, and is considered one of the best state parks in the country with its stunning views, animals, and activities.
See what you learned in history class up close and in person! Mount Rushmore was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum and his son, and displays 60-foot heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. History comes alive when visiting this beautiful, informative, and slightly strange work of art, which spans over a thousand acres. Nearly everyone has seen Mount Rushmore in textbooks and films, but you won't realize how amazing it truly is until standing near its immensity! A plaza off the parking lot additionally displays each state's flag. A lighting ceremony is held each evening mid-May through September, which makes for a unique experience at the grounds. Although there is no fee to visit the monument, expect a parking fee and plan to be there for up to a couple of hours!
Iron Mountain Road
This 17-mile stretch in the Black Hills is perfect for those wanting to experience as much natural beauty as possible. Travel the road from south to north so you can see Mount Rushmore while driving through the mountains, in addition to gorgeous scenery and architectural features along the way. You may even be forced to stop for a buffalo herd crossing the road; be prepared to take your time and take it all in, as it may take up to 45 minutes or an hour! Expect some narrow turns and be wary of the weather, but it's an unforgettable drive.
Big Thunder Gold Mine
Discovered in 1892 by two German miners, Big Thunder is home to a variety of types of rocks, minerals, and historic structures. The mine is open daily, and features tours and mining opportunities for anyone in the mood to hunt for gold! On-site gold panning teaches the basics of mining and you can even go into the mine's actual claim, where you will spend up to a day with an expert panning for real gold in the Black Hills. Take a breather on the outdoor deck with some ice cream or order some quick-service food, all with a view of Mt. Rushmore!
Cosmos Mystery Area
Prepare for your brain to be tricked at this mystical area, located just ten minutes from Mount Rushmore. Optical illusions fill the interactive tour of the strange mystery house, perfect for some classic roadside fun. Tours last just 30 minutes, and people of all ages will be able to enjoy the entertainment presented by the engaging tour guides. Tickets cost $11 for ages 12 and over, but the attraction is not recommended for those with balance issues. The grounds offer a geode mine where "Find it, Crack it, Keep it" is the motto, a perfect bonus for kids interested in finding their own crystals to take home!
Have some old-fashioned roadside fun with these attractions, offering a little something for everyone. South Dakota's rich history and the calm pace of the road will have you longing to soak in as much fun as possible, with some patriotic pride thrown in!
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