Stand at the crossroads of the famous Oregon, Mormon, California and Pony Express Trails in South Dakota and step in the footprints of the early settlers. Explore the historic gambling town of Deadwood. "Dances with Wolves" was in part filmed in the beautiful Black Hills where furthermore the enormous rock sculptures of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse shouldn’t be missed. Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park – easily overlooked in the shadows of Yellowstone National Park, but worth a visit – and it’s far less crowded than its “big brother”.
 

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Why We Love It

Explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a habitat for bison, elk and prairie dogs, and the only US National Park named directly after a person.

Enjoy a buffalo jeep safari and chuck wagon cookout in Custer State Park

Visit Mt. Rushmore National Memorial & the nearby work in progress of Crazy Horse Memorial

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Day by day Itinerary

Discover the Dakotas

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Day 1

Rapid City

Rapid City is the chief town of a wide surrounding area and lies on the eastern edge of the Black Hills National Forest near Mount Rushmore.  “City of Presidents,” a series of life-size statues, spans several blocks downtown. Arrive into the city at leisure, pick-up your rental vehicle and prepare for the adventure ahead.

Day 2

Rapid City – Badlands National Park

A first stop for any visitor in the region is the internationally known Wall Drug, which often sees around two million visitors a year. The town of Wall, South Dakota, was named for the steep rock formations that define the Badlands and is famous for the small-town drugstore with a big reputation as a free attraction.
 
Onwards to Badlands National Park, whose harsh landscape was created by millions of years of erosion. The Lakota called it "mako sica," meaning "land bad." You can view these fantastic formations along scenic roads or hiking trails. Explore the eroding terrain and take in the wonders and wildlife of this fascinating national park. The grandeur and diverse landscape of the Badlands is ideal for cruising, and Highway 240 gives you the perfect vantage point at every turn of a 30-mile loop. Nearly 30 scenic overlooks provide impressive photo opportunities. Turn off the western end of the Badlands Loop Road onto the Sage Creek Rim Road, where outdoor photography enthusiasts find diverse wildlife including buffalo, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, prairie dogs and numerous birds.

This evening, stay in eco-friendly cabins surrounded by nature. (B)

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Day 3

Badlands National Park - Custer State Park

Spend some more time this morning exploring Badlands National Park.

Later, continue to Custer State Park, home to a herd of 1,500 free-roaming bison. The Park boasts scenic drives such as the Needles Highway, which twists and turns its way past towering rock formations and through narrow tunnels.  At the end of one tunnel stands the Needles Eye, a granite spire with a slit only 3 to 4 feet wide but reaching 30 to 40 feet in the air.

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Check into your home for the next two nights, a native stone and wood lodge built in 1920 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Day 4

Custer State Park

Explore Custer State Park by driving along one or more of the park’s three scenic drives. The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway complements those scenic drives and includes some of the most dramatic natural and historic features in the Black Hills.

Or perhaps visit Wind Cave National Park, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. Named for barometric winds at its entrance, this maze of passages is home to boxwork, a unique formation rarely found elsewhere.

Another option is Jewel Cave National Monument, recognized as the world's third longest cave.

In the afternoon return to your lodge to join a guided off-road buffalo safari jeep tour through the park in search of pronghorns, elk, and the noble buffalo. Along the way, your guides will share historical and educational facts about the park and wildlife—and help you spot the animals. Then meet up with the Chuck Wagon Cookout in the mountain canyon for a chuck wagon feast and live entertainment with some Western flair. (D)

Day 5

Custer State Park – Crazy Horse Memorial – Mt. Rushmore National Memorial – Deadwood

There is so much to see today! Spend time at the Crazy Horse Memorial, where the nine-story-high face of the legendary Lakota leader, Crazy Horse, gazes over the Black Hills. Nearby, Mt. Rushmore National Memorial stands as a powerful symbol of American democracy. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln make up the world-famous "Shrine of Democracy."

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Your day ends in Deadwood, a historic gambling town that came to life during the gold discovery of 1874. Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Potato Creek Johnny lived here. Deadwood is tucked in a pine-covered mountain gulch not far from where Kevin Costner filmed "Dances with Wolves". The Old West town of Deadwood has flourished on gold mining for more than a century. Nearly all attractions are related to gold, or the wild and woolly gold rush heritage of this wonderfully restored community. After the state of Nevada and Atlantic City, the city became only the third site in the nation to allow gambling in 1989. More than 85 historic Deadwood casinos offer blackjack, poker and slot machines. Playing for money is as much a part of the city’s history as prospecting for gold. Gaming revenues have made Deadwood’s extensive historic preservation possible.

The self-guided Deadwood Walking Tour is an amazing lesson in frontier history which is not to be missed. Try your luck in one of the gambling halls or visit famous Saloon#10, the only museum in the world with a bar!

Day 6

Deadwood – Devils Tower National Monument – Medora

A slight detour from the route, but worth a visit, is Devils Tower. President Teddy Roosevelt designated Devils Tower as the nation's first national monument in 1906. The tower is a volcanic neck over 860 feet high. Film director Steven Spielberg used the Devils Tower location as a landing pad for aliens in his 1978 movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Nearby the Vore Buffalo Jump has been deemed one of the world's premier archaeological sites. Dig teams are on the job during the summer and the public is welcome to walk down into the natural sinkhole where layers of bison bones are still intact. The Plains Indians are believed to have stampeded up to 20,000 shaggy bison over the rim near the site.

Then head north to Medora, which is a good starting point to explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The national park is in two ways unique as it doesn’t only protect a unique landscape but also commemorates a remarkable and unique character. The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora is an interpretive center for the history of Native Americans, ranching, rodeo, and the western lifestyle of the plains and Badlands. It provides an insight into the culture and legacy that is the character of the Great American West. (B)

Day 7

Medora – Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Medora

A habitat for bison, elk and prairie dogs, the sprawling park has 3 sections linked by the Little Missouri River. Theodore Roosevelt first came to the area in September 1883 on a hunting trip. While here he became interested in the cattle business and invested in the Maltese Cross Ranch. He returned the next year and established the Elkhorn Ranch. Years later he stated several times "I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.".

The history of the Badlands of southwest North Dakota is a little older though: 65 million years ago, the western half of North America was buckling and folding to create the Rocky Mountains. Large amounts of sediments were forming as water, wind and freezing, over time, turned into the sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone layers now exposed in the park, while ash layers became bentonite clay.

From Medora there is direct access to the South Unit of the park. The Scenic Loop Drive is an excellent way to explore the park in a day.

End your day with a Pitchfork Steak Fondue. Paired with all your favorite fixin's and an unbelievable view of the Badlands, this is a perfect dinner any night, and even better when paired with the Medora Musical, the rootin'-tootinest, boot-scootinest show in all the Midwest. There's no other show quite like it. It's an ode to patriotism, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Great American West!

Day 8

Medora – Enchanted Highway – Bismarck

Take a trip along the Enchanted Highway for a glimpse of classic roadside art. Giant metal sculptures line the highways leading from Gladstone to Regent. Beginning with "Geese in Flight" at Exit 72, large metal sculptures are placed along the county highway, each with parking area and kiosk except "Geese in Flight," which is viewable from the adjacent interstate. Sculptures include "World's Largest Tin Family," "Teddy Rides Again," "Pheasants on the Prairie," "Grasshoppers in the Field," "Deer Crossing" and "Fisherman's Dream." 

The afternoon will find you in Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. The Bismarck-Mandan area has welcomed visitors since Lewis and Clark paddled up the Missouri River in 1804. Before the arrival of white settlers, present-day central North Dakota was inhabited by the Mandan Native American tribe. The Hidatsa name of Bismarck is mirahacii arumaaguash ("Place of the tall willows"); the Arikara name is ituhtaáwe [itUhtaáwe].

History stares back from the Fort Abraham Lincoln blockhouses on the bluffs to the southwest. Visit Chief Looking’s Village Historic Site or the Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site for a glimpse into the area’s Native American history.

Day 9

Bismarck

Your discovery of the Dakotas ends this morning. Check out, drop off your rental vehicle and make your way home.

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