Ultimate Family Guide to the Black Hills

If you know me, you know I enjoy planning a vacation just about as much as I enjoy going on a vacation.  I spend hours pouring over itineraries, menus, lists, reviews – like it is the damn Divinci Code…and I love every minute of it.  It’s pathetic and I do not care.

I know, most people aren’t like me.  I respect it.  My husband really respects it, and probably wishes I was more like most people.  Deal with it, John.

So to make your life all easier…here is our vacation guide for The Black Hills, South Dakota.  If you live in the midwest and haven’t made this trip – you must!  The Black Hills are great for ANY family, but we found it to be especially amazing for our crew, which incudes a 3 and 4 year old.

We left for the Hills on a Sunday morning.  I took advantage of Saturday by cooking and prepping for the trip.  Again, I love planning.



Pit Stop at Chamberlain to see Dignitiy, a 50-foot Native American Statue overlooking the river at a rest stop.  Don’t miss it!

The Badlands.  We hiked the Door Trail, hit up a picnic site, check out the fossil lab, did the fossil boardwalk, and checked out the buffalo, prairie dogs, and endless gorgeous scenery.

And FINALLY to the Hills!

We stayed at Mountain View Lodge and Cabins.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  We had a cabin up behind the lodge.  It is everything you dreamed a mountain side cabin would be.  You also cannot beat the location.

We hung out on the patio, grilled, and enjoyed some local wine.  Perfect.


We decided to do the things we were most excited about on the first day.  Rain was not ruining this for me.

Bear Country!  Do it!  I went as a child and loved it.  I went as an adult and loved it.

Mount Rushmore.  Just a hop, skip, and jump from Bear Country.  And it is Mount Rushmore.  You have to go.  We had a picnic on the steps and hiked the trail.  The boys were so not into the videos or educational pieces (which weren’t the most exciting videos- just sayin’) so we skipped that and headed back to the cabin for a swim (and a glass of wine) and a camp fire!  What is a stay in a cabin without a s’more?!


BUFFALO SAFARI!  We were cruising to the safari through the amazing Custer State Park when we saw some poor unsuspecting bike rider being chased by a buffalo.  He ditched the bike and jumped behind a car to hide from the beast.  I won’t lie, I laughed.  I mean, when do you get to see a man in spandex running and screaming to hide behind a little blue car.  You would have laughed too.

The Buffalo Safari was the bomb.com.  The kids were obsessed and so were the adults.  We had an awesome tour guide and a priceless experience.

We spend the rest of the day in Custer State Park.  He climbed, hiked, jumped, had a picnic, splashed in some streams, and drove the scenic drive.  We stopped at the Blue Bell Lodge for the kiddos to do a super fun horse ride.  Because they are real cowboys.

After dinner that night, I packed the little men up and we went back to Mount Rushmore for the lighting.  It was really moving and beautiful for John and I, but the boys were less enthused.  I think they were hoping for fire works.


Cowboy pancakes at Fort Yates.  This place is pretty kitchy.  But all you can eat pancakes for $0.99 gets to have a little kitch.  The boys loved the old town and were pretty pumped to pan for gemstones.

Our next stop: Reptile Gardens.  You know you want to see a crocodile wrestler.  But really, this place was cooler than I planned.

And a long break at the cabin.

THEN….CHUCKWAGON DINNER!!!  If you take one piece of advice from this post – go to the Palmer Gulch Chuckwagon Dinner.  This was the highlight of our little men’s week, summer, year…all of it.  Horses, wagons, teamsters, cowboys, steaks, beans, guitars.  Need I say more?


A slow day.  Look, I was exhausted.  We rode the 1880 train.  I am not going to lie.  This was not the most dazzling part of our trip.  Gus slept the whole way to Keystone while Hank ate an entire box of popcorn – and then three packs of snacks on the way back.  It was nice to sit for two hours, but I think I will pass on this the next time we make the trip.

And then, we did it.  We took an Old Time Photo.  And I am not sorry.

We went home and got our fancy selves cleaned up before heading back out to Custer Park feed the donkeys.  I know – you see a million signs that say do not feed the wildlife, but everyone is doing it (I was easily influenced as a child also.)  We weren’t the only people doling out our carrots – everyone else was too.

For dinner we stopped at The Custer Wolf.  By far our favorite restaraunt while we were in the Hills.  The food was great, the staff was delightful, the atmosphere was comfortble, and they were totally cool and patient with my kids.  They win.

On a whim we decided to hit up Crazy Horse on the way home.  We were not disapointed.  It was a great experience for both kids and adults.  The lightshow was the one my kids dreamed of.  It was gorgeous.  Go to it.


We had NO PLANS for Friday.  This was hard for me.  But it had to be done.  Because what if it rained one of the planned days?  Or what if we heard about something so amazing and cool that we had to do it before we left?

So we went to the Grace Coolidge Area of Custer State Park.  It was legit.  The boys jumped, climbed, gazed at turtles, listened for turkeys, cleaned the forest floor…

In the afternoon, we stopped by a real life horse camp and rode a glorious steed named Dandy (Thanks to my hometown friend, Amanda, and her team!)  Because this is the kind of stuff we do when I do not make plans.

We spent Friday evening hunting for the perfect souveneer before hitting up one of the kitchy old West restaraunts downtown.  I ate an Indian Taco and it was delicious.  My boys ate half of it.

And Saturday…home!  Phew – that was fun!

Want the details?!  Let me know and I will get you all the goods!

Have fun on your trip!



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