SOUTH DAKOTA ROAD TRIP:
What to do in the Black Hills and Badlands
Best Things To Do In South Dakota
Prairie Dogs, Bison, and Bighorn Sheep- oh my! You’ll know you and Toto aren’t in Kansas City anymore when you’re exploring the canyons, spires, and waterfalls on this route. Badlands National Park, Spearfish Canyon, and Custer State Park- to name a few- are some of bucket list stops along this classic American Road Trip route!
Badlands National Park
Custer State Park
DAY 1: Sioux Falls
Starting from Kansas City? Kick off this road trip by heading north towards Sioux Falls. Grab lunch in Omaha at Louie M’s Burger Lust – a quaint diner serving up mouth-watering burgers and shakes. They have outdoor seating that is dog-friendly. If the pups need to burn off some energy, 7 minutes away is Hanscom Park Dog Park.
After lunch, continue on to Sioux Falls, stopping in town for a stroll at Sioux Falls Park or the Sculpture Walk. Set up camp for tonight at Palisades State Park Campground. Cook dinner and s’mores on the fire. Don’t feel like cooking? Grab dinner in Sioux Falls at Monk’s House of Ale Repute or Bread & Circus– both have dog-friendly patios and excellent reviews.
DAY 1 TIMELINE:
0900-1200: Drive to Omaha
1330-1600: Drive to Sioux Falls
1600-1930: Explore Sioux Falls, Dinner
1930- night: Palisades State Park Campground or La Quinta
DAY 2: Badlands National Park
Take a sunrise hike along Split Rock Creek in Palisades State Park, known for it’s cliffs and rock formations eroded out of pink Sioux Quartzite. Get breakfast at M.B. Haskett Delicatessen in Sioux Falls, and then get an audio book ready for a 4 hour drive to western South Dakota! For lunch- grab fast food along the way.
Spend the rest of the day on the scenic loop of Badlands National Park. According to NPS, “pets are only permitted in developed areas, such as campgrounds and picnic areas, and other areas open to motor vehicles, such as gravel and paved roadways, roadway corridors, and parking lots. Pets are prohibited from hiking trails, public buildings (i.e. visitor centers), and backcountry areas, including the Badlands Wilderness Area, and areas with prairie dog colonies.” However, they are allowed on backcountry roads, such as Old Northeast Road just north of Cedar Pass- an active ranch road that takes you into the prairie and away from the highway. Bathrooms and souvenirs can be found at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
If you didn’t bring dogs, or are able to leave them briefly in an air-conditioned RV or campervan with a remote temperature monitor like Waggle, stop for a hike on Notch Trail on the way to Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Beginning at a shared trailhead with both Window trail and Door trail, Notch trail treks up a canyon to an overlook with views overlooking the Great Plains. The dirt trail hike is 1.33 miles round trip with 125 feet of elevation gain and a steep wooden ladder. The trail traces a cliff’s edge so may not be good for anyone with a fear of heights.
Lodging and dining are limited in this part of the state. For dinner, definitely check out Wall Drug– chances are you’ll have seen a hundred billboards for it by this time- it’s impossible to NOT go see what it’s all about. Dogs are allowed in the store, but not inside the restaurant. There are picnic tables in their backyard and lots of quirky photo ops outside. Try to time your day so you can enjoy sunset at Pinnacles Overlook in Badlands NP.
WHERE TO STAY:
- Cedar Pass They also have cabins, but are not dog-friendly.
- Badlands/White River KOA In addition to tent & RV sites, they have 2 deluxe cabins with full bathrooms and 2 camping cabins that are dog-friendly ($6/pet)
FREE DISPERSED CAMPING
- Buffalo Gap National Grassland Covering nearly 600,000 acres throughout South Dakota- you’ll have no trouble getting off-grid. Be sure to get there in time to set up camp and enjoy an incredible sunset at Badlands Overlook. The National Grasslands Visitor Center is located in Wall, South Dakota 📍 Badlands Overlook 43.890031, -102.226789 (7.5 miles south of Wall, South Dakota on Hwy 240)
- Best Western Plains Motel (Up to 2 pets $20 per accommodation, per day; up to 80 lbs each)
DAY 2 TIMELINE:
1030-1430: Drive to Ben Reifel Visitor Center- Badlands National Park (fast food lunch on the way)
1430-1730: Badlands Scenic Byway & hiking
1730-1830: Dinner at Wall Drug
1830-sunset: Drive back to Pinnacles Overlook
Night: To campsite or hotel
DAY 3: Custer State Park
For breakfast, cook in the camper or head to Wall Drug.
Start your day by driving 1 hour to Bear Country USA. Take the scenic car ride on your way to Mount Rushmore, observing black bears, elk, mountain lions, buffalo, and reindeer out in the ‘wild’.
Ready for a different kind of thrill next?*** Drive 25 min south to Spokane (Keystone, SD) to get on the scenic Iron Mountain Road northbound. Iron Mountain road is a super fun (but borderline scary) 17 mile route with 314 winding curves and 14 switchbacks, taking you through 3 one-way tunnels. The most notable tunnel- and the one that makes this route worthwhile- is the Doane Robinson tunnel, which gives you a perfectly tunnel-framed view of Mount Rushmore. You have to be driving northbound to get this view, so double check your route before you go! There are some small pull-offs to take photos, but have your camera ready or you might miss it. The drive takes about 45-60 min to complete because of the slow speed required.
***Important Note: Iron Mountain Road has 3 short, narrow tunnels. If your vehicle is over 10’ tall or 10’ wide, or cannot safely take 360 turns (RVs or trailers) DO NOT TAKE THIS ROUTE- take Highway 40 west to Keystone towards Mount Rushmore instead. While we do not restrict our campervan renters from taking this route, we do not recommend it if you are inexperienced driving a 15-passenger transit van. Sure, we’d do it, but we’re crazy people.
IRON MOUNTAIN TUNNELS:
Doane Robinson Tunnel, 12′ 0″ wide by 11′ 4″ high;
C.C. Gideon Tunnel, 11′ 6″ wide by 10′ 9″ high;
Scovel Johnson Tunnel, 10′ 9″ wide by 11′ 0″ high
Whether you took Iron Mountain Road, or hopped on Highway 40, your next stop is Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Pets are not allowed in the main visitor area of the park, but they are permitted on leash in the parking garages, outside the entrance to the main visitor area by the benches at the main pergola, and on all sidewalks and grass spaces between the parking garage and entrance. They are also allowed on Blackberry Trail (1 mile, gravel) directly across SD HWY 244 from the garage. Mount Rushmore is huge- you’ll get to see it even from outside the entrance.
Finish the day at one of our favorite dog-friendly places in South Dakota- Custer State Park. Within the park, you’ll find the picturesque Sylvan Lake, surrounded by towering rock formations and spruce trees. Sylvan Lake Lodge overlooks the sloping hills- accommodating furry-guests in most of their cabins for $10/pet/night. For reservations, call (888) 875-0001. There is also a campground at Sylvan Lake. All of these spots get booked early so plan accordingly!
The lake is the perfect place to swim, kayak, canoe, and paddle board with your pup- but be sure to bring your own! There are watersport rentals available on-site, but no dogs allowed. Watercraft rentals (605) 574-2561. Dogs also aren’t allowed on the beach- you’ll enter the water from one of the docks. We offer dog-friendly inflatable paddleboard rentals for $10/day with our camper van reservations.
the popular Needle’s Eye Tunnel is just a short drive from Sylvan Lake. Our camper van is too big to fit through this one, but there’s parking just before the tunnel if you want to go see it. Pro tip: bring bikes with you and ride from Sylvan Lake to Needle’s Eye Tunnel instead!
Couldn’t book a place at Sylvan Lake? Other nearby resorts we love are:
- Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort In addition to RV & tent sites, they offer teepees, yurts, and treehouses rentals. There is a pool and hot tub with daily happy hour, and they have private full-bathrooms scattered throughout the campground which we love!
- Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch We always appreciate a KOA with dog-friendly Deluxe Cabins with bathrooms! This camp resort has a pool, hot tub, Chuck Wagon Supper Show, Rodeo, and a tiny old western style town with places to eat and shop.
DAY 3 TIMELINE:
0930-1030: Drive to Bear Country USA
1200-1230: Drive to Spokane SD to start taking Iron Mountain Road northbound
1230-1330: Scenic drive northbound Iron Mountain Road
1330-1430: Mount Rushmore National Memorial; Blackberry Trail
1430-1530: Drive to Sylvan Lake & check-in (if you’re staying at Mount Rushmore KOA- check in along the way)
1600-1700: Needle’s Eye tunnel
1800-1900: Dinner in Custer
1930-Sunset: Paddleboard on Sylvan Lake
DAY 4: Deadwood & Spearfish Canyon
Today, you’ll headed back in time to Deadwood where you can live out your dreams as a cowboy or cowgirl. But before you do- grab a hearty breakfast! If you stayed at Sylvan Lake, make reservations on the stone veranda at the Lodge (dogs are welcome) for dining with fabulous vistas of the Hills. The restaurant is open from May through the middle of October. If you stayed at Mount Rushmore KOA, get pancakes and eggs at the Prospector’s Pancake Tent (open Memorial Day to Labor Day) or coffee and a bagel at Grapes & Grinds. Finally, for guests at Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort, grab breakfast to-go from Baker’s Bakery & Café in Custer.
Drive north 1 hour to Deadwood, South Dakota. Check the schedule for Deadwood Alive’s shootout reenactments. You’ll most likely catch the show at 2p outside Wild Bill’s Bar. If you brought your dog, grab a cocktail beforehand at the very dog-friendly Saloon 10. Enjoy lunch at any of the patio tables at Mustang Sally’s or Pump House Coffee & Deli– both welcome dogs.
From here, you’ll drive south towards Lead, South Dakota and on to Spearfish Canyon Lodge. Cheyenne Crossing along the way also has great reviews for food, but you’ll need to grab food to-go if you brought your dog. Once you get to Spearfish Canyon Lodge, spend 1.5 hours hiking Spearfish Canyon Falls (0.8mi- 20 min) and Roughlock Falls (2 mi out & back- 1 hr). Eat dinner on the patio at Latchstring Restaurant before continuing north on the scenic byway toward the town of Spearfish. We recommend trying the Cheese Curds and Chislic- a South Dakotan tradition. Burn off calories with another hike on your way to Spearfish at Devil’s Bathtub (1.6 mi out & back, 40 min), and take photos at scenic viewpoints like Bridal Veil Falls.
We recommend staying at Elkhorn Ridge Resort. They have RV sites, select dog-friendly cabins, historical house rentals, and tent sites. They also have a heated swimming pool, hot tubs, basketball and tennis courts, and a 4.5 mile hiking and biking trail. There is a golf course on site and the Miller Creek Pub for casual dining and daily happy hour from 2-4pm. Get morning espresso in the lodge.
Prefer a hotel? For about the same price as their small cabins, the Best Western Black Hills Lodge in Spearfish has dog-friendly rooms, free breakfast, outdoor pool, and the Lookout Lounge bar on site.
DAY 4 TIMELINE:
1000-1100: Drive to Deadwood
1100-1430: Deadwood (2p shootout)
1430-1500: Drive south to Lead and on to Spearfish Canyon Lodge
1530-1700: Hiking Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Canyon Falls
1715-1630: Dinner at Spearfish Canyon Lodge
1645-2030: Continue north on Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (stop for hikes/waterfalls)
Stay at Elkhorn Ridge or Best Western Black Hills Lodge
DAY 5: Up to you
Continuing on to Montana or Wyoming? (itinerary connection coming soon!!)
Headed back home to Kansas City?
You have about 10 hours of driving ahead of you if you want to rush home tonight, or get a round of golf in this morning at Elkhorn Ridge and break up the drive home into 2 days.
There are some fun dog-friendly stops along the route back to KC you didn’t experience on the way West. Sample sparkling wines with your dog on the patio at Belle Jolli Sparking Winery. Get corny at The World’s Only Corn Palace. Dogs are welcome on-leash inside the building. Finally, get some photos of your dog posing with unique sculpture art at Porter Sculpture Walk right off the highway.
DAY 5 TIMELINE:
Up to you!
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