10 Adventures Between the Black Hills and Yellowstone
Looking for an epic family-friendly road trip? Look no further than the Black to Yellow route.
It’s hard to imagine a better, more adventure-filled road trip route than a linkup between South Dakota’s Black Hills and Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park. Here you’ll find the perfect mix of outdoor adventures—from high-mountain hikes to expansive grassland sunsets—cultural history, and the type of friendly interactions the West is famed for. Where to start? Here are 10 must-hit stops in Black and Yellow country.
Get a Wildlife Close-Up in Custer State Park
You’ll want to stay in the car for this one—bison are not to be messed with—but drive-by fauna viewing is the idea behind the 18-mile Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. In addition to the bison, a keen eye might spot pronghorns, bighorns, elk, deer, birds of prey, and the park's famous “begging burros.” Later, rent kayaks or SUPs and head out on Sylvan or Legion lake. “Rock climbing, running, biking, hiking—you can do it all in the southern Black Hills,” says the South Dakota Outdoor Shop’s Grant van Vleet.
Hike to Another World in Badlands National Park
While hiking in Badlands is like hiking on another planet, it doesn’t have to be a gigantic mission. With supervision, kids can handle shorter routes like Notch Trail, a 1.5-mile round trip featuring a (mellow) ladder climb and big views, or Door Trail, a three-quarter-mile stroll into a fossil field. Want to go deeper? The five-mile (point-to-point) Castle Trail connects two trailheads for an easy car shuttle for fit hikers.
Take a Chill Day at Mount Rushmore
You’ve always wanted to see it, but maybe you’re concerned the kids won’t be interested? Give this monument a visit. From the Avenue of Flags to the Sculptor’s Studio to the chance to explore the grounds with a ranger or spy wildlife, it’s easy to make a day of it at the nation’s biggest shrine to democracy. Take a stroll on the Presidential Trail for unique views of each presidential face. In the evening, attend the lighting ceremony before heading back to camp or the next hotel.
Dive into Old West Culture in Deadwood
Made famous by the likes of Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickock, and Seth Bullock, the little town of Deadwood, South Dakota, has been on the historic register since 1961. Take a tour of the Mount Moriah Cemetery and you’ll once again be walking among heroes, villains, brothel keepers, and gamblers. Inspired? Pop into a hotel for a game of poker. Later, stroll up to the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower (under two miles round trip) and take in more views of the Black Hills.
Picnic and Fish Spearfish Canyon
Another Black Hills gem, Spearfish Canyon State Nature Area—south of the town of Spearfish—has plenty to explore, from ponds to hiking trails to waterfalls. It’s a hot spot for birdwatchers and an abundance of brown trout and wild rainbows make it an angler’s paradise. Need some exercise but have a narrow time window? A strenuous 2.4-mile round-trip hike up the 76 Trail—a remnant of an old mining trail from the Gold Rush days—gains you views of Spearfish Canyon from an overlook. Looking for a real challenge? If you time your trip right, the Dakota Five-O is a 50-mile mostly singletrack mountain bike race that begins in Spearfish City Park and takes place every Labor Day weekend.
Take In the Universe Over Devils Tower
This 867-foot-tall marvel of igneous rock has been sacred to many Northern Plains tribes for millennia; more recently, geologists, rock climbers, and stargazers have flocked to Devils Tower National Monument to revere its otherworldly aesthetics. Book ahead and you can camp within the monument grounds. Coming to climb? Sign on with a guide. “Climbing Devils Tower takes endurance,” says Jeff Llewellyn, guide and co-owner of Sylvan Rocks, a local guiding service. “But after our blitz course, we take beginners and intermediates up.” If you go unguided, please honor the June closure out of respect for Native peoples.
Wander Wildflower Meadows near Sundance, Wyoming
It’s the gateway to Devils Tower, and it’s famous for the Old West Sundance jail where Butch Cassidy’s train- and bank-robbing cohort earned its moniker, “The Wild Bunch.” Backpackers can make a base in Sundance before heading into the wilderness of nearby Inyan Kara Mountain. On top you’ll find expansive views and evidence of the Custer expedition. It takes some planning to summit, so contact the Bearlodge Ranger District for details. Just want to sight-see and learn about natural history? The Vore Buffalo Jump—where American Indians stampeded bison into a sinkhole—is a fascinating side trip.
Ditch the Highway for a Scenic Byway
The Black to Yellow region is home to numerous scenic byways, including Bighorn, Cloud Peak, Medicine Wheel, Chief Joseph, and Beartooth. There’s no way we could list all the trails, overlooks, picnic spots, and historic sites along the way, but if you do a bit of homework before you set out, you won’t be driving long between adventures. It's always a good idea to bring an old-school map. In the West, it’s still common for the mapping software to route you down rough roads and private drives in search of shortcuts.
Camp Out in the Bighorns
Tucked up by the Montana border, the 120,000-acre Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is truly spectacular place. Here, thousand-foot cliffs tower over Bighorn Lake, and dozens of uncrowded hiking trails await. Got a boat? Meander the placid Bighorn River. Got an adventure van? The dispersed camping in nearby Bighorn National Forest provides perfect bases for exploration. “By August, the high country in the Bighorns is melted out and you can put in big backpacking trips above timber, just below 14,000 feet,” says Bruce Shell with Bighorn Trading.
Introduce Yourself to Yellowstone
The crown jewel of America’s National Park system, Yellowstone covers two million acres of rugged mountains, wildflower meadows, roaring geysers, and so much unfettered wildlife that it’s been called the last preserve of the American Serengeti. A careful visitor could spend a lifetime here and see something new every day. If you don’t have a lifetime to spend, take the 4.5-mile stroll to see Old Faithful and a dizzying array of geysers—all of which are marked with eruption times. Later, visit Grand Prismatic Spring to take in the colors.
As the least populated state with the most room for adventure, Wyoming recognizes the responsibility to be mindful stewards for our land, animals, culture and communities. The Wyoming Office of Tourism invites you to come witness the majesty, responsibly, with these important tips. Sign up to receive the latest news.
In the Mount Rushmore state, our places are larger than life. So bring your imagination – and your sense of wonder – and discover the greatness that lies within our beloved lands. When you’re ready to explore, learn more and plan your adventure at TravelSouthDakota.com.