I have now almost been away from my home state of South Dakota for as long as had lived there. And, while I’ve returned at least once annually to visit the fam, attend events, etc., these visits rarely provided an opportunity, or reason, to explore the area in which I spent my formative years. However, a road trip to the Black Hills last week with my boyfriend and the pup not only provided such an opportunity but also offered a new perspective to the place I once called home.
I had a short list of must-do + must-see items, but otherwise, we were fairly agenda-free for the visit. With Spearfish as our home base, which also happens to be my favorite SoDak town, we had roughly 96 hours to explore the surrounding area, plus ensure we had ample time to hang with my family.
Before we arrived at our temporary residence, we did have one goal (or, rather, my boyfriend did) to see the famous carving of our forefathers. However, our plans were quickly foiled when we rounded the corner to find a line down the hill leading to Mt. Rushmore. We decided to forgo a stop and snapped a photo at the stoplight.
Once we were settled in our lovely Airbnb, the next four days were spent doing what we set out to do: relax, enjoy time with my family, play tourist and reminisce (just me for the last one). Following is the list of our favorite activities + spots from our trip. Be sure to check them out if you ever find yourself in the Black Hills!
- Hiking + reminiscing in Spearfish Canyon: The famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, while observing Spearfish Canyon in 1939 said this: “How is it that I have heard so little of this miracle and we, toward the Atlantic, have heard so much of The Grand Canyon when this is even more miraculous.” I happen to agree with him and count this canyon as one of my favorite places. I was fortunate to spend a number of my childhood nights at our family cabin here and will cherish my memories there for all time.
- We visited: Roughlock Falls, Cheyenne Crossing, Spearfish Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, cabin near Hannah Campground
- Being in awe at Devil’s Tower: While technically in Wyoming, this spectacle of natural beauty is still technically in the Black Hills, so I’m including it. I’m grateful my boyfriend suggested we make a stop here, despite it being a bit out of our way on our return home. Not only is Devil’s Tower the nation’s first national monument, but it also happens to be the location of many fond memories with my cousins.
- Losing money in Deadwood: One our first night in South Dakota, we made the trek up the hill to visit this old-timey gambling town that is certainly unique to the area. After spending some time visiting with my sister’s boyfriend (who was working at a local bar) and meeting a few new folks, we took our chances on the craps table — and lost. And, I still don’t know what the hell is going on with that game. Oh well — we still had a great time.
- Discovering tasty coffee in adorable settings: We were lucky enough to be within walking distance of many local coffee shops and took full advantage of their convenient proximity. We’re both pretty into coffee (my boyfriend more on the quality side, me more for quantity) and discovered some excellent finds in Spearfish.
- Feeding fish + getting an education at D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery: Located next to one of my favorite parks (see below), the fish hatchery is another of my childhood favorites. We spent ample time viewing and feeding fish, and even hiked a short ways up to a beautiful viewing area.
- Wetting our whistles in Spearfish and Sturgis: When Denver is your home, craft beers are basically as commonplace as water and breweries are nearly as prevalent as Starbucks. However, I was aware of a few breweries popping up in the Black Hills area — one of which my sister’s boyfriend happens to work for — so we were looking forward to giving them a try and were not disappointed.
- Relaxing by the creek in Spearfish Park: As mentioned above, Spearfish is home to one of my favorite parks and I was grateful we were able to spend some time here as part of our morning walk. The soothing sounds of Spearfish Creek rushing by provided a relaxing backdrop as we hung out on a nearby bench taking it all in.
- Viewing fireworks + experiencing our first rodeo in the Center of the Nation: When your dad is responsible for one of the most anticipated and popular fireworks shows in the state, you definitely carve out time to view the show. The celebration is one component of the annual Black Hills Roundup, which also includes a rodeo, carnival and parade and is most certainly the busiest time of the year for my small hometown. Being that I grew up here and had never been to the rodeo (celebrating its 98th year in 2017), we decided to give it a try. While, as it turns out, rodeos are not really our thing, we did enjoy the experience and can now check it off the list. As usual, the fireworks did not disappoint.
- Crazy Horse Memorial drive-by: While Mount Rushmore definitely gets most of the attention, as far as giant rock carvings are concerned, Crazy Horse is quite the site and has much broader viewing options as compared to the original SoDak mountain carving. It’s also much larger and, in fact, the mountainous tribute to the North American Indians, is the world’s biggest mountain carving — in progress. Despite it not actually being complete (or, even close), the memorial attracts more than one million visitors annually. We opted to not join the ranks of official visitors and instead viewed the carving from the road as we drove by.
And, because I love fun facts, here are a few related to the areas we visited:
- The Black Hills are the oldest mountains in America.
- At 7,242 feet, Harney Peak is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Swiss Alps.
- The name Black Hills originated from the Lakota Sioux, who called the hills “Paha Sapa” or “Hills of Black.”
- Trout are not indigenous to the Black Hills and were first introduced to the area by white settlers in the 1800s.