Ready to experience the ultimate South Dakota road trip itinerary? In just six days, you’ll explore the best of this underrated state, from iconic landmarks and hidden gems to good ole’ fashioned road trip fun. With breathtaking natural wonders, intriguing history, and friendly locals, there’s no shortage of things to do and see. In fact, this state is perfect for road trippers seeking unique adventures off the beaten path.
First, everyone knows that planning a road trip can be overwhelming. However, this carefully curated road trip itinerary has everything you could ever want or need to plan the ultimate Great Plains vacation.
You’ll learn the best months to visit, what to pack, and the best ways to enjoy iconic sights like Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, and Custer State Park. This guide goes beyond just locations – it’s filled with helpful travel tips and practical information to make your planning process stress-free. Now, let’s get started and make your South Dakota adventure one for the books!
Day 1: South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
Start your South Dakota road trip itinerary with a day of exploration, comfort, and mouth-watering delights.
Where to Stay
After securing your ride, make your way to the historic Hotel Alex Johnson. Located in the heart of Rapid City, this historic and luxurious hotel combines old-world charm with modern amenities. The elegant decor and welcoming atmosphere make it an ideal base for your South Dakota road trip itinerary.
Plus, you’ll be close to popular attractions like Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Custer State Park. Hotel Alex Johnson provides fantastic amenities, delicious local cuisine, and stunning city views at the on-site Vertex Sky Bar. You can keep fit in the fitness center, or unwind with a drink at the cozy lobby bar after a day of exploration.
Pick up a rental car at Rapid City Airport
Start your adventure by picking up your rental car at Rapid City Airport. Having your wheels will allow you to explore all the amazing sights on your South Dakota road trip itinerary at your own pace.
Dinner at Sickies Garage
After a long day of travel, head to Sickies Garage for a mouth-watering meal in a fun, automotive-themed setting. Popular among locals and travelers, this casual eatery offers a diverse menu to satisfy your cravings after a day of exploration.
Their claim to fame is an impressive selection of gourmet burgers, with over 50 unique and creative combinations. Don’t miss out on signature creations like the Tater Tot Hotdish Burger or the Mac & Cheese Burger, elevating the classic burger experience. Order one of their many delectable burgers and wash it all down with a refreshing beer flight featuring some of the best brews in the area.
Day 2: South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
On Day 2 of your South Dakota road trip itinerary, you’ll embark on an adventure filled with breathtaking natural wonders, iconic landmarks, and scenic drives, all while discovering the vibrant culinary scene of the region.
Black Hills National Park
Black Hills National Park, also known as Paha Sapa by the native Lakota Sioux, spans over 1.2 million acres and is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. This diverse landscape, with its lush forests, rugged canyons, and rolling grasslands, is home to an abundance of wildlife, including bison, elk, and bighorn sheep.
While exploring the park, don’t miss the opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride with Black Hills Balloons. Despite the early wake-up call at 3 am, the stunning views and unforgettable experience are well worth it. So, gear up for a day filled with adventure, breathtaking panoramas, and a deeper appreciation for the natural beauty of South Dakota.
Mount Rushmore National Monument
Mount Rushmore National Monument, an iconic symbol of American history, is a must-see attraction on your South Dakota road trip itinerary. This colossal sculpture, carved into Mount Rushmore’s granite face, features the faces of four esteemed presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Each face is 60 feet high, and the entire monument took 14 years to complete.
During your visit, enjoy Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream at the on-site cafe – a tasty treat based on the president’s original recipe. Browse the gift shop for souvenirs, or explore the hiking trails at the monument’s base for a more active experience. The Presidential Trail, a 0.6-mile loop, provides an up-close view of the sculptures and an opportunity to immerse yourself in the surrounding nature.
Drive Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
Embark on an unforgettable journey by driving the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, showcasing the Black Hills’ stunning views and natural beauty. Don’t miss the Peter Norbeck Lookout, a prime vantage point of Mount Rushmore, perfect for memorable photos. As you proceed along the byway, marvel at the granite tunnels carved through solid rock, offering a thrilling drive.
The spiraling “pigtail bridges” wind gracefully through the rugged landscape, showcasing remarkable engineering. Lastly, visit tranquil Lakota Lake, surrounded by lush forests and granite cliffs—a picturesque spot for a picnic, leisurely walk, or simply appreciating the breathtaking surroundings.
Dinner at Murphy’s Pub & Grill
Back in Rapid City, head to Murphy’s Pub & Grill for a scrumptious meal after a day of adventure. With its cozy atmosphere and diverse menu, this eatery is a favorite among locals and tourists. Savor the regional flavors with the Buffalo meatloaf, featuring tender buffalo meat in a delectable sauce. Sandwich lovers should try the Reuben with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing on grilled rye bread. And let’s not forget the Dakota Pulled Pork sandwich, boasting slow-cooked pork in a tangy, house-made barbecue sauce.
Day 3: South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
On Day 3 of your South Dakota road trip itinerary, you’ll dive into local culture, visit unique attractions, and indulge in delightful cuisine while exploring the beautiful towns and surrounding areas.
Breakfast at Tally’s Silver Spoon
Kick off your Day three with a traditional breakfast at Tally’s Silver Spoon in Rapid City. It’s a renowned restaurant that’s been featured on both the Travel Channel and the Rachael Ray Show. Established in 1939, Tally’s has been serving delectable dishes for decades.
Savor their famous jumbo pancakes, indulge in their unique jarred mimosas, or treat yourself to their delightful shakshouka—a North African dish made with poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce. This esteemed eatery is the perfect spot to fuel up for your day of adventure!
Explore the town of Keystone
After a hearty breakfast, head to the enchanting town of Keystone. Nestled in the heart of the Black Hills, this scenic town has numerous attractions that make it an ideal road trip stop.
Be sure to check out Dahl’s Chainsaw Art, where artists create stunning sculptures from logs using chainsaws. Wander through the charming streets lined with quaint shops, cafes, gold rush history, and galleries, perfect for souvenir shopping or a leisurely walk.
Bear Country USA
Next up on your Day 3 itinerary is the incredible Bear Country USA, a unique drive-through wildlife park near Rapid City. Enjoy observing bears and other North American wildlife from your vehicle as you drive through the 250-acre park. Watch bears interact, play, and nap in their natural habitat—it’s a thrilling experience!
Aside from bears, Bear Country USA is home to a variety of other animals, including elk, wolves, bison, and mountain lions. The park also offers a walk-through area called Babyland, featuring cute bear cubs and young wildlife. With admission at $20 for adults and $12 for children (ages 5-12), it’s an affordable and unforgettable family adventure.
Crazy Horse National Monument
Crazy Horse National Monument, still under construction, honors the legendary Oglala Lakota warrior and leader, Crazy Horse. When completed, the monument will stand an impressive 563 feet tall and 641 feet long, embodying the spirit and determination of Crazy Horse and the broader Native American community.
Visitors can learn about the area’s indigenous history and culture through engaging exhibits, artwork, and displays at the visitor complex. However, keep in mind that the monument can get crowded, and ticket prices are on the higher side. If short on time, you may skip this stop, but for those eager to explore its historical and cultural significance, it’s well worth visiting.
Dinner at Skogan Kitchen in Custer
As you wrap up your day, head to the picturesque town of Custer for a luxurious evening of dinner and shopping. Stroll through downtown, stopping at Good Karma Jewelry for unique handcrafted pieces, and then Custer County Candy Company for nostalgic candies and gourmet chocolates.
After a relaxing stroll, head to Skogen Kitchen, an elegant eatery known for fresh seafood shipped directly from Maine. Enjoy their ever-changing menu, featuring the catch of the day or delicious meat and vegetarian options. No matter your preference, you’re in for a treat at this popular Custer dining spot.
Day 4: South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
On Day 4 of your South Dakota road trip itinerary, you can expect an exciting day filled with iconic roadside attractions, breathtaking landscapes, and delicious dining experiences.
Wall Drug Store
Start your day with a visit to the iconic Wall Drug Store, known for offering free ice water to travelers since 1931. This quirky roadside attraction has grown into a small city of its own, featuring a travelers’ chapel, unique shops, and various photo opportunities.
If you’re a fellow collector of rocks and unique stones, be sure to stop into Rockhound to add to your collection. Don’t forget to check out the Western Art Gallery, the Animated T-Rex, and the Jackalope Statue while you’re there.
Badlands National Park
Next, venture to Badlands National Park, where unique geological formations like layered rocks, deep canyons, and towering spires will captivate you. The park offers various hiking trails for all levels, including Door, Window, Notches, and Saddle Pass trails, which provide stunning views of the park’s painted rocks.
Entry fees are $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, and $15 per individual on foot or bicycle, granting access for seven days. Alternatively, purchase America the Beautiful Pass for $80, giving you access to all national parks for a year.
There are two main park entrances: the Northeast Entrance off Interstate 90 and the Pinnacles Entrance via Highway 240 from Wall. Each entrance presents unique scenery and experiences, so consider your interests and time constraints when choosing your Badlands National Park entry point.
Prairie Dog Town
Visit Prairie Dog Town to experience the charm of prairie dogs in their natural habitat. This charming attraction, located near Badlands National Park, offers visitors an up-close and personal experience with these adorable creatures. Here, you can observe their behaviors, social interactions, and playful antics.
For $1USD per bag, you can feed these adorable critters peanuts (and peanuts only) while you watch them scurry around in playful delight.
Wine Tasting at Prairie Berry Winery
When you think of South Dakota, wine likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, it very well should be, thanks in large part to Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City. Since 1999, winemaker and brewmaster Sandi Vojta has perfected the art of her Czech great-great grandmother’s traditional winemaking methods.
Using local fruits nicknamed ‘prairie berries’ Sandi continues to craft some of the nation’s most award-winning wines in their 30,000 square foot state of the art wine production facility. Some of the most widely acclaimed blends include the famous Red Ass Rhubarb, Calamity Jane, and Lawrence Elk made of black currants native to the region.
Dinner at Miner Brewing Co.
After sipping vino, walk next door to Miner Brewing Co. This laid-back spot that offers delicious food and drinks, and is perfect for unwinding after a day of adventure. The brewery’s diverse menu features many shareable plates. This includes the Chef’s Plate with artisanal cheeses and meats, hearty Bean Soup, and Turkey and Swiss sandwich.
For a lighter option, go for the Caprese Sandwich with red pepper hummus. Enjoy breathtaking Pinnacle mountain views while dining, and feel free to bring your furry friend to this dog-friendly establishment.
Day 5: South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
On Day 5, immerse yourself in the charm and natural beauty of South Dakota. You’ll explore quaint towns, hike breathtaking trails, and unwind in a serene spa setting.
Where to Stay
Tucked away in the stunning Black Hills National Forest, Spearfish Canyon Lodge offers an idyllic retreat for nature enthusiasts. With rustic charm and serene surroundings, the lodge guarantees an unforgettable experience. Each cozy, well-equipped room includes soft bedding, complimentary Wi-Fi, and picturesque forest views.
For added luxury, spacious suites feature whirlpool tubs and fireplaces. They are perfect for relaxing after a day of adventure! Their on-site restaurant, Latchstring, serves delicious American cuisine in a tranquil canyon setting, plus a relaxing bar and outdoor hot tub for unwinding.
Make a Pit Stop in Sturgis
Sturgis is a must-visit stop on your South Dakota road trip. It’s famous for its annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August, which attracts motorcycle enthusiasts worldwide with thrilling events, concerts, and races.
Even outside the rally, the town offers unique gift shops for souvenirs. This includes motorcycle-themed memorabilia and local artisan crafts. Don’t miss the Buy Sell Trade Store where you can find various items such as clothing, accessories, and collectibles.
Hike Spearfish Canyon
Next, head to Spearfish Canyon and explore its scenic trails. These trails feature stunning cliffs, lush forests, and diverse wildlife. Visit Bridal Veil Falls, a picturesque waterfall accessible via a short walk. It’s perfect for all ages and fitness levels. Hike to Roughlock Falls, an easy one-mile trail with a serene waterfall. It also includes boardwalks and interpretive signs.
For a more challenging experience, tackle the ’76 Trail (Trail #64). This steep 1.2-mile path offers panoramic views of the canyon, perfect for adventurous hikers. Spearfish Canyon provides awe-inspiring trails and picturesque sights for every type of visitor.
Lunch at Cheyenne Crossing
After hiking, make a stop at Cheyenne Crossing! This delightful eatery on your South Dakota road trip will offer a cozy dining experience. Featuring homestyle cooking, the Indian taco as a menu highlight.
Savor a slice of their famous rhubarb pie for dessert afterwards. While there, explore the charming gift shop that sells crystals, unique rocks, and Native American jewelry. Discover handcrafted items that serve as special reminders of your South Dakota adventure!
Relax at Black Hills Salt Cave & Spa
After hiking in Spearfish Canyon, rejuvenate at Black Hills Salt Cave & Spa in Spearfish. This serene retreat offers various healing services, including a salt cave filled with pink Himalayan salt. It’s a form of halo therapy that provides respiratory, skin, and stress relief benefits. Enjoy thermal pools for a soothing soak, easing muscle tension and promoting relaxation. Additionally, the spa offers a range of massage therapies, such as traditional Swedish, hot stone, and aromatherapy massages.
Day 6: South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
Gear up for Day six where the historic town of Deadwood offers a journey back in time to the legendary Wild West.
Check into The Lodge at Deadwood
This luxurious resort-style hotel offers stunning views of the Black Hills, top-notch accommodations, and a wide range of amenities. You’ll enjoy spacious, well-appointed rooms and suites, two on-site restaurants, a fully-equipped fitness center, and a heated indoor pool. Just minutes from downtown Deadwood, you’ll also have easy access to all the best attractions and activities the area offers.
Visit Saloon #10
Step into the Wild West and immerse yourself in history at Deadwood’s Saloon #10. This iconic establishment is more than just a bar; it’s also a museum that takes you back to the days of gunslingers and gold miners. It’s famous for being the site where Wild Bill Hickok — a renowned lawman — and gambler, was fatally shot while playing poker in 1876.
When visiting Saloon #10, arrive early, as seating operates on a first-come-first-served basis. Spend an hour soaking in the rich history, and perhaps sip a drink while you’re there. With live music, reenactments, and a friendly atmosphere, Saloon #10 provides a captivating glimpse into the past. It’s an essential stop on your South Dakota road trip.
Watch an Old Western Shootout Reenactment
As you stroll through the historic streets of Deadwood, don’t miss the opportunity to witness an exciting Old Western Shootout Reenactment. These action-packed performances regularly occur on Main Street. Here, skilled actors dress as cowboys and outlaws to bring the Wild West to life. With the sound of false gunfire and the clash of heroes and villains, you’ll be transported to a time when shootouts and duels were an everyday occurrence. The reenactments are performed in open public spaces, allowing you to stand right on the sidewalks to watch the action up close.
Tip: If you are easily triggered by loud noises or gunfire, or you suffer from PTSD, attending a shoot-out reenactment may not be for you.
Dinner at Legend’s Steakhouse
Wrap up your day with a memorable dinner at Legend’s Steakhouse inside the Historic Franklin Hotel. This renowned restaurant serves up mouth-watering steaks, perfectly prepared seafood, and other savory dishes. As it operates on a first-come-first-serve basis, you’ll want to arrive early and join the queue, which often forms an hour before the doors open.
While dining at Legend’s Steakhouse, you’ll be following in the footsteps of many famous patrons who have graced its tables over the years. After you’ve enjoyed your dinner, make your way to Veranda, a beautiful outdoor seating area at the hotel. Here, you can relax and take in Deadwood’s stunning sights and sounds as the sun sets.
Begin preparations 6-8 weeks ahead, especially if targeting the busy summer months. This will allow you to secure the best accommodations and not miss out on any unforgettable sights. Remember, the early bird catches the worm – or in this case, the coziest lodgings and most epic experiences!
As for hitting the road, search for flights at least 90 days in advance, and your car rental reservation at least two months weeks in advance to dodge the dreaded “sold out” sign. Airport pick-ups offer a fantastic selection of vehicles to suit your needs. With a reliable ride at your disposal, you’ll be free to explore every scenic drive, hidden gem, and breathtaking view South Dakota offers. So, plan and prepare to be captivated by the wonders of this extraordinary journey.
Getting to South Dakota (Flying and Driving)
Wondering how to reach South Dakota for your epic road trip? Worry not! The state’s well-connected airports and scenic highways make booking a flight there a breeze. Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP) and Sioux Falls Regional Airport (FSD) serve as main hubs. They host top airlines like Delta, United, and American. You’ll arrive in South Dakota with ease.
Once there, picking up a rental car to get around is easy. Rapid City is an ideal starting point for exploring the Black Hills. It’s just a 30-minute drive from Mount Rushmore National Memorial! Even Badlands National Park is only an hour away. With a rental car, you can effortlessly traverse South Dakota’s picturesque routes and absorb breathtaking views.
What to Pack for Your South Dakota Road Trip
Here’s your ultimate packing list to ensure you’re prepared for your South Dakota road trip itinerary, no matter the season!
- Hiking shoes – Opt for supportive Columbia boots to keep your feet cozy and injury-free with excellent traction on challenging inclines.
- Hiking socks – Cushioned, moisture-wicking socks prevent blisters and keep feet dry during long treks.
- Sunglasses – A good pair of sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and enhances visibility.
- Sunscreen – Waterproof, sweat-proof sunscreen is crucial for avoiding sunburns Definitely wear it to Badlands National Park!
- Day hiking backpack – A durable, lightweight backpack like the Osprey carries essentials comfortably and evenly distributes weight to prevent strain.
- Road trip snacks – Pack High-protein, easy-to-carry snacks. Items like beef jerky, dried fruit and nut mixes, granola bars, and 100-calorie snack packs keep energy levels high.
- Car emergency kit – Prepare for unexpected road surprises with a road side kit. This includes a flashlight, jumper cables, first-aid equipment, and other essentials.
- DSLR camera – Capture breathtaking landscapes and wildlife with a high-quality camera like the Canon EOS R. It will give you incredible image clarity and vivid, crisp photos.
- Cozy layer for the evening – Pack a light sweater or windbreaker for chilly desert evenings. Layering is key, and a versatile piece adapts to changing temperatures.
- Rain-ready gear – Firstly, it doesn’t rain much in South Dakota in the summer. However, a reliable raincoat or compact windproof umbrella is good to have in case of unpredictable weather.
By packing these essentials, you’ll be fully prepared for every twist and turn of your South Dakota road trip itinerary!
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions about South Dakota and planning the perfect road trips? Continue reading below for the answers!
How many days do I need in South Dakota?
To truly enjoy the essence of a South Dakota road trip itinerary, plan for at least 5-7 days. This will allow you to explore the cities and national parks, book a guided tour or two, and cruise scenic drives without feeling rushed.
What is the best month to visit South Dakota?
The best time to embark on your South Dakota adventure is during the summer months, between June and August. There will be more crowds during this time, and accommodations fill up months in advance, so you will have to book your hotel early. However, the weather is warm which makes it a great time to explore outdoors.
How many days do you need in Mt Rushmore?
While Mount Rushmore National Memorial can be visited in a single day, it’s best to allocate 1-2 days to see the surrounding attractions. These include Custer State Park and Crazy Horse Memorial. You can choose to explore Mt. Rushmore on your own time, or book a guided tour with a local company that includes meals and stops at additional sites.
What is the prettiest part of South Dakota?
South Dakota is full of scenic beauty. However, the Black Hills National Forest stands out for its striking landscapes along Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and Needles Highway. It offers plenty of panoramic views of rugged rock formations and lush forests. Take in the views along Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, too. You’ll be sure to see otherworldly waterfalls and hiking trails.
Conclusion: 6 Day South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
If you’ve made it this far, you hopefully have everything you need to plan the ultimate South Dakota road trip itinerary! From the rugged landscapes of Badlands National Park to the iconic faces of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, this adventure has it all. Remember, this journey is all about immersing yourself in the beauty and history of the Great Plains. Take your time to explore the scenic drives, native wildlife, take in the rich culture along the way.
As you plan your South Dakota road trip, check out my other U.S. travel itineraries on my website for more road trip inspiration.
I’ll see you out there.