The Insider's Guide to a Weekend in the Black Hills
There is enough to do and see and explore in the Black Hills that you can spend a lifetime here and not get bored – I’ve been in the hills thirty-some years and I’m still discovering new treasures! – but that isn’t to say that you can’t cover some serious ground in a single weekend. Here are some of my very favorite Black Hills highlights, all rolled into three days!
Plan to roll into the hills in the afternoon so you can get checked into your accommodations at Hinterwood. This gorgeous property is tucked into a quiet valley between Hill City and Keystone and features beautiful views, modern décor, and friendly hosts. Once you are settled in, head for Hill City and spend an hour or two strolling Main Street in Hill City. You will find specialty shops, art galleries, and – very important – truffles.
Next, grab a steak dinner (and definitely dessert) at the famous Alpine Inn. Yes, you'll have to wait a while for a table, but it's worth it! Round out the day roasting marshmallows over your firepit back at the lodge at Hinterwood.
Start your morning right with coffee & bagels at Grapes & Grinds in Keystone. (If you’re lucky, you can come back later that night for live music and a glass of wine on the patio!) You’ll want to fuel up, because next you’re heading into Custer State Park to hike!
While many tourists tackle the famous Black Elk Peak (the highest point east of the Rockies) we’re sending you to the Sunday Gulch Trail. Like the Black Elk trail, it also starts at Sylvan Lake, but instead of climbing up, you’ll head down into a beautifully wooded gulch. You’ll still get great views, but with water features and fewer people. (This is a fairly strenuous hike – what goes down must come up, you know – so if that’s not for you, check out the Grace Coolidge Walk-In Fishing Area Trail, located near the State Game Lodge. This easy hike is one of the prettiest and best-kept secrets in the hills, and since it’s a five-mile out-and-back to Center Lake, you can make it as long or as short as you like.)
After you are done hiking, enjoy a picnic lunch, either at the iconic Sylvan Lake or another one of the dozen lovely picnic spots tucked into the park. Next, take a load off and spend your afternoon driving the scenic Needles Highway and then the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop where you’ll get to see free-roaming buffalo, antelope and prairie dogs. And don’t forget to bring a bag of carrots for the burrows!
From the end of the Wildlife Loop head west into the historic town of Custer and get dinner at Skogen Kitchen. The husband/wife team that owns and operates this little culinary gem will make you feel like family and feed you one of the best meals you’ve had in a long time.
End your evening with some stargazing by the fire and a high-five for a day well spent.
Get an early start and enjoy breakfast in the Mt. Rushmore dining room with a view of the faces. (Did you really think we were going to let you go home without stopping at Mt. Rushmore?) If you have time, take a walk on the Presidential Trail to get insta-worthy shots of George W.’s chiseled jawline.
Then head back to Hill City and wrap up your trip with a helicopter ride from Black Hill Aerial Adventures. While this is, admittedly, a bigger investment than many things you can do on your trip, it is worth every penny and will likely be the highlight of your weekend. A view of the hills from above will give you an incredible, unique perspective on this whole, beautiful area and its breathtaking geography. Before you head home, do a wine tasting and grab a light lunch at Prairie Berry, the Black Hills’ original winery, and start planning your next trip to the beautiful Black Hills!
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