South Dakota isn’t usually on the top of people’s bucket lists. Once I started researching Mount Rushmore for our Midwest road trip, I was excited by how much there is to do in South Dakota and the Black Hills. Here’s your perfect three day South Dakota road trip itinerary.
Day 1: Arrive and Settle In
The first day of the itinerary is mostly spent driving. We spent the night before in La Crosse, Wisconsin so it took us about eight hours to drive to our first stop in South Dakota. South Dakota is a big state and most of the eastern part is nothing but flat plains. Things start to get interesting when you get to the area around Badlands National Park.
Walk around Wall
We spent our first night in South Dakota in the town of Wall. Wall is the closest town to Badlands National Park so I recommend staying here. Wall’s main attraction is Wall Drug, a restaurant, gift shop megastore known for its donuts, five cent coffee, and free ice water. You can grab dinner at Wall Drug or one of the other restaurants in town. We had a nice meal at 3 Amigo’s Cantina down the street from Wall Drug.
Day 2: Badlands and Mount Rushmore
On Day 2, start your morning early at Badlands National Park before heading to the Black Hill of South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore.
Badlands National Park
The Pinnacle Entrance of Badlands National Park is about ten minutes away from Wall. While there are three units to the park, the North Unit is most commonly visited as the other two are on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and are less accessible. There’s a lot to see at Badlands National Park, but luckily it’s very easily accessible by car by following Badlands Loop Road.
You can check out my half day Badlands National Park itinerary here.
After visiting Badlands National Park, we stopped for lunch at Wall Drug. From there, we drove about an hour and a half to the Black Hills to visit Mount Rushmore.
You can check out my guide to Mount Rushmore here.
After Mount Rushmore, we checked into the Holiday Inn Express Mount Rushmore/Keystone. Keystone is a great homebase for visiting the Black Hills as it’s close to all of the sights and has a decent amount of restaurants.
Day 3: Custer State Park and Crazy Horse Memorial
Day 3 is spent exploring the other main points of interest in the Black Hills.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park is a great place to visit for animal watching, scenic drives, hiking, and swimming. A highlight of the park is driving on Needles Highway. There’s tons to do in the park but you can see a decent portion of it in about five or six hours.
You can check out my Custer State Park itinerary here.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Last but not least, drive to the Crazy Horse Memorial near the town of Custer. The memorial is still under construction, but it’s interesting to see the model of what it will look like once complete.
Have Another Day?
If you have another day in South Dakota, I recommend these additional stops in the Black Hills.
- Wind Cave National Park: Located south of Custer State Park, this national park is home to the Wind Cave. The cave is the highlight of the park and is unfortunately not accessible while the elevator is being repaired indefinitely.
- Jewel Cave National Monument: This is another cool cave that’s currently inaccessible due to COVID-19.
- Spearfish: Spearfish is a city in the northern part of the Black Hills with lots of outdoor activities like visiting Spearfish Canyon and Bridal Veil Falls.
- Deadwood: You may know it from the TV show. Deadwoods is a historic Wild West town where Wild Bill Hickok was killed.
I bet you didn’t realize South Dakota has so much to offer! This three day South Dakota road trip itinerary is the perfect way to see the highlights of the state. If you have more time, you can check out some additional stops such as visiting a Wild West town or one of the areas many caves.