The Blacks Hills has been an iconic family road trip for generations. The quirky mix of kitschy family-run roadside attractions, rich fossil beds, massive monuments, and the wild beauty of the Badlands and the Black Hills, grazing bison, or wild mustangs really do provide something to appeal to every age.
Most tourists come in summer. Winter can be harsh, and some attractions close for the season in late September or early October and don't open again until April or May. Unless you are combining your Black Hills vacation with a trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, avoid visiting in early August. Hotels and campgrounds are booked solid, the attractions swarm with over 500,000 tourists, and the road noise can be deafening. September is a lovely time in the Black Hills -- fewer crowds, slightly cooler weather, and the Aspen trees start to turn to brilliant yellow.
Winter temperatures tend to be in the teens to low 30s, with snowfall of 5 to 15 inches. April is slightly warmer with more snow, and May is often rainy. Mid-June through Mid-September tend to have warm (or hot) days and cool nights. September and early October can range from warm to crisp and cool, but October and November can also bring cold, blustery northwest winds and some snow. Get more weather info.
Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP) is the commercial airline hub for the Black Hills and Greyhound bus lines are available. But the area makes for the quintessential road trip. Rent a car when you arrive, or, if you live in a neighboring state, drive the entire trip.
Interstate 90 is the main east-west route for driving to the Black Hills, and I-29 runs north-south. The roads tend to be well maintained, even in winter. By dialing "511" from any phone (cellular or land line) you can receive up-to-date, location-specific road restriction, condition, and weather information on any Interstate, U.S., or state highway in South Dakota and several adjoining states. You can also call 866-MYS-D511 (866-697-3511).
It's difficult to get around this region without driving, Traffic is usually light (except during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally) and the roads are well-maintained.
Iron Mountain Road (US 16A) is a beautiful, scenic drive that connects Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop, with the pigtail bridges (corkscrew-shaped) that were built in the 1930s and a series of granite tunnels, three of which perfectly frame the faces of Mount Rushmore in the distance. It's well worth the drive for smaller vehicles that can fit in the tunnels (about 13 feet wide and 12 feet tall).
TravelSD.com is the official visitors' site.
The Black Hills, Badlands, and Lakes Association website offers coupons you can print out for discounts at various attractions, dining, and lodging.