Sturgis, SD: The Perfect Base for a Black Hills Vacation

In the southwest corner of South Dakota lies the sometimes underrated Black Hills region. The area is home to multiple national parks, memorials, and monuments as well as a couple very impressive state parks. Several charming small towns also dot the Black Hills region—one of those towns is Sturgis, SD. While Sturgis is likely best-known for its annual motorcycle rally that draws hundreds of thousands to the area each year, the town is worth a visit any time of the year, on a motorcycle or not. It's also a great option as a base for your Black Hills vacation. With this three-day itinerary, discover Sturgis, the Black Hills, and beyond.
Prepared By:

Danella Myers

Visit USA Parks Contributor


Day 1: Explore Sturgis

After arriving and getting settled in, you’ll want to get acquainted with the small-town charm that Sturgis has to offer. Take a walk down Main Street through the historic downtown district. Stop in some of the local shops like Sturgis Photo & Gifts, Just For Looks, and Black Hills Rally & Gold.

For car and motorcycle enthusiasts, visiting both the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame and the Saab Heritage Car Museum USA are musts. To learn a little more about the area’s unique history, take a tour at The Old Fort Meade Museum.

Or, if you’d like to imbibe in a beverage, head to The Knuckle Brewing Company for some craft beer. Maybe wine is more your style, in which case you should plan to visit Belle Joli Winery Sparkling House. At Belle Joli, you can tour the vineyard and learn about the production process, or just enjoy a glass of wine on the beautiful outdoor patio.

Looking to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors? You’re in luck. Sturgis has an expansive trail system near town that’s perfect for hiking and biking. Another option is to make the short drive to nearby Bear Butte State Park and hike to the summit of Bear Butte, where you’ll be greeted with spectacular views.

Day 2: Black Hills Sightseeing

Rise and shine early to ensure you see as much as possible in Black Hills country! Grab coffee at Sturgis Coffee Company, or, if you can’t resist a good donut, try Weimer’s Diner & Donuts. After you get caffeinated and/or fed, hit the road and head for Wind Cave National Park.

Wind Cave National Park is an incredibly unique park featuring a complex cave system that includes Wind Cave, one of the longest caves in the world. To get the most out of your visit, schedule a cave tour ahead of time. If you just can’t get enough of the caves, you may also want to check out Jewel Cave National Monument. After you get your fill of cave exploration, the next stop is Custer State Park.

No Black Hills vacation is complete without a visit to Custer State Park. You could easily spend three days there, but if you don’t have that much time, here are a few recommendations for making the most of a quick visit to Custer State Park.

  1. Drive the Wildlife Loop
    Along this scenic byway, you’ll get up close and personal with a variety of wildlife including bison, elk, and burros. Even though these animals may act friendly, they are still wild, so be sure to respect them and give them their space.
  2. Take the breathtakingly scenic drive along Needles Highway
    This route features views of magnificent rock formations, forested hills, and maybe even a mountain goat or two. For a closer look, pull over at the scenic overlook or take a short hike on the Cathedral Spires trail.  After driving through the nail-bitingly narrow Needles Eye Tunnel, it won’t be long before you arrive at Sylvan Lake.
  3. Stop at Sylvan Lake and admire the views
    Aptly named the “crown jewel” of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake is one of the most peaceful and picturesque places in the park. Stroll around the lake, enjoy a lakeside picnic, or take a kayak out for a relaxing paddle. 

While in the Custer area, also plan to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial. Although you’ll be able to see the Crazy Horse sculpture from the highway, it’s definitely worth stopping at the visitors center to learn more about the memorial as well as the area’s American Indian history and culture.

Once you’ve finished exploring in the Custer State Park area, get back on the road and head toward Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is undoubtedly one of the most well-known attractions in the Black Hills. Seeing four former United States presidents’ faces carved into stone towering above you inspires patriotism. Those interested in learning more about the creation of Mount Rushmore should also make time to visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitors Center and the Sculptor’s Studio.

From Mount Rushmore, you can head back to Sturgis via Interstate 90, or take the scenic route through Spearfish Canyon.

Day 3: Badlands and Good Vibes

Just a little over an hour from Sturgis lies another national park that must be part of your Black Hills vacation itinerary. Badlands National Park is something of a geologic wonder with colorful formations jutting up from the prairie.  We encourage devoting at least half a day to exploring this rugged and beautiful place. Stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to see exhibits showcasing the area’s cultural history and paleontology, drive the Badlands Loop Road, and go for a hike or two. One of the most popular hikes in the park is Notch Trail, which features a log ladder. Badlands National Park is home to a variety of animals so be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife along the way, whether on foot or in the car!

Speaking of wildlife, if you didn’t get enough wildlife watching over the past couple days, check out Bear Country USA in Rapid City on the way back to Sturgis.
After returning to Sturgis, it’s time to enjoy an evening out and unwind. Grab a drink and a bite to eat at Iron Horse Saloon, The Knuckle Saloon or Loud American Roadhouse. If you happen to be visiting on a Wednesday in June or July, head to Harley Davidson Rally Point to catch some live music during Music on Main.

Looking to incorporate a Black Hills vacation into a trip to Yellowstone National Park? Check out our Yellowstone Road Trip Itinerary: The Black Hills Route.

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