Most vacations to western South Dakota include amazing bucket list experiences like Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and Badlands National Park, and for good reason! Each destination has a well deserved spot on every western South Dakota vacationer’s “must visit” list.
But they aren’t the only amazing experiences in western South Dakota. Here’s five more amazing experiences that also earn a spot on the “must visit” list when vacationing in western South Dakota. So go on, detour on down to Hot Springs, South Dakota!
1. Digging Up The Ice Age At The Mammoth Site
Enter the time machine that is The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, and glimpse into Ice Age life at this National Natural Landmark. Wander with wonder through the museum. Gaze upon an active fossil dig site. Imagine life on a North American plains a long time ago. It’s not hard at The Mammoth Site. Where else will you walk the edges of a 60 foot deep sink hole? The very same sink hole where pre-historic mammoths, bears, camels and wolves also once walked, and eventually were trapped some 26,000 years ago.
Where else will your kids – or the kid in you – hold, touch, feel a fossilized mammoth jaw bone? And then “dig” for more fossilized bones. Where else can one imagine how big that Ice Age bear’s jaws really were? Don’t worry son, he won’t eat you!
The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs is a site not to be missed. And if you are traveling with kids, you should sign them up for the Jr. Paleontology Program. They’ll have so much fun excavating their own mammoth bones, you might just wish you were a kid again too!
Travel Tip: Book your spot in the Jr. Paleontologist Program weeks before arriving. In peak summer times, your preferred dates and times might be sold out.
What I love about this place? Seeing the thrill and excitement on my kids’ faces as they came face to face with real Ice Age mammoth, wolf and bear bones.
2. Go Underground at Wind Cave National Park
Ready for some caving fun? Then go underground at Wind Cave National Park and into one of the world’s longest caves. Stand near the Natural Entrance and feel the winds that gives this place it’s name. Get up close with boxwork, a most unique cave formation. Experience total darkness when everyone turns off their lanterns deep inside the caves.
Caves aren’t the only experience at Wind Cave National Park. The park is also home to one of the few remaining intact prairies. Keep an eye open for prairie dogs that live here. Aren’t they just so cute? And don’t miss other ranger programs at the Visitor’s Center.
Exploring underground at Wind Cave National Park is only available through National Park ranger-guided tours. Other areas of the park are available for hiking and exploration without ranger guides. Though they are a treasure trove of information!
Travel Tip: Arrive early to get cave tour tickets as they are sold “first-come first-served.” At peak summer dates, you could be out of luck if you arrive later in the day.
What I love about this place? The Candlelight Cave Tour. Experience the caves as early explorers did … by candlelight!
3. Go Wild at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary
Step back in time to when horses ran wild and free, their manes flowing in the wind. That’s the experience you’ll have at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Witness horses reminiscent of a not-so-distant past. Horses like the wild American mustangs, beautiful Choctaw ponies, Curly and Spanish mustangs too. They love it here, and so will you!
Just like the days of the wild, wild west, these wild mustangs run free, nothing holding them back. Get a front row seat to this amazing experience with a Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary tour and let your “born to be free” spirit soar!
Travel Tip: If the budget allows it, splurge for the 3 Hour Cross Country Tour. It’s a most amazing three hours through horse country that everyone will long remember.
What I love about this? Your tour fee is a donation to support these wild beauties.
4. Saddle Up at Sage Meadow Ranch
Channel your inner cowboy at Sage Meadow Ranch! Saddle up your trusty steed for a morning on horseback along prairie trails, through pine trees, and up rolling hills. Listen closely. You may hear a coyote howling across the prairie. Keep a keen eye on the lookout for other wildlife. Maybe even the elusive mountain lion!
Located in the Black Hills’ historic Red Canyon, Sage Meadow Ranch is just the place to be a cowboy for a day, a great place to witness the deer and the antelope play. And the place to have a romping fun time!
Travel Tip: If booking a ride in the summer, schedule a morning ride. These hills can get hot in the afternoon!
What I love about this place? All horseback tours are private, not group rides, so you go at your pace, whatever your horse-riding experience level.
5. Hike Or Bike the George S. Mickelson State Trail
Take a hike through railroad history as you walk along an abandoned railroad line, across converted wooden railroad bridges and through railroad tunnels cut into slate hillsides. Bike up and down gently rolling hills, past old mining towns and remnants of the wild wild west, and quite possibly along trails where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane might once have walked.
The 109 mile long George S. Mickelson State Trail runs through the heart of the Black Hills, from Deadwood to Edgemont with fifteen trailheads from which to start your experience. The Minnekahta trailhead is about 10 miles west of Hot Springs, and the Pringle trailhead is about 20 miles north, on the road back to Custer State Park.
Travel Tip: Don’t forget to pay the $3 entrance fee at the self-sale trail pass station, else you might just get a ticket!
What I love about this place? No matter your hiking or biking skill level, there’s a section of trail for you. And no cars to contend with. But you might want to watch out for those horses that share the trail with you, and the piles they leave behind!
Go On – Experience Hot Springs South Dakota!
Did you enjoy our tour of five amazing experiences near Hot Springs, South Dakota? Bet you are wondering which was our favorite one. Hands down, the Mammoth Site and it’s Jr. Paleontologist Program. We spent hours there. The kids especially loved the Jr. Paleontologist experience.
Have you been to western South Dakota? What was your favorite experience? Is Hot Springs, South Dakota, now on your “must visit” list? Let us know in the Comments section below.
Don’t miss the other posts in A Western South Dakota Road Trip series, including:
Images from C.Biederman, National Park Services, Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, Sage Meadow Ranch, South Dakota Game Fish & Parks.