Getting There and Around
The best way to get around the Black Hills region is by automobile. For those who don’t want to do all the driving, it is possible to arrange for day trips to the Badlands, Deadwood, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore through several small tour companies in the region. For visitors planning just 1–3 days in the hills, the tours may be all you need.
There is one commercial airport in the Black Hills region and that is the Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP, 605/393-9924 for airport information, 605/393-2850 for flight information, www.flyrapidcity.com). There are several auto rental agencies at the airport, including Alamo/National (605/393-2664), Hertz (605/393-0160), Avis (605/393-0740), Budget (605/393-0488), and Enterprise (605/393-4311).
The Black Hills region is relatively small. Major transportation routes include I-90, which enters the hills region at Rapid City; skirts along the Northern Hills past Sturgis, Deadwood, and Spearfish; and then heads off into Wyoming. Highway 79 runs north–south along the eastern edge of the hills and connects Rapid City to the southern community of Hot Springs. Highway 18 on the south connects Hot Springs and Edgemont and then continues west into Wyoming and Highway 85. Highway 85 travels up the western and Wyoming section of the Black Hills and cuts into the northwestern corner of the South Dakota Black Hills, joining up with I-90 near Deadwood. All in all, the Black Hills are just 65 miles wide and 125 miles from north to south. Any two points within the hills is an easy day trip, though traveling through the hills can take twice as long as traveling around the edges due to the two-lane, winding roads.
Within the boundaries of the Black Hills, major routes include U.S. 16, which is the direct route south from Rapid City into the Central Hills, including Mount Rushmore. U.S. 385 runs along the western edge of the developed portion of the hills and runs from Hot Springs, through Custer and Hill City, and winds up halfway between Deadwood and Lead.
While you are never far from a gas station within the confines of the Black Hills, you should keep your tank full when you head out to the Badlands or to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Cell phone service is sporadic, towns are far apart, and a wrong turn can lead you miles and miles from nowhere. It’s best to err on the side of caution and fill up whenever the tank is less than half full.
By Bus and Tour
Rapid City has limited city-to-city bus service. Jefferson Lines (800/767-5333, www.jeffersonlines.com) has just two buses that arrive and depart daily and they head east or west across the state on I-90. Jefferson Lines is based out of Minneapolis.
Greyhound (800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com) can also get you to Rapid City, but travel times are exceedingly long. There is one bus a day from the Denver area to Rapid City, for instance, and travel time is over 13 hours. The distance from Denver to Rapid City is a little over 350 miles and can be driven in about 6.5 hours.
There are several tour companies that will arrange day trips by bus or van into the hills. Adventure tours that include biking or hiking tours are offered by Black Hills Adventure Tours (605/209-7817, www.blackhillsadventuretours.com).
There are also several smaller tour companies willing to customize tours to suit visitors’ needs. These companies typically use 7–14 passenger vans as transportation. Two such companies are Golden Circle Tours (605/673-4349, www.goldencircletours.com) and ABS Travel Group (605/791-2520 or 888/788-6777, www.abstravelgroup.com).
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition