Golden Circle Tours (695 W. Mt. Rushmore Rd., 605/673-4349, www.goldencircletours.com), based in Custer, offers several different tours throughout the Black Hills and Badlands. The company uses either a 7- or 14-passenger van to transport visitors to many of the major sights in the hills. The basic tour lasts a full day and visits Sylvan Lake, the Needles Eye and Needles Highway, Cathedral Spires, part of the Wildlife Loop, and then heads north on Iron Mountain Road up to Mount Rushmore. The final stop is Crazy Horse.
Adult tickets are $72.50 and include all entry fees. Passengers are on their own for lunch. The tour is flexible, stopping whenever the group decides it’s time for another photo. This is a great way to get a peek at the hills without having to do the driving. Tours are also offered to the Northern Hills and to the Badlands. The company will also custom-design tours for visitors who are interested in specific sites.
Custer is the home base for Black Hills Balloons (605/673-2520, www.blackhillsballoons.com, May–Sept., other months by arrangement, adult $245, child 12 and under $195), the longest-running, single-owner balloon company in the United States. The owner, Steve Bauer, an experienced balloonist, incorporated his company Black Hills Balloons in 1987 and safety is his first priority. Potential riders meet at a designated parking lot in Custer at sunrise, where a helium balloon is released to test wind speed and direction.
There are no steering wheels on hot air balloons, so the results of the test determine the best launch site for the day. The most common route includes drifting over the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park, but the whimsy of the wind currents rule and each flight is unique. Plan to take three hours for a balloon experience from launch to an end-of-ride champagne celebration. In-air time is usually about an hour. Balloon capacity ranges 2–12 passengers. Specialty flights are available and can be arranged by quote only.
Rockin’ R Rides (605/673-2999, www.rockingrtrailrides.com, Memorial Day–Sept., adult $24–56, child $22–52) is located at Heritage Village, three miles north of Custer and just one mile south of Crazy Horse on Highway 385/16. It operates under permit from the U.S. Forest Service.
Owners Peggy and Randy have been outfitting riders in the Black Hills since 1998 and their staff is experienced and knowledgeable. It is recommended that reservations be made one or two days in advance, but Rockin’ R Rides will accommodate walk-ins if possible.
Rides, lasting from one hour to half a day, will bring riders through all kinds of terrain, from open fields to forested hillsides. Views of the Crazy Horse Monument, just a mile away, are visible intermittently along the ride. Imagine what it was like when traveling on a horse was the only way to go.
The closest bike trails include the Mickelson Trail, the Centennial Trail, and trails in Custer State Park. Bike rentals are available at Frontier Photos & Bike Rentals (512 Mt. Rushmore Rd., 605/673-2269, www.frontierphotos.com). Rates are $18 for 2–3 hours, $27 for half a day, and $32 for a full day. You can have an old-time photo taken as a souvenir and admire the owner’s wildlife photography while you’re there.
If you need bike shuttle service to any Mickelson trailhead or to any other trailhead or need to arrange a pick-up after a day of riding, Golden Circle Tours (605/673-4349, www.goldencircletours.com) offers this service. Fees depend on distance to the trail, number of riders, and type of service desired.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition