The Black Hills and Badlands region of South Dakota is rich in history, especially Native American culture. American Indian tribes have lived on this land for thousands of years.
By simply visiting this area, it is one of the best ways to learn and experience firsthand the diverse culture. Luckily, the Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association has created the One-Day Native American Cultural Trip.
The treasure trove of historical landmarks, cultural sites, and memorials are perfect for visitors of all ages to learn about the events that were influential to early U.S. history.
With so many opportunities, it can be overwhelming for visitors to sort through information and determine what they want to see. By following a suggested itinerary, guests can spend more time doing, and less time planning.
“The Native American Scenic Byway, powwows, reservation tours, Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, and cultural heritage sites like the Red Cloud Indian School and Heritage Center or Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center are great places to start,” said James Hagen, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism.
Here are just some of the recommended stops.
Start your day in Hill City. You will find a great introduction to true Indian art by many local Native American artists in the many galleries. Once you’ve finished admiring and shopping these beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces, make the short drive to Crazy Horse Memorial just down Highway 385 between Hill City and Custer.
Aside from the incredible mountain carving itself, Crazy Horse Memorial offers a wonderful visitor center for you to begin your visit, including a theater with a short film highlighting the rich history. You’ll also find more educational opportunities inside the Indian Museum of North America, as well as an extensive gift shop.
Once you’ve soaked in all of the history and beautiful views of the memorial, jump back in the car for a scenic drive along Highway 385 South. You’ll want to hang a left at Pringle, and follow the signs to continue on Highway 385 South all the way through Hot Springs and onto Highway 79/385 South to Oelrichs. From there, head east on Highway 18 all the way to the Red Cloud Heritage Center.
Playing host to multiple Native American art exhibitions, a gift shop, and educational programming, the Red Cloud Heritage Center is located on the campus of the Red Cloud Indian School and serves as an economic engine for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. After checking out the gift shop, hop in the car for a quick drive to Wounded Knee. Go east on Highway 18 until you cross Highway 27, and then go north for just a short distance.
After just five miles up Highway 27, you’ll come across the Wounded Knee National Historic Site. On this hallowed ground, U.S. cavalrymen massacred nearly 300 Native men, women, and children. As a trading post, there are still foundations where buildings once stood, but the 843-acre site has been declared a National Historic Site. While there, please be respectful, but also fully take in the history and pain that will forever scar this land.
When you’re ready to head out, get back on Highway 27 and go north to Scenic, where you will take Highway 44 NW all the way into Rapid City.
Once you arrive, grab a bite to eat, and then head over to the Journey Museum for the Sioux Indian Museum. Hosted here is a wide variety of works representing Sioux history, both traditional and contemporary. You can view Sioux artwork from different time periods, see how they lived and dressed, and stand amongst full-size tipis.
Next, head north on I-90 until you get to Sturgis, take the Lazelle Street exit, and turn west onto ALT-14. This beautiful drive through Boulder Canyon will take you directly into Deadwood.
Make your way to Tatanka: Story of the Bison, where you will find a hands-on interpretive center, as well as 17 larger-than-life bronze sculptures of buffalo and Native Americans on horseback. After you’ve taken it all in, head back into Sturgis on ALT-14 where it turns into Highway 34, and head out of town. A few miles out, you will turn north on Highway 79 and head toward Bear Butte, where the trip ends.
Upon arriving, you are in for a real nature treat. Bear Butte is a South Dakota State Park and is known as Mato Paha or “Bear Mountain” in Lakota, and it is still used as a holy site to this day. For that reason, there are a few rules about Bear Butte that are listed at the base of the butte.
30 to 60 million Bison once roamed the Great Plains. By the close of the 19th century, it was estimated that less than 1,000 bison survived.
A two-mile trail will lead you to the top where you will be treated to an amazing view of the surrounding area, and if you plan it, it could be right at sunset. After snapping all the photos you want and soaking in the view, head back down and drive to wherever you wish to end your night.
“Visitors appreciate itinerary suggestions, but customize their days to fit their needs and interests. We don’t expect, however, that they will follow every aspect of it,” said Michelle Thomson, president and CEO of Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association.
Where will your journey take you?
For more information, visit blackhillsbadlands.com.