Tons of strange and interesting attractions lay hidden in the Black Hills of South Dakota. From caves loaded with treasures to roadside attractions hiding mysterious secrets, the Black Hills are filled with more than a few unexpected surprises. This dog-friendly adventure is definitely one you’ll want to take with your favorite furry friend.
Mount Rushmore is one of America’s most iconic landmarks: No road trip through South Dakota is complete without a stop at the mountain carved with the faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abe Lincoln. But perhaps the coolest part of Mount Rushmore is something that few know about, and even fewer get to see: the secret room hidden inside.
Yep, there really is a secret room in Mount Rushmore! Original plans for the monument included a Hall of Records, which would contain important texts and documents from American history. However, the plans for Mount Rushmore were scaled back quite a bit, and even though the Hall of Records had been started, the project was abandoned… temporarily. Reportedly, in 1998, enamel tablets etched with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the story of the presidents, among other documents, were placed in a box in a titanium vault and sealed shut with a 1,200-pound capstone inside the Hall of Records, to be left untouched for thousands of years.
Make sure you’ve worked up an appetite before grabbing a seat on the pet-friendly patio at Grizzly Creek Restaurant & Bar. This classic American eatery serves up tons of tasty grub. If you’ve never had buffalo before, this is the place to try it! They serve buffalo in their chili, as a burger, and as a ribeye cut of steak. Finish your meal with a molten-chocolate-filled fried Bear Claw, or an order of S’mores by You, which lets you roast your own marshmallows and build your own version of the campfire classic.
The decor of the Ruby House Restaurant is turn-of-the-century classic, which adds a fun twist to the usual steakhouse experience. The restaurant serves up chicken, steak, seafood, and pasta, but if you’re feeling adventurous, go for the fall-off-the-bone tender buffalo ribs and homemade huckleberry ice cream. Next door, the Red Garter Saloon offers beverages in addition to more 1900s vibes. They also have a room that features the work of a local Native American artist, which is definitely worth checking out while you wait for a table.
Find out what wonders lay below the Black Hills on a tour of Rushmore Cave. The hour-long walk will take you through magnificent cave formations, and give you a unique look at the history of South Dakota and the fascinating geology that forms the Black Hills. Bonus: The cave is located in the Rush Mountain Adventure Park, which features zip-lines, gemstone mining, mountain coasters, and tons more!
There’s no better place to appreciate the strange wonder of the Black Hills than in Badlands National Park. The rugged, colorful sandstone formations and rolling, grassy plains make for an interesting landscape, and you can climb the hills and rocks in search of rare fossils (if you happen to find any, let a park ranger know so they can check it out.) Antelope and bison roam the park, as do adorable prairie dogs. Take it all in on a hike with your furry friend (leashed dogs are welcome), or enjoy the sights from the comfort of your car on the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway.
Conveniently located right in the middle of all of the coolest attractions in the Black Hills, the Rapid City KOA offers tons of amenities that make your stay super fun. All-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts and seasonal watermelon feeds and s’mores parties are can’t-miss events. Their guided tours make discovering everything the region has to offer extremely easy, and your furry friends can even get in on the fun at their Kamp K9 Dog Park!
Feeling hot? Hit this KOA Resort’s pool area, complete with splash pads, saunas, and a waterslide. Or, if you’re looking for entertainment, you can sign up for a chuck-wagon dinner. You’ll ride to see an open-air show including authentic cowboy music, and experience cooking from a real chuck box. (Cowboy tip: “chuck” is slang for food, and a chuck box is like a mobile kitchen.) If you want something more hands-on, take a guided horseback ride or gold-panning lessons. And not to be forgotten, Fido will love running around Mount Barkmore – a pets only playground! Finally, don’t miss out on the nightly shuttle to the Mount Rushmore lighting ceremony and evening movie screenings before you cozy up in your tent, RV, or cabin!
Much of the Black Hills is contained within the Black Hills National Forest. Huge stands of shady Ponderosa pines, winding gulches, and rocky peaks make up this vast protected space. Within the forest, you’ll find 11 reservoirs stocked with fish, 450 miles of hiking trails, and tons of scenic routes along Forest Service roads. Hike to Roughlock Falls for a mind-blowing view, or up Harney Peak for a more challenging hiking experience: It’s the tallest peak east of the Rocky Mountains. Leash up your pup, and bring him or her along to explore!
If you thought Mount Rushmore was impressive, then wait until you see the Crazy Horse Mountain Memorial. The project was dreamed up by one of the men who helped carve Mount Rushmore, and depicts Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse. It’s not complete and likely won’t be for a while. When it’s finally finished, it will be the largest statue in the world! Crazy Horse’s head will be roughly 1.5 times the size of the heads on Mount Rushmore. The completed carving will eventually be one feature of a cultural and educational center with a University of South Dakota satellite campus, but in the meantime, you can stop by the visitor center and ogle the progress on the massive sculpture.
For more Black Hills beauty, head to Custer State Park, which encompasses 71,000 acres of land. Here, you can watch the largest publicly owned herd of bison stop traffic on Wildlife Loop Road, explore historic log cabins, horseback ride at a mini dude ranch, rock climb up the sandstone formations, and hike through miles of gorgeous scenery with your dog. If you visit in September, you might be lucky enough to watch cowboys and cowgirls round up the herd of bison.
The Hot Springs KOA is a cute and quiet place to set up camp. Check out a book from their onsite lending library, and bring it back to your pine-shaded site, or mosey on over to the pool for some relaxing swimming and sunning. If you’re in the mood to move, try your swing on the mini-golf course, play HORSE on the basketball courts, or just run around the playground. Plus, a fenced-in dog run means that your pooch can join the fun, too!
The Black Hills are home to the densest cave system in the entire world, Wind Cave National Park. It contains 140 miles of explored passageways (with more being discovered each year). Stop by the visitor center and pick up tickets for ranger-guided journeys into the caverns. All of the tours are awesome, but the best might be the candlelight tour. If you’re a bit claustrophobic, stay above ground with your dog. You two can roam around the largest remaining mixed-grass prairie in the United States.
Tucked away in the middle of the Black Hills is the Custer/Mount Rushmore KOA. Its central location makes it an ideal home base for exploring the area. After you’re done with your South Dakota adventures, you can come back to your comfy, shady campsite and enjoy everything this KOA has to offer: a heated pool, a jumping pillow, ice-cream socials, and tons more. The site is pet friendly (stop by the spacious, fenced dog walk) and very close to Custer, which means you can enjoy the town’s shopping and restaurants, too.
If you’re looking for a real adventure, nothing beats uncovering the mysteries of the Black Hills. With your furry friend at your side, exploring caves, hunting for fossils, and camping out under the stars are even more fun!
Behind the Yellow Sign at KOA, we combine the great outdoors with great service. We offer modern sites, facilities and amenities designed to meet the needs of every kind of camper. And with 500+ campgrounds across North America, it’s easy to find an amazing place for camping fun!