sunflowers in south dakota

Summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota can get really hot, especially in July. Are you wondering what to do when you visit the Black Hills in the summer? I spent the month of July in Rapid City, SD, and explored the area, so I can share my favorite thing to do when you visit The Black Hills in the Summer. Summer mornings are typically cool enough to adventure into the outdoors and there is a strong breeze in the evenings. It is a wonderful time to visit the area as there is so much to do during the summer. I explored several small towns in the Black Hills full of history and beauty.

Small towns in the Black Hills

Hill City 

Hill City is where you will find the 1880 train. It has a quaint downtown that is perfect to stop off for lunch and, of course, catch the train and head over to Keystone. The train leaves every 2 ½ hours and you can customize a schedule that works best for you by allowing you time in Keystone to have lunch or sightsee. The depot opens in May and runs through the summer and the first train of the day leaves at 9 am. $34 round-trip to Keystone. Be sure to check out the “shootout” in Hill City every evening at 5 PM.

Keystone

Keystone is located at the base of Mt Rushmore. It looks like an Old West town with all the proverbial tourist shops. It is also home to the amazing Dahl Brothers outdoor shop. Here you will find the world’s largest wooden Bigfoot along with so many other sculptures made strictly by chainsaws. This display was my favorite thing to do in Keystone. It is also home to Borglum’s museum where you will learn about the Mt Rushmore sculpture and his other well-known works of art. 

Keystone is in the black hills near Mt Rushmore
keystone in the black hills
City of Keystone

Things to do in Keystone

Keystone tram adventure tours offer ziplining, Alpine slides, and an aerial adventure course in the heart of Keystone. It is a really fun thing to do in the summer in the Black Hills. We did the zipline tour and loved it! The adventure begins with a scenic airlift up the mountain, after a bit of training on how to zipline. The first zipline offers a birdseye view of Mt Rushmore which is really cool. There are 5 ziplines in all. I didn’t think it was scary at all. My friend however was a bit nervous to sail over the 400-foot canyon during our adventures. 

After ziplining through the morning we ate at George’s Grill where they hand grill all their burgers. I am not a red-meat eater so I opted for the chicken salad, which was very fresh! Our final adventure for the day was the alpine slide where we slid down the mountain on a cart. 

Sturgis

If you know anything about motorcycles then you have heard of Sturgis. The city has a HUGE bike festival every year lasting a full week! The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is the first week of August, every year. It’s a great place to check out for the motorcycle swag and community of bike enthusiasts from around the country. We wandered around the town for a couple of hours and enjoyed seeing all the bikes.

Spearfish Scenic byway is a beautiful place to explore in the summer

Deadwood is by far my favorite town in the Black Hills. Downtown Deadwood is so cute with shops, art galleries, and eateries. Deadwood hosts a story hour in the middle of the street a couple of times a day, telling a true tale from the old west. It is also the place where Wild Bill was shot dead and his murderer was captured. Lots of history in the town of Deadwood. When you visit Deadwood, be sure to check out Mt Moriah Cemetery, where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried. Walk up the hill a bit to the flagpole and you can see the whole town. It really is a very cool place to visit.  Also, check out Adams House while you are close by. 

deadwood in the black hills of south dakota is where wild bill was killed

Explore the outdoors in the Black Hills

Custer State Park is the perfect place to visit during summer in the Black Hills. It is located about 45 minutes from Rapid City. There are several great trails for hiking, lots of wildlife to view (go early in the morning) and the landscape will delight you! My recommendation is to start on the Wildlife loop and continue to Needles Highway. It is like nothing I had ever seen before. Needles Eye tunnel is a bit nerve-wracking but the views are truly unique! Sylvan lake is nearby and it’s a great place to stop for some snacks, a bathroom break, and a short little hike around the lake. Check out my list of 15 best hikes in the Black Hills.

Custer state park is in the black hills
Bison roaming free in Custer State Park on an early morning hike

Spearfish Canyon scenic byway is a gorgeous drive with multiple trails for hiking along the canyon. It is one of the most beautiful places in the Black Hills Region. It is loved by motorcyclists, bikers, and hikers. 

If you are looking for places to stay that are close to nature, I recommend checking out Spearfish Canyon Lodge. Check out my hiking blog to learn about all the hikes in Spearfish Canyon. The town of Spearfish itself is listed as the most unique city in South Dakota by “Only in Your State”. 

Lake Pactola is a local area that is great to explore. The lake itself is virtually see-through. It’s a wonderful place to put your feet in the lake, take an easy hike through the woods and enjoy nature. 

Lake Pactola is a great place to hike and camp.

Wall Drug and The Badlands

Badlands National Park is incredible. In all my travels I have never experienced anything more other-worldly. As you drive in, it looks like open prairie and then you come to the geological formations that truly astound! The formations were built by deposits of rocks and have been eroded by rivers and weather over millions of years. 

We also encountered several bison, prairie dogs and the big horn sheep were my favorite. They like to hang out on the rocks! Note: do NOT chase or approach the fuzzy cows (bison). We saw that happen too. Geesh! 

I spent the month of July in South Dakota and apparently that is sunflower season. The fields and fields of sunflowers on the way from Wall to Badlands are just beautiful. We had to pull over and get pictures because really it was spectacular (and I love flowers!). Fun fact: in 2021 South Dakota was the largest producer of sunflowers in the world!

sunflower fields near Badlands national park
as seen from the highway near Badlands

After you go through the Badlands, make a stop at Wall Drug. If only to say you did it. It is the world’s most famous roadside attraction. The reason for its popularity was a simple marketing tactic by the Wall family back in the 1930s when the drug store was about to go out of business. Check it out to see what that marketing tactic was! (hint: it’s still offered today)

Devils Tower

Check out a really cool geological formation 2 hours from Rapid City. We stopped at Devil’s Tower on our way from Montana to Rapid City. Although we didn’t hike Devil’s Tower, we did get a great view of the tower and enjoyed a ride through the national park. I likely wouldn’t go out of my way to see Devil’s Tower but I was glad it was close enough for us to check it out on our way to Rapid City. 

Devils tower near the black hills
Devils Tower

The Black Hills of South Dakota are truly a treasure for outdoor enthusiasts. Take time to visit the Black Hills during summer. I loved all the hiking and small towns in the area. If you haven’t already, add the Black Hills of South Dakota to your travel bucket list.