The Black Hills, SD has become one of my favorite family road trips for many reasons: there are so many awesome towns near each other to explore (Keystone, Deadwood, Rapid City, Custer, Wall), gorgeous nature sights (the Badlands, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park) and it’s a cheaper family vacation. I want to share a hidden gem that often gets left out from the list of destination towns from a Black Hills SD Road Trip itinerary. Welcome to my favorite town in the Black Hills: Hot Springs!

Make sure to check out and save our Black Hills, SD Road Trip Itinerary!

Where to Stay

There are countless campgrounds and resorts near Hot Springs that you can utilize. It really is up to what kind of experience your family is wanting to have! We decided to make Hot Springs our base camp for our road trip through the Black Hills. We stayed at a downtown apartment within walking distance of delicious places to eat and views to see! Click here to view the apartment.

1. Swim in a Natural Springs on a Hot Summer Day

While many hot springs or natural springs become developed into spas or parts of a resort, 15 minutes south of Hot Springs you will find Cascade Falls! If you are looking for something natural, wild & undeveloped, Cascade Falls is a fairy tale experience. Warm springs feed into Cascade Creek, which is about 67 degrees in the summer time. This spot is the safest to swim in as the water moves slow. There is a gravel lot at the top for parking and small picnic areas.

2. Explore Custer State Park

While not directly in Hot Springs, SD, I had to include my favorite state park of all time: Custer State Park. Located 45 minutes north of Hot Springs, Custer State Park is a MUST see (click here for a map of routes). There are three scenic drives in Custer State Park (this place alone can take an entire day to explore!). The visitor’s center is located on the east side not far from Hermosa & located near Wildlife Loop and Iron Mountain Road. Keep in mind roads in Custer State Park close during winter or due to dangerous road conditions.

If you are shore on time, I would suggest cruising Needle Highway. This is my favorite of the scenic routes because of the panoramic views, unique rock formations and highlights along the way. Needle Highway is 14 miles long and features Black hills forests, meadows lined with wildflowers, tons of wildlife and rugged granite mountains. Important stops along the way are Iron Creek Tunnel, Needle Tunnel and Sylvan Lake. There are tons of hiking trails surrounding Sylvan Lake. I encourage you to park & hike the Cathedral Spires for a stunning view!

Next is Iron Mountain Road, which is truly 17 miles of beautiful views, including three stunning tunnels (Doane Robinson Tunnel, C.C. Gideon Tunnel and Scovel Johnson Tunnel). If you are doing an overall road trip through the Black Hills, Iron Mountain Road is perfect because it connects Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore National Monument.

Of course, you can’t have a Black Hills SD road trip without cruising Wild Life Loop Road. Wild Life Loop Road is a very different drive, winding through 18 miles of prairie lands and meadows. If you are hoping to view some wild life, this is your route to take! We saw hundreds of prairie dogs along with white tailed deer, mule and elk. There are over 1,300 free roaming bison that call this area of Custer State Park their home. The best time to visit this part of the park is around sunrise or sunset, when the animals are the most active.

3. Spa Day at Moccasin Springs and Evan’s Plunge Water Park

One of my favorite experiences in Hot Springs is Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa (for ages 18 and up only). This resort is open year round, and for $27 you can do a 3 hour soak in any of their natural spring spas. I highly recommend booking your service online ahead of time. They offer yoga classes, spa services and have a salt room. I participated in the 3 hour soak and it was incredible.

They have 6 pool houses that all range in different temperatures, and have the most stunning build! There are also bath houses and a large community area with a balcony overlooking the pools. I tried out all the pools and each one is a different experience. I suggest you bring your own robe or towel so you do not have to rent one.

If you have children who want to experience the natural springs, there is a spring-fed water park in Hot springs called Evan’s Plunge. Featuring 2 hot tubs, a gym, sauna, steam room, 2 kids pools, 4 water slides, lap swimming all at 87 degrees, this should go on your itinerary for your kiddos! Two and under are free, ages 3-13 are $10 and ages 14 and up are $14 (includes access to everything).

4. Walk and Shop the Historic Hot Springs Downtown & Kidney Springs Park

They don’t call Hot Springs the “Picture City” of South Dakota for no reason. There downtown is as picturesque as it gets! My honest opinion: I loved it more than Deadwood because it was more peaceful, quiet and has a gorgeous waterfall downtown. We just parked and walked through the park along the river, by the falls & had a picnic in Kidney Park. We also checked out some of their neat downtown shops: River Street Emporium, Red Dirt & Pearls Boutique, Lucy & the Green Wolf, New 2 You Thrift Shop and Many Moons Trading).

5. Grab Great Coffee at a Cheap Price

Hot Springs, SD is blessed with options for tasty coffee at a cheap price! We stayed at an Airbnb apartment downtown that was across the Springs Lodge & Cafe. This little drive through has it all- protein shakes, smoothies, coffee and a full breakfast & lunch menu! If you are looking for a sit down cafe, the Wandering Bison is a fun place to experience, offering a wonderful bakery and specialty coffee!

6. Catch a Glimpse of the Wild Horse Sanctuary

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A unique experience in the Black Hills is the Wild Horse Sanctuary. Only a few people can go into the sanctuary and visit the herds (2-5 people per 2 hours, reservation required) and it’s $300 per person (everything goes back to the horses as they are a non-profit organization). While we did not go into the meadows, we experienced the sanctuary by driving down Rocky Ford to Highland Road to view the visitor center. We were able to see some horses along with way!

7. Indulge in Ice Cream at Two Cows Creamery

Across from the picnic area, near the falls, you will find the perfect dessert option to compliment your downtown picnic near the river: Two Cows Creamery! This family owned ice cream shop makes all their sorbet, ice cream and gelato in house. We had delicious we had delicious flavors we never tried before, including dragon fruit sorbet. If you are looking to have lunch, they have a delicious bistro menu here too!

8. Experience Mammoth Dig

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Hot Springs is well known for it’s Mammoth Site, unique for its indoor active dig site. Visitors can also view Ice Age fossils here. The Mammoth Site is open year round. Children 3 & under are free, youth 4-12 years old are $11, ages 13-59 are $14 and senior citizens are $12. This activity is great for your Black Hills SD road trip if you have children as they have interactive activities. A perfect way to take a break from a road trip!

9. Enjoy Local Restaurants

Are you a foodie? If so, Hot Springs has you covered with multiple restaurants with locally-sourced ingredients. Mornin’ Sunshine has great coffee, but I decided to list them here because they offer a great food menu. Make sure to try their French Toast or Breakfast Platter with one of their specialty drinks! If you are looking for something fancy, Buffalo Dreamer is for you. They feature unique plates like white wine & cream salmon, evergreen beef braise and red lentil Dahl. Please note, this is for ages 18 and up & making a reservation is advised. If you want to try a different cuisine, I suggest you check out The Silk Road Experiment, featuring Pakistani cuisine.

My kids loved the Kitchen Ink, which features American classics. You can also order anything online to eat on the go if needed! My kids loved their cheeseburgers and my mom enjoyed their grilled chicken sandwich. Another kid-friendly favorite is Big Time Pizza. This was perfect to order ahead & eat after a long day of hiking and driving.

10. Check out Wind Cave National Park

Your Black Hills SD road trip isn’t complete without a tour of Wind Cave National Park. While this park is known for its underground chambers with boxwork formations, what’s above the cave system is equally as stunning. This park is truly one of the best views of the Black Hills, featuring bison, elk, prairie dogs and pronghorn antelope. While Rankin Ridge was our favorite hike (about 1 mile round trip), you can check out the Wind Cave National Park hiking list to find a trail that matches your level or desired distance. While most visitors book a tour of the underground caves, you can actually view the entrance for free. One fourth of a mile north of the picnic area near the visitor’s center is the natural entrance to the cave system.

  • 10 Reasons to Take a Black Hills SD Road Trip to Hot Springs

    10 Reasons to Take a Black Hills SD Road Trip to Hot Springs

    The Black Hills, SD has become one of my favorite family road trips for many reasons: there are so many awesome towns near each other to explore (Keystone, Deadwood, Rapid City, Custer, Wall), gorgeous nature sights (the Badlands, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park) and it’s a cheaper family vacation. I want to share…

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