“By forfeiting over 200 million vacation days that cannot be rolled over, American workers gave up about $62.2 billion in lost benefits” in 2017 according to Project: Time Off. It’s statistics like this that have encouraged me to not be afraid of using some of my time off for last minute trips – like this past weekend in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Black Hills Mount Rushmore

Getting to South Dakota’s Black Hills

The Black Hills, by my measure, are an underrated treasure in western South Dakota. Sure, everyone needs to make a stop by Mount Rushmore and the (never-to-be-finished) Crazy Horse National Monuments, but there is so much more to discover.

As the Rocky Mountains of Colorado becoming increasingly crowded, it’s kind of relieving to find some hills and trail systems that are still relatively peaceful and quiet. The Black Hills are only a 6-hour drive from my house in Colorado, or a short 45-minute flight from Denver International Airport when I have airline miles to use.

Rapid City will be your closest airport with a surprising number of flights on regional aircraft from 14 destinations in the summer. This includes major hubs like Denver (most frequent), Chicago, Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Dallas and even hubs from both coasts.

Black Hills Mount Rushmore Washington

Mount Rushmore and Keystone

This weekend, I was headed to Sturgis, which is home to the major motorcycle rally every August, for the Black Hills 100 race. Fortunately, I had to opportunity spend a few extra days exploring the area.

First stop after arriving was an easy drive to Mount Rushmore. I hadn’t been since 2009, so it was good to revisit the national monument after a decade. While there’s not a ton to see here, visiting is free aside from the $10 parking fee. It’s always good to appreciate our past leaders’ accomplishments and their lasting impressions. While the monument’s size is smaller than expected, it’s still amazing to imagine all of the manual labor that went into carving out the stone in the 1930s. No way we’d accomplish such a feat by hand today.

The best room I could find on this side of the Black Hills was a small cabin-style room at the Powder House Lodge just outside of Keystone. While Keystone is definitely a tourist trap, this room was very affordable and no-frills. But let’s be honest, on a good road trip, hotel rooms should only be used as a place to shower and sleep. There’s a decent restaurant attached that makes a good breakfast stop before your day begins.

Black HIlls Miner Brewing Company

Black Hills Brewery Stops

I made a stop at two different breweries to sample their beer flights. In Hill City, I found the Miner Brewing Company. On a hot day, their outdoor covered deck was perfect. And for the wine fanatics who don’t like beer, they share this outdoor space with the Prairie Berry Winery next door. My beer flight included several of their Pale Ale and IPA varieties and I wasn’t disappointed.

My next brewery stop was in Deadwood at Sick-N-Twisted. Actually, it was just a tap room extension for the brewery located in Hill City. I was a little underwhelmed, or maybe I just chose the wrong beer. But folks behind the bar made for good conversation about the area.

Sick N Twisted Brewery

Pactola Reservoir and Deadwood

On highway 385 to Deadwood, I stopped by the Pactola Reservoir for little lake time. The reservoir and dam were built in the 1950s to manage water supplies for the rapidly-growing Rapid City. The reservoir covers 800 acres and is the largest in the Black Hills. Again, I find the history of these landmarks fascinating. I can’t imagine managing the massive fluctuations in water supplies prior to the dam being built. Nor the labor that went into the task.

Speaking of Deadwood, it’s another one of those tourist-trap towns. As a National Historic Landmark, it has all the old-west vibes, mixed with the bikers that come through on the way to Sturgis. The main draw is the historic Main Street with Western false front architecture still in place. Most people get excited to come hit the slot machines. Or to stop by Saloon #10 to see “where Wild Bill Hickok met his demise and the sawdust still covers the floor.”

Deadwood is cool, one of those things you should see as old mining towns who have figured out how to capitalize on modern tourism. But I’m pretty sure it and next door Lead are better visited for their outdoor and winter recreation.

Pactola Reservoir Black Hills

Preparing for the Black Hills Run

While this road trip included stops in the towns of Keystone and Deadwood, they weren’t the main reason for this trip. I was out to explore the miles and miles of single track that the Black Hills have to offer!

My next stops were Sturgis and Spearfish as I prepared to run 50 miles for the Black Hills 100 race. This would be my second race in the Black Hills, after finishing 50 miles at the Lean Horse 100 last August.

Stay tuned for my next post for that portion of the trip. I really didn’t expect it to be THAT HOT, but I made a good day of it any way.

Have you been to the Black Hills before? What are your favorite trails, towns or breweries to hit up?

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