Destinations: Black Hills, South Dakota
By Joe Berk
Black Hills, South Dakota and surrounding areas
How to Get There: Fly into Rapid City and rent a Harley at Black Hills SD, or ride there on I-90.
Best Kept Secrets: Vixie’s Victorian Villa in the Black Hills (an outstanding B&B just seven miles outside of Rapid City). Botticelli’s Ristorante in downtown Rapid City (world-class Italian cuisine). The life-size U.S. president bronze statues on Rapid City’s street corners.
Avoid: The winter, trying to get a hotel reservation at the last minute during the rally, and getting too close to the buffalo – they weigh more than you do and they have horns!
More info: www.blackhillsbadlands.com, www.nps.gov/badl, www.nps.gov/deto, www.bbonline.com/sd/vixiesvilla
More photos: www.motofoto.cc/sturgis_motorcycle_rally.htm
When most motorcyclists think of South Dakota’s Black Hills, the annual Sturgis Rally is probably the first thing that comes to mind. The real fun, though, is motorcycle riding through the Black Hills and surrounding areas – one of the best motorcycle rides in the United States. The attractions (Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Devil’s Tower and Custer State Park, just to name a few), the wildlife, and numerous scenic and twisty roads make this area a great place to visit. Rapid City is centrally located and it makes a good base camp.
Looking east, the Badlands are about 55 miles out of Rapid City on I-90. Look for exit 110, where you can grab state Route 240 for a leisurely 30-mile loop through the Badlands. Spectacular rock formations, rolling prairies and vivid colors make this a memorable ride. In the same area, the U.S. Park Service offers a tour of an underground Minuteman missile command center and launch silo. During the Cold War, there were 150 nuclear missiles in South Dakota! The rangers are all former Air Force missileers and they put on a good show. And don’t forget to stop in Wall, home of the famous Wall Drug Store, a unique bit of kitschy Americana that can’t be missed.
Turning back west, Sturgis is 29 miles northwest of Rapid City on I-90. There’s not much in Sturgis, but it does have its own motorcycle museum. If you’re into loud pipes and V-twins, the annual Black Hills Rally is worth a visit, but the surrounding area is far more interesting. A good approach is to overlap the rally by a day or two and spend the rest of the time exploring the area.
Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is 75 miles west of Sturgis. An amazing sight, the 1,267-foot tower was formed by geologic activity over millions of years, and like Mt. Rushmore, it has a trail around its base. Allow an hour for this relatively easy hike.
Heading southwest from Rapid City into the Black Hills takes you to Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park.
Centrally located in the Black Hills 25 miles south of Rapid City along Highway 16, Mt. Rushmore features 60-foot busts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into the granite mountain. During the day, you can make the circular hike from the park’s Grand Terrace to the monument base to view the presidents from several perspectives. The Park Service puts on a great evening show, too. If you’re a veteran, they’ll ask you to come up on stage to be recognized for your service and to retire Old Glory.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a work in progress, featuring a 600-foot-tall sculpture of Crazy Horse, the Lakota chief who defeated Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Continuing further south into the Black Hills, the scenic roads of Custer State Park offer stunning wildlife viewing opportunities. Buffalo, elk, antelope, bighorn sheep and other game are abundant, providing a glimpse of nature rarely encountered in such an open setting. The feeling is one of being on safari right here in the U.S.
The roads through the Black Hills are made for motorcycling. U.S. Highway 385 runs roughly north and south, with great views in any direction from any point. Iron Mountain Road has dramatically-framed views of Mt. Rushmore. The Needles Highway, coming out of Custer State Park, is easily the most impressive road in the area. Granite towers spike up on both sides of tantalizing twisties, with one tower having an eye just like a sewing needle.
Seeing South Dakota’s Black Hills and the surrounding areas on a motorcycle makes for a great ride and a great vacation. Bring a camera; you won’t be disappointed! MC
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