what we did in the black hills

This is not a post advising you what to do in the black hills. One time going does not make me an expert! This is a post reminding myself what we did so that when we go back I will be able to remember. Oh yes, we would love to go back.


Shady Rest Motel – we stayed at the Shady Rest Motel, which is a bunch of cabins all on the side of a large hill (mountain?). They are very yellow and cute and my sister knows the owners so it was fun to meet them. Super nice family. They are very clean, come with a small kitchen, one bathroom (no bathtub) and a nice deck off the front. We stayed in cabin number 5 and if I would have thought it through more I would have brought along our baby gate. There was a set of six stairs from the main floor up to two of the bedrooms and Luisa was obsessed with them. There were three beds and a roll away cot type bed.


Bitter Esters Brew House – Custer. We walked in the first night we got into town, exhausted, hungry, and looking for comfort. This was not a super child friendly place. No high chairs and only bar height tables. Which is fine, I understand not every restaurant is child friendly. The food was terrible though. My salad dressing was so bad I couldn’t eat it. The girls butter noodles were inedible.

Gus’ Best Ice Cream – Hot Springs. Was super good!

Armadillos Ice Cream Shoppe – mine wasn’t great, I was looking for a blizzard type dessert (cookie dough and ice cream) but it was over blended so there wasn’t really any cookie dough left. Kelly and the girls split the strawberry sundae and the chocolate brownie sundae and they loved them both.

Firehouse Brewing – Rapid City. Was tied for the best meal on the trip and we only ordered nachos. The guacamole was terrible but I’m picky about guacamole. Kelly ordered the beer flight and got nine beers to try and loved a lot of them. The apple cider one was given to me and it was so good!

Purple Pie Place – Custer. My peach pie was just ok but I’m not a huge pie eater. Kelly got rhubarb and he said it was fantastic.

Black Hills Burger & Bun – Custer. Tied with Firehouse for best meal of the trip. This was the best burger I’ve ever had (better than my favorite in Lincoln even). The buns are homemade and aren’t too much bread, do you know what I mean? I dislike a burger that is all bun, I want to taste the burger. I got the Iowan and it was amazing. They have a super line up of desserts too and we had the brownie sundae and it was ridiculous. So good.

Dough Trader Pizza – Spearfish. This was super good too, totally happy with this pizza. I joked with Kelly that it was a good sign that the girls didn’t like it because it meant it was good (they generally like bland food. boring). It was really flavorful. Next time we will eat at the restaurant (we got it to go) because they have the husband’s favorite beer on tap.

We had a cabin that had a small stove, refrigerator, and sink. I think we could have probably brought more of our own food, or purchased more. Groceries seemed expensive in Custer though. I did bring a few groceries with us – bread, cereal, baby food. But it would have been good to bring more. I didn’t think to bring coffee! And some ingredients to make a mixed drink would be nice. We were thinking about how a dark & stormy on the deck would have been awesome. And s’mores. I didn’t bring ingredients or sticks to make them. We bought the items there but I’m sure it would have been cheaper to get at home.


I was worried going to the Black Hills that we would be bored. How wrong I was! There was so much to do and we didn’t get everything done that we had wanted to do. I hope we can go back and do the trip again.

Mammoth Site – it was fun and super interesting. The girls got bored fairly quickly but I think that is normal considering their ages? They did like to see the bones but it didn’t last long.

Evans Plunge – we might not have gone here except that we had to wait until 4 pm for our cabin to be ready. So we had time to waste and it was in the same town as the Mammoth Site. I (naively?) expected the pools to be quite warm. They weren’t cold but they weren’t as warm as I thought. And I’m kind of a wuss about being in a pool that isn’t fairly warm. The girls had fun though. I don’t know that we would do it again.

Sylvan Lake (click on the link and look at the photos! it’s beautiful) – Kelly and the big two did a paddle boat on this lake. They seemed to enjoy it. I wasn’t wanting to take the baby on and Ada didn’t want to get on the boat. The lake itself is gorgeous to look at and walk around. We took the stroller a little ways on one of the paths. I should have worn sneakers to walk further/more.

Needles Highway – we took this through Custer State Park (after Sylvan Lake) to Mount Rushmore. It was really gorgeous, and incredibly curvy. It had quite a few one lane tunnels and turns that you have to drive 10 mph to get around. Cora mentioned once that her tummy hurt and we had to pull over so she could have a break (she didn’t get sick). I would probably give her (and me) dramamine or something if we were to do it again.

Mount Rushmore – no real explanation needed! I’m glad we went and the girls did the junior ranger program which was really great. It kept them busy filling out a little booklet and then they were quizzed at the end and given junior ranger pins. Della was frustrated with the packet because she doesn’t write very well/much but we all helped her and she got through it. It’s a cute program and really keeps the kids busy so you can spend more time exploring.

Alpine Slides – these are in Keystone which is right down the hill from Mount Rushmore. The slides themselves were super fun and we all loved them. To get to the slides you have to ride a tram up the mountain and it terrified me for some reason. My palms are sweating thinking about it again. I didn’t go a second time because of the tram but everyone else went twice.

Old MacDonalds Petting Farm – the girls all say this was one of their favorites from the trip. There was a coupon for a free pony ride in one of the booklets we found so they all got to do that. It was one of those pony attached to the metal thing where they walk around in circles types of pony rides but they liked it. City kids? There were all kinds of animals to pet and they loved helping to feed the calf his bottle. Kelly and I were not super entertained but it was fun overall.

Storybook Island – this place is free and a lot of fun. Cora and Della got bored more quickly than Ada but they all enjoyed it. Ada was hilarious to watch though. She loved it and ran from each item to play on over and over, she didn’t stop running the whole time we were there. I think she was exhausted.

Main Street Square – Rapid City. This is where Firehouse Brewery is located. There is also an adorable bookstore and toy store (we didn’t buy toys but they had fun looking). Cute area to walk around, bring your swimsuit for the fountains.

Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park – this was a really long loop you drive through to see the animals. There were buffalo multiple times and because of the time of year there were baby buffalo which was adorable. The donkeys are right in the street too and they are pretty cute. It was pouring rain so we didn’t stop to look for the Prairie Dogs. I read some of the reviews just now and they say to go early, I suppose that would help! I would assume there are more animals out in the open if it isn’t raining as well.

1881 Courthouse Museum – Custer. We had extra time because it was raining and didn’t have a lot to do so we went to this museum. It ended up being really interesting and really well done. They also have a kids scavenger hunt type activity that the girls enjoyed.

DC Booth Fish Hatchery – also one of our favorites. It is free and in Spearfish. There are tons of fish in the water, different sizes in different areas, and you can feed them. There are also a couple of places to go inside and tour which was fun. There is an epic park across the parking lot and the girls played on that for a long time until we had lunch.

3 thoughts on “what we did in the black hills

  1. I was telling Nathaniel about some of your pics as you posted them, and that I think we need to plan more trips roadtrips like this. My family always went on roadtrips across the US, but then, there were only two kids so it was probably easier for my parents to coordinate… This sort of inspires me, though! Maybe next summer we’d hit the road!

  2. So glad you enjoyed the trip. We loved it too when we went. And the “epic” park at Spearfish is a good way to describe it. It was so cool! Can’t wait to hear all about it. We need to get together soon.

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