A short drive west of Badlands National Park is the Black Hills National Forest. Sprawling over 1.25 million acres, the Black Hills are so named for the color of the Forest’s Ponderosa Pines when seen from a distance. As a bit of trivia, within the forest is Harney Peak – and at about 7,200 feet, it is the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains. Either this part of the country is really amazing, or I am easily impressed.

We spent four days driving and hiking through Custer State Park and the surrounding Black Hills south of Rapid City, which is the subject of this post. We spent another five days in the Sturgis, Deadwood, Spearfish, and Devil’s Tower areas north of Rapid City – I’ll cover that in my next post.

Map of the Black Hills, SD

Custer State Park

Custer State Park’s 71,000 acres are loaded with nature. Make sure you bring your binoculars and camera. The pet friendly park is laid out so that you can see much of it by simply driving through. On the Wildlife Loop, you can expect to see buffalo, pronghorns, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and coyotes.

There are also miles of trails to hike in the park. Pets must be leashed at all times for their own safety as you may come across a roaming buffalo or coyote. Rattlesnakes are not an uncommon sight.

Within the park, accommodations include four “full service” lodges and several campgrounds run by the National Park Service. The recreational opportunities include Buffalo Safari Jeep Rides, Hayride Chuck Wagon cookouts, horseback trail riding, mountain biking, boating, and fishing.

Custer State Park includes open prairie land …
… and mountain ranges
All tunnels are one lane, marked with height and width signs
Out for a long hike with the boys
Ty, Lord of the Prairie …
… who can’t bear to get his paws wet
Begging burros
1 of 1,500 buffalo in the park who happened to be going our way
On Needles Drive
Still on Needles Drive
Sylvan Lake

Mount Rushmore National Monument

Mount Rushmore is, undoubtedly, a sculptural and engineering feat. Each sculpted president is about 60 feet tall, and the carving took place between 1927 and 1941.

The monument was undertaken to increase tourism is South Dakota, and about 2 million people visit Mount Rushmore every year. It is controversial among Native Americans because it’s on land that was supposed to be granted to the Lakota Sioux in perpetuity – yep, another broken treaty.

I am including our Mount Rushmore visit mainly because you might expect me to. But the fact is, Mount Rushmore is not pet friendly … and we are a pet friendly travel website! Pets are only allowed in the parking area, not on any of the surrounding grounds or trails.

Viewed through a tunnel in Custer State Park
Up close and personal

Crazy Horse Memorial

In comparison to the 60 foot presidential busts of Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be 563 feet high and 641 feet wide. The sculpture will depict Crazy Horse riding a stallion and pointing into the distance. If completed, it will likely be the world’s largest sculpture. I say “If completed” because work began in 1948 and 2050 is the currently estimated completion date. The sculpture is all the work of one family and receives no federal or state funding.

Unlike Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial is pet friendly – sort of. As one visitor with their small dog told us, “If you can tote ’em, you can bring ’em.” (We confirmed this with an on-duty park ranger.)

Still a work in progress


We finally made it back to the beautiful Black Hills and Custer State Park. Read about our most recent visit now!

South Dakota's Top Pet Friendly Attraction: Custer State Park | GoPetFriendly.com

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  • We are planning to stay in Rapid City, SD the night before we go to Mt. Rushmore, but we are planning to head to Sioux Falls after our visit. It sounds like we can’t bring our dog to Mt. Rushmore, so is there any local pet sitter that could give us two hours to visit the monument? We don’t want to head back to Rapid City, so trying to find a very local solution.

    • Hi Theresa! It sounds like you have a great trip in the works. The closest town to Mt. Rushmore is Keystone. It’s a small town and I don’t know if there is a pet sitter there or not.

      If you don’t have any luck finding a sitter, there is a parking structure at Mt. Rushmore. You could plan your visit for first thing in the morning when it might be cool enough in the shade in the parking structure for your pets to wait in your vehicle. If it’s still to hot first thing in the morning for the pets, you could easily take turns viewing the monument. There’s not a lot to do at Mt. Rushmore, so it’s not a place you’ll want to spend hours exploring.

      I hope that helps and that you have a fantastic time!

  • Category: Travel Destinations / Tagged with: Attractions, Hiking, South Dakota