They call the Black Hills an evergreen island in a sea of high-prairie grassland. This stunning region on the Wyoming–South Dakota border lures scores of visitors with its winding canyons and wildly eroded 7000ft peaks. The region's name – the 'Black' comes from the dark ponderosa-pine-covered slopes – was conferred by the Lakota Sioux. In the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, they were assured that the hills would be theirs for eternity, but the discovery of gold changed that and the Sioux were shoved out to low-value flatlands only six years later. The 1990 film Dances with Wolves covers some of this period.
You'll need several days to explore the bucolic back-road drives, caves, bison herds, forests, Deadwood, and Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments, and to experience the abundant outdoor activities (cycling, rock climbing, boating, hiking, downhill skiing, gold-panning etc). Like fool's gold, gaudy tourist traps lurk in corners.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Black Hills.
The world's largest monument is this 563ft-tall work-in-progress (with a lot of work to go). When finished it will depict the Sioux leader astride his horse, pointing to the horizon saying, 'My lands are where my dead lie buried.' No one is predicting when the sculpture will be complete (the face was dedicated in 1998). Although you can see the mountain in the distance, you need to pay another $4 for a van ride to get close. Never photographed or persuaded to sign a meaningless treaty, Crazy Horse was chosen for a monument that Lakota Sioux elders hoped would balance the presidential focus of Mt Rushmore. In 1948 a Boston-born sculptor, the indefatigable Korczak Ziolkowski, started blasting granite. His family have continued the work since his death in 1982. (It should be noted that many Native Americans oppose the monument as a desecration of sacred land.) The visitor center complex includes a small Native American museum, gift shops, cafes of limited merit, and a fragment of Ziolkowski's studio. A laser-light show plays off the monument on summer evenings.