The timbered, rocky BLACK HILLS rise like an island from a sea of grain-growing plains, stretching for a hundred miles between the Belle Fourche River in the north and the Cheyenne to the south. For generations of Sioux, their value was and still is immeasurable, a kind of spiritual safe place where warriors went to speak with Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit) and await visions. Even though they’re mountains in the classic sense – the highest of the lot, Harney Peak, rises 7242ft – they were dubbed Paha Sapa, or Black Hills, as the blue spruce and Norway pine trees blanketing them seem black from a distance.

Assuming the Black Hills to be worthless, the United States government drew up a treaty in the mid-nineteenth century that gave these mountains (along with most of South Dakota’s land west of the Missouri River) to the Native Americans. However, once the Custer Expedition of 1874 confirmed rumours of gold in the hills, it wasn’t long before fortune-hunters came pouring in. Today much of the region is protected within the Black Hills National Forest, and is easily the biggest attraction on the Great Plains (though it’s really more part of the American West). South Dakota’s second largest settlement, Rapid City, is the region’s commercial centre, but apart from visiting family-oriented attractions such as nearby Reptile Gardens (reptilegardens.com) and Bear Country USA (bearcountryusa.com), there’s little reason to base yourself here. Indeed, though there’s plenty of kitsch fun in the form of theme parks, crazy golf and the like throughout the Black Hills there’s also plenty of history, and no place is much farther than a ninety-minute drive from the show-stoppers of Mount Rushmore and its ambitious work-in-progress counterpart, the Crazy Horse Memorial. Yet it’s the outdoor activities, rich wildlife and extraordinary scenery that make the Black Hills special, from the bison herds of Custer State Park to the magical caverns of Wind Cave National Park.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

USA features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Your USA itinerary: 6 ideas for an American adventure

Your USA itinerary: 6 ideas for an American adventure

The USA’s sheer scale and scope means it’s impossible to see everything the country has to offer in one go ­– and you shouldn’t try. From sprawling na…

15 Mar 2017 • Nick Edwards insert_drive_file Article
7 reasons why you should visit Key West, Florida

7 reasons why you should visit Key West, Florida

Once a rip-roaring buccaneers’ town, the preserve of pirates and wreckers, Key West is now the quirky, tropical heart of the Florida Keys. The island’s bois…

14 Mar 2017 • Georgia Stephens insert_drive_file Article
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month