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South Dakota

Hike, Kayak & Ride: Black Hills, Badlands & Mount Rushmore

Program No. 12774RJ
Discover the wildly diverse landscapes in the Black Hills of South Dakota while trekking, riding and kayaking through this unique wilderness that lies in the shadow of Mount Rushmore.

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At a Glance

Discover the wildly diverse landscapes in the Black Hills of South Dakota while hiking, biking, riding horseback and kayaking through this unbelievably unique and pristine wilderness. Home to Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills offers beauty, solitude and a plethora of activities for those with an adventuresome spirit. Let the great outdoors become your classroom as local experts reveal the wonders of this exquisite island in the plains.
Activity Level
Outdoor: Spirited
Hiking 2-5 miles over uneven and rocky terrain. Optional one hour horseback trail ride and afternoon lake kayaking; appropriate for beginners. Recreational ½ day bike ride on flat, crushed gravel surface. Elevations of 3,500-6,200 feet.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 13 to 24 participants.

What You'll Learn

  • Hike among ethereal buttes and peaks in Badlands National Park and towering pine trees in the shadow of Mount Rushmore.
  • Learn about native history by visiting Crazy Horse Memorial.
  • Discover Custer State Park, the second largest State Park in the nation, on foot, on horseback and in the seat of a kayak.

General Notes

For a less active program in the Black Hills, check out "The Best of Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills and Badlands" (#13160).
Featured Expert
All trip experts
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John Esposti
John Esposti was born and raised in central New Jersey. He received a degree in education from the University of Idaho and utilized his degree by teaching in Alaska. He met his wife Cindy in Hawaii and returned with her to the Black Hills to operate a family-run travel business. After selling the business, John worked at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. John now spends his days with Cindy on a new tourism venture called GeoFunTrek, providing intimate explorations for visitors.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of John Esposti
John Esposti View biography
John Esposti was born and raised in central New Jersey. He received a degree in education from the University of Idaho and utilized his degree by teaching in Alaska. He met his wife Cindy in Hawaii and returned with her to the Black Hills to operate a family-run travel business. After selling the business, John worked at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. John now spends his days with Cindy on a new tourism venture called GeoFunTrek, providing intimate explorations for visitors.
Profile Image of Stephen Yellowhawk
Stephen Yellowhawk View biography
Stephen was born in Eagle Butte, SD on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, and raised in Rapid City, SD by his grandparents. In 2009 Stephen received his bachelor’s in elementary education from Oglala Lakota College. Growing up in his grandparents’ home, he learned from their example how to combine both the Christian and Lakota Traditional value systems. Stephen is the current board president for the Black Hills Powwow Association and is actively pursuing a master’s degree in leadership and management.
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Year
2024
  • 2024
Date
Aug 19 - Aug 25
  • Aug 19 - Aug 25
  • Sep 02 - Sep 08
  • Sep 16 - Sep 22
  • Sep 24 - Sep 30
Please Note: The program differs on certain dates.
Please Note: The program differs on certain dates.
Select trip year and date
2024
  • 2024
Aug 19 - Aug 25
  • Aug 19 - Aug 25
  • Sep 02 - Sep 08
  • Sep 16 - Sep 22
  • Sep 24 - Sep 30
While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our published materials, programs are typically advertised more than a year prior to their start date. As a result, some program activities, schedules, accommodations, personnel, and other logistics occasionally change due to local conditions or circumstances. Should a major change occur, we will make every effort to alert you. For less significant changes, we will update you during orientation. Thank you for your understanding.
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7 days
6 nights
16 meals
6 B 4 L 6 D
DAY
1
Lodge Check-in, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Keystone, South Dakota
D
K Bar S Lodge

Activity note: Lodge check-in from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: At the time of check-in, collect your Road Scholar Welcome Packet from the front desk. In the packet you will find information regarding program details including the location of orientation. The program orientation will begin at 4:30. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. They will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. There may be some light paperwork at the end of the orientation session. If you don’t arrive in time for orientation, please refer to your welcome packet on how to locate the Group Leader and get caught up on any information you may have missed. Lectures and field trips will be led by local experts and a knowledgeable Group Leader. Transportation for program-related activities will be via motorcoach unless specified otherwise. Periods in the daily schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: At the Lodge.

Evening: At leisure. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

DAY
2
Mount Rushmore, Black Hills Hike, Lighting Ceremony
Keystone, South Dakota
B,L,D
K Bar S Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 60 miles, approximately 1.5-hours total riding time. Hiking 3 to 5 miles over semi-rugged terrain, maximum elevation 5,350 feet. The hike will require sturdy hiking shoes or boots, a hat, sunscreen, a day pack, and a leak-proof water bottle or water bladder.

Breakfast: At the Lodge.

Morning: We will board a motorcoach with our expert Group Leader and set out on a field trip to explore the United States’ Shrine of Democracy: Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the creator of Mount Rushmore, wrote: “The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.” Borglum intended his monumental sculpture to be not only a memorial to four of our greatest Presidents, but a Shrine to Democracy. Why these four? Washington led the nascent United States to win independence from Great Britain. Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence. Roosevelt the “trust buster” ensured the rights of working people and was instrumental in building the Panama Canal. Lincoln led the country through the Civil War. Borglum began work in 1927 and continued until his death in 1941, when his son, Lincoln Borglum, took it on and ended work later that year. We will have an opportunity to expand our exploration of Mount Rushmore with an elective, independent short walk on a portion of the Presidential Trail to Borglum’s studio. Interpretive signage along the way will illuminate more about the monument, its construction, and the artist whose vision produced one of America’s most iconic symbols. Next, we'll board the coach and travel the short distance back to the Lodge.

Lunch: At the Lodge.

Afternoon: Next, we'll board the motorcoach with our expert Group Leader and set out on a field trip to hike one of the many beautiful trails in the Black Hills and learn more about the ecology, history, flora, fauna, and wildlife of this unique area. After our hike, we’ll board the motorcoach and return to the Lodge.

Dinner: At the Lodge.

Evening: We'll ride the coach back the short distance to Mount Rushmore and join a park ranger in the park's outdoor amphitheater for an inspirational 45-minute program focusing on the presidents, patriotism, and the nation's history. Subject to weather.

DAY
3
Custer State Park, Hike, Horseback Ride, Natural History
Keystone, South Dakota
B,L,D
K Bar S Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach driving about 120 miles throughout the day, approximately 3-hours total riding time. Hiking 3 miles; semi-rugged terrain, elevation gain 250 feet. Sturdy hiking shoes/boots, hat, sunscreen, day pack, leak-proof water bottle or water bladder needed. Getting on and off a horse. Horseback riding will be an easy trail ride accommodating novice and first-time riders; approximately 1-hour ride time. Long pants, tennis shoes required, helmets available.

Breakfast: At the Lodge.

Morning: After boarding the motorcoach, we will travel into Custer State Park. General Custer’s men found gold here in the summer of 1874, setting off a swarm of illegal settlers into the area. It is now a state park and animal preserve. Pine forests, grassy meadows, and towers of granite offer spectacular views while also providing a remarkable, lush sanctuary for the park’s four-legged residents. Nearly 1,500 magnificent bison, along with fleet pronghorn, elusive elk, sure-footed mountain goats and a band of begging burrows freely roam the park’s sprawling 71,000 acres. We’ll traverse the Wildlife Loop Road and be on the lookout for these majestic creatures. At the end of the Wildlife Loop, we’ll hike the Prairie Trail with our expert Group Leaders and begin to gain an understanding of western mixed grass prairies and the flora and fauna that thrive in it.

Lunch: Sack lunch in the field.

Afternoon: Next, we’ll travel into the heart of the Black Hills and explore its lush backcountry on an hour-long horseback ride led by expert wranglers. We will ride at a comfortable pace, accommodating first-time and novice riders. We’ll take the motorcoach back to the Lodge after our trail ride.

Dinner: At the Lodge.

Evening: We’ll gather with a local expert for a presentation on the natural history and creation of the Black Hills.

DAY
4
Cathedral Spires, Kayak, Indigenous Dance, Campfire
Keystone, South Dakota
B,L,D
K Bar S Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 60 miles, approximately 1-hour total riding time. Hiking 4 miles; semi-rugged terrain, elevation 6,000+ feet. Sturdy hiking shoes/boots, hat, sunscreen, day pack, leak-proof water bottle or water bladder needed. Getting in and out of kayaks.

Breakfast: At the Lodge.

Morning: We will set out via motorcoach on a field trip to the northern section of Custer State Park. With our expert Group Leaders, we’ll hike along the Little Devils Tower trail with expansive vistas of Black Elk Peak — the highest point east of the Rockies — as well as the rolling Black Hills and Cathedral Spires. Along the way, we’ll learn more about the park’s history, wildlife, and forest ecology.

Lunch: At a popular Lodge in Custer State Park.

Afternoon: Next, we will experience the spectacular solitude of Sylvan Lake. Novice and experienced kayakers alike will explore the majestic beauty of the lake in single or double kayaks, with instruction for those who have not kayaked previously. Granite outcroppings rise from the waters and shoreline. Sylvan Lake also offers a spectacular 1-mile walking loop around the lake if kayaking isn't of interest.

Dinner: At the Lodge.

Evening: We’ll be joined by a local expert who will captivate us with stories and dances that are representative of local Indigenous peoples. Following the presentation, feel free to enjoy a leisurely get-together around the lodge's outdoor campfire. We'll use this time to reflect on the program thus far and share stories and experiences with our fellow scholars.

DAY
5
Bicycle Ride, Crazy Horse Memorial, Natural Resources
Keystone, South Dakota
B,D
K Bar S Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 60 miles, approximately 1.5-hours total riding time. E-bicycling distance and time 14 miles, up to 3 hours. The trail is an old railroad bed converted to a hiking and biking trail made of crushed limestone and smooth gravel; will not exceed 4% grade. Those who wish to walk a portion of the trail instead are welcome to do so. Sturdy hiking shoes/boots, hat, sunscreen, day pack, leak-proof water bottle or water bladder needed. Getting on and off e-bikes.

Breakfast: At the Lodge.

Morning: This morning we'll travel to Hill City to a locally owned and operated e-bike rental shop where each of us will be furnished with a personally fitted electronic bicycle to ride on the truly unique Mickelson Trail. In addition to the e-bike, everyone will be issued a helmet and any instruction needed from expert bicyclists. Those who prefer to walk a portion of the trail are welcome to do so. The Mickelson Trail was originally the Burlington Northern line that took trains from the southern Black Hills to the northern gold mining towns of the Black Hills. The line was abandoned in 1983. A group of outdoor enthusiasts recognized the trail potential, and with support of then Governor Mickelson, it became the state’s first Rails-to-Trails project. We’ll ride from the Hill City trailhead to the Mystic trailhead, approximately 14 miles. This portion of the trail is level with slight inclines and declines, not exceeding a 4% grade. The trail meanders through rural areas, pine forests, colorful meadows, rock canyons, wooden train tunnels and over bridges. At the conclusion of our field trip, we’ll board the motorcoach and travel back to the Lodge.

Lunch: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like in Hill City. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Afternoon: In 1939, Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too.” In response, and without federal funding, Ziolkowski set out to create a memorial to the history and heritage of Native Americans, personified by Chief Crazy Horse. He began carving the mountain in 1948 and worked on the project until his death in 1982. His family continues the dream as work progresses on the world’s largest mountain sculpture that still uses no tax dollars and is funded privately through a non-profit organization. When completed, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest outdoor sculpture in the world: 641 feet long and 563 feet high. Led by a museum expert, we’ll explore the Crazy Horse Museums and learn about its campus that serves as a repository for Native American artifacts, arts and crafts, and the Native American Educational & Cultural Center. We’ll then return to the Lodge.

Dinner: At the Lodge.

Evening: We’ll be joined at the Lodge by a local expert for a distinctive look into the management of natural resources in the Black Hills.

DAY
6
Badlands National Park, Hike, Farewell Dinner
Keystone, South Dakota
B,L,D
K Bar S Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 230 miles throughout the day, approximately 4-hours total riding time. Hiking up to 3 miles; uneven terrain, elevation 3,000 feet. Sturdy hiking shoes/boots, hat, sunscreen, day pack, leak-proof water bottle or water bladder needed.

Breakfast: At the Lodge.

Morning: We'll set out with our expert Group Leader via motorcoach on a field trip to explore the rugged beauty and creation of Badlands National Park. The Lakota gave this land its name, “mako sica,” meaning “land that is bad.” An inland sea covered the area 68-77 million years ago. Erosion of the Badlands over the last 75 million years revealed sedimentary layers of vivid colors resulting from different minerals and elements left from volcanic ash carried here by the wind from other parts of the world. Today, the 244,000 acres of mystical moon-like topography of spires and pinnacles, surrounded by a sea of grass, are inhabited by buffalo, bighorn sheep, antelope, prairie dogs, and more. We'll have the opportunity to hike on designated trails and get an up-close view of ethereal buttes and mounds housing fossilized creatures from long ago.

Lunch: At a local restaurant.

Afternoon: We will continue to explore Badlands National Park as we make our way back to the Lodge.

Dinner: After returning to the Lodge, we'll share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner together.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

DAY
7
Program Concludes
Keystone, South Dakota
B

Activity note: Lodge check-out 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: At the Lodge. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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