South Dakota

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

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.
Rating (4.88)
Program No. 12774RJ
7 days
Starts at

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 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Hike amongst ethereal buttes and peaks in Badlands National Park and walk through towering pine trees in the shadow of Mount Rushmore.
  • Learn about native history and culture 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, see program #13160.
Featured Expert
All Experts
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John Esposti
Born and raised in central New Jersey, John Esposti made the decision at five years of age to go out west and meet his destiny. At 18, he enrolled at the University of Idaho and received a degree in education. He then moved to Valdez, Alaska to teach woodworking, drafting and electronics. After four years of working and experiencing all sorts of adventures in a wild and amazing land, he climbed onto a sailboat and sailed off into the sunset bound for Hawaii, and later attended the University of Hawaii. After marrying his wife, Cindy, John returned to the Black Hills to operate a family-run business named Rushmore Cave. After selling the cave business in 2008, John worked for three years at the renowned Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, S.D. Today, he and Cindy are starting a new venture called GeoFunTrek, with a goal to provide stimulating visitor experiences in the form of day-long educational explorations in the Black Hills.

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

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John Esposti
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Stephen Yellowhawk
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Paul Horsted
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Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Roadside History of South Dakota
by Linda Hasselstrom
Reading Roadside History of South Dakota is like having a knowledgeable friend explain the most fascinating and pertinent tidbits of the state's past without reciting a lot of boring details. The book's comfortable, conversational style guides readers smoothly along the state's highways and byways. Even those who think they already know South Dakota will can anticipate learning new things from this insightful, informative, yet thoroughly readable and entertaining roadside history. The material is rich, and Linda Hasselstrom reveals it in an exciting way by focusing on the people who made South Dakota what it is today.
Exploring with Custer: The 1874 Black Hills Expedition
by Ernest Grafe & Paul Horsted
General George Armstrong Custer's Journey to the Black Hills in 1874 was better documented than any other military expedition of the Old West. Not only did William H. Illingworth record superb views of the landscape and several camps, but at least fifteen men wrote diaries, reports or newspaper dispatches brimming with vivid detail. This book blends the Illingworth photos and their present-day counterparts with selections from all known accounts to paint a unique portrait of everyday life along the trail. Please order through Paul Horsted at www.dakotaphoto.com or 1.800.248.2194
Moon of Popping Trees
by Rex Alan Smith
The Massacre at Wounded Knee was the last major battle between whites and Native Americans.With parallels to concerns some have of today’s news reports, you’ll see that this massacre was largely a result of overblown news reports of the danger of the Native American Ghost Dance. Even more startling is the revelation in this book that the Ghost Dance had its origin in the Christian resurrection story. This book spans fifty years of the life and struggles of Native Americans as they try to maintain their lifestyle in the face of America’s westward expansion.
The Carving of Mount Rushmore
by Rex Alan Smith
This entertaining and very readable book tells the fascinating stories of the people of Mt. Rushmore. Included are first person accounts of not only the carvers, the politicians and Borglum, but an almost unbelievable host of others who became part of the tumult and triumph that make this history read like a novel. If you’re only going to read one book about Rushmore, this is the one.
Heartland Legacy The Art of Jon Crane
by Gail Crane
Dust jacket notes: "Acclaimed artist Jon Crane has spent thirty-one years creating Heartland Legacy - Art That Takes You Home. In Heartland Legacy: The Art of Jon Crane, admirers can at last enjoy his work in book form. They can also meet the person behind the paintbrush through the story of Jon's life, told as only his wife Gail can tell it. Through Gail's shared insights and observations, readers will get to know a man who is straightforward, honest, and realistic, both in daily life and in the magnificent watercolors that have earned him a national reputation - a man who is a builder, an explorer, and a recorder of the world as he sees it. Jon and Gail Crane have embarked together on numerous adventures - traveling the United States and Mexico, building a unique home in an idyllic natural setting. But the most satisfying adventure of them all, the one that never ends, is art. Within these pages, Jon Crane's art will take you on a faraway adventure to a simpler time - and a place called home."
Cowboy Life: The Letters of George Philip
by George Philip and Cathie Draine
As a young man, George Philip emigrated from Scotland to escape a harsh apprenticeship. In 1899, he arrived on the doorstep of his uncle, James (“Scotty”) Philip, patriarch of one of South Dakota’s foremost ranching families. For the next four years, Philip rode as a cowboy for his uncle’s L-7 cattle outfit during the heyday of the last open range. But the cowboy era was a brief one, and in 1903 Philip turned in his string of horses and hung up his saddle to enter law school in Michigan. With a law degree in hand, he returned to South Dakota to practice in the wide-open western towns of Fort Pierre, Philip, and Rapid City. In these candid letters, Philip tells his children that his life was an ordinary one, but his memoirs quickly dispel that notion. He provides fascinating insights into the development of the West and of South Dakota. His writing details the cowboy’s day-to-day work, from branding and roping to navigating across the plains by stars and buttes as the great open ranges slowly closed up. The places and characters of the range find life in Philip’s mixture of humor, hard-nosed “horse-sense," and poignant reflection.
Pioneer Days in the Black Hills
by John S. McClintock
A rough-and-tumble account of the early days of Deadwood and the Dakota Territory written by early day pioneer John S.McClintock. He provides material on the gold rush, skirmishes with Indians, exploits of road agents and outlaws, and appearances of celebrities such as Wild Bill Hickok and Deadwood Dick.

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