South Dakota

The Best of Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills and Badlands

Discover South Dakota’s beautiful Black Hills and Badlands, where bison mosey through roadside meadows and hand-carved mountains tower over vast stretches of untouched wilderness.
Rating (4.9)
Program No. 13160RSBLOG
7 days
Starts at

At a Glance

The land now shadowed by Mount Rushmore was, up until the 1870s, called the "last great unknown." Enrich your understanding of American growth in this vast wilderness as you immerse yourself in the discovery of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Badlands National Park and The Mammoth Site. Study the lives of gold seekers and sod busters, and discover the Old West before a handful of presidents made it famous.
Activity Level
On Your Feet
Walking up to one mile on varied terrain; some stairs. Elevations range from 4,300 to 5,200 feet.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Expand your mind with interpretive field trips to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park.
  • Experience the otherworldly moon-like landscape of spectacular Badlands National Park.
  • Discover an active paleontological dig site, which boasts the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world!

General Notes

Select dates are designated for small groups and are limited to 24 participants or less. For a more active outdoor program in the Black Hills, see program #12774.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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

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