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Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

Cork, Ireland
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Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

I think I have my itinerary for my September trip pretty much laid out, but can’t decide were in South Dakota to stay. We will be travelling up from Estes Park, staying 2 nights in SD and then travelling on to Cody WY via Devils Tower. In SD, we would like to see Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and maybe the Badlands, but not sure if that’s feasible with two and a bit days. I also thought we might like to travel on the 1880 train, but that isn’t a must.

I am torn between staying in Keystone, Hill City or Custer. I thought Keystone would be convenient for seeing Rushmore, but I have read that it is a bit over-touristy and tacky, so I thought Hill City or Custer might be a better option. I am leaning towards Custer at the moment, purely because the scenery around the area looks nice?

Which would you recommend based on the things we want to see? We are a couple in our mid 30’s and aren’t afraid of long, jam packed days!

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South Dakota
South Dakota
United States
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Colorado
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Suffolk, United...
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1. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

Hi ncmc,

A couple of years ago on our drive from Chicago to San Francisco my brother and I faced a similar problem.

We stayed in Custer after visiting the Badlands and Custer State Park.

We used The Rocket Motel as we wanted to avoid the big chains. It was a pleasant economical stay. The bonus was when we asked the owner where we could get a good meal his reply was "across the street round the back of "that" building and up the stairs". We had a great buffalo steak!.

Custer was a great base to visit Mt. Rushmore and, on the way, The Crazy Horse Memorial. To a non-American Crazy Horse is even more impressive.

We then moved on to Spearfish for a night. Instead of driving straight to Devil's Tower we took a diversion up and back the Spearfish Canyon. This meant after leaving Devils Tower we only made it to Greybull before we decided to find a motel. We took a great route from Spearfish after going to Devil's Tower we continued to Sheridan and Ranchester then taking the A14 through Dayton and Shell going through the Bighorm mountains. The motel in Greybull was nothing to write home about!!

This was a retirement holiday and we are both young 60+ although obviously not mid 30s !! Enjoy your trip!

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2. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

We like staying at the K Bar S Lodge in Keystone. It sits back off the road in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore. Others on the forum including DE like Roosevelt Inn in Keystone.

Be sure to eat at the State Game Lodge or Blue Bell Lodge in Custer SP the day you are there. They have an excellent lunch buffet with bison stew, vegetables, salads, meats and homemade pies.

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Pitman, New Jersey
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3. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

IMO Custer is a bit too far out for traveling to the Badlands, particularly in tight time frame you have. I have a family of 3 and have stayed in Keystone. This year, I am thinking about changing it up and staying in Hill City, as it is a bit quieter.

Keystone is very touristy, but fun, especially for families. Many find the boardwalk shops tacky. Since you are going in September, parking at the hotels in Keystone should not be problematic. In peak season, parking is at a premium, as some hotels don't have equal parking spaces for hotel rooms. The town has an alpine slide, gold mine, museums, and mini golf. The 1880 Train station is there. Dining options are a bit limited, but Big Time Pizza is fabulous.

I agree that dining in Custer SP is always a great option. The Alpine Inn in Hill City is quite good also.

Hill City is a small town that has less tourist attractions and is better suited to couples than families, IMO. The shops are more sophisticated and include Black Hills jewelry, local crafts and souvenirs. The other half of the 1880 train is there The Alpine Inn is nice dining and is very reasonably priced. They only serve steak at dinner, so if that's not your taste, go for the traditional German fare for lunch. Prairie Berry Winery is there is you enjoy homemade wines.

So, all this being said, I'm going to recommend Hill City for you, as it's closer to Rushmore and the Badlands than Custer. And yes, I think you can see the Badlands, Rushmore and most of Custer SP if you get an early start on both of your days.

You are probably now totally confused as you have had 3 different posters make 3 different recommendations. We need a 4th recommendation to break the tie. lol. My advice to you would be take all the information we have provided and try to make an educated decision based on your travel style.

Whatever you decide, enjoy your trip!

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Atlanta, Georgia
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4. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

I will defer to the DE on the forum- stay in Hill City.

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Hill City
Hill City
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South Dakota
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5. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

Another vote for Hill City, plus the 1880 Train starts there. It's easier to get a seat if you take the first train out of Hill City in the morning. It's also kind of nice to hear the train whistle in the distance. Hill City is very, well, hilly and scenic. It also has a grocery store (Keystone does not) if you need to stock up on supplies.

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Hill City
Hill City
South Dakota
Cork, Ireland
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6. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

Thanks for all the great replies, I had pretty much decided against Keystone before I posted, so between Hill City and Custer, it seems the consensus is pretty much for Hill City. It does seem most centrally located for everything we want to see. In my OP I said we were in SD for 2 nights, we are actually there for 3 nights so we will have two and a bit days. I am hoping to get there early enough to see Mount Rushmore on the day we arrive and then spend one day exploring the Black Hills/Custer SP and then a second day exploring the Badlands. My husband is keen to do the 1880 train as he is a bit of a train buff, so hopefully will have time to fit that in.

Slightly off-topic, but I got the SD tourist guide in the post this week, it’s fantastic! Normally those guides are just full of hotel and restaurant ads, but this one has loads of good info in it. So thanks to whoever it was that suggested I get that!

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Hill City
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The Black Hills
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Woodbury, Minnesota
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7. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

I would NOT stay in Hill City unless you want crowds and lots of noisy motorcycles. I suggest staying in a cabin it lodge in Custer State Park if you want more quiet.

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Hill City
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South Dakota
Custer State Park
Custer State Park
4,729 Reviews
Custer, SD
Hill City, South...
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8. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

Smitty--you must have been here in August! During the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally there at LOTS of motorcycles and people all over the hills. The Rally attracts hundreds of thousands of bikers (and non-bikers) from all over the world. By late August, though, most of them have returned to their normal lives, and the Black Hills are much quieter.

September is one of my favorite times of the year here. The weather is usually pretty mild and beautiful and most of the crowds have thinned. The aspens start turning colors and--well, the Black Hills are just really good at fall.

During the fall there are more locally-focused events that give you a better idea of what the Black Hills are REALLY like. Hill City features a quilt show and a Wine Express Into the West (locally made wine and food on the 1880 Train) in September. I highly recommend driving through Spearfish Canyon on your way to Devil's Tower. The Badlands are beautiful any time of the year, and are worth the trip.

Most of the businesses in Hill City are still open in September. I can't say about Custer, because I don't make it over there much. Hill City is also about 20 minutes closer to most of your destinations than Custer. Yes, I'm from Hill City.

I think visiting in September is an excellent idea, and I hope you have a great trip.

~Maria

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9. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

I was there the third week of June.

Cork, Ireland
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10. Re: Keystone, Hill City or Custer?

Thanks PrairieBerry, the wine express sounds fantastic, a couple of glasses of wine would certainly make it easier for me to be enthusiastic about a train LOL! But it’s not on during our dates which is a pity. The quilt show also sounds lovely.

I think I have decided on Hill City, it’s a pity that Custer is a bit far out as I had found lovely affordable accommodation there, but I’m sure I’ll find something suitable in Hill City too. It’s more important to me to be in a good location, as I am aware we are trying to cram a lot in to a short space of time.

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Hill City
Hill City
South Dakota
Custer
Custer
South Dakota