South Dakota's Best Fall Drives
When you think of fall drives, the leaf-strewn roads of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire spring immediately to mind. But fall arrives out West in South Dakota’s Black Hills, too. Oak and ash trees blaze red, orange and gold, bursting through the deep green ponderosa pines that blanket the area to create a crazy quilt of fall color. Rugged rock faces, waterfalls and lakes offer other delightful visual distractions that make for a stunning drive in South Dakota, no matter what time of year.
Cars pool at the base of Bridal Veil Falls, where rivulets of water cascade down a sheer rock face, and at the canyon’s big draw, Roughlock Falls, where a paved trail leads to a series of falls tripping over rocks and converging in the running creek below. Don’t miss the hidden gem Spearfish Falls, which is on a trail behind the Latchstring Inn. Stand in a small wooded clearing and feel the spray of plunging water. If you can’t bear to tear yourself away from the beauty of this place, stay at the rustic Spearfish Canyon Lodge, nestled in the heart of it all.
- 604 N Main St
- Spearfish, SD 57783 US
The 17-mile drive winds upward to reveal a carpet of fall colors on the canyon floor below. For a closer look at the foliage, stop in Nemo to take a short hike along the Centennial Trail, which opened in 1989 and stretches 111 miles, from Bear Butte Park south to Wind Cave National Park.
- 1852 Discovery Cir
- Rapid City, SD 57701 US
But the funhouse, amusement-park nature of the byway more than makes up for fewer fall colors. Zigzag along Iron Mountain, through narrow rock tunnels and switchbacks, and twist your way down pigtail bridges. You’ll be rewarded by glimpses of Mount Rushmore in the distance. Stop along Needles Highway to ogle the Needle’s Eye and Cathedral Spires rock formations. Then, take a longer break from the drive with a walk along shimmering Sylvan Lake, perfectly set among the rocks. On Wildlife Loop Road, you may be forced to take a nature break by an obstinate buffalo blocking the road.
- 1020 N Fifth St
- Custer, SD 57730 US
But if you just want to drive and take it all in without stopping, you could start with a traditional German lunch of schnitzel or spaetzle at the Alpine Inn in Hill City and make it in time to gamble in historic Deadwood of Old West lore. Try your luck at the Mineral Palace, which is on the site of the city’s most notorious brothel, the Gem Theatre. It was once run by Al Swearengen, who was immortalized in the HBO series Deadwood.
- 616 Washington St
- Custer, SD 57730 US