Top Tips for Traversing the Hills as a Foreigner | Black Hills Travel Blog
  • Top Tips for Traversing the Hills as a Foreigner

The happiest place in the world isn’t Disney, it’s the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota! If you’re traveling to this area from abroad, the one thing you’re sure to experience (besides our mind-blowing scenery and attractions) is people and businesses jumping at the chance to help you. Exploring abroad can sometimes be daunting, especially if it’s your first time. Luckily for you, the Black Hills and Badlands are home to the friendliest people around. Whether you know exactly where you want to go and how to get there, or you just want to explore and need a little help, here are some tips to help make your visit stress free.

Preparing for your trip:

  • Do a little research.
    • (Scroll down to “Break Time” for what to do if you forget or don’t know where to start on research.) It’s always a good idea to do study what there is to do in the Black Hills area. If you’re interested in recreation and want to know the best places to camp, hike, or even rock climb, simply do a quick internet search on where to go and read some reviews. Or visit our website——the most comprehensive website for all things relating to the Black Hills and Badlands. This can narrow your itinerary to the key places you want to visit and you won’t have any regrets.
  • Come to terms with your time.
    • Realize that unless you have a while, it’s very hard to see everything you want. There's just so much to see in the Black Hills and Badlands that you could spend years exploring it all. I was born and raised in the area and I’m still discovering new places every day! With this in mind, know that you can get a taste of almost everything if you hit the main places you want to visit—this can be helped by the above tip. And if you don’t see it all and you’re craving more, we’re always here for a return trip.
  • Print your entire itinerary and flight tickets/confirmations.
    • Keep these with your passport as well as keep a copy of your passport on you. You can’t always rely on internet access or electricity to get this information off of your phone or laptop, especially in the Hills. Also, a general security precaution, don’t have all of your cash, money cards, and identification in the same bag.
  • Check in with friends and family, or anyone else who knows you're traveling.
    • This is an especially good idea for the adventurers who are going alone—having someone else know where you are is always playing it safe. This tip can also carve out time for you to share your experiences with someone, which will brighten your already shining day!

HA0478 - Journey Planning. Lifestyle Images Portraying The Three Main Elements Of A Journey: Planning The Route, Travelling And Reaching Destination.

Packing for the weather:

  • South Dakota weather can change from 100 degrees and sunny outside to stormy with cold winds in just a few hours (sometimes minutes...). This is important to consider when packing for your visit out here. Our best advice is to pack in layers.
    • Some key things to bring include warm weather clothing of light fabrics, a windbreaker (preferably waterproof), sunglasses or a hat for shade, and comfortable shoes.
    • If you plan to do some outdoor recreation, be sure to have a good supply of water available to stay hydrated, as well as a few snacks to keep from getting too hungry.

Lodging and accommodations:

  • Try to book a room ahead of time.
    • If you can, look up some hotels near the main sites you want to visit, as this can be nice when you’ve had a long day of traveling. If you don’t get around to it, you can always find an available room almost anywhere once you arrive. You’ll find a great hotel wherever you want to be, with service that can’t be beat. The only time of year you'll definitely need a reservation is during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, held the first full week of August, as these dates fill up very quickly!


  • RV traveling
    • Ever fantasized about having a Great American Road Trip and being the driver of your own temporary home? That dream can be achieved with renting an RV (recreational vehicle). Renting an RV can create flexibility with your travels as well as save money. With another internet search, you can find a few private owners who are willing to rent out their RV, or you can call or visit Jack’s Campers, located in Piedmont, right outside of Rapid City. After you’re set up with your camper, go ahead and look at what places you want to set up for the night—note that there are designated campgrounds that offer a variety of amenities to make your night more comfortable. Visit the National Black Hills Forest website or feel free to stop into the Black Hills Visitor Information Center (located just off I-90 at Exit 61) and ask for a map of the area and the best advice on RV camping.
  • Camping—a night under the stars.
    • If you can’t get enough of the Hills and Badlands, you can spend your nights right in the middle of nature. We have designated campgrounds for tent camping, which can be found at the same website as RV camping. You can choose from being in the Badlands, in the Black Hills National Forest next to a lake, or even within Custer State Park. There are literally hundreds of options to find a place to camp where you want, and how you want it. If you don’t have the gear when you visit and are willing to spend your money, feel free to visit any outdoor gear shop to stock up on necessities. A good one in Rapid City is Roamin' Around, located downtown.
  • In a cabin, at a bed & breakfast, and more.
    • Other ways of camping can include staying in a cabin at a variety of places, which can add a cozy effect to your night. If you want a homey feel, check out a bed & breakfast that offers personalized service and a local who will help you figure out your day if you’d like.


So what if you haven’t done any of this, you just landed in Rapid City Regional Airport, and you have no idea where to go or what to do and the panic starts setting in? No problem! Just take a car over to the Black Hills Visitor Information Center off of I-90 to plan out day one until you head back home. We have a staff waiting to answer any and all questions and are supplied with South Dakota maps in French, German, Spanish, and more!

Adapting to the Black Hills and Badlands area:

  • Use a map! Do not rely on your GPS, as the roads used can take longer and sometimes the place you typed in will not be your actual destination! Maps can become cumbersome, so make sure to stop into almost any local business, especially a visitor center, and pick up a custom-made Black Hills and Badlands map.
  • Talk to the front desk staff at your hotel. Chances are, they’re locals and have lived here for a while, and can offer special information about sites that aren’t on some maps, but are just as important.
  • Learn what wildlife are around the area. We do have rattlesnakes in some areas, but we also have adorable bunnies. It’s a good idea to look up what animals you will see in the area, as well as safety precautions since all wildlife are WILD, and need to be given respect and space. Here’s a link for learning about the little critters you may run across:

Your health and safety, everyone’s first priority:

  • Drink water, water, and more water. This area can get hot, and staying hydrated is key. Start drinking water even before you fly, which will also help with jet lag. Drink at least three liters in the 24 hours before you board your flight. And make sure to not let yourself get thirsty.
  • Pack some ciprofloxacin (aka Cipro). This miracle antibiotic can be used to treat all sorts of problems from an upset stomach to a bladder infection.
  • Neosporin and Band-Aids are also a good idea as they can fight off infection in open cuts or any sort of rash or skin irritation that you may encounter when taking a hike.

Making connections and chatting up the locals:

  • Learn some of the local language. It can be helpful when wanting something specifically and will give you more confidence on where you are visiting.
  • Don’t just seek out conversation with your peers. Some of the best connections made are with the young and old alike.

Electronics and your vacation:

  • If you are carrying a laptop, try to keep it light—or consider investing in a tablet. They are less bulky and can still help you keep connected with friends and family members back home, while having access to online research tools and camera/video options during your visit.
  • Know this: ABC—Always Be Charging. Wherever and whenever, charge your electronics, especially your phone. This means that you won’t be left without the perfect picture because your camera or phone died.
  • Find out what adapters you need, as the outlets here can be different than abroad.

Do’s & don’t's and then you’re done!

  • Do tip for good service.
    • Tipping is customary in the United States and servers make up the majority of their wages through tips. Average tipping rates are usually around 15%, and can range between 20-25% for exceptional service.
  • Do be on time:
    • In the United States, we expect punctuality and it is considered to be rude if you are late, so make sure you arrive a few minutes early or meet someone when they expect you to. This applies to any tours or reservations you may have pre-arranged.
  • Don’t assume you can smoke anywhere:
    • Here we have anti-smoking measures in place and certain cities and states have stricter measures than others. Look for designated smoking areas as well as signs indicating no-smoking zones near building entrances.
  • Don’t disregard traffic signs and rules:
    • Outside of the United States, some stop lights and “No Parking” signs can be suggestions for drivers, but here they are well-enforced rules. Also, remember to obey the speed limit in all places, for your safety and others.

We’re more than happy that you've decided to escape to the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. Wherever you end up and whatever you decide to do, you are sure to fall in love with our neck of the woods!


About the Author

Brianna is a born and bred Black Hills and Badlands explorer. Raised in Rapid City, she took a trip east river to attend South Dakota State University where she is currently completing a degree in Apparel Merchandising with minors in Marketing, Leadership, Event and Facilities Administration, and Leadership and Management of Nonprofit Organizations. She can't sit still, so you'll typically find her wandering away to anything interesting that catches her eye, including exploring any nearby trail or climb, while always stopping to try all new food along the way. She is the Intern at Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association.

| More articles by the author