Trail of Stones & Bones | Black Hills Travel Blog
  • Trail of Stones & Bones
    Trail of Stones & Bones

You don’t have to be a “Rock Hound” or a “Bone Collector” to be fascinated by all the displays and discoveries of “stones and bones” here in the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. Our trail begins in the Northern town of Lemmon, SD. This South Dakota town is home to the World’s Largest Petrified Wood Park & Museum. The park was constructed from 1930 to 1932 of fossils and rocks gathered from nearby areas and brought to Lemmon. Walk in amazement through the 100 unusual structures that tower up to 20 feet tall! You should certainly consider a road trip to this fantastic attraction.

Farther south, you’ll find Badlands Petrified Gardens in the little prairie town of Kadoka. Wander among petrified logs and trees in an outside park. The indoor museum showcases prehistoric mammal and sea fossils, minerals, agates, and crystals too. Open April through October, this is a great introduction to our natural history.

Heading East on Interstate 90, take the East Entrance to Badlands National Park. You’ll notice the open prairie give way to expansive vistas, exposing 242,756 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires popping up through out this ancient sea-bed. The next stop should definitely be the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, just a few miles into the park along the Badlands Loop. Open year-round, the exhibits here feature cultural history, prairie ecology, and paleontology of creatures that lived long ago in this land. Continue on the Badlands Loop (Hwy 240), winding through the rock formations, climbing and descending through the canyons. A stop at the Fossil Trail along the way will be a good place to stretch your legs. The plaques along the easily traveled walkway tell interesting stories as they point out the fossils.

Once in Rapid City, a “must-see” is The Journey Museum. Learn about what types of rock make up the Black Hills and how they were formed. See life-size casts of dinosaurs, fossilized eggs, and at times, a certified paleontologist working. They have many other exhibits, so be prepared to spend a few hours here.

Another stop along the trail is the Museum of Geology at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Stunning exhibits of prehistoric dinosaurs, mammals, fossils, and minerals native to the Black Hills are on display. Their mineral collection encompasses thousands of specimens and is truly one of a kind.

Heading south of Rapid City on SD State Hwy 79 you’re going towards Fairburn, SD, on the edge of the National Grasslands. This is where many rock-hunters come to find the SD State Rock, the Fairburn Agate. A beautiful stone and some can be very valuable. Always inquire about “rock-hunting” wherever you go and take not that asking permission is mandatory.

Farther south in the picturesque town of Hot Springs is The Mammoth Site. Learn the story of how a sink hole, caused by warm waters that still flow through town, trapped over a hundred mammoths as well as other animals. Boasting the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world, young and old will enjoy viewing the bones left as they were discovered. Tour this active paleontological dig site in a state-of-the-art, covered building that is open year-round.

From here the trail leads north through the heart of the Black Hills, to the town of Custer. Prepare to be fascinated by thousands of quality rocks, minerals, fossils, and polished stones on display at Dave’s Rock Shop. You’ll also find home décor, jewelry, fossils, crystals or perhaps the perfect massage stone.

A little farther north, another opportunity to shop and learn can be found at Dakota Stone Rock Shop just outside of Hill City. Regardless if you’re a true geologist or a child that loves to collect stones, there is something for everyone here. Fun activities include gem panning, a mine treasure hunt, and a small mine museum.

Right on Main Street in Hill City is The Museum at Black Hills Institute. Travel back in time to see the remains of ancient creatures that roamed land, sky, and sea in the age of dinosaurs. The museum contains an extensive collection of dinosaurs, marine fossils, minerals, meteorites and area paleontological historical displays. Here the past tells us stories through the language of geology and fossils. They also have two of the largest T-Rex fossils on display year-round.

Just off I-90, between Rapid City and Sturgis you’ll find Black Hills Petrified Forest. Explore one of the largest out-croppings of petrified wood in the area, estimated to be 120 to 130 million years old. Roam through the nature walk where many trees have been turned to stone, most left where they fell. It’s also exciting to note that a Brontosaurus fossil was excavated here in 1889. Your tour also includes museum displays, a working lapidary, and rock and gift shop.

The final stop on this trail is actually a jump… Vore Buffalo Jump is just a few miles across the South Dakota state line into Wyoming. Before horses and guns, Native Americans hunted on foot and used dogs as beasts of burden. They used this sink hole as a bison trap, driving thousands into it over hundreds of years. See the excavation of bones at the bottom of the jump. Learn the history, science, and culture of North American Plains Indians at the permanent tipi structure onsite. Open May through October and by appointment other times of the year – weather permitting.

The trail of stones and bones has many stories to tell. It is your discovery that will make the stories come alive and create memories for you and those you travel with.

Happy trails!

About the Author

Cindy is a “country girl” at heart. She loves the outdoors, animals (particularly dogs and horses), camping, and exploring the Black Hills. While she has traveled and lived in many places across the U.S.—and some internationally—she is proud to call this area home for the last 20+ years. She is a Regional Sales Director for Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association and is passionate about helping Black Hills visitors discover all there is to see & do here.

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