Best Time to Come
"When is the best time to come to the Black Hills?" This is perhaps the most asked and least answered question we get. The answer, of course, is "it depends."
Roughly 90 percent of all visitors come during the 100 days or so between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This is when the weather is warmest, everything is open and, perhaps most importantly, when the children are out of school. Many senior travelers, however, choose to come in the early fall months of September and October. Temperatures are still generally pleasant, most attractions remain open, and room prices are lower.
Fewer visitors come in November, December, January and February, unless they are interested in winter sports. The Northern Hills' ski season runs from roughly Thanksgiving to mid-March. Snowmobiling is best during the months of December through March. Cross-country skiing and snowboarding are also very popular. Black Hills lakes usually safely freeze over in December, marking the start of the ice fishing season, which ends when the ice houses begin to sink in early March.Thanks to the swift flows of spring-fed streams that never freeze over, fly fishing goes on throughout the winter.
Hunters and cyclists seem to come in the fall. Various South Dakota hunting seasons, particularly deer, pheasant and elk are in October, November and December. Annual seasons vary and are set in late summer by the Department of Game, Fish and Wildlife. If your interests run more toward wildlife photography, the spring may be the best time to come. Buffalo calves are born in spring and wildlife in general tends to be more visible in spring when the temperatures are cooler and snow melts bring them closer to the roads.
Most of the "big" attractions in the Black Hills operate all year. These include Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, The Badlands National Park and Devil's Tower National Monument. In mid-winter, however, the hours of operation may be shortened. Other major attractions are also open year-round.
Weather is the biggest factor in traveling during the winter. In South Dakota, even the interstate highways, as well as all other roads, can be temporarily shut down due to winter storms. Some roads in the Black Hills, notably Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, are not maintained during the winter months and are effectively closed until the spring thaw. Alternately, some winter days in the Hills, can seem positively balmy as temperature spikes into the 60s are common.
So when is the best time to visit the Hills? It all depends on the type of adventure you are looking for!
Ninety percent of all visitors to the Black Hills come in the months of June, July and August. Daytime high temperatures in the higher elevations of the hills in summer usually range from the mid-70s to the high 80s, but temperatures of 100 are not uncommon. The Badlands can be very, very hot in the summer, with temperatures frequently near or above 100 degrees. Rapid City also experiences higher temperatures than the hills. At night, the mercury usually dips below 60 in all regions.
Old-timers say the best time to visit the Black Hills is in September or October. We agree as we particularly enjoy the fall colors, which are usually at their best in the first or second week of October. Hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts also favor autumn when daytime temperatures are usually cooler. Highs in September and October range from the low 60s to the mid-70s in all regions.
Animal lovers favor the spring. April, May and early June are the best months for viewing and photographing wildlife. Visitors, however, may be less delighted with the spring weather which can be wildly unpredictable. Most of the Black Hill's rainfall comes in April and May, and there's a good chance you'll still see snow at higher elevations. High temperatures usually range from the mid-50s to the mid-70s in all regions.
Winter has its own special enchantment. Keystone is not usually blessed with much snow because the town is situated on the eastern slopes of the Black Hills. But just 10 miles to the west is one of the Black Hills' best wilderness ski areas where a single winter storm can pack two feet or more of snow. Winter high temperatures usually range from the mid-30s to the upper 40s in the hills and somewhat colder in Rapid City and the Badlands. Also, locations within the Black Hills tend to be sheltered from the wind whereas brisk prairie winds in Rapid City and the Badlands can produce extremely low wind chills.