Happy National Public Lands Day! It's a pretty bureaucratic name for the observance coming up tomorrow (September 26th, 2015), but it's got a great perk: you can get into our national parks for free. Here's what that means in the Black Hills, where we've got six national park sites:
Mount Rushmore. This is the most-visited national park site in the Black Hills, and it's got the biggest asterisk. The trick here is that admission to Rushmore is always free. There is no entrance fee. However, the parking garage at Rushmore is run by a private nonprofit, and they charge fees to park your vehicle there. Alas, the concessionaire does NOT observe the same fee-free days as the National Park Service. Until they get some pressure to waive parking fees on the free days (send e-mails, folks!), you're stuck paying for the garage.
Jewel Cave. This is one of the prettiest (and longest) caves in the national park system, and you can get on one of their scheduled Scenic Tours for free on Saturday. The tricky part: you can't make reservations that day, and tours tend to fill up fast. If you want in, get to the cave early.
Wind Cave. There's more above-ground land here than at Jewel Cave, and accessing it is always free. As far as the cave itself goes, you can get on the Natural Entrance Tour for free, but the same caveat for Jewel Cave also applies here: no reservations, so get there early.
Badlands. It normally costs $15 to get into Badlands National Park east of Rapid City, but that fee is waived on National Public Lands Day.
Minuteman Missile. This is a relatively new national historic site that preserves a Cold War-era ballistic missile site. It's a little out-of-the-way (east of Rapid City by the Badlands), and while it's not as crowded as the other parks in the Black Hills, rangers can only give tours to a limited number of visitors at a time. (Hey, missile silos weren't exactly built to accommodate large crowds.) The good news is that the park is currently fee-free all the time. Just grab tickets at the visitor center.
Devils Tower. Just across the border in Wyoming, Devils Tower was America's first national monument. It normally costs $10 to get in, but the fee is waived on National Public Lands Day.