Rafter J Bar Ranch in Hill City, S.D., is a fantastic campground that is well-located for those eager to explore the Black Hills of South Dakota. Of all the places we visited on our 2015 West Trip, the Black Hills was by far our favorite stop. We spent five nights here and only began to scratch the surface of all the things to explore in the Black Hills area.
Campground: The owners and managers of Rafter J Bar Ranch have done a great job designing and running a clean and efficient campground. The campground is huge and while the developers could have added many more sites, it appears they purposely left lots of space between the various campground sections so that campers have plenty of room to spread out. While the price per night ($60 for full hook-up) was the highest we paid on our trip, we felt it was worth it.
Since this campground is so large, I wanted to highlight a few sites, but this is far from an exhaustive list since the campground is huge and I am sure that I missed some other great sites. The Base Camp sites are near many of the campground’s amenities (like the pool, store, and game room). If you want a shaded site, I would recommend site 205 because it has some extra space on the passenger side of the camper. Sites 191-193 offered line-of-sight to the playground.
The Line Camp, Island Camp, and Ranch Camp all had significant road noise from the highway, but site 248 in The Island is really a great site for privacy since there are no campsite neighbors on either side.
The Lower Ranch Camp has some of the best and worst sites in the campground. In my opinion the worst sites were 178 and 179 because other campers cut-through these sites on their way to the pool, playground, etc. If you are looking for shade and the quietest part of the campground, I would suggest requesting sites 188-190, which are at the end of the Lower Ranch Camp. These three sites do not offer the most privacy from each other but were definitely the most “out of the way sites” in the campground.
Bathrooms: For a campground that has close to 280 sites (including cabins) there are only two bathhouses, which is probably due to the fact that most campsites are full hook-up. So if you are in a pop-up or tent you may want to consider asking for a site near one of these bathrooms, especially since some parts of the campground would be a long walk to the nearest bathroom. We did not need to use the bathrooms, but they appeared to be clean and well maintained.
Amenities: Near the office (which includes a camp store) is a great playground, game room, large pool, hot tub, sand volleyball court, and basketball court. Laundry facilities were nice but were crowded at times and the price was one of the highest that we saw on the trip ($2.50 to wash and $1.50 for 20 minutes of dry time). We found these areas of the campground to be clean and well maintained.
Touring: We wrote a whole post on all the things to do in this part of South Dakota. Be sure to check it out, but here’s a quick roundup of points of interest in the Black Hills:
The iconic touring:
- Mt. Rushmore
- Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Highway (DON’T TAKE THE CAMPER!)
- Crazy Horse Memorial
- Wind Cave
Lesser known must-dos:
- Drive to Mt. Coolidge fire tower
- Hike to Harney Peak fire tower from Sylvan Lake
- Eat at Black Hills Burger and Bun
Free tourist stops (mostly in Rapid City):
Dates of Stay: July 7-12, 2015
Cost: $60.95 per night