Many visitors to the Black Hills want to see as many sights as possible during their stay, but aren’t comfortable navigating unfamiliar surroundings or don’t know how to make the most out of their limited time. Guided tours are a great solution; they offer convenience, an insider’s perspective on the local area, and—perhaps best of all—let visitors relax and enjoy the ride, allowing them to take in the spectacular scenery without distraction.
Affordable Adventures is one of the oldest continuously operating tour companies in the region. Carol and Doug Cameron started the company in 1991 as a way to provide out-of-town visitors with a chance to see the area’s many attractions. Carol worked at the Hotel Alex Johnson and learned that many of the guests were eager to see the Dances With Wolves film sites; the Oscar-winning epic western had been released the prior year, and much of the movie was shot in and around western South Dakota. The Camerons put together a tour of various film sites, added excursions to other popular destinations, and the business took off, filling a niche that did not exist at the time.
The couple retired in 2006, and that’s when Ann and Lin Thompson stepped in. Both had experience providing narrated tours at the South Dakota Air & Space Museum in Box Elder, just outside Ellsworth Air Force Base. The Thompsons chalk their involvement up to divine intervention; Lin had reached out to the Camerons asking if they needed tour guides right around the time they were considering selling the operation. After securing financing, they bought the business and set out to honor the Camerons’ legacy while adding their own flair.
“Carol was a wonderful mentor,” Ann says. “I wanted her to be proud of me for carrying her company on.”
There are other tour companies operating in the Black Hills, but what sets Affordable Adventures apart from the competition is its wide variety of custom tours. In addition to offering 15 standard guided tours, the company thrives on flexibility, specializing in custom tour packages that might include wine tasting or off-the-beaten-path side trips. This commitment to going the extra mile for their guests has paid off handsomely: Affordable Adventures has ten tour guides and nine vehicles, including a 21-passenger bus and several 12-14-passenger minivans. Business is booming, with each vehicle averaging 20,000 – 25,000 miles per year.
Which tours are the most popular?
“Anything with Mount Rushmore,” Ann says. “The two memorials, actually—Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.” Other popular stops include Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop; the Badlands; and the Northern Hills, particularly the Gold Rush history of Lead and Deadwood and the scenic drive through Spearfish Canyon. All tours are accompanied by knowledgeable tour guides, many of whom are retirees with a passion for Black Hills history.
Summer is their busy season, but Affordable Adventures is open year-round.
Many visitors and locals alike take advantage of the company’s popular Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup tour every September. In addition to providing transportation, guests are served a hot breakfast, beverages, and snacks—an offer too good to pass up for those uncomfortable with battling the popular event’s notorious traffic snarls and congestion. “Everybody else just brings people there and drops them off,” Ann says. “We go the extra mile and make it real nice. People really enjoy that.”
Guided by customer-first principles and a desire to be community-oriented, Affordable Adventures is poised to continue on the path to success first charted some 30 years ago.