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Tipis in the Black Hills: Where history meets comfort

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

The tipi is an iconic symbol of Native American culture — and the tipi's history is deeply intertwined with the indigenous tribes of the region, their way of life, and their profound connection to the land. Today, the magic of tipi tent camping endures as a unique and memorable experience.


Teepee or tipi tent in the sunset - Hot Springs - Black Hills, South Dakota

In this blog post, we'll explore the history of tipis, the tribes that used them, the reasons behind their use, and how you can relive this experience in modern comfort at Highland Meadows Resort in Hot Springs, SD.

Tipi history and design

The tipi, often referred to as a teepee or tepee, is a distinctive conical tent originally constructed by the Plains Indians, including the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. The design was ingeniously suited to the nomadic lifestyle of these tribes, who needed a dwelling that was portable, weather-resistant, and quick to set up and take down.

A traditional tipi consisted of a wooden framework made from long, slender poles. These poles were anchored in a circular arrangement to form the frame. A durable, weatherproof fabric, typically made from buffalo hides, covered the frame. Later, canvas was used as the covering and is now the most common material for tipis. The smoke hole at the top allowed for proper ventilation and served as a chimney for the central fire pit.


Due to their design and ventilation features, tipis were efficient at retaining their warmth even during winters that could be harsh and unforgiving. The conical shape and hole at the top directed the warm air up and allowed for airflow so heat didn't escape through the walls and the interior didn't become too smoky.

Why tipis were used

The use of tipis was most prevalent among the Plains Indian tribes, which included the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Blackfoot, and many others. These tribes relied on the mobility of the tipi as they followed buffalo herds, moving with the seasons and availability of game. Each tribe added its unique touch to the design and decoration of their tipis, reflecting their cultural identity and heritage.

More than a dwelling

Tipis were more than a dwelling. They were a reflection of the needs and values of the Plains Indian tribes. Traditional tipis were used because they embodied:

  • Mobility. The nomadic lifestyle of the Plains tribes required dwellings that could be quickly assembled and disassembled. The tipi was remarkably portable, which made it possible to follow food sources and seasonal changes.

  • Sustainability. The materials used for tipis, such as buffalo hides, were readily available and sustainable. The resourceful use of natural materials aligned with the tribes' deep respect for the environment.

  • Adaptability. Tipis were sturdy, wind resistant, and well-ventilated, making them well-suited for the harsh weather conditions of the Plains.

  • Spiritual beliefs. The tipi held spiritual significance for these tribes. Its circular shape symbolized the cyclical nature of life, and the central fire represented the connection between the earth and the sky.


Modern glamping tipis

Today, tipi camping offers a unique way to connect with nature and experience a touch of history. Camping in a tipi is a far cry from the typical camping experience. The warm, rustic ambiance and circular layout evoke a sense of community and closeness with nature.


Authentic yet modern tipis

The tipis used at Highland Meadows Resort come from a company called Nomadics Tipi Makers — a tipi maker that's so authentic and has such great craftsmanship that they were chosen to make all the tipis for the movie, "Dances with Wolves." These tipis encompass features from several tribes. The tipi design is a basic Sioux design. The lift pole flap is from the Blackfoot design, and the extensions on the smoke flaps are from the Cheyenne tipi style.


The tipis feature an authentic three-pole design, the three tripod poles referred to as the North Pole, South Pole, and Door Pole. Traditionally, tipis were set up so that the door faced east — toward the sunrise. That would put the North Pole on the north side of the tipi and the South Pole on the south side. The poles alone on these tipis measure over 27' long and weight more than 600 pounds.


Nomadics tipis also come with some modern amenities such as zippered doors, mesh screen doors, and mesh critter liners to keep out unsavory nighttime companions.


Today's tipi camping experience

Inside the tipis at Highland Meadows Resort, you'll find a king-size bed, rugs, sleeper sofa, and rustic decor — allowing you to enjoy the serenity of the Black Hills while relishing the modern comforts of glamping. There's something undeniably soothing about being enveloped by the traditional design and natural elements.


Tipi glamping in the Black Hills

Nestled in the beautiful Black Hills, Highland Meadows Resort offers a unique opportunity. this resort combines the timeless charm of tipis with modern amenities and breathtaking views.


The glamping tipis at this resort provide a comfortable and relaxing stay, with the chance to unwind by the campfire, stargaze, and explore the surrounding natural beauty.

At Highland Meadows Resort, each tipi is thoughtfully designed to offer a blend of historical authenticity and contemporary luxury. Equipped with comfortable bedding, furnishings, and even electricity, you'll experience the best of both worlds. At Highland Meadows Resort, each tipi also has access to a private restroom with shower, ensuring a comfortable stay.

Moreover, the resort's location in Hot Springs, South Dakota, offers easy access to some of the region's most captivating attractions. Explore the nearby Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and the iconic Mount Rushmore. Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, history buff, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, Highland Meadows Resort has something for everyone.

Experience a deeper connection to history

The tipi is more than just a historical relic. It's a living testament to the deep connection between indigenous tribes and the land they inhabited. The tradition of tipi camping in the Black Hills has evolved, offering a harmonious blend of tradition and modern comfort.


Book your stay early to experience the magic of tipi camping while immersing yourself in the stunning natural beauty of the Black Hills. It's an opportunity to honor the past, embrace the present, and create lasting memories in a unique and meaningful way.


As you plan your trip, check out these things to do in the Black Hills.

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