Tuesday, June 19

South Dakota Vacation Ideas

Camping and Sight Seeing

We have been to the Black Hills twice and Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons once.

This summer trip was originally planned as a tent camping trip to Yellowstone National Park, but because our son needed to take a summer course for college, our trip was revised to only go as far as the Black Hills.

Both previous trips west, we rented cabins or stayed in a hotel or lodge. This trip we wanted to tent camp to experience all the beautiful wilderness South Dakota has to offer.

The “we” being my husband Bill and I, our daughter Alexis (23), our son Daniel (20) and his girlfriend Jennica, (21) our son’s friend Charlie (20) and my nephew Adam (30 something). Yes, we were travelling with a bunch of 20 to 30 year olds! Yikes!
Camping along the Missouri River
Travelling from Ohio, our first night we stopped to visit relatives in Wisconsin.  Day two we drove through Missouri, stopping along the Missouri River at the Cedar Shore Campground, near Chamberlain. This river always gets us quoting the Clint Eastwood Movie “The Outlaw Josie Wales” with things like “Missouri boat ride” and “Pull E-Mule”

Prairie Dog
Day three and we are finally in the area we want to see!  We again stopped at all the tourist traps along I-90 through South Dakota, even though we have seen them on previous trips. 3 people in our group were newbies, and had not been to Wall Drug, Mitchell Corn Palace, 1880 Town, Prairie Homestead, Prairie Dogs, and the Badlands.
Wall Drug is free, but is just tourist souvenirs and things, but there are so many signs along I-90 that you are almost compelled to stop!
The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota is a building covered in corn and grains. The exterior decorations or display is completely removed and new created each year. It is worth a visit at least once.
Prairie Homestead
The Prairie Homestead is a wood and sod structure as would have been built by pioneers in the 1800’s, has an entrance fee and prairie dogs are everywhere!  (One of my photos from here was selected to be on the website for the Prairie Homestead!)  Again, worth the stop at least once.

Scene at 1880 Town
The 1880 Town is off I-90 at exit 170. It’s great family fun. For $5.00 (additional over the $9.00 entrance fee) you can dress in 1880’s costumes and walk around the town, pretending to be a cowboy or dance hall girl, which our kids did. 
Kids having fun dressing the part in 1880 Town

1880 Town has been on our list of things to stop at every time to venture West.

What not to miss in this area? The Badlands of course. There is an entrance fee. I recommend hiking one of the trails through the Badlands. Some trails are pretty level, short and easy, but give you stunning views of the area. And don't forget to take the Badlands Loop Road and stop at the Visitor Center. Along the Loop Road you'll have great views of the Badlands and see many rock buttes, spires and rolling grasslands. The Loop Road also takes you back  to I-90.

Our final destination, the Black Hills and Custer State Park. Custer State Park is surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest.
Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, South Dakota
We camped at Custer’s Gulch campground, just outside Custer State Park, and about 3 miles from the town of Custer.
Tent camping at Custer's Gulch, South Dakota

This campground is located where Custer and his men camped while surveying the Black Hills in 1874. There are also cabins, lodges and campgrounds in Custer State Park. Both previous trips we rented a cabin in the Park, which we loved. Most campgrounds in the area are priced about the same, around $28.00 a night for a camper or RV and $20.00 to 24.00 per tent campsite. Usually only 2 tents per campsite, (we had three tents). We chose Custer's Gulch for the privacy this tent camping site offered! The campground is also located within walking distance to Gordon Stockade and Stockade Lake.
Historical photo of General Custer's camp in the Black Hills
If you are travelling with kids or teenagers, who have a steady diet of fast food, you may have some grouchy kids on your hands.  McDonald's are few and far between. 
We cooked meals at our campsite and had fresh turkey and real cheese sandwiches for lunch.  We also carried boxes of granola bars and trail mix with us.  An easy campsite meal?  Take along jars of spaghetti sauce and a box of noodles, heat and serve.  We also added cooked diced bratwurst to baked beans for an easy meal. 

There's a grocery store in Custer, the Dakomart, but prices are high to nearly double what we pay at home in our large supermarket.  Eating out on the tourist strips is expensive, of course.

The Custer area is a central location so you can easily drive to just about everything!

Wind Cave NP is to the south of Custer State Park. Mt Rushmore is about 12 miles from Custer in the small town of Keystone. When my husband visited Mt Rushmore with his family as a child, the original observation deck was small and had poorly focused viewers. Now there is a huge viewing patio, much closer to the President’s faces and you can hike nearly to the structures and to the rubble pile! The entrance is free but parking is $11.00.

While in Keystone, which was an old gold mining town, make sure to follow the signs and take a walking tour of the historic old downtown area, which is behind the tourist strip.

Shops in Old Keystone, South Dakota

Crazy Horse Memorial is about 8 miles from Custer and not far from Mt Rushmore. They lowered the admission fee, which is great. When we toured Crazy Horse in 2005, we paid over $40.00 for 4 of us (Bill says it was nearly $50.00). This trip the fee was very reasonable at $27.00 a car load. The American Indian Museum there is quite impressive.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Devil’s Tower is north of Custer State Park, about a 2 hour drive. This is the rock formation featured in the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.   Devils Tower National Monument  raises more than 1,200 feet above Wyoming’s eastern plains and the Belle Fourche River.  It is a one-of-a-kind natural wonder, is flat-topped and a volcanic formation.
Devil's Tower
After viewing Devil’s tower I suggest stopping by the Vore Buffalo Jump between Sundance and Spearfish, SD. This archaeological site is a natural sinkhole that at least 5 different tribes used to hunt and trap bison. This site is one of our favorites.  A new Visitor's Center in nearly completed.

We also enjoyed the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, which is a covered excavation site that was a sink hole 26,000 years ago. The site features fossils of 58 Columbian and Wooly mammoths, and a few camels, wolves, and giant flat faced bears.

Make sure to save a few days to enjoy the sights and wilderness in Custer State Park! We love Sylvan Lake, the Wildlife Loop, seeing the buffalo and prong horns, driving the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Roads, going to the top of Mt. Coolidge Fire Tower and Lookout, (which is 6023 feet) and visiting the Badger Hole.
Buffalo are abundant in the Parks
Custer State Park has numerous ponds and lakes so make sure to get a license and go fishing! You can also go on a Chuck Wagon Ride and have a cowboy dinner! For you hikers there are trails everywhere and hiking up Harney Peak is quite the feat!

Back country hiking in South Dakota

There is lots to see and do in the Black Hills, and like us, you may want to take more than one trip to the area.  The best part of our trips are always the ones when we are out of the car and hiking, just getting out and seeing the countryside!  We think South Dakota is a beautiful state!

Hope this year you get out and see a few wonderful sites in this great country of ours!
My daughter and nephew in 1880 Town
Badlands, S. Dakota
Me outside a Gem store in Custer, S. Dakota


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~“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.” – D. H. Lawrence~

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ~St. Augustine

~Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime. ~Mark Twain

~“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins


Alexis Elizabeth, Yaya said...

+2 Druid skills. + 4 Adventure/Survival skills.

Kim said...

Hi Elizabeth! As always beautiful photos and thank you for sharing your vacation with us. It sounds like you had a wonderful trip! Have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

Hi Elizabeth;

Found your wonderful blog at Kim's. I'm glad I was curious enough to check it out. I enjoyed my visit here and your great trip photos. I have bookmarked you. Have a lovely Sunday. ;-}

Anonymous said...

Hi! Do you know if they make any plugins to safeguard against hackers? I'm kinda paranoid about losing everything I've worked hard on. Any tips?

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

If it's the posts you're worried about losing, all platforms have a way to back them all up and save them on your hard drive. Just make sure to set it to do a backup regularly or do a backup manually yourself. As to hackers, well they can if they want, it seems, hack into anything. All blog platforms have safeguards, but nothing is guaranteed.

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