Our trip to South Dakota was one of my very favorite vacations. Every single year, we embark on a family vacation no matter how busy our schedules are. We typically plan for one in the summer where everyone can get some time off. While they’re never quite like the Griswold’s, we always find a way to have significant adventures! Sometimes we splurge a bit and get on a plane but most of the time, we do a family road trip. Even with daughters in their early 20s, we make family vacation time a priority. It’s our special time to spend together, and we look forward to it every year. Vacation memories are priceless!
Why South Dakota?
Yes, I’m sure you’re wondering! But for the past few years, we’ve stayed relatively close to Ohio, going to Hilton Head, Gatlinburg, and Petoskey. This year, we decided to venture a bit west. Visiting Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, and the Black Hills were all places on our bucket list. Although I’m sure plenty of people think South Dakota can’t possibly be that amazing, it truly is a beautiful state. Despite the expanses of prairies, it’s quite a hilly state. With all of those rolling hills and the higher elevation, we were actually able to see the dark shadows of puffy clouds on the prairies. That’s something you don’t typically get to see in Northwest Ohio! Throughout our trip to South Dakota, we took some scenic highways. We did not stop oohing and aahing at the sheer beauty of God and country.
A Few Tourist Traps and Badlands
On the first night of our trip to South Dakota, we stopped in Sioux Falls, a city on the eastern edge of the state, and ate dinner outside at a nice, local restaurant. It was a fun way to kick off our vacation, especially after hours of being cooped up in a car.
The next morning, we worked our way to the west side of the state and stopped in a few touristy places just to say we went there. We visited the Corn Palace and Wall Drug before heading to Badlands national park. Badlands felt like you were dropped onto Mars. The whole park was like a giant fossil. We drove through the entire park, stopping along the way to do some really cool hikes. It was truly amazing!
From there, we drove the rest of the way to our destination on the west side of the state, Rapid City. This was our hub while in South Dakota. It’s a nice location that’s centralized around the rest of the stops on our itinerary. Every night, we would come back and find something fun to do to wrap up our day. One of the evenings, we walked around the downtown area and took photos of some of the bronze statues of presidents. They line every corner of the downtown area. We didn’t catch them all, but it sure made the city unique!
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse
The next morning, we got up bright and early and headed to Mount Rushmore. Morning is definitely the time to go because, by the time we left, the crowd was getting thick. The visitors center had a great walking museum where we learned about the history of the monument. We also watched a short movie about the creation of Mount Rushmore that was really inspiring before heading up to the viewing area. The path leading to the trail that takes you up to the monument is lined with all the state flags. It’s really quite moving and the monument is absolutely breathtaking. The level of work and precision that was taken to craft this monument without the aid of modern technology is truly mind-boggling! We had picture-perfect weather, so yes, that is the color of the sky on that day, a dazzling blue!
From Mount Rushmore, we traveled another ten miles to the Crazy Horse monument. Although it’s still in the earlier stages of its creation, it was still so cool to see. It may be fifty more years before it’s completed, believe it or not. They still have to carve his arm and part of a horse into the mountain. Even now, it’s a truly majestic monument even now and a wonderful tribute to our country’s native Americans.
Custer State Park and Prairie Berry Winery
We still had quite a bit of the day left after visiting Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, so we ventured into Custer State Park. It didn’t disappoint! We took the scenic routes again and even had to fit through a tiny, one-lane tunnel to get to the Cathedral Spires Trail. Meredith and Elise agreed they liked it even better than the Badlands trails. Custer State Park has that ultimate blend of forest and rocks that just took our breath away. Trust me, we have a million photos and each is more gorgeous than the next!
We always like to stop at local wineries while we’re on vacation, and Prairie Berry had some nice reviews. We finished off our day by doing some tastings and left with a few bottles to bring back home to enjoy!
The Final Day of Our Trip to South Dakota
On our final day of vacation in South Dakota, we drove a bit north to Spearfish Canyon and did the Devil’s Bathtub hike. Out of all of our hikes, this one may have been the most adventurous. The trail wasn’t really marked and we had to cross streams over twenty times. The views were once again spectacular, but I would defintely rate this trail as strenuous.
We couldn’t leave without heading back to Custer State Park to drive the wildlife loop. We were able to get up close and personal with lots and lots of bison, a burro, and lots of cute prairie dogs. Stopping for bison crossing is a different kind of traffic jam!
We finished off our day in Custer at the famous Black Hills Burger and Bun, then bought a few park t-shirts to commemmorate our trip.
Our Simple Travel Tips
Road trips are fun but they can also be a bit exhausting. We always pray that we don’t get stuck in traffic or have our car break down on us. You don’t have to be a kid either to want to be there already. Here are the easy ways we make our long haul trips more enjoyable.
- Ask a trusted neighbor or relative to bring in your mail and take care of your pets so you can enjoy your vacation without worry.
- Take your own pillows. No matter if you’re staying at a rental home or hotel, there’s no pillow better than your own when it comes to sleeping comfortably.
- Take some road trip games, books, magazines, or activity books to break up the parts of your trip that feel monotonous. Audio books and podcasts are also good choices.
- Pack a separate bag of essentials you want to keep handy instead of packed away. Sunscreen, bug spray, and first aid supplies are all good choices.
- Bring a cooler for snacks, drinks, and any food you’re taking with you on your trip.
- Pack comfortable clothes for what you’re planning to do.
- Make sure you take lots of photos along the way. We create Google Photos folders that we can all drop photos into.
- Pack a large laundry bag for dirty clothes. When you get home, it makes the task of laundry and unpacking so much easier!
- Even with a jam-packed schedule, build in time to just relax and explore a bit off your agenda.
Now that we’re back in Ohio, we’re recharged for our typical schedules again. And I can go back to dreaming of homemade cherry pie in the near future!