Road trip to South Dakota/Wyoming Part 2

After we left Crazy Horse Memorial we drove to the town of Custer, had lunch, and afterwards decided to drive the “Wildlife Loop” while waiting to check into our cabin.

Bison at Custer State Park

Custer State Park is known for its free-ranging bison herd. With some 1,500 animals, it is one of the largest bison herds in the world. Pronghorn, deer, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, burros, prairie dogs, coyotes, eagles, and wild turkeys are other residents of the park’s variety of habitats. Driving the loop road takes you about 50 minutes and you are guaranteed to see some of these amazing animals.

Bryce feeding the Burros
Panning for gold along the road. You never know when you will get 🍀 lucky!

After panning for gold, feeding the Burros and spotting our first Bison for the week we were told we could check into our cabin that would be home the next 4 nights. I had found this place through Mt. Rushmore Vacation Rentals and the place blew us away when we arrived. The pictures we used to book it didn’t do it justice! A huge log cabin tucked right outside Custer State Park’s entrance, it sat on acres of land and was just so picturesque and peaceful. We loved our stay there.

That night we took it easy and got ready for the adventure we were to undertake the next day. Custer State Park offers an open-air Jeep safari tour that takes you off road and deeper into the park, allowing you to search for pronghorns, elk, and of course Bison! We loved the tour and everything we saw! The tour guide shared tons of historical and educational facts about the park and wildlife. He told us he had been giving this tour for over 6 years, and it showed with the wealth of knowledge he had. Overall it is worth every penny and made lifetime memories for us.

The rest of the week we explored the rest of Custer State Park driving up Needles Highway to Sylvan Lake and enjoying an afternoon there. Truly beautiful area and wish we had more time to do more of the hiking trails. The park is South Dakota’s largest and first state park, covering an area of over 71,000 acres!

Two days before we left to drive home, we decided to drive over to Devils Tower National Monument, in Northeast Wyoming. Devils Tower was the first United States national monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Devils Tower National Monument

Driving into Wyoming for me was like truly entering the wild west. Huge cattle ranches and just open land for miles. Definitely you need to make sure your car has a full tank of gas before starting this trip! lol. The landscape is so beautiful though. It made the two hour drive seem like nothing. We should have arrived earlier in the day then we did. I didn’t realize the park was undergoing construction and there was a 30 minute wait to enter the park. But it was worth it. We did the trail around the tower and Bryce had a blast climbing some of the boulders around it. Truly a sight to see. Afterwards we ate lunch at the restaurant just outside the park entrance and it was delicious!

Overall we had an amazing vacation. If you ever get a chance to visit the black hills, please do! This part of the country is beautiful and we enjoyed exploring the area. It definitely has given me the National Park travel bug and I want to see Yellowstone next!

Road Trip to South Dakota/Wyoming Part 1

When we moved to Northeast Iowa last year I knew an epic roadtrip was in our future. This New Jersey girl had never lived so far west before and when I saw that we were only 12 hours from Mt. Rushmore I was in! The plan was to see the top attractions in the area – Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, Custer State Park and Devils Tower in Wyoming.

Mt. Rushmore

So once January hit I planned our trip. I knew that we were about a 6 hour drive from Sioux Falls, roughly half way to Mt. Rushmore. So I decided we would spend one night there and then hit the Badlands National Park the next day on the way to Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills.

Stopping in Sioux Falls ended up being a great idea. We had gotten a late start on the road and by the time we rolled into town we only had time to see the city’s namesake attraction – a beautiful waterfall that runs through the middle of town. Bryce was able to run and stretch his legs which also made it a great kids stop!

We stayed at a Residence Inn. Which thank goodness we had a small kitchen there since the hotel wasn’t serving breakfast due to COVID. So we stopped at a grocery store and picked up some things to eat and had a relaxing night. Early the next day we got on the road to make it to the Badlands for our first western adventure.

The Badlands were amazing and we did get a chance to hike a little. But not nearly enough time was spent there. We definitely want to go back and spend the night so we can do more of the trails and explore the area more. It truly is beautiful. And after driving just endless highway roads a very welcome sight! Lol. Bryce also got a kick out of feeding some Prairie dogs at a roadside attraction by the park entrance.

By the time we left the badlands it was mid afternoon. We decided to stop at Wall Drug and it was every bit the touristy attraction I thought it would be. 😂 Good restroom break anyway. We got back onto the road and headed into the black hills. I had decided to book two nights at a glamping campground called Under Canvas. I had never been glamping before and the location is literally 5 minutes from Mt. Rushmore. A tent with a real bed and a bathroom is my type of “roughing it.” We loved the experience but I don’t think I will become a die hard tent 🏕 camper anytime soon. I didn’t realize how cold it can get at night there – 49 degrees in June! Needless to say we used the wood furnace both nights we were there! I highly recommend the place though if you have thought about trying “glamping.” The furniture in the tents made it feel like we were on Safari and the bathroom was very spacious with a barn door for privacy. We had a good location near the main reception tent so that is something to think about when you book if you are like me and need your caffeine to get going in the morning. They do provide complimentary coffee and tea, and they also provide s’mores at night which was nice. I did miss having our own campfire at the tent, but they did have a few campfires spread throughout the campground for people to use to make their s’mores and hang out.

Under Canvas Mt. Rushmore

We booked a Deluxe Tent with Hive. The main tent had a King Size Bed and we added a cot for Bryce. The 2nd tent was for Brian’s mom who came with us. But because it was so cold at night we ended up moving her bed into our tent and just all slept that way. It was amazing how big the tent was to fit so many of us but it definitely made the space cramped. So my suggestion to you if you book is to check the weather 😂 and bring extra blankets. One of the more surprising parts of this experience was the food! They have an actual trained chef running their onsite food truck and he supplied us with amazing breakfasts and dinners that we ate on our patio. Which I also loved by the way ❤️. Having coffee on the patio while staring at the forest is something I could do every day!

Since we were so close to Mt. Rushmore we were able to see the lighting ceremony the first night and then we went back the next morning to walk around and explore what we could. Unfortunately they were during construction while we were there so we couldn’t do the mountain trail. But it was amazing to see and experience. Highly recommend not rushing through this monument and taking some time to explore. There is a little museum onsite that explains the history of the build and there were National Park Rangers throughout that answered any questions we had.

Mt. Rushmore at Sunset

That afternoon we spent some time in Keystone and did some gem mining there which Bryce loved. We also got to take him to Reptile Gardens which actually was very nice and Bryce loved getting to see snakes and other animals that he had never seen before. It is the largest reptile zoo in the nation. After two days there we checked out of Under Canvas and headed to Custer State Park, stopping at Crazy Horse Memorial on the way.

As you can see from our pictures we kept busy! Definitely you will not get bored. I am glad we stayed a full week in the area even if we didn’t get a chance to do everything we wanted! This wraps up Part 1 of our trip. Part 2 I will go into what we did at Custer State Park and show you the Cabin we rented for the week. Keep adventuring my friends!