Day 1, South Dakota

Our first 36 hours have been jam packed in the best way possible. We left Orlando at 7:30 AM on Saturday morning and landed in Denver at 9:30 AM. The time change worked to our benefit as the day was still young when we arrived. We got our rental car, made a WalMart run for supplies, got lunch and headed to South Dakota. The snow covered mountains in Denver were breath taking and I am looking forward to returning at the end of our trip. The mountains quickly changed to rolling plains and plateaus as we entered Wyoming and we were one of the few cars on the road. There are few places to stop for gas or bathroom breaks so I would recommend Cheyenne or Torrington, Wyoming. We saw plenty of cows, deer, horses, antelope and even a mountain lion during our drive.

We arrived in South Dakota around 7:30 pm just in time for sunset. The views were absolutely amazing. We stopped at Custer State Park in the midst of the Black Hills National Forrest. The roads were fine for driving with the exception of a few icy patches, but the grounds were mostly covered with snow. It was truly a beautiful sight. Aside from the campsite host we met, we saw very few people.

We set up camp in the van, made sandwiches, and got some rest after our day of traveling. (If you’re wondering, van camping went much better than I anticipated!)

Sunday we were up early and on the Wildlife Loop Trail by 7 AM. This is an 18 mile driving loop that allowed us to see buffalo, prairie dogs, and more deer. It’s not recommended to approach the animals but they are literally next to your car. It was awesome! We also started the drive on Needles Scenic Highway but we had to turn around due to the snow.

Don’t miss the view of Mt. Rushmore coming through the tunnel on Iron Mountain Road!

HOWEVER! Let’s talk about Iron Mountain Road, which was lovely and offered incredible views and tunnels, just as Needles Hwy does. This is the road we ended up on heading to Mt. Rushmore and was a great way to leave Custer State Park.

  • Custer State Park entry fee: $20
  • Campground fee with electric hook up: $26
  • Dates visited: April 14-15
  • Temperature: Low 19 High 35 degrees

After Custer State Park, we headed to Mt. Rushmore, you know, that place we all learn about in history class growing up but tend to forget about as adults? It was stunning! The Presidential Trail was closed due to the weather but I don’t think it impacted our visit. We also had ice cream made from Thomas Jefferson’s recipe! It was delicious.

  • Mt. Rushmore Entrance Fee: $10

We stopped at the Sugar Shack for lunch which I had read about in my research for burgers and fries. I highly recommend this stop for tasty food with more than reasonable prices. It’s a tiny mom and pop diner on the side of the road outside of Deadwood, SD and kind of pops up in the middle of nowhere. We also needed ice and the owner gave us a bag from his supply. Very kind and welcoming place!

Our last stop in South Dakota was Spearfish Canyon. This is about an hour and a half from Mt. Rushmore. Here we did a little hiking and found a waterfall. The snow made the hike interesting but I think Spearfish is definitely worth stopping off at!

Next up, Yellowstone National Park! Check back later for more updates! Thanks for reading 🙂

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