Hey y’all! Well, I’m writing from Cody, WY today as we wait for our Yukon to be worked on. We were not expecting that the whole computer system would go out on our drive back home. But, we’re at a nice little Inn that’s in a great location and Cody is a beautiful little town. So, I decided I might as well blog about this trip while it’s fresh on my mind. Plus, I’ve had several friends reach out to me asking how I planned this trip to begin with, so I thought I’d list out our itinerary for others to use. We definitely didn’t see or do it all, but we had the best time!
Honestly, South Dakota wasn’t even my original destination. I wanted to visit the Redwood Forests in California but didn’t think that Jereme would want to drive that far. He hates road tripping haha! And when looking for plane tickets and rental cars, I got a little overwhelmed. It just so happens that my 2nd grade son’s class was learning about the presidents and monuments around the USA. He quickly became fascinated with Mount Rushmore and when I looked at the distance, I realized that a 15 hour drive would be totally do-able. I mean we drove to South Carolina over spring break and that was a 16 hour trip! We decided to book our trip from June 23-29th and we would be able to celebrate our 15 year anniversary and Jake’s 5th birthday while we were there. Once I had dates in mind, I went to Pinterest and read other travel blogs for inspiration. I had no idea there was SOOOOOO much to do in South Dakota!
I discovered that Rapid City, SD is a nice size town with a lot of lodging and dinner options. I’ve mentioned before that I use Expedia.com to book most of our hotels using the book now/pay later option. I found a fun Best Western with a water slide and was sold! We booked it that day and I had a few months to plan out our week. We decided that on the drive up to South Dakota, we would just go straight there the quickest way. Below is the route we took. We stopped in Grand Island, Nebraska for the night after driving most of the day.
Day 1: We left around 10:00 am on Sunday, June 22nd. The drive to Nebraska was about 8 hours. It was so beautiful. On the drive, I started googling fun places to visit and used some of the billboards along the route and found that we were really close to Smith Falls, which happens to be the largest waterfall in Nebraska. Of course, we had to stop there! That took us a little ways off of the route and added about 2 additional hours total with the extra driving and exploring the area. It was totally worth it!
As you can see, it was a really neat stop after driving all day. The entire path was labeled and most of it was on a boardwalk through the forest. My boys loved it! From here, we drove to Grand Island, Nebraska and stayed at the Ramada by Wyndham for the night. And let me just say, this hotel had the best free breakfast buffet that we’ve ever had by far!
Day 2: After a restful night, we got up and finished the drive to Rapid City, SD. The drive from Nebraska to South Dakota was gorgeous.
We booked our week at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel in Rapid City. It was great! The best part was the water park inside the hotel and the crazy slides that the kids LOVED! We went to the water park every single night! I highly recommend this hotel too, especially if you have children with you!
Day 3: Now to the fun stuff! We decided to head to Mount Rushmore first! The kids were so excited to see it and I really wanted to visit this place on our anniversary! I had no idea that it would be so neat. I honestly thought we’d just look at the monument and be on our way. I was totally wrong! The drive from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore took about 30 minutes and it was a really scenic drive. Most attractions are between Rapid City and Mount Rushmore, so that was really convenient for us! And I loved that the roads were very easy to navigate and there are signs everywhere, too that are helpful.
When we came around a corner up in the mountains near Mount Rushmore, it suddenly came into view, and it literally brought tears to my eyes. I’ve been wanting to visit this monument since I was about 20, which is when Jereme and I really started traveling together. It was just pure excitement in the car!
I could probably post a thousand pictures of this monument, but I won’t haha! Even though is was crowded, we really had a good time. I had no idea that there are different trails and areas to view this monument from different angles. One of my favorite parts is that there are different stops along the trail throughout the park with informational plaques about each of the 4 presidents represented (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln). These are strategically placed and when you look up, you get the best view of the president mentioned. The cost to enter the park is a $10 parking fee. There’s also a gift shop, places to grab food/drinks, some of the old tools used to build the monument, and the original plans for the carvings. Here are some of my favorite pictures from Mount Rushmore National Park!
The only problem we had the whole day was that a pine cone fell out of a tree, hit Jake on the forehead, and cut it! Hahaha! He was so mad!
After exploring Mount Rushmore we decided to head to Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Mt. Rushmore. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned that Jereme is Native American, so this was special for him. The cost to get into this memorial is $30. It also has a place to eat, which we took advantage of. I love buffets, and it did not disappoint. There’s also different artifacts to look at from the Sioux Indian tribes in the area. We did not take the bus closer to the memorial, but we still enjoyed our visit. I recommend taking binoculars if you aren’t going to take the bus to get a closer look!
The drive from Mount Rushmore to Crazy Horse was another scenic drive. We stopped at a lake and explored a little before meeting back up with the Morgans.
We decided to end our day at the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, SD, which is on the way back to Rapid City. It cost around $32 for my family to enter. We all had a great time! Here are just a few of the pictures from inside.
Can you guess where we ended the night? Yep, at the water park!
Day 4: Today we decided to visit Bear Country USA and it was amazing! It’s a drive-through wildlife park in the Black Hills of SD. Their main attraction, BEARS oh my! Of course they have other animals there like reindeer, elk, foxes, wolves, beavers, etc. The baby bear cubs were my favorite! It cost us $48 to visit. We went around 11:00 a.m. and the animals were pretty active. This was a really neat experience, we never see bears walking by our cars in North Texas, that’s for sure! This is not a place where you drive through and feed the animals. You leave your windows up and just drive through and observe. We let the kids unbuckle and move around the car. They liked seeing the bears the most! Helpful Tip: Clean your windshield before you go to this attraction!
Once you drive through, which takes 30-45 min, there’s a place to park and you’re allowed to get out and explore. The baby bear cubs are here!
After spending a few hours at Bear Country USA, we decided to head to Keystone to explore the downtown area. It’s a quaint little area with lots of food, drinks, and souvenir shopping! We ate at a Mexican food place called, Guadalajara’s. It was yummy!
While we were eating we decided to go check out Rushmore Cave. I think it cost my family around $42 for the cave tour. It’s an entire adventure park, but we just chose to do the cave tour. We had a great tour guide, Kaden and he did an excellent job of telling us the history of the cave. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside a cave with so many tight squeezes! I absolutely loved it!
From the cave, we went to… you guessed it! Back to the hotel water park!
Day 5: Day 5 was probably my favorite day in South Dakota! I can’t even begin to describe the trail we hiked around Custer State Park. I came across images of the Sunday Gulch Trail and knew we had to do it. I am not going to lie, there were tears shed around the 2.5 mile mark from my oldest kiddo. (We didn’t know he was actually getting sick with a fever/cold at the time). This hike is 3.9 miles long, it’s labeled as a HARD trail with a lot of uphill and downhill hiking, trekking through water, over rapids and streams using rocks or tree logs to get across. It was so much fun, but so much work. I can’t even describe how beautiful the sights were and my pictures just don’t do it justice. We could’ve explored this park for 3-4 days! I didn’t get many shots of us on the crazier parts of the trail because I had to help pass our little one off to Jereme and didn’t want to drop my phone in the water. But trust me, it was so cool! We packed a picnic lunch and found a nice, shady area to eat and then took off. It cost us $20 to get into the park, but that includes a 5 day pass to return. There are bathrooms, a store/souvenir shop, canoe rentals, and probably more than I even saw. After the hike, the kiddos and Jereme jumped into the lake for a freezing cold swim! Helpful Tips: Bring plenty of food and water for the day, wear sunscreen and reapply often, use bug repellent, bring a first aid kit, take a swimsuit or change of clothes/shoes, expect to get wet, and have a blast!
We took the iconic Needles Highway back to Keystone after we left Custer State Park, which is an adventure in itself. It’s over 30 miles long with over 300 curves and switchbacks, pigtails, and tunnels. I had to do the driving because I get so carsick, but the speeds are so slow that I was honestly fine the entire drive. Jereme was the photographer for us this time! Next to our hotel was an Olive Garden and we headed there and I ate pasta for days!
After dinner the kids suddenly felt better and had enough energy to close the water park down at the hotel!
Day 6: Today was Friday, June 28th and our little guy’s 5th Birthday! Jake wanted to go on another hike before we had a small pool party/cake for his birthday that night. We decided to explore The Badlands National Park and wow, what a sight! It’s another gorgeous place with land forms that are hard to describe. The only bad part about this day, is that it was so HOT! The temps had been mild, in the 70’s all the other days of our trip, but on this day it felt like we were back in TX! We didn’t stay as long as we wanted to because of the heat. It cost $25 to get into this park and there are several marked trails to take as soon as you park your car. We hiked the Notch Trail which was 1.5 miles round-trip and had a log ladder that we had to climb for great views! Since it was hot, we took a scenic drive through the park back to Wall, SD.
When we left The Badlands, we visited Wall Drug which was recommended on every blog I came across. To be honest, I could’ve skipped out on this one. It was a neat place, we had great ice cream and bought some cute souvenirs. But it wasn’t a must for my family. For some reason, I didn’t take a single picture at this stop! We then headed back to our hotel and had some birthday cake for Jake’s birthday and spent the rest of the evening at the hotel water park, of course!
Day 7: Sadly, we had to check out of our hotel today and start the journey home. We had a really great plan to explore a few different states on the way back to TX. Our plan was to drive to Sturgis and Spearfish Canyon, SD, venture into Wyoming, cut up to Montana to Devils Canyon Overlook, then head down to Casper, WY for the night. Then the following day, we planned to drive down to Denver for lunch, explore Garden of the Gods and Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, before heading to Pueblo, CO for the night. From there we would have a 10 hour drive to our house. We had hotels booked, but God had another plan for us and I’m choosing to look at this situation as a divine intervention. We did get to drive through Wyoming and up to Montana, but right when we got to Lovell, WY our Yukon basically lost all power. We were stranded, luckily right outside of a restaurant full of helpful people, while we had to wait 4 hours for a tow truck to come get us. I quickly canceled all of our hotels and found one in Cody, WY and that’s where we still are, 2 days later. The mechanic said the Yukon should be fixed by noon tomorrow, so we’re hopeful that we’ll be home by Wednesday (July 3rd).
Here is our original plan for the drive home, feel free to use if you’re road tripping from SD – TX!
We took the scenic bypass through Spearfish Canyon and I am so glad we did! We stumbled across Bridal Veil Falls by accident and had a quick hike up to see the waterfall up close! Below are just a few of our favorite pictures. Helpful Tips: You have to cross over a large stream to get to the falls. Bring extra shoes, I did great crossing over the rocks on the way to see the waterfall. Then I fell into the stream in tennis shoes on the way back across!
From here we crossed over into Wyoming, not knowing we’d still be here days later haha! This is such a beautiful state, I guess there are way worse places to the stranded.
Here are some of my favorite pictures of our drive through Wyoming! As you can tell, we stopped at most of the scenic overlooks throughout this trip.
Once you get close to Lovell, WY, you take a quick right off of highway 37 and drive about 10 minutes and cross into Montana to Devils Canyon Overlook. It was totally worth the drive, this place was fascinating. Some describe it like Wyoming/Montana’s Grand Canyon!
From here our plans changed and that is ok! I have learned a few things during this trying situation. First, my family is pretty great. We all handled this dilemma exceptionally well and nobody panicked. I only cried once and that was when waitresses at the restaurant we were at heard about our situation and paid for our food. I was just overwhelmed with all of the kindness from complete strangers! Second, you can have some of the best thought-out plans, but they can change really quick and you just have to roll with it and stay positive. Third, I have never in my life been more thankful that I live in a small town close to my family and friends! Fourth, I will never take owning a car for granted again. It has not been fun being without one for the past two days!
So there it is, our Texas-South Dakota (and more) itinerary! One day, Carrie may decide to start blogging from her perspective, too! They had a great trip, and made it back to Texas on Saturday night! You’ll want to stay tuned for her trip because they visited Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota before meeting us in Rapid City! And y’all say a prayer for us, hopefully we make it home soon!
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