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Itinerary Help for Mt Rushmore, Custer,and Badlands Nov. 1-3

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posts: 26
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Itinerary Help for Mt Rushmore, Custer,and Badlands Nov. 1-3

What itinerary would you suggest to maximize my time and include the Highlights and "must see" locations of Mt Rushmore, Custer, and Badlands. I will be flying into Rapid City , SD shortly after noon on Nov 1, 2013 where I plan to rent a SUV. I will have the remainder of that afternoon(Day1), the entire next day(Day2), and on Day 3 plan to drive through the Badlands on my way to Chamberlain where I need to arrive by dark.

I enjoy photography, scenic drives, viewing wildlife( especially would love to see bighorn sheep), and if time permits, short hikes. I wish I had more time than 2 and a half days but want to make sure I see the top sights and highlights of this region including driving the most scenic routes.

Thanks in advance for your help!


South Dakota
posts: 2,421
reviews: 144
1. Re: Itinerary Help for Mt Rushmore, Custer,and Badlands Nov. 1-3

Day 1 (since you have a half day): Mt. Rushmore. Do the Presidential Trail.

Day 2: Custer State Park including Needles Hwy, Wildlife Loop, Iron Mt. Road, Mt. Coolidge, Hike around Sylvan Lake. Some roads, Needles Hwy in particular, are subject to winter closure. Check with the Custer State Park HQ. Custer will fill the day.

Day 3: You could also stop at Wall Drug. I'm not sure about the Minuteman Site. There has been some issues with elevators or something like that affecting tours. Others may have better info. Due to the govt. shutdown, all national park websites I've checked today are not working, so I can't go on there to check into the current tour status for you. It will be dark early at that time of year, so plan accordingly.

You probably already know that November weather can mean snow, below freezing temps and blizzards. Check weather reports before setting out on day trips. Have emergency supplies in your car in case of a freak blizzard (we had one a few years ago that stranded over 100 vehicles on I-29 near Sisseton and Summit SD). I keep a shovel and a pair of boots in my vehicle all winter and they have been used on more than one occasion. If caught in a blizzard, stay in your vehicle. The people in the 100 vehicles all survived because they stayed put. If this is obvious info you already know, I apologize. I tell everyone coming from out of the country or from the south this information. I hope you have a safe and fun trip.

posts: 26
reviews: 2
2. Re: Itinerary Help for Mt Rushmore, Custer,and Badlands Nov. 1-3

Thanks, 3174!

Great advice on being prepared for unexpected winter weather.

I have hotel reservations in Rapid City for both Day1and Day2 but could possibly change. What would you suggest?

Day1(half day) : Mt Rushmore and Presidential Trail. Overnight where?

Day2(full day): Custer SP including Needles Hwy, Wildlife Loop, Iron Mt. Road, Mt. Coolidge, and Sylvan Lake.

Where would you start and which route would you take? To have the best chance for seeing wild sheep, should I plan to drive the Wildlife Loop Rd in the late afternoon? Where would you overnight on Day2?

Day3;Drive through Badlands to overnight in Chamberlain. Which is the best scenic route?

Thanks again for your helpful advice!

South Dakota
posts: 2,421
reviews: 144
3. Re: Itinerary Help for Mt Rushmore, Custer,and Badlands Nov. 1-3

I would take 240 through the Badlands and work your way west to east. This is the main loop and will give you a good taste of the Badlands. 240 will run back into I-90 and take that to Chamberlain.

Pick one town for your base. No need to change hotels. Normally, we don't recommend Rapid City because it's not central (see Top Question on how to pick a base), but given that you're flying in and it's winter, I think maybe Rapid would be a good choice for you. Should the weather get nasty, you'll be in a town with full year-round services and you can easily hop on I-90 on your Badlands day.

Others on here are good at suggesting routes within the Hills and can probably help you with the wildlife viewing question.

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,625
reviews: 35
4. Re: Itinerary Help for Mt Rushmore, Custer,and Badlands Nov. 1-3

Some of the hotels in the smaller towns actually close for the winter months. I know the Roosevelt Inn in Keystone is open year round, but I am not sure if Rushmore Express remains open. I believe it does close. Many restaurants also close in Keystone, so this is something else to consider. I believe Hill City lodging and restaurants are more likely to remain open. Although these smaller towns are more centrally located, Rapid City does have more services such as stores, chain restaurants and hotels, all of which are open year round. Some attractions in the Hills will be closed, but not those operated by the Parks (unless the shutdown is still in effect, which I highly doubt). Rapid City will add approximately 30 minutes of drive time to get to many of the attractions.

I have seen big horn sheep on the Wildife Loop in the late afternoon. Antelope can be found almost any time. The wild burros can be found on the loop or also on Iron Mt. Rd. You can find Mt. Goats at Rushmore, sometimes at roadside or inside the complex. When you drive Iron Mt. Rd. you will want to drive it from south to north for the best views of Rushmore. I would start at Iron Mt. Rd. From Rapid City, head to exit 60 (rt 79S) to Rt. 36 west to Iron Mt Rd. Go over the road and then head west on 244 to 385/16S to 87S (Needles Hwy). Go to Sylvan Lake and walk around if it's not too cold. Unfortunately, the lodge restaurants will be closed for the season as of 11/1, so you won't be able to dine there. Then head towards Mt. Coolidge and the Wildlife Loop. Another option might be to drive the loop 1st thing and work you way around from there.

If you haven't already done so, be sure to order the travel planner at travelsd.com. it offers a great map of the area and provides a terrific overview of the attractions.

240 is the best scenic route for the Badlands.

As 3174 mentioned, weather could be an issue. Note the scenic drives in Custer SP will most likely close if weather is inclement.

Let us know if you have further questions.

posts: 26
reviews: 2
5. Re: Itinerary Help for Mt Rushmore, Custer,and Badlands Nov. 1-3

Many thanks for your helpful suggestions!!!

6. Re: Itinerary Help for Mt Rushmore, Custer,and Badlands Nov. 1-3

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