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Denver to Keystone

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posts: 48
reviews: 20
Denver to Keystone

We have an early morning flight into Denver. We are going to drive to Keystone for a 4 night stay. Would it be best to stay in Keystone the entire stay or should we stay in Custer State Park for half the stay? We want to see the Badlands, Mt Rushmore, Jewel Cave, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse and anything else of interest. We are going to stay at either the Roosevelt Inn or K BarS Lodge. Any suggestions on them would also be appreciated. There are 4 adults and 2 children, ages 15 and 8. What would be the best time management itinerary?

South Dakota
posts: 2,336
reviews: 138
1. Re: Denver to Keystone

As far as which town/location, if you haven't already done so, please read the top question in the upper right corner entitled, "How do I choose a base?" Pick either Keystone or Custer State Park, but it's not necessary to change locations as they aren't that far apart.

So, if I understand this correctly, you have four nights, including the night you arrive. The drive from Denver will take most of the day (six hours, not including picking up your rental car, etc.). In my opinion, it's not a difficult drive, but it is long and boring. You will go through very isolated areas, so plan your food and fuel stops carefully. So this leaves you with three full days, correct? If you can add more time, I would do so. One more day would allow you do to Spearfish Canyon and Devil's Tower.

You do not mention what time of year you are going. Avoid the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the last few days of July and the first 2-3 weeks in August (people arrive before the official dates and stay past the official end).

Others on here are better at itineraries. Here's a rough guide for how much time to allow along with misc. comments:

-Allow a full day for Custer State Park. There are three scenic drives (Iron Mt, Needles, Wildlife Loop), a short hike around Sylvan Lake and the drive up Mt. Coolidge for great views. We usually suggest bumping one of the scenic drives to a different day because it gets to be a lot of sitting in the car. You could also swim in Legion or Sylvan Lakes (Legion is generally less crowded), but be warned the water is on the cold side.

-Allow a half day for Mt. Rushmore. I usually suggest the second half of the day so you don't have to make a second trip for the lighting ceremony. Be sure to do the Presidential Trail.

-Arrive at Jewel Cave at opening to secure tickets. You could do this on the day you visit Rushmore.

-The Badlands can be a half day or a full day, depending on what you want to do over there. The main loop can be done in 2-3 hours. If you want to hike, add more time. If you want to do a ranger program, add more time. If you want to stop at Wall Drug, add more time.

-What are your thoughts on doing the Minuteman Site? This should be done the day you do the Badlands. It is necessary to arrive at opening to secure tickets, and to do that, you should lodge at least one night in the Badlands or in Wall. If you're not interested in the Minuteman Site, retain your lodging in the Hills and just do a day trip to the Badlands.

At some point, you may want to squeeze in something touristy for the 8 y.o. He/she might like the Alpine Slide, Reptile Gardens or Bear Country.

posts: 48
reviews: 20
2. Re: Denver to Keystone

Thank you so much! We are flying into Denver on June 28th, driving to Keystone the same day, stay for 4 nights, leave on the 2nd of July. We have reservations in Coty on the 2nd for 2 nights. We are then going on to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone. So we have 3 full days. We want to go to the badlands and Wall Drug one day. Probably won't do a lot of hiking there, so I'm thinking just a day trip. Would Spearfish Canyon and/or Devils Tower be doable on the way to Coty, if we got an early start?

You gave a lot of good advise, thank you!! The link you suggested was helpful as well.

South Dakota
posts: 2,336
reviews: 138
3. Re: Denver to Keystone

If you mean Cody, WY, yes, you can get up early and do Spearfish Canyon and Devil's Tower on the way. It will fill the day.

If you just do the main loop in the Badlands, figure 3ish hours and maybe 2ish hours at Wall Drug, so 5ish hours total. Then add 2 hours for the drive over and back, for a total of 7ish hours. Depending on how full you like your days, you might be able to do a short activity in the Hills.

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,563
reviews: 35
4. Re: Denver to Keystone

With only 3 full days, you will be on a pretty tight schedule. What time does your flight arrive in Denver? On last year's trip, ours landed around 9:30 a.m.,but we never got on the road until 11 a.m. because the car rental was very slow. We arrived in Keystone at 6 p.m. and didn't make very many stops. We were really tired once we arrived. If you stay at Roosevelt Inn, or anywhere in Keystone, you might consider doing the Alpine Slide and Zipline that evening, or you might decide to head to Rushmore for the lighting ceremony. I"d personally opt for the slide. You will be tired. The drive is tedious and boring as 3174 mentions.

Here's a sample 3-day itinerary that could work:

Day1: Badlands/Wall Drug (Get an early start from Keystone). If time permits, you could take the family to Bear Country or Reptile Gardens

Day 2: Jewel Cave/Needles Hwy/Sylvan Lake/Crazy Horse (You could possibly stay for the laser light show)

Day 3: Wildlife Loop (early a.m. for the best viewing); drive Iron Mt. Rd. from south to north (best views of the monument), stopping at Rushmore. If you have time, you could always go into Rapid for another family attraction

You can see Spearfish Canyon and Devil's Tower on the way to Cody, but it will be a very full day. Get an early start. I am so glad you have 2 nights here, as you will need them to tour the world class Buffalo Bill Complex.

As for hotels, K BarS gets great reviews, but keep in mind it sells out quickly and caters to tour groups. THere's no pool, but breakfast is rated well. The Roosevelt Inn offers family suites that are very spacious, as does the Rushmore Express. I have stayed at Roosevelt and Rushmore and liked both. If you look at Rushmore Express, don't even consider any room type other than a family suite. The regular rooms looked quite dated. Rushmore and Roosevelt both have pools, but breakfasts are basic at each place. Either is workable, however. It would all depend on what's important to you. I feel that any breakfast that is included in the room rate is a plus.

If you haven't done so, be sure to order a travel planner from travelsd.com. It will give you great maps and an overview of attractions.

Let us know if additional questions arise. We'd be glad to help further.

Atlanta, Georgia
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 18,729
reviews: 296
5. Re: Denver to Keystone

Great ideas from all. Not a lot between Cheyenne and Keystone except Lusk so get your gas there and stop for lunch either north of Denver, Cheyenne or Lusk. We arrived in Denver at 10:30 am the last time we went to the Black Hills and we did not get to Keystone until about 7:30 pm.

posts: 48
reviews: 20
6. Re: Denver to Keystone

A lot of good information! Thank you!! Good to know Spearfish Canyon and Devils Tower can be done on the way to Coty!

7. Re: Denver to Keystone

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Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,563
reviews: 35
8. Re: Denver to Keystone

I hope the above itinerary for day 1 is to just include suggested activities. That's quite a bit to cram in one day. I would definitely not attempt it.

posts: 48
reviews: 20
9. Re: Denver to Keystone

Thank you for the itinerary help!! Would we be able to fit in some kayaking on any of these days, do you think? Maybe in Custer Park?

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,563
reviews: 35
10. Re: Denver to Keystone

Using the itinerary I posted for you in response #4, I'd opt to kayak on day 3. You could possibly move Sylvan Lake to day 3 and plan for it for then. Kayak rentals are also available at Legion Lake. Sylvan is gorgeous, but it can be crowded