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Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

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Ohio
posts: 236
reviews: 18
Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

I returned last weekend from my Caravan Tours - Mt. Rushmore / Yellowstone / Grand Tetons trip. www.caravan.com/tour/usa-mount-rushmore When I was planning my trip I had a hard time finding any info on Caravan Tours, so I thought I'd post a review for anyone who is interested. I'll start my review here and continue on the specific forum as I go. I got a lot of great info from people on this board - so thank you.

I flew into Rapid City a day early to do some exploring on my own. The tour had us staying at the Radisson in Rapid City and I will post a review. They have a free shuttle from the airport, which was very convenient. The hotel was centrally located in downtown Rapid City and there were great restaurants and bars within walking distance. This hotel had sleep number beds. It was nice to try one, and I used a different setting each night, but I don’t think I will be investing in one. It would have been nice to have the option of a room with a regular mattress. I had reserved a car through Black Hills Car Rental - great company to work with. They dropped the car, keys and paperwork off at the hotel.

After having a light dinner and beer at Firehouse Brewery, I drove to Mt. Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. I had free parking since the last person to use my rental car left their parking receipt in the window. What a nice bonus. The lighting ceremony includes about a 10 min ranger talk / movie and flag lowering ceremony by any Vets in the audience. As this was 9/10 - a bit more moving in light of the next day's significance. The lights gradually come up on the mountain. It was very pretty and I'm glad that I got a chance to see it.

Sun. morning - I was up fairly early since I was on East coast time. I drove out to the Badlands. It took just about an hour to get there, very easy drive and no traffic to speak of on an early morning. Once in the Badlands, I drove the Hwy 240 loop. I want to say this was about 30 miles. I took the time to pull off at many of the pulls outs and scenic overlooks. Pictures and words do no do this area justice. It was an amazing day, cool, clear sky, and a slight breeze. Absolutely perfect to enjoy the awesome rock formations. I'm not much of a hiker but did enjoy doing some of the boardwalk walks. I spent some time at the visitor center.

After leaving the Badlands - I drove into Wall and stopped at Wall Drugs. Yes it is a tourist mecca, but still a nice place to kill some time and pick up souvenirs and post cards. I had a light lunch and then headed back to Rapid City.

Once back in Rapid City, I had time to do Bear Country USA. I really enjoyed it. During my planning, I was debating doing the Badlands and Bear Country or spending the day in Custer State Park. I'm glad I picked the Badlands and Bear Country and would have loved to be able to fit in Custer as well, but was limited by time. I was able to see all of the animals at Bear Country. I probably spent at least 30 min in the bear area, just watching and getting some good pics. I had to wait while one of the bears circled my car. I was amazed that they came so close. The babies were really cute to watch as well. Afterwards, I headed back to the hotel. I had dinner at Sanford's http://thegrubandpub.com/Menu.aspx. This was the best dinner that I had in Rapid City. Really good food, huge menu (size and selection), great service, and really good prices. Sun. evening they had a special $3 off all steaks.

Our tour group had a 8 pm orientation meeting where we met our guide, driver, and fellow travelers. It turned out that we had a great group - mixed ages from mid 30's up to late 80's. Two were from Toronto and the rest from across the US - coast to coast, north to south.

Mon. morning - breakfast included at Radisson. Service was very poor and the hotel was not able to keep up with all the people having breakfast. I'm not sure why this was - the hotel knew how many people were staying there and how many had breakfast included. There were multiple tour groups staying here - another Caravan tour, Tauck, & Globus. After breakfast, we boarded the bus and drove out to the Crazy Horse memorial. http://www.crazyhorsememorial.org/ If you are out in this area, do not miss it!! I watched the movie about the process of making this sculpture. It is incredible what one man and his family have created. There is a bus that takes you up closer to the memorial, but I did not do this. The visitor center has great displays along with a lot of the sculptor's other works. There were also Native American's set up selling their crafts and jewelry. I really enjoyed the time there. I think we had about 2 1/2 hours here.

After Crazy Horse - we headed to Mt. Rushmore. It really looks quite different by day and I was able to appreciate the details more. We had 3 1/2 hr. here - including time for lunch. Try the bison hot dog - it tasted just like a regular hot dog. I didn't see these anywhere else on the trip. Others in the group also enjoyed the bison chili and bison stew. There is one surviving carver of Mt. Rushmore and he has written a book. Nick Clifford is 90 years old and was in the gift shop signing the books. If he is there when you are there - take time to stop and talk to him. He had some great stories.

We then headed back to the hotel. Our tour director (Greg) had the bus driver drive around the Rapid City downtown and pointed out different restaurants, bars, etc. before heading back to the hotel. This was nice and he continued to do this in every town we stayed in. It really gave a brief overview and let us know what was in walking distance. I tried Ixtapa – a Mexican restaurant next to Sanford’s. It was good as well. Slightly higher in price that I expected, but still good. There is a grocery store just behind the hotel. Many in our tour group stopped here to pick up beer / wine / etc. for the trip. The prices were very good – much cheaper than Ohio.

Mon. morning, we had to have bags out in the hallway by 6:45am and the bus left at 7:45. It was early but we headed out towards Sheridan. This was the longest day of driving on the bus. We stopped for lunch at the Sheridan Inn. They are in the process of restoring the inn and right now, the hotel is not functioning. We had a nice buffet lunch include with the tour. After lunch – we had time to browse a bit. Make sure you stop in the old saloon. There really isn’t much to see and we headed back on the bus towards Little Bighorn Battlefield. Review continued under Montana Forum.

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,263
reviews: 35
1. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

Thank you for sharing this with us. It's good to hear about tour groups, as many do these trips on their own. However, there always seems to be questions about tours. It sounds like this group didn't hurry you, which is good. I think that's what many of us don't like about organized tours...not being able to see things on your own schedule.

The Badlands are wonderful, and I am glad you got to spend ample time at Crazy Horse. Many are satisfied by doing a drive by, but as you have told us, the story behind the monument is really interesting.

Thanks again for sharing your travels!

Atlanta, Georgia
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 15,553
reviews: 256
2. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

Thanks for sharing your review of the tour.

N. Idaho
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park
posts: 9,710
reviews: 67
3. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

I've enjoyed reading your whole state-to-state tour report. Thanks so much! Sounds like you all saw a lot but were not really a forced march like some tours seem to do. I like that the bus oriented you to restaurants in the area. That is very nice. AND very cool that you had a leftover parking tag for Mt Rushmore!

Doesnt it amaze you that hotels know exactly who they have staying but then don't staff for it? Good grief!

Pam

Providence,RI
posts: 67
reviews: 43
4. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

I enjoyed reliving our Caravan Tour (8-15 to 8-22-11) of same area through your trip report. Fortunately our weather was much better so we were able to get many great pictures. Caravan does a great job and we plan on going back in 5 to 10 years to view the progress at Crazy Horse. We paid the $4 bus fee for a closer look and opportunity to pick up piece of rock at foot of Crazy Horse monument. The tour director gave us tidbits about what we were seeking as we drove along the road; Buffalo jumps used by the Indians to run them off cliffs to use as food and shelter for the winter, strip mining for coal,oil refinery that leaked fuel into Yellowstone River,Irma Hotel and Pagoda House, movies shot in area, etc.

Edited: 4:34 pm, September 28, 2011
Missouri
posts: 8
reviews: 51
5. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

Thank you for taking the time to do a review of your tour. Doing research for our vacation next summer and appreciate the information.

North Carolina
posts: 37
reviews: 6
6. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

Great review. Look forward to reading about the rest of your trip on other forums. I am planning to take my 84 y/o mother on this trip this summer. Glad to see there were a range of ages on your tour.

Ohio
posts: 236
reviews: 18
7. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

I'm glad to see that others have enjoyed my review. I think you and your mother will have a great time. I'll looking into taking Caravan's Canadian Rockies / Glacier National Park trip next summer.

North Carolina
posts: 37
reviews: 6
8. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

Where did you drop off your car? I just booked the trip and the extra night at the Radisson. Now going to book the car for the day. Wanted to make sure car drop-off is as easy as the pick up!

Also, when you mentioned the parking pass, was that for the hotel or for the Mt. Rushmore site?

Thanks so much.

Ohio
posts: 236
reviews: 18
9. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

I used a local car rental (Black Hills Car Rental) and I was able to pick it up and drop it off at the front desk of the hotel. I took care of all the arrangements over the phone but never actually saw anyone from the rental agency. The company was super easy to work with.

For the parking pass, yes that was for Mr. Rushmore. It is free to visit Mt. Rushmore but parking costs $15.00.

North Carolina
posts: 37
reviews: 6
10. Re: Trip Report - Caravan Tours Mt. Rushmore 9/10 - 9/18/11 long

Thank you for the info!