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Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

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West Des Moines...
posts: 610
reviews: 24
Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

I will be making my first trip to the area and am mostly interested in seeing the sights in person to take some pics and just soak in the natural beauty. Trip started as plan to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse so they are must do's. I may be traveling alone (34, F) or may have a friend joining but no children. I have never really hiked so probably not going to attempt it alone in July which is Hot! Starting in Des Moines, spending first night in Sioux Falls, then probably do the Badlands scenic loop on the way to Rapid City. I am staying in Rapid City because I have points for free hotel nights. I thought I was fairly centrally located to the main attractions but reading on here, I worry about all of the driving honestly. Also some of the scenic byways that I want to do sound a bit scary for someone who will be distracted by the sights around her. All of that being said, I need some help with the timing of my iten. I was planning 2 nights in Rapid City but I can extend to 3 if needed. I am open to doing 1 cave but its not a deal breaker if I don't make it either. Would I be better off with an organized tour with guide (which I enjoyed from LV to Grand Canyon) for some of the sites such as Needles and the Wildlife Loop? Do I really have time to include Spearfish Canyon to the North or Devils Tower? Also open to a Gold Mine tour possibly and the Rushmore Tramway and/or Alpine Slide sounds cool. Since staying in Rapid City, I would like to go downtown and see the Presidential statues and I want to see Mount Rushmore both at day and night. There is a wealth of information available and I have ordered travel guides and poured over the sites (not just TA). I read that everything is close by but then I read that I may spend all of my time in the car???

Atlanta, Georgia
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 15,266
reviews: 256
1. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

There are some sample trip plans in the Black Hills travel guide at-

www.travelsd.com

You should plan on at least one day at Custer SP which includes Sylvan Lake, Needles Hwy, Iron Mt. Rd and wildlife loop. Great lunch buffet at State Game lodge and Blue Bell lodge.

You can do Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse in one day. Might also drive up Spearfish Canyon and on to Deadwood before heading back to Rapid City.

Don't know about Devils Tower because we've visited on the way from Black Hills to Yellowstone.

The DE is excellent and I's sure will give you lots of info.

Enjoy your trip!!

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,229
reviews: 35
2. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

Hi,

It's a great idea to see the Badlands enroute to the area, as it will ultimately save time. You might be able to make the trip out to Spearfish Canyon and Devil's Tower, but I think you will need to add that extra night you spoke of. However, as you read on, you might decide to just take it easy and not go quite that far. With a short timeframe like yours, I typically don't recommend this, as there's plenty to see in the central hills.

As far as spending all the time in the car, I don't agree with that assessment at all. However, if the person likes an "all-inclusive" such as Disney or a Carribbean resort, they might feel that way. We are fly/drive road trippers and have done huge loops in states (i.e. Grand Circle tour in Utah, Oregon, Washington state), and honestly, SD was the easiest by far. Everything is in about a 2 hour radius, and really not further at all even if you stay in Rapid City.

Possibly travelling alone, I can understand your concerns about the roads. The Wildlife Loop is very open; you obviously have to watch for the animals, but the road is simple. Iron Mt Rd and Needles are a bit more challenging, but certainly do-able if you take your time. Of course, you will probably not get to see as much as you will be driving. Therefore, I understand your being curious about a tour. I have never done one, but I have found a link to some companies here:

http://www.mountrushmoreareatours.com/

Be sure to watch the video after you click on the bottom link (Mt Rushmore Tours). It will give you a great idea on the roads in the area and what they are like. Naturally, if you take a tour, it will eat up a touring day, but you will accomplish a lot and you could always return to a place by your own vehicle if you choose. Since you are not a hiker, the tour may be a good option for you. I don't advocate tours for families, but I think your case is a bit different.

Custer State Park also has a Jeep Safari which is like a back country tour and takes you up close to the Wildlife. This might be of interest. Here's a link:

www.custerresorts.com/about/things-to-do/

The good thing about the roads is that they don't seem high..just windy.. Heights bother me more.

Here's a possible sample itinerary:

Day 1...Badlands Loop

Day 2...Tour to include Crazy Horse/Rushmore/Custer State Park

Day 3....Devil's Tower/Spearfish

If you decide to not do a tour, I'd probably drop Devil's Tower and try this:

Day 1...Badlands

Day 2...Wildlife Loop (early am), Iron Mt Rd (drive from south to north) to Rushmore. Alpine Slide.. Lighting ceremony at Rushmore

Day 3...Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, Needles Hwy, Sylvan Lake--Make advance reservations at Jewel, especially since you are coming in July.

If know you said you aren't a hiker, but try to take some time to walk the shore of Sylvan Lake. It's a gorgeous and so easy.

Hope this helps. Please let us know if you have additional questions.

West Des Moines...
posts: 610
reviews: 24
3. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

Thank you for the additional information. A lot to think about and decide!

West Des Moines...
posts: 610
reviews: 24
4. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

Here is my rough draft itenerary, let me know your thoughts on if it is too much or too little on certain days. We added days to the trip and it got more spread out since my friend is interested in joining me and wanted to add the Little House Pageant on Sunday and then I saw that Thursday has a Native American Dance and Drums show in CSP that sounded fun.

Day 1/Sunday

Drive to Sioux Falls and explore Falls Park and their downtown sculpture walk/have lunch

**Drive up to DeSmet to explore Little House homestead areas and settle in for Pageant that evening.

Day 2/Monday

Drive across South Dakota and do Family Detour in Stickney to see grave/headstone. Won't be an all day thing but do not want my friend to feel rushed so thinking of doing Badlands a different day.

Stop at Wall Drug and possibly Wounded Knee massacre museum and also the Minuteman Missile Site?

Arrive in Rapid City and explore the downtown area with the Presidents sculpture walk. There is also a park in that city that has a piece of the Berlin Wall which is kind of randomly interesting.

Day 3/Tuesday

Drive over to Mount Rushmore via detour so can drive north on Iron Mountain Road

Obviously explore the national monument for a couple of hours including the museum and sculptors studio, 2 viewing terraces and the presidents walk with some stairs to get up closer for different angles/views. There is also a small Lakota historical village on site?

Do the Mount Rushmore Tramway up to a nearby mountain top restaurant and gardens (best burgers i hear) and do the alpine slide or tramway back down. I think the tramway will be an interesting aerial view of the area that we would not normally get?

Drive over to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Native American Museum, explore for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

Depending on time, head to Jewel Cave National Site for a cave tour that includes steps. Buy tickets in advance due to time of year and limit the wait.

Head back to Mount Rushmore to see after dusk/dark. Depending on time, we may need to add an activity in here possibly? I am thinking stop in Hill City and tour the Teddy Bear Town collection as my friend is a collector of teddy bear stuff herself.

Day 4/Wednesday

Head back East an hour or so to do the driving tour of Badlands National Park and maybe some simple hikes/walks? It would be 2 hours to the north from there to see Spearfish Canyon/Deadwood area then an hour drive back to Rapid City. Possibly do Journey Museum and /or Black Hills Gold Factory tour in Rapid City instead of going North? Not sure of timing of all of these things so basically just ideas at this point. Friend is a big fan of jewelry so added that idea for her.

Day 5/Thursday

Tour Custer State Park, Needles Hwy, Wildlife Loop (have apples or something for the begging burros), Sylvan Lake, Harney Peak, Mt Coolidge Fire Tower Lookout (I read this morning that if you go to the top of Mt Coolidge you can see Crazy Horse pointing at you!).

That evening stay in Custer State Park and head to State Game Lodge for the 6pm Woyotan Wacipi Dinner Show.

Day 6/Friday

Drive back home

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,229
reviews: 35
5. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

For the most part, I think your plans are do-able. There are a few exceptions, however.

I have not been to DeSmet, but it looks like DeSmet is about 2 hours for Stickney, and from Stickney to Wall is about 3.5 hours. Trying to fit in Wall Drug, the Minuteman Site, and Wounded Knee museum this day may be a little too ambitious. Then you want to head to Rapid and explore the downtown. This would be too much for me in one day. I'd add at least one of the following (Wall Drug, Minuteman or Wounded Knee) to your Badlands day instead of making the drive from the Badlands up to Spearfish and then back to Rapid. Once again, to me this is too much for one day.

In order to fit in your activites on day 3, you will need an early start. You were wondering about an activity for before the lighting ceremony. Personally, I'd look forward to sitting down for dinner and relaxing after a busy day. If you are looking to eat in Keystone near the monument, I highly recommend Big Time Pizza. Although casual, we found it to have the best pizza we have encounrted anywhere. If you have time and energy for the bears, you can keep it in place. It's very smart to make advance reservations at Jewel. These can be done a week in advance.

I have not done the Mt. Coolidge Fire Tower hike, so I really can't comment there.

I hope this is helpful and gives you a bit more to consider. Please let us know if you have more questions.

West Des Moines...
posts: 610
reviews: 24
6. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

From what I have read and seen on YouTube, it is a gravel road drive to Mt Coolidge...the Harney Peak trail hike though is going to take half a day itself I read so not sure about that at this point since we are not really hikers to start with.

Thanks for the advice. I have pretty much mentally eliminated the Northern Hills detour.

**We are actually staying in Sioux Falls on Night 1 and not DeSmet (again due to free hotel rooms with our points). I know its about a 2 hour drive from DeSmet and we will be backtracking a bit then on Day 2 for the driving part but it is just what we have to do. Stickney is less than 10 miles off of I-90 and so not too much of a detour but I see your point with adding some stuff to the day we do the Badlands.

West Des Moines...
posts: 610
reviews: 24
7. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

After careful consideration, here is the revised itinerary, please share any thoughts or suggestions or hints.

As a reminder, 2 women, non-hikers, ages 35 & 50. We have decided to skip in Sioux Falls to give us more time in the hills. Staying in Rapid City with free hotel room using loyalty points. We have deliberately eliminated any cave tours as my friend gets a bit claustrophobic.

Monday, Day 1, Drive straight through from West Des Moines (approx. 10 hours), stop in Stickney, etc. for family cemetary tour. Relax at hotel with late dinner after long drive.

Tuesday, Day 2, drive Wildlife Loop in AM (how early do we need to be out there to see animals??), possibly include Mt Coolidge fire tower drive as well after looking at the park map, then up north along Iron Mountain Rd to Keystone/Mt Rushmore, do tram-ride up mountain to Summit Grille scenic lookout for lunch and do alpine slide down then go and explore Mt Rushmore itself in the afternoon. Head to Hill City for Chuckwagon Cowboy Dinner and Show with shootout.

Wednesday, Day 3, drive West to Crazy Horse in the morning, then do Needles Hwy scenic drive on way back and walk around Lake Sylvan. I think we have some extra time this day so maybe hit Bear Country on way back to Rapid City. Spend evening in downtown area for City of Presidents.

Thursday, Day 4, final day, drive East 1 hr to Badlands in AM for scenic tour, go back to Rapid City for Cosmo Mystery tour and then do free Black Hills Gold Factory tour. Head south to Custer State Park to State Game Lodge by 6pm for Woyotan Wacipi Dinner Show.

Friday drive back to West Des Moines with stop at Wall Drug.

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,229
reviews: 35
8. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

I like the new plan. Your days will be a nice pace, and you certainly won't be bored.

Please let us know about the Woyotan show. It's pretty new, and we haven't heard much about it.

For the wildlife loop, ideally, you couldd arrive by 7, but I think you will still see plenty of animals even if you arrive a little later.

Let us know if you have additional questions.

West Des Moines...
posts: 610
reviews: 24
9. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

Thanks!! I think I am leaning now towards the Fort Hays Chuckwagon vs. Circle B in Hill City. Blue Bell sounds nice but is double the $$ and since we are staying in Rapid City, Fort Hays might be more convenient. Plus their website says we would be done in time to see Mt Rushmore Lighting?

I read somewhere about some old west shootouts in Keystone but cannot seem to find any information. Is it only on holidays? We will be there the week after the 4th.

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
posts: 4,229
reviews: 35
10. Re: Staying in Rapid City, first time to SD/Black Hills/Badlands

I am not sure on the exact time either, and I found nothing as well. If you call the Keystone Chamber of Commerce, they could probably tell you if no one chimes in with any info.