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.