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Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

Arizona
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Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

will be in the area the end of July. We are traveling with 2 kids, 11 & 13. We plan to see Mt. Rushmore, Custer, Wind & Jewel caves possibly Badlands and Spearfish Canyon. We love hiking, outdoorsy things. Girls might want to do a bit of Black Hills Gold shopping.

Would Hill City or Custer be better for a base? What campgrounds in those areas would you recommend for an RV that are kid friendly...pool, water slides, activities, etc.?

Also, my 13 year old really loves photography, what scenic routes would be highly recommended?

Anything else recommended for the kids?

Thanks!

Pitman, New Jersey
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for Rapid City, South Dakota
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1. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

I am not a camper, but based on your description, you might enjoy Palmer Gulch, a KOA campground between HIll City & Keystone. It has the pool and activities you mention. Many like camping in Custer State Park, but it doesn't have all the bells and whistles you mention. However, you will be rewarded with beautiful surroundings.

Hill City has several jewelry shops that your girls will enjoy.

The best scenery in the hills can be found in Custer State Park. Your 13 year old will enjoy taking pics here.

Your kids might enjoy Bear Country, Reptile Gardens, Cosmos Mystery Area, and if they are into dinosaurs, they might enjoy the Mammoth Site. If you haven't already done so, be sure to order a travel guide from travelsd.com

I'd recommend taking a ride out to Devil's Tower when you tour Spearfish.

Enjoy your trip planning, and let us know if you have further questions.

Lincoln, NE
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2. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

slrtravelplanner gave you some excellent advice. Both Wind Cave and Jewel Cave are impressive with each having different things to enjoy. Make sure you make advance reservations for Jewel. Don't forget to bring along some apples for the "wild" donkeys that are in Custer State Park. They will try to climb into an open car door and stick their heads through open car windows to get a treat. Your daughter will have a blast taking pictures of them. Also, lots of other photo ops at the park. The best pics on Iron Mt. Rd. will be if you travel it south to north. Then you can get pictures of Mt. Rushmore framed in the tunnels. For pictures of Mt. Rushmore, you should go in the morning. Then try to make it back for the very impressive night lighting ceremony.

IMO Landstrom brand of Black Hills gold jewelry is the best quality.

Chicago, Illinois
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3. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

Back when we were camping, we loved camping in Custer State Park, especially at Blue Bell Lodge. However, if you are looking for all the bells and whistles, in addition to the Palmer Gulch KOA, there is the Rafter J Bar Ranch. My sister and family camp there all the time and love it. Check out their website:

http://www.rafterj.com/

I also agree with tourist2 that Landstrom's Black Hills gold jewelry to be the better brand. Even though many consider Wall Drug to be a tourist trap, I have found some good deals for Black Hills jewelry at the stores in Wall.

Arizona
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4. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

Thanks for all the info! I think the kids have decided that they don't need all the bells & whistles, maybe just a pool. Do most campgrounds in the area have one? Is Custer area a good place to make as a home base? What activities can you combine together in a day? Would you consider the Badlands an all day trip from Custer and same with Spearfish?

Are there specific places to find the Landstrom brand of BHG?

Heard Hill City was a quaint little town to visit...opinions on that?

It look like there are a few chuck wagon/dinner theater shows in the area...which one does anyone recommend?

Thanks!

Pitman, New Jersey
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for Rapid City, South Dakota
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5. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

I don't think the Custer SP campgrounds have pools. Any campers..if I am wrong..please correct me.

Custer is a good base, although not as centralized as Hill City or Keystone. You can easily do daytrips from Custer to the Badlands and Spearfish/Deadwood/Devil's Tower. Definitely allot entire days for these attractions.

Hill City is very quaint and has a more sophisticated shopping area than the more touristy Keystone.

As for grouping activities, it would be very helpful if you post a list of attractions you'd like to see, and we can help you with a plan.

I have not done a chuck wagon dinner, but many like Blue Bell Lodge's; however, it's not a theater, and it's not the least expensive. You can also check out the Flying T and Circle B, both in Rapid CIty.

Please let us know if we can help in any other ways.

Chicago, Illinois
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6. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

The Custer State Park campgrounds do not have pools. However, the campgrounds at Sylvan and Center Lakes have nice beaches nearby. Stockade Lake does as well, I believe. There is also a beach at Legion Lake in Custer State Park . I know the Rafters J Bar Ranch Campground, noted in an earlier post, has a pool and I believe the KOA at Palmer Gulch does also. Pactola Lake and Sheridan Lake, centrally located just north of Hill City, both have campgrounds and beaches nearby.

Landstrom's BHG can be found almost anywhere throughout the Black Hills and South Dakota. Just ask for the Landstrom brand.

There are several Chuckwagon Dinners Shows to choose from. Most are held indoors in large buildings, a couple outdoors. We have attended the Flying T Chuckwagon Supper & Show (indoors) and Blue Bell Lodges Chuckwagon Hayride and Dinner and prefered Blue Bell's. The dinner was more expensive but well worth it. Food was better, good cowboy entertainment throughout the whole evening from start to finish and held outdoors, rain or shine. The price includes a covered wagon ride to and from the dinner and a souvenir cowboy hat and bandana.

If you have not already done so, order the free SD Travel Guide at

http://www.blackhillsbadlands.com/

It takes a couple of weeks to get but if you order right away you should get it in time. It is full of valuable information that will help you plan your trip activities.

Wausau, Wisconsin
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7. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

If you camp at custer state park and enjoy fishing, get a day fishing license and fish for a day. Few campers are aware that those little ponds at the campgrounds for swimming, are stocked with fish. The ponds don't look like much, but we caught our limit one afternoon of rainbow trout. Bigger fish at sylvan lake. Don't forget to watch national treasure two, see where they stick their hand to open the passage. Enjoy.

Arizona
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8. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

Thank you all for you helpful information!

So, it looks like we will be leaving Swan Valley, ID and making our way to Cody, WY. We will stay there 1-2 nights. From there we will head to SD through Spearfish. We will possibly stay the night there and see the area. Any hiking trails recommended near Spearfish? From Spearfish we will head down to the Custer area. Any scenic routes not to be missed along the way or any for that fact? This is where I need a little help...we will be in that area for about 3-4 full days. These are some of the things that we would like to see: Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Badlands, Custer State Park and some Black Hills Gold Shopping. What would be the best or most efficient way to group these activities? Any other recommendations for 13 & 11 year olds who like to get out for an adventure? The kids found something on Big Thunder Gold Mines...is this worth it? We like pretty much anything...hiking, biking, scenic, animals, anything adventuresome, some shopping.

Thanks for all your help!

Chicago, Illinois
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9. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

Spearfish Canyon in the northern Hills (Spearfish/Deadwood/Lead area) is a "must see" with some nice hiking trails. The canyon is gorgeous with several beautiful waterfalls (Roughlock, Spearfish and Bridal Veil Falls). The Roughlock Trail to the falls is an easy hike about a mile long. There are also several others trails in the canyon that are longer and moderate to difficult hikes; Little Spearfish, Rimrock and Old Baldy trails to name a few. There is also a short, easy hike to Spearfish Falls, behind the Latchstring Inn across from the Spearfish Canyon Lodge. The Lodge or Inn can probably provide location information for all the trails. The George Mickelson Trail is a beautiful hiking and biking trail which stretches over 100 miles from Deadwood in the north to Edgemont in the southern hills. Bikes can be rented at several locations: Rushmore Bicycles in Spearfish, Deadwood Bicycles in Deadwood (all in the northern Hills) and Rabbit Bike in Hill City (central Hills area) just to name a few. This bike trail is worth doing. We rented through Rabbit Bike and were very pleased. I have included their website for you: http://www.rabbitbike.com/

Deadwood is a very historical town with several worthwhile museums (Adams Museum, Adams House to name a few) and the Mount Moriah Cemetery where Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane and other "wild west" characters are buried. The Saloon# 10, although a bar, is a museum in itself and a place you can take your child into during day hours. The Broken Boot Goldmine is located in Deadwood and IMO, is more interesting than the Thunderhead Falls Goldmine. A great place for horse trail riding in the Spearfish Canyon area is Andy's Trail Rides. Not your typical head to tail, follow-the-leader ride. Andy's is also reasonably priced. Andy's website: http://www.andystrailrides.com/

When you are in the central and southern Black Hills, plan on devoting at least two days, and possibly 3, in the Custer State Park area, especially since you like to hike. I would plan on spending a whole day in the Sylvan Lake/Needles area. There are some great hiking trails throughout the Black Hills but especially in this area. I highly recommend any of the trails to Harney Peak, Little Devil's Tower and the Sunday Gulch Trail. Harney Peak and Little Devil's Tower each have fantastic views at the end. You can continue on to Harney Peak from the Little Devil's Tower trail. Sunday Gulch is difficult the first half but moderate the last half and is absolutely gorgeous (our favorite trail). For something adventuresome you might be interested in Sylvan Rocks Climbing. Our kids did this and absolutely loved it. It was the highlight of their trip that year and they have all since gone on to being rock climbing enthusiasts. Website for Sylvan Rock Climbing: http://sylvanrocks.com/ You could go to Mt. Rushmore in the morning (best time for photo opts) and then head on over to Sylvan Lake and the Needles.

You will find wildlife throughout the Black Hills, especially in Custer State Park (CSP). The Wild Loop Road is where you will usually find the biggest concentration of bison herds, pronghorns, prairie dog towns, elk, deer, the begging burros, etc. During the hot summer months early morning or late afternoon to dusk the animals are more active and easier to spot. You ususually will find the bison throughout the park, though. Also watch for the Bighorn Sheep in CSP and mountain goats usually spotted in the Mt. Rushmore area. Wind Cave can be planned for a day you are in the southern portion of CSP. It is not far from the Wild Loop Road's south entrance. Blue Bell Lodge is not far from the Wild Loop Road either. They have a great trail ride at the the Blue Bell Stable. I suggest you make reservations if you plan to trail ride with them. You could also take in Blue Bell's Chuckwagon Dinner on this day. Again, you will need to make reservations.

Jewel Cave is west of CSP and could be included the same day you go to Crazy Horse. Hit Crazy Horse in the morning and make early afternoon reservations for Jewel Cave or vice versa. Hit some of the shops in Custer while you are in town.

Iron Mountain Road can be driven on any of these days. Just make sure to drive it during daylight hours, from the south to north. It is about an hour or so drive. Shopping in Keystone and/or Hill City could be fit in wherever you find time while in the Mt. Rushmore/Custer State Park area. You might also want to return to Mt. Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. That can be done any evening you find the time.

We usually spend a 1/2 to 3/4 of a day in the Badlands. If hiking, go early. It gets very hot in July. We have hiked most of the trails in the Badlands. I have included another website describing the trails. We like them all but I would probably recommend the Door Trail for first time hikers that are relatively fit.

Website: www.badlands.national-park.com/hike.htm

Wall Drug is a huge souvenir shop that some find kitchy. It is, but a fun place and something you need to see at least once. Souvenirs of every kind; cheap to high end. (Pick up a free Wall Drug sign!) Check out some of the other stores on the main drag also. I am sure your kids will have a ball shopping here. As I said in a previous post, we have gotten some good deals on Black Hills Gold in Wall.

Arizona
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10. Re: Camping Sites-Hill City or Custer Area?

Wow Mt Mama...thank you so much for all your information. I will look it over and if I have any other questions I will let you know!

Thanks again!