South Dakota

Badlands National Park

While in South Dakota we visited Badlands National Park.  I have to admit I did not have very high expectations for this park.  I mean after we just spent the past month or two visiting the Tetons, Yellowstone & Glacier, I wasn’t sure anything could measure up.  I am happy to report I was wrong.  The Badlands are amazing!  It was so beautiful and so other-worldly.  I mean it seriously looked like we had landed on another planet.  Hey, that’s not such a bad idea!  If space travel ever becomes a “thing”, we might have to change our names from RoadSchoolers to GalaxySchoolers! 🙂

Anyway back on earth, here we are at the Badlands.


Beautiful hills that remind me of the painted desert in Arizona with wildflowers everywhere.


Oops, a little traffic jam caused by some pronghorn sheep that decided to walk in the middle of the road instead of on the endless miles of prairies off to the side.


This was after they decided to get off the road and let us drive by, thank you very much!


We started our hike at the Door Trail.  This is where it especially felt like or looked like walking on another planet.




Oh no, it seems we have left bear country, but we’re back in the land of rattlesnakes.  Yuck!  I’m not sure which is worse.  At least bears are cuter.


Next was the Window Trail.



And then the Notch Trail which had a fun ladder to climb.



The Notch Trail was my favorite.  Not only was the trail itself really fun with so many cool rocks to climb, but the end of the trail had a really amazing view.



Climbing back down the ladder was a little harder than climbing up, but Jesse makes it look so easy.


Afterward he wanted to sing a song on top of a rock. 😉


The last trail we hiked was the Saddle Pass trail which was a short but steep climb.  You see that pointed peak in the background?  Jesse and I climbed to the top of that!



When we reached the end of the Saddle Pass Trail, Jesse and I wanted to climb to the top of that peak, so there we are — those two little dots almost to the top.


We made it!  Now we look like one little dot at the top.


Climbing back down Saddle Pass was a lot harder than going up.  It’s like trying to walk down a dusty slide.  You might as well just sit on your butt and slide down because that’s basically how you’ll end up going down anyway. 🙂


At the end of the day, we stopped at the Visitor Center so the boys could earn their Junior Ranger badges.


On our way out of the park we passed by one of many prairie dog towns.  They are so cute!


We visited the Badlands in September, and it was a very nice day (about 80ish), but it felt really hot on some of those hikes.  I have heard that in the summer it gets well over 100 there.  So if you plan to visit, keep in mind that the middle of summer is probably not the best time to go.  I think September was great, but even October is probably very nice.

If you have ever traveled down I-90 in South Dakota, you would see many billboards advertising a tourist trap called Wall Drug.  Wall Drug is close to the Badlands so we went there after the park to check it out.  It’s basically just a bunch of shops and some restaurants, and you can buy any kind of SD souvenirs that you can imagine.  There are also lots of fun statues for the kids to play on.




That wraps up the highlights of our time in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Next up — Minnesota!

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Custer State Park and Mt. Rushmore

After leaving Montana and Wyoming we headed east to South Dakota and stayed at Custer State Park.  This park was amazing!  We all agree it should be a national park.  It’s a very big park with several different areas and campgrounds.  It’s definitely one of the coolest state parks we have been to.  I was very thankful to get a campsite there as they start taking reservations a year in advance, but I didn’t know we would be going there until about 3 months in advance.

We had lots of excitement at our campsite every day as bison came walking through.  We’re always told to never approach or go near the wildlife, but we couldn’t really help the fact that these bison were always grazing right in our campsite.  Sometimes we would be sitting outside and look up to find a bison just a few feet away!


Fat Cat was pretty scared of these things.  She wanted to run back in the house anytime she saw one.  I think she realized this animal was much too large for her to mess with.  She liked to watch from the safety of indoors.


We visited 3 different areas of this park.  First was a driving tour of the Wildlife Loop.  We saw some pronghorn sheep and bison on this loop, but honestly we thought the wildlife sightings back at our campsite were a lot more interesting.

The next evening we drove the Needles Highway.  This was an amazing drive with spectacular scenery of these tall rock formations.  I had read about this highway beforehand that mentioned 3 tunnels we would have to drive through.  The tunnels are very narrow and only one vehicle can fit through at a time.  As you know, our vehicle is rather large and we weren’t sure if we should do this drive.  The Needles Eye Tunnel is only 8’4″ wide and our truck is about 7’10” wide.  But we did it!  Chris is such a good driver. 🙂


Needles Eye Tunnel – I can’t believe we drove through this!

We hiked to the Cathedral Spires which was a beautiful hike.



Then we drove to Sylvan Lake and walked the 1 mile loop around the lake.  This was a such a fun hike because there are so many rocks to climb on!




There were also a couple of narrow passageways to walk through.


I really loved how the rocks reflected in the water like a mirror.




The next evening we drove the scenic Iron Mountain Road to go visit Mt. Rushmore.  This road also had some tunnels, but not nearly as narrow as the Needles Highway.  As we drove through the last tunnel, we could see the president’s heads in the distance.


Mt. Rushmore is one of those iconic landmarks that is a “must see” on any American road trip.



All 50 state flags are on this walkway.


The boys earned their Mt. Rushmore Junior Ranger badges.


Before we started traveling like this, I had never really given the state of South Dakota much thought.  I had no idea it is such a beautiful state with so many awesome things to do.  We visited Badlands National Park next, but I will save that for my next post.  Cheers!

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