Myself, son (20) and daughter (18) just completed our road trip through the Black Hills of South Dakota (and beyond) and thought I’d share our trip… be warned it’s long. Thanks so much to Trip Advisor members for all the help planning our trip. I will post this on the SD forum as well as the Keystone forum in hopes others will read this.
We arrived Sunday evening 7/26 in Rapid City from San Fran and rented a car to tour the western part of SD. We drove to Keystone and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express for two of the five nights of our trip. No problems at all with the flight, car rental or getting to Keystone. We were happy to get a Suburban with FlexFuel, which allowed plenty of room and some ease on the fuel costs.
We were completely delighted with the HIE, we booked a triple room, which was with two queens and a sofa bed. It was the best hotel we stayed at as it came with a wet bar, fridge and microwave. The beds were very comfortable and the room large enough for three adults. The excellent customer service, complimentary breakfast, wifi and newspaper spoiled us.
Once checked in we grabbed something to eat, then made it to the evening lighting ceremony at Mt Rushmore. We were hoping to eat at Teddy’s Deli; sadly they were closed. Since we were hungry and not picky, we walked across the street to a restaurant serving a buffet, the name which I can’t remember. Food was okay, nothing to note.
We arrived at Mt Rushmore at 8:30 in time to see the evening lighting ceremony. The walk through the Avenue of the Flags into the memorial stage area was incredibly moving. We watched the evening’s tribute to America’s history of freedom and the movie on the background of the great Presidents of the memorial. We were so thankful to be there witnessing one of the great monuments to our country.
After the program we stayed to admire the flags, take pictures of the monument, then returned to our hotel for the night. The next day’s activities included a visit to Jewel Cave.
We made advance reservations for a morning scenic tour of Jewel cave, which is only about 25 miles or so from our hotel. We had a GPS and maps to the cave; sadly though, we relied too much on the GPS, which sent us to Jewel cave via Route 16A. For those of you who don’t already know, this route is a windy path that goes through Custer State Park. Terrible mistake! Loved the scenery but this route is not for those wishing to get to their destination in a timely manner. We should have taken route 16, which bypasses the park. The good part of our trip was we toured the beautiful park in the Black Hills; the bad part was we were over an hour late for our Jewel cave tour.
Luckily on our arrival to Jewel Cave the park was able to reschedule our tour to the afternoon without a charge. So, with time in hand we drove to Custer and had lunch at the Sage Grille. We enjoyed this place, good food, great service and nice atmosphere. I’ve reviewed this restaurant; you can look this up by looking at my reviews. Since we still had time to spare, we decided to drive the Needles Scenic Highway in Custer St Park. This is a gem of a drive and we were so amazed at the landscape, this is a must see within the park.
After the drive we made it back to Custer in time to stop by the Purple Pie Place for pie. Oh my, this was a great decision, they have great pies. We especially liked the option of heated slices. After our stop we made it to Jewel cave in time for our tour.
Jewel Cave has a number of tour options; we chose the scenic tour which lasts about an hour and is the most lengthy. This cave is the second largest cave in the world; we were impressed by the tour guide who was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the cave and its history. I give a lot of credit to the National Park Service employees, they are top notch and our guide was wonderful.
After the tour we went back through Custer State Park and took the Wildlife loop back to Keystone. We enjoyed seeing prairie dogs, buffalo and burros on our way back. Once back at Keystone and the HIE, we walked to Arriba to have dinner. Nothing special, but the service was fine and the food okay.
Day three was moving day. We checked out of the HIE and traveled northwest to Wyoming to see the Devil’s Tower. On the way we stopped again at Mt Rushmore to view the monument in the daytime and visit the museum/gift shop. The nice thing about the NPS is you pay one fee for the whole year; thus, our second visit was free. We spent an hour or so at the park then onto WY to see Devils Tower.
The drive took about an hour or so, not including a stop for lunch. Along the way, my son watched the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as I had told him this featured the tower. The countryside through Wyoming was beautiful, and we were awestruck as we approached the tower. I don’t remember the park fee but it was less than $15. Once within the park we drove through a cute prairie dog patch that was much livelier than Custer’s.
I can’t say enough about the awesomeness of this place, sacred is a word that comes to mind. We took the walking path around the tower that took about an hour or so. I highly recommend doing this in order to see all the beauty of this wonderful place. We were so glad we took the time to visit; it was well worth the drive.
Our resting stop for our third night was Deadwood. We booked a double room at the Celebrity Hotel in the historic part of town. The Celebrity is a gem of a hotel; our room was immaculate and the bathroom was to die for. Again, see my separate review for this hotel. Once we arrived I went to check out the casino action. Not much going on at the Celebrity so we made our way down the main street of Deadwood to sightsee and eventually eat.
We saw one of the street re-enactment of Jack Call getting arrested for the murder of Billy the Kid. It was a fun touristy thing to see. We didn’t go along to the trial, and opted instead to eat at the Deadwood Social Club for dinner. Sadly I was disappointed with the food, although the ambience (we sat in the outside patio) and service were top-notch. I’m not sure why this place gets such good food reviews but nevertheless we had an enjoyable time on the patio.
After dinner we visited the Mineral Palace for a gamble. In South Dakota, minors are allowed to sit next to slot machines, so my son and I played a few slots and lost, of course. I proceeded to play some blackjack at the tables, which was only $2 per bet. Had an enjoyable time sitting next to real cowboys from Oklahoma!
On our fourth day we drove through Sturgis on our way to the Badlands. We hit this town at just the right time, which was about a week prior to the Motorcycle rally. We visited the tent shops and had lunch in Sturgis. It was interesting to learn about the origin of Sturgis’s motorcycle roots and Pappy Hoel.
On to Wall, where we toured the badlands. We were completely surprised and delighted to see this area of South Dakota. We took the scenic tour of the park, and were again awestruck by its beauty. The drive through the park was only an hour; sadly we hoped it would have been longer as the area was so beautiful. We ended up in Wall in the late afternoon and stayed overnight.
We should have returned to Rapid City after our tour of the Badlands; instead, we stayed overnight in Wall because we had plans to visit the Minuteman Missile national site just east of Wall. While we enjoyed visiting Wall Drug, there really wasn’t much else there for us.
On our fifth day we arrived at the Minuteman Missile National Site Visitor’s Center at 8am to get free passes to the Delta 1 Control Center tour. Once in hand, we had to drive four miles to the actual control center for the tour. This was an interesting tour given by the NPS, and once again they did a fantastic job explaining the historical significance of the Minuteman program in South Dakota. Once completed, we went down the highway another four miles to a missile site. This was a self-guided tour lasting about 30 minutes that showed a minuteman missile in its silo.
We drove back to Rapid City and went into the city in search of a museum citing Lakota Indian art. On our arrival, we found out the “art” was actually a kitschy antique shop, whereupon we passed and ventured to the Journey Museum in downtown Rapid City. This turned out to be a good visit; the museum hosts a number of interesting works from Native American and old west periods. We enjoyed this place.
With time to spare we went to a movie then had pizza at JD’s Pizza off Hwy 44. We stayed overnight at the Fairfield Inn off I90. Next morning 7/30, we caught our flight back to SFO and our vacation sadly was over.
I can’t say enough about the staff at our National Parks; we were so impressed on the great job they do and the value they provided during our trip. Thank you for reading my long trip report. I again want to thank all the TA contributors who helped us plan our trip; without you we wouldn’t have traveled this great journey.