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South Dakota Road Trip with disabled son

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South Dakota Road Trip with disabled son

We will be traveling to South Dakota later in July and wanted opinions on our plans. Our group includes 2 seniors (myself and my husband), our son who is a quadriplegic and his children (son, 18 and daughters, 16 & 14). We will be traveling in a wheelchair accessible van and have already made several road trips together. We have also cruised with our son four times so we are aware of some of the trials and tribulations awaiting us. Motel reservations have already been made. My husband and I enjoy history, but the kids aren't too thrilled with it. We all enjoy natural beauty and short hikes are possible if our son has a good waiting spot since it will be hot. This is our present itinerary:

Day 1: Drive from NE OK to Souix City, Iowa.

Day 2: Visit Souix Falls Park, brief stop at Corn Palace and then the Badlands Loop. Is the road to the prairie dog town doable in our van? End up in Wall for the night.

Day 3: Wall to Devil's Tower. How are the walks near the Tower for pushing a wheelchair? From there to Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive. Are any of the falls accessible by wheelchair? We will make a quick drive through Deadwood and then on to Hill City, our center for three days.

Day 4: Attend church services near Bear Country and Reptile Gardens. Still trying to make up our minds about which one of these or do both? Maybe a drive by Crazy Horse Memorial.

Day 5: Mount Rushmore around 9ish. Is this early enough for good lighting and what about the crowds at this time? How are the walkways for wheelchair pushing? Then on to Jewel Cave where our son and a companion will wait above ground. If we finish around 3:30, it leaves four hours of daylight for Custer State Park. We want to drive Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and the Wildlife Loop. The van is 8' wide leaving only 4" on at least one tunnel. Can we do it? How is the road surface on the Wildlife Loop?

Days 6 & 7: Travel Home.

Any suggestions to make our travel a little less complicated and more enjoyable would be appreciated?

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1. Re: South Dakota Road Trip with disabled son

Hi! I'll try to answer some of your questions:

Day 2: The road to the Prairie dog town would be doable in your van; we drove it a few weeks ago in our minivan. I've heard it's best not to drive it if it's raining though, because it can get messy. Badlands has several short hikes, but it can be very HOT especially in mid-day July. No shade that I recall near any of the hikes. In Wall, if you have extra time you may want to stop at Wall Drug. While the aisles in the little shops are very close together (not sure if they'd be wheelchair friendly or not), the backyard area is nice and open, and the main walkway through Wall Drug is very wide (although crowded, it was packed when we were there in early June).

Day 3: The main path around the base of the tower is paved, but it's a very, very steep uphill incline at the start of the path for several yards. I'm not sure if it would be possible to push a wheelchair up it or not. I will say when I walked the path, I didn't see any strollers or wheelchairs on the trail. The good news is that it's still a beautiful view from in front of the visitor center, and there are shady areas if some in your travel party would still want to walk the Tower trail (which is short--I think 1.3 miles total).

Spearfish Canyon: the falls area around Roughlock Falls was paved. The path going to the base of the falls is very steep. But they have an overview area on top of the falls that's really neat to see too. Bridal veil falls you just see from the road; it's right along the highway.

Day 4: I would recommend Reptile Gardens over Bear Country, especially for a travel party with just teens and adults. Although the plus with Bear Country is that you can drive through, and then the Babyland area is just a short walk from the parking lot. If time allows, I would also recommend you stop at Crazy Horse rather than just driving by. If you're into history, you will love the museums. There's also outdoor plaza area with a great view of Crazy Horse, and where you can sit and eat ice cream or treats...maybe this will appeal to the teens while everyone else does the museum?

Day 5: We didn't arrive at Mt. Rushmore until early afternoon at which point it was absolutely packed, so I think your idea to go there first thing is a good one. A friend of mine went to Mt.Rushmore the day after we did, and got there first thing and said it was practically empty. If you could get there around 8ish it would probably be even better:-). The walkways around the main viewing area of the monument would be fine for a wheelchair; the path around the base of it has lots of steps so wouldn't work. If you start the path on the left though I think you'd be able to go a little ways on it before hitting the steps, at least enough for a closer view of the monument.

Custer state park--it would be a tight squeeze but sounds like your van would make it through the tunnels:-). I thought the road surface of Wildlife Loop road was really good. No potholes or anything.

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2. Re: South Dakota Road Trip with disabled son

Hi! We just returned from the Black Hills/Badlands, so I can answer some of your questions.

Day 3, Devil's Tower: the trail around the base of the tower is paved, but some portions are kind of steep, esp. at the beginning. There are some "speed bumps" on the hilly portions.

Spearfish Canyon: somehow we missed Spearfish Falls, so I can't help with that. Bridal Veil Falls is right off the main road, so that's no problem. Roughlock Falls is accessed by a paved pathway, kind of hilly but not too bad. Shouldn't be a problem with a wheelchair.

Day 5, Mt. Rushmore: shouldn't be a problem for a wheelchair, except for the Presidential Trail - you can go part way on the trail, but then there are stairs.

Custer State Park, Needles Hwy, Iron Mt. Road, Wildlife Loop, and the tunnels - our rental car ended up being a Chevy Suburban, quite large, and we had no problem going thru the tunnels. People told us that tour buses can make it through the tunnels. As for your van, use your judgment. You can always turn around. Road surface on the Wildlife Loop is paved, but if you really want to see bison, you should get off on the gravel roads. The gravel roads were in pretty decent shape, no potholes, but rolling hills.

Enjoy your trip! It's such a beautiful area of the country.

Everett, Washington
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3. Re: South Dakota Road Trip with disabled son

I've pushed my wife's wheelchair up to the path around Devils Tower and while it was not super easy it was not too bad. But she is small and light and uses a Jr. size chair.

Crazy Horse is pretty much 100% accessible except for a smal area of the outside deck. Even if not into history there's a lot to interest kids and some hands-on stuff. A lot of people say view form the road but to really get a feel for the project scale you need to go in. I believe they still have a "per vehicle" price. Plenty of handicap parking spots, some van accessible, near the entrance.

The falls in Spearfish canyon are mostly viewable from the road (the ones we saw anyway) and there are parking spot viewpoints a wheelchair should be able to get to.

Rushmore, being NP run, is totally accessible in the visitor center area. I do vaguely recall that fromt he parking lot the wheelchair path that bypasses some stairs is faily long and switchback style. But not too steep.

I second the opinion if Reptile Gardens. An impressive collection and very educational.

Edited: 02 July 2010, 15:24
Pitman, New Jersey
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for Rapid City, South Dakota
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4. Re: South Dakota Road Trip with disabled son


According to the nps website, Devil's Tower's base trail is not considered handicap accessible due its steep grades as was mentioned by the other posters. I supposed you could check it out when you got there, but you may want to focus on the visitor's center and places that are a bit more accessible for your son.

If you are willing to change your schedule a bit, you could consider going to evening church services at the Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City. (http://chapel-in-the-hills.org/index.html) The church only does evening services as there is no permanent congregation. The chapel is a lovely example of Norwegian architecture. If you can I"d recommend seeing both Bear Country and Reptile Gardens, though if I had to choose, I'd go with Reptile Gardens hands down as the others have said. Also, if you like history, definitely do more than just a drive by on Crazy Horse.

Be sure to get advance reservations for your Jewel Cave, and please note that the visitor's center is quite small. If it's a nice day, your son could sit outside, but he may tire of being there while you all tour, particuarly if you attend one of the two hour treks.

The road surface on the Wildlife loop is fine, and as Mamagrumpy said, you can try some of the "dirt roads" if you so desire.

Have a wonderful trip!

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5. Re: South Dakota Road Trip with disabled son

GrandmaOkie, I also wanted to add that the Window Trail and the Door trail in the Badlands are both boardwalk rather than a dirt trail, so both would be wheelchair accesible. They're very short--I think maybe 1/4 mile each or thereabouts--but are neat because you're walking right into the Badland formations. The trailheads to both trails start at the same parking lot. Also, the Fossil Exhibit in the Badlands trail is boardwalk, and also very short.

6. Re: South Dakota Road Trip with disabled son

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