This may sound a little weird, but this was one of my favorite trips. South Dakota was a blast! We hit some great spots! A little something for each of us.
Timing it Right
Crowds are not for me, so we plan our trips in the off seasons. Sandy just so happens to have a birthday mid-September. Perfect timing for a birthday trip, don’t ya think?
September is still warm enough to camp outside, the bugs have died off a bit, as have the crowds. Parks are still open and reservations are easier to get. I did notice that when we were planning this trip that the earlier season camping slots were filling up fast. Thankfully we had ‘pick of the litter’ so to speak with our later date. If you are planning to go during the warmer months, book early to get your very best site.
From our little town in Minnesota, we had a 9 hour drive to Custer State Park. We broke that up between one evening and part of the following day. This meant a bonus park!!
We stayed at the Palisades State Park in South Dakota. It was great! We had made our reservation ahead of time and arrived late at night. Pitched our tent in the dark and slept hard that first night. Sandy was excited about our bonus camp night. Our Day 1 was really a short day of only driving.
Palisades State Park
This park really turned into a great little spot! In the morning we had a look around and found a little hiking trail to explore before hitting the road. Sandy climbed up some of the little cliffs and came upon some clam shells. She came up with many theories as to how they made there way up so high. Great imagination! If you are looking for a little park for a short trip close to Sioux Falls this one might be the ticket for short weekend or a one-nighter.
Camping at Custer
Gorgeous!!! This state park is truly stunning. The views are breathtaking. I took photos but my simple cellphone camera didn’t do it justice. I may need to invest in a higher quality camera if I am to really capture the beauty of these amazing places.
We stayed at the Sylvan Lake campground, lot 16. I was a little apprehensive while making this reservation. It’s not really my style of camping. I’m used to the pack-in/pack-out style of camping. You know, the kind of camping that takes you miles away from civilization. But I was thoroughly impressed with this campsite. Sylvan Lake Campground is at the northwestern tip of Custer. It’s basically it’s own section of state park, it’s clear in the map. Click the link to check it out.
Camp set up was quite simple, and we really didn’t need much in the way of prep. In fact, there was already a space cleared and leveled for our 4-person tent. It fit perfectly, such luxury!
After camp was set up, it was time to explore our surroundings. And boy did we!! We climbed with our newly 7 year-old way up the giant rock next to our camp. For Sandy, this was quite impressive.
The hike around Sylvan Lake was unreal, in parts it felt fake. Like we were in some kind of fairytale. We also passed an area being set up for a wedding, that will be a very memorable destination wedding for that couple. There were so many nooks and crannies to check out and climbable places to get a better vantage point. This hike isn’t really that long, but with all of the things to see, it really took a while to make the loop. At the end of this little route, there is a little gift shop where Scott was able get his coffee fix for the morning.
**Hiking Tip** Watch out for the Squirrels! We were yelled a few times by them, we actually thought it was a bird, we had never heard a squirrel make that noise before.
Time to Eat
Adventuring sure does make your hunger peak. Scott’s main goal on a trip is to find a great meal. We took Sandy to the Watiki Waterpark in Rapid City, this is we were able to find Dakotah Steakhouse. Scott had the Buffalo Burger, delicious! A perfect meal after spending the day meandering about in Sylvan Lake.
I woke first on the morning of day three to a view that I did not expect. It was so calm and peaceful. Having a few moment to myself to soak in the morning was just what I needed to fuel me for the rest of the day. I do not think we could have found a better campsite at Sylvan Lake.
As most of the day two was spent in the Sylvan lake area, we had the rest of Custer Park to do on day three. That was a lot of ground to cover in one day.
Wildlife Loop Road
If you have a lot of ground to cover in a shorter amount of time, I suggest driving the Wildlife Loop Road. It goes around the whole park with areas for overlooks and short trails to explore.
Some of the best views that we had were at random unplanned stops along the way. Some had unique rock stacking, signs for the kids to read, and some small areas with ruins.
After a time Scott and I were being asked where all the animals were. It is true that we didn’t see any right away, with the exception of the rodents back at camp, but there had to be more critters than that! At long last, when we were on the southwestern portion of the trail we came around the bend and BOOM! Buffalo! We only saw 3 buffalo on our whole trip, but it was truly something to see them out in the wild. We also got a glimpse of the little prairie dogs and some pronghorn. All of these critters were found in areas we were not looking for them in. So stay ALERT!
This is a MUST for a western South Dakota trip. The Purple Pie Place. Complete with a purple pig! I usually order my basic chocolate or french silk pie when in the mood for pie, always afraid of being disappointed. But I went out on a limb and ordered Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. It was probably the best pie that I have ever had, Chocolate or otherwise. I highly recommend this slice ala mode. The rich creamy ice cream is a perfect accent!
Crazy Horse & Mount Rushmore
Crazy Horse is still under construction but it was still worth the stop. This was actually not a planned stop, we happened to see a sign for it on our way to get pie. It was worth a stop. At this location there is a museum with so much Native American history packed inside. They have many artifacts on display, we were lucky enough to catch one of the presentations outside in the square. You can see a finished model of the Crazy Horse monument in the square as well, Sandy thought this was pretty cool.
Mount Rushmore is of course such a traditional stop on the trip. Parking was a little difficult in the afternoon, arriving earlier in the day may be the way to go. As it was the off season, the crowds were small and we were able to view the indoor area with less hassle.
After a great 3 days, it was time to head home. This is a great little getaway for a long weekend. If we decide to do this trip again, which is highly likely, we will certainly be making our plans for September.