Last year was the 100 year anniversary of the national park services, so to celebrate we took a long road trip all the way to Yellowstone! We live near Columbus Ohio so that was a lot of miles we covered, over 3,000 round trip… Every state we passed through had different landscape and places of interest that we could stop at. I will take you through our trip and try to recall as many details as possible.
The first new state for me was Minnesota, wow all that wide open space! Philip is from Minnesota originally but I had not had the opportunity to travel there, we stopped at a few rest stops and admired the views. We did stop and see the “Green Giant statue” in Blue earth Minnesota, it was a short stop but we liked the little grassy area and butterfly garden that you could walk around and it really was great to get out and stretch. Next state South Dakota
The next state we drove through was South Dakota. This state was also wide open spaces, we covered so much ground because the speed limit was 85 mph on the highway and people knew how to use the pass lane and be mindful of other drivers (loved it). Another little trick we used for keeping on the road, was to pack a cooler with yogurt and cheese-sticks, a few drinks and fruit/snacks. Without having to stop all the time for lunch we saved time and stayed on the highway.
The first night in South Dakota we stayed in Mitchell, SD home of the “famous Corn Palace” and we did stop and tour it, a lot of history about the area and a lot of corn art! We ate at the Cattleman’s association, a good place for steak and a relaxing dinner.
We found that as we drove further towards the West side of South Dakota we passed not only miles of sunflowers and other crops, we also passed hundreds of billboards advertising for attractions that were hundreds of miles down the road. We drove past most of the attractions, example “1880 town” “petrified rock garden”. My favorite billboard advertised “WALL DRUGSTORE-Home of the 5¢ coffee” naturally I was curious what a 5¢ cup of coffee would taste like.
We finally got to the Badlands National Park, the weather was perfect and even though it was a high tourist season (late July/mid August) the lanes to get into the park moved smoothly and almost no wait time. The scenery was so calm and still,we just looked around and took a few short trails, I noticed a rattlesnake in the grass right off the boardwalk! We did notice that people didn’t follow the “stay on the path” signs or the “beware of the snakes “signs either, which is sad, so many people let their children run around and leave the trails and I worried about their safety. We took the scenic route and stopped at several pullout points and even got to see a few big horned sheep and a whole prairie dog town, they are chirpy little animals.
We chose to purchase the Annul National Park Pass-for $80 at the park toll booth.
We loved the Badlands,make sure to drink lots of water because you will get hot and thirsty!
After leaving the park we drove into town and went to Wall Drug, this place was amazing and very busy. They had a old-fashion soda fountain,homemade donuts, gifts and souvenirs, a cafe where we got a bison burger and a donut for lunch. My favorite part of course was the 5¢ self serve coffee, I may have cashed in a quarter for nickels just so I could buy a cup… It was great!
Close by we drove to Wind Caves National Park.We toured the caves and originally intended to go on the candle light tour but it was sold out by the time we got there. We went on the Natural Entrance cave tour and went a few stories down and saw crystals and other cave formations. If you are visiting I would suggest reserving your tour if you want to do the candlelight tour or the wild cave tour since those fill up fast or have limited availability. Hint: Always visit the official website before you visit any park. Warning*** watch your head while walking through any cave, you can really get a nasty cut or bruise if you hit your head on the rocks, one guy came up out of the cave tour and was bleeding from his forehead area… thankfully we made it out without any major incidents.
They have a very nice visitors center and some hiking trails, we didn’t get to hike any trails but we were impressed with the entire park area we did get to see! They have a large population of bison and are really a hidden gem. Bonus we were able to use our PARK PASS to enter the park and we did purchase the cave tour but it was well worth it,we only paid $12 per adult for the tour. I am sorry the cave pictures aren’t very good but in a dark cave when you trying not to fall or touch the cave walls it was tricky, I promise you it was very cool inside the cave!
We also went to Crazy Horse Memorial, this monument is carved in the side of a mountain and has been in process for over 60 years and is a very impressive memorial. We couldn’t use our Park pass here, but the price of admission was $11 per person. The admission helped fund the memorial and the museum that made up the grounds and we did enjoy seeing all the artifacts and pieces of black hills history. We felt like it was a good place to visit but I am not sure that we will go visit again anytime soon, we only spent about 20-30 minutes in total and there wasn’t really a way to get any closer to the actual monument, honestly we didn’t really review all our options due to time constraints. A lot of the monument is still unfinished so they used a lot of small-scale models to give you a better idea of the end product.
Next stop was Mount Rushmore.
We arrived at Mount Rushmore at early dusk.We paid $10 for the parking, they charge by the car so if you have a group you can really save. We did not use our Park Pass since this was a monument not a park.The whole area was very easy to access and had great facilities. We hiked about 1/2 mile up to the face of the mountain, and these are the views of the presidential faces.
We must have looked silly trying to get all our “travel” pictures, but we really enjoyed just relaxing on the observation deck area. I think we would visit again and maybe stay and camp around the area.
I really hope you enjoyed reading about the first half of our Summer Vacation out west. If you get the chance to go and see any of these places I would highly recommend it. My next post will be about Yellowstone and our trip through the Teton’s and a few other places we visited on the way home….
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