We took our family on a trip through the Dakotas this summer. I had never really given Mount Rushmore and that area a lot of thought as a family vacation. But we had a family event in North Dakota and figured we better stop. And we are so very glad! It was amazing! There was so much more to do in the Black Hills than we thought. It was like going back in time and so beautiful! We went in late May and it was still somewhat chilly and rained but it was still comfortable. We had 4 days there and I thought that was about the perfect amount of time. Here are a few of the highlights for us!
Of course Mount Rushmore. It was fantastic in person!
Our favorite part of the trip though was Custer State park. It is spectacular. We choose to camp and stayed in the Sylvan Lake Campground and loved it!
The Needles Highway will take you from Sylvan Lake to Keystone and the road really is a fun experience. There are rock tunnels and cool bridges.
You can even see Mount Rushmore through some of the tunnels and get a cool view of it through the trees.
The road is windy though, so if you get carsick you might want to take some Dramamine beforehand. We also loved the wildlife loop through Custer State park. We took it right before dusk time and we saw just about every kind of wildlife they have listed, many of them right up by our car!
Keystone was a lot of fun too. We choose to do the Big Thunder Gold Mine Tour and pan for some gold.
It was an experience. People raved about it on Trip Adviser so our expectations were high. I am glad we did it because we have a lot of funny memories from it, but it is not a must see in my opinion. Our tour guide was pretty amusing.
We also went to Wind Cave National Park. We went on the Natural Entrance Cave Tour and it is worth the time!
We planned on also going to Jewel Cave National Monument but unfortunately the elevator broke so we could not go which was a bummer because we were going to do the Lantern tour. Although, if there were elevator problems I’m glad it happened before we got down there!
It’s only a 2 hour or so drive over to see Badlands National Park so we went over and drove though that too.
We wanted to stop and see Wall Drug. Many reviews of Wall Drug are negative because people complained it’s a tourist trap, and it is. But that is what made it so fun. The boys really loved the fun places to take pictures and to see all the fun shops.
Since we live west of SD we were able to stop in Deadwood SD on our way home and saw the grave site of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Deadwood is a really fun old western town.
We also made a detour to see Devils Tower and Yellowstone on our way home too.
Our kids still talk about our trip. They said it was their favorite trip ever. We really focused on being present with our kids and actually put our phones is airplane mode while we were gone so there were not any distraction.
Best decision ever! Maybe that is truly what made the trip so magical was being in the wild with each other completely uninterrupted. So when thinking about your next family vacation seriously think about South Dakota! We definitely want to go back!