Black Hills/Badlands in early May?

Old Mar 25th, 2011, 08:15 PM
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Black Hills/Badlands in early May?

My husband and I are planning a trip to South Dakota in early May. He is worried that the weather may not be nice enough and that there won't be enough to do in the area because it's not the peak season for the area.

For those of you who've traveled during non-peak times in this area, do you think this time period is a poor choice? I am dying to see the Badlands, and we'd like to vacation sooner, rather than later. We're both interested in history and the outdoors and don't have any children. I'd rather avoid crowds for the most part, and I'm normally content to take things at a slower pace, rather than try to cram too much into a short period of time.

We live in Wisconsin and would be driving to South Dakota. We most likely plan to try to drive most of the way to the Badlands in one day and then meander around the area for the remainder of the week. We'll be leaving on a Saturday and leaving early the next Sunday morning.

For those who've experienced this area, what do you consider the "must sees" and what are the things we can safely pass up?

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Old Mar 25th, 2011, 09:09 PM
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The Black Hills and the Badlands are 2 different things.

And maybe my idea of peak season is different from yours. We went to the Badlands in October and stayed in the cabins for a week. It was stunning, but we enjoy scenery, not entertainment. The "must see" is the Badlands. It's like being on the moon. Be aware you are near the poorest people in this country. Stuns me to this day.

Can't help you with the Black Hills. I googled the place we stayed, and apparently it's turned into something else.
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Old Mar 26th, 2011, 06:24 AM
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I am more of a scenery person myself as well. Thanks for the info. My husband is worried it won't be nice enough weatherwise, but I've heard it can get brutally hot in the summer, plus all the families with children out of school detract in a way, at least for me.
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Old Mar 26th, 2011, 06:46 AM
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Based on the NPS records for average temps at Badlands NP

it should be acceptable for people used to Wisconsin winters.

Note that a thunderstorm can hit at any time, forcing major changes in any plans you might have. When we were in the Black Hills in May in 1991, I pulled our car over to the side of the road because the intensity of the rain left me literally unable to see the ANYTHING out the front window.

The Black Hills are more of an entertainment area than a scenery area, although there's plenty of the latter. Weather should be okay, although snow may be around on some of the mountain hikes.
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Old Mar 26th, 2011, 07:37 AM
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Any suggestions on scenic (or just plain fun) stuff in the area of the Badlands and Black Hills to extend the trip a little? I'm getting the feeling that perhaps we need to expand our horizons a little and venture into one of the surrounding states for side trip.

One other question, are any of the cities in the eastern part of South Dakota along I-90 or thereabouts worth a visit? I was thinking of stopping in Sioux Falls for the evening on the way out, mostly to break up the drive, but if there are any little gems, I'd love to know! There are a few small towns in Wisconsin that are super fun & quaint and most states have these interesting little places as well. I like stuff off the beaten path that's a little quirky and I'm not afraid of kitsch.
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Old Mar 26th, 2011, 08:08 AM
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I have only driven through the badlands once but can help you on a Black Hills trip.

You are definitely on the right track with trying to go to the Black Hills in the Spring. However, I think early May is just a bit too early for two main reasons:
1. May still get a late season snow in the Hills
2. Area may not be fully "greened up" yet

No matter what, you will probably hit some rain but if you have enough time, you can try to plan doing more indoor stuff on the bad weather days, including cave tours, museums, visits to towns like Keystone, Hill City, Lead, Deadwood, etc. The sunny days will be very nice because of the deep blue skies out here contrasted against the Black Hills.

I would recommend coming out anywhere from mid May to mid June. I don't believe you will find that the vacationers from the midwest are really in full force until late June at the earliest.

Things to do besides Mt. Rushmore
1) Custer State Park - this is my favorite place in the Hills as far as scenery goes with the Needles Highway, Sylvan Lake, hikes to and around the Needles Formation as well as Harney Peak (highest point east of the Rockies), etc.
2) Visit one of the caves - they are not spectacular but a nice thing to do on a rainy day, mayber either Jewell Cave or Wind Cave Natl Park but there are other private ones I haven't been to.
3) Many museums, including the one at Mt. Rushmore, Borglum Museum in Keystone, etc.
4) Mammoth Site in Hot Springs - mammoth paleontological site
5) Deadwood/Lead area in the Northern Black Hills, including some museums, gambling, mining history, Wild West history, etc. Drive through Lead to see the old mills and headframes from the Homestake underground gold mine that was operating until about 10 years ago or so. They may also have a museum and may even give tours. You should also note the open pit mine that they operated on the north side of town.
6) The towns to spend some time in are Keystone, Hill City, Custer, Deadwood and Lead, as well as Spearfish, not necessarily in that order.
7) Just taking some of the drives through the whole area are worthwhile, including Spearfish Canyon, all through Custer State Park, etc.

1) If you google the Custer State Park website, you will see info on the park and campgrounds. If you go to: you can see information on some nice lodges they have in the park.
2) Depending on what you are looking for... we have stayed fairly regularly at the Rafter J Bar Ranch Campground. It is a few miles south of Hill City but right in the middle of the Southern Black Hills. The cabins are nice, the facilities fairly new and clean but you have to bring your own bedding.
Their maintenance guy is an old Wisconsinite (as am I). This is more family oriented but it is pretty quiet (especially when you will be there) even though centrally located.
3) There are plenty of hotels and other lodges and campgrounds all over but another option if you are to stay in one place for awhile is just to go to or other such websites. There are plenty of nice vacation rentals around that may be fairly inexpensive at that time of year.

Probably more info than you needed but there you go...
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Old Mar 26th, 2011, 05:06 PM
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Great tips from Bob2010.

I stayed in the Cedar Pass Lodge, right in Badlands NP. Not fancy, but the location was fantastic, and the food at the lodge was passable. I was really glad I made that choice. It would have been no fun having to drive hours just to get in and out of the park every day.

I didn't do much hiking in Badlands, but I loved the Door Trail, plus the part where you walk off of the boardwalk and just follow little signposts. It was quick, not very hard, and beautiful. Don't be intimidated by the signs warning about the dangers of proceeding past the end of the trail. The whole walk only takes ten minutes or so, and you can see the boardwalk almost the whole time. The trailhead is just a few minutes' drive from Cedar Pass Lodge. It was fantastic at sunrise.

In Badlands, don't forget to drive out on the Sage Creek Rim Road. Lots of critters large and small. More prairie dogs than you can shake a stick at.

A few nights a week, near the Lodge, there's a ranger presentation about stargazing. I thought that was fun. I've never seen so many stars in my life.

In Custer State Park, I stayed at the Blue Bell Lodge. I was very happy with it.
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