Last minute trip to South Dakota

Old Apr 4th, 2024, 08:35 AM
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cdc
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Last minute trip to South Dakota

Hello,
I am trying to put together a last minute trip. It will be myself (middle age mom) and my teen daughter. We are going to visit friends in Minneapolis for a weekend, and are trying to build a road trip to Mt. Rushmore area and Badlands the week before we go to Minneapolis.
This is for later in April so I need to make some decisions quickly.
I considered flying into Rapid City, driving to Custer State Park area and staying there two days (Wind Cave, Crazy Horse, Mt Rushmore, jeep rides, cook outs, etc)
then driving through Bad Lands and stopping in Mitchell or somewhere cute/ touristy for a night
From there we would drive to Minneapolis (approx 4.5-5 hours).
However the car rental with a pick up at Rapid City and drop off at MSP was very very expensive.

My next thought was to book a flight into FSD, Sioux Falls,
Drive through Badlands, stopping along the way... to Custer, then loop back to FSD, fly to MSP from FSD.
or
Fly to Rapid City, use Custer as base for two days and then drive to / through Badlands, stay one or two nights near FSD, then loop back to Rapid City.
My question is - Is there a loop that makes the back tracking worth it if I fly in and out of FSD or Rapid City? Is one better than the other?

Another alternative is to fly in and out of MSP and add a day of driving - but have direct flights and flexibility to drive and stop/ stay longer if we would like.
Is there anything exciting between MSP and FSD to break up the drive?

I don't mind driving on trips, but am not sure what the roads are like - or will be like in April. Is it too much to expect to cover four hours in a day? It seems that taking a flight from Rapid city or Sioux Falls to MSP would take the same amount of time, but possibly less stressful because I am in an airport or on the plane and not driving.

Thanks in advance!
c.
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Old Apr 4th, 2024, 10:02 AM
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Following up on my own post, I took a look at Avis and they don't seem to charge a huge fee to rent from Rapid City and return at MSP.
Assuming I can get that rate, I welcome any feedback on my current plan. I have confirmed that the park lodge is open, with jeep tours running, but the food services are not up and running fully until the end of the month. This is our first time to the area and all info is based on reading Fodors reports and the South Dakota tourism website. Sunday

Travel to Rapid City SD

Arrive around 3:30

Rent car

Have Dinner in Rapid City – Murphys? Ko?

Explore Art Alley/ City of Presidents



Drive 45 min to Custer State Park Lodge-

Check in

Has mini fridge, coffee maker and microwave; cold breakfast available. No dinning services

OR Stay at the Fairfiled Inn and Suites in Rapid City – Water Park?



Monday

Drive Needles highway couple of hours to Crazy Horse



Lunch at Crazy Horse

Come around back side of Mt. Rushmore

Afternoon/ Evening at Mt. Rushmore

Dinner there ?



45 min from Mt. Rushmore to Custer State Park Lodge



Tuesday

Wind cave?

Jewel Cave National Monument

Hot Spring

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Other sights in the area

Check out Bear Country drive thru park?

Devils Tower National Monument?



Bobkats Purple Pie Place



Wed

Jeep ride at Custer Park

9-11

Depart by noon

Drive to Wall – approx. 1 hour?

Exit 110

Pick up lunch at wall



Drive another hour- check in at Badlands Cedar Pass Lodge

Confirm availability - $220/ night



Thursday

Allot at least three house for Badlands

What activities? Hiking?

Depart Badlands

Take a detour to Al’s Oasis – Exist 260 - to have food (buffalo burgers) and take pic with giant bison? (one hour to Mitchel from Al’s Oasis)



Drive to Mitchell Corn Palace (approx. 3 hours from Badlands) Exit 332 and 330

There is a Hampton Inn and Comfort Suites in Mitchel or drive to Sioux Falls for the night



Friday

Spend a few hours in Mitchell and maybe Sioux Falls

Pass the Porter Sculpture Park (not open) 30 miles west of Sioux Falls

Drive to Minneapolis

Approx 4.5 hours from Mitchell
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Old Apr 4th, 2024, 11:08 AM
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You might add the following: Roughlock Falls Nature Area is located in Spearfish Canyon. Go view Bridal Veil Falls which is the easiest of the three waterfalls in Spearfish Canyon. Custer State Park has Sylvan Lake, the jewel of the Black Hills. Iron Mt. Road (16-A) is an incredible 17-mile experience with 14 switchbacks, three pigtails and three tunnels. It starts at Hwy 16 and goes south to Hwy 30.
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Old Apr 4th, 2024, 03:54 PM
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Thank you for the tip!
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Old Apr 9th, 2024, 07:07 PM
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Im planning our mother/daughter trip. If you do not mind my asking...how old is your daughter and how did she like the trip?
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Old Apr 10th, 2024, 04:29 AM
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Hi ashleykristine0100 - We have not taken the trip yet, but I would be happy to report when we return. I am taking this trip with one of my teen daughters. I aimed to take a special trip with each one of my kids in their early teens to have one on one time with them. I have taken my other teens to New Orleans and Sedona/ Grand Canyon. New Orleans is great for those interested in history, music, architecture and food - everything is so good! and is best for those who are ok with the heat - we went in June. Sedona with a day trip to the Grand Canyon was just right for an outdoorsey and adventure filled trip, that was also amazingly chill and stress free. Very relaxed vibe but note chilly evenings in January. If you search under my name I have a trip report on Sedona. Good luck with your trip planning.
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Old Apr 10th, 2024, 05:37 AM
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Having driven I-90 many, many times across SD:


Lodging is very restricted between Rapid City and Mitchell. I’ve stayed at bad ones along this route and there are few options. I don’t know your choice; I hope it works out.



Al’s Oasis isn’t anything special, fine to stop if convenient. I don’t recall a big buffalo, however there is an enormous “spirit” Indian woman statue on the other side of the river, south side, at a rest stop.



Jeep tours in Custer State Park did not used to go off road, so if that is still true, not worth paying for.



If it interests you: there is a national monument at a pipestone quarry in SW Minnesota, used for making pipes by tribes, still active. It has a lot of spiritual value for tribes, a little bit subtle but may work out, small fee.



Rapid City to MSP is an easy 9 hour drive, however there’s a corner to cut between the interstates I-90 and I-35, usually I take it because it’s 30 miles shorter, now I think almost all divided freeway of several highway numbers hooked together. Leaves I-90 at Worthington.



Worth noting the change of scenery over the hours: Rapid City is in the Great Plains, plain in the sense of treeless not in the sense of plane (flat). The land rolls basically treeless east to the Missouri River, then it flattens and increasingly trees appear as you move east and the annual rainfall increases (because now geographically the land is within reach of the moisture from the Gulf of Mexico flowing north and causing rain). By the time you get to Minneapolis you are in former forest or oak savannah. The transition may not be obvious due to clearing for farming, but it’s there.
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Old Apr 10th, 2024, 07:47 AM
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Adding:

"Badlands Cedar Pass Lodge" I see, you are selecting in-park lodging for Badlands NP, that looks smart if you don't mind the price.

In general I think 2 things per day is a reasonable limit, and getting around the Black Hills is slow driving, it's mountainous. So your 3 or 4 things/day isn't likely going to work out.

South Dakota is a lot more of a rough and ready destination than it is a tony destination like New Orleans or Sedona.
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Old Apr 11th, 2024, 06:33 AM
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Thanks for the feedback. We are staying in Custer State Park and in the Badlands designated hotel. I think the longest drive would be from Badlands to MSP or if we don't stay two nights at the Badlands and only one night then we would get to Sioux Falls and leave from there to MSP. I was not looking to do nine hours straight of driving - that would not be fun. The Jeep tour seems to do the same loop that I could drive ourselves in Custer State Park; we will do it with the tour just so I can take time off from driving and enjoy the scenery and so we can get a bit of a history lesson. Hopefully they also know where all the animals are hanging out.
It should be pretty quiet while we are there and some places will just be opening up for the season and not at full service yet. The upside is that we shouldn't have crowds or traffic. My teen is a budding artist so I expect that there will be a fair amount of stopping to paint or sketch. We may head up to Spearfish Canyon if time permits so they can sketch that. I think they will really enjoy the badlands for their own artistic reasons as well. Looking forward to watching the scenery changes unfold.
Thanks again for the tips!
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Old Apr 11th, 2024, 08:00 AM
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If you stay in Sioux Falls (there's not much there, really, for a tourist) so have time, here are 2 Indian sites in SW Minnesota, not really far off direct path to Minneapolis. Videos linked to see if interested. This is the other end of the Sioux territory (Lakota, Nakota, Dakota) that reaches all the way to the Black Hills. I wouldn't take time from elsewhere to devote here, but it would help fill the day if you stay in Sioux Falls.

Pipestone NM https://www.nps.gov/pipe/learn/photo...ken-legacy.htm

Jeffers Petroglyphs (opens end of May) https://www.mnopedia.org/place/jeffers-petroglyphs
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Old May 5th, 2024, 09:34 AM
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We have returned from a lovely trip to South Dakota. It was everything that we had hoped for and we are so glad we went when we did (late April). Finding places to eat was a little bit tricky and required some planning as not everyone was open and not everyone was open every day. That said, we never felt crowded or rushed. We didn't have to deal with traffic (except for some road work) on narrow roads. The weather was simply perfect for us - not hot and not cold, plus no mosquitos. Tons of bison, sheep, deer, etc. and thankfully no signs of snakes.
Here is what we did:
Sunday

Travel to Rapid City SD

Arrive around 3:30

Rent car

Have Dinner in Rapid City Murphys. Very friendly waitstaff. Wonderful burger and steak dinner.

Explore Art Alley/ City of Presidents

Art Alley was an alley behind buildings. Cool graffitti, not so good smell.
It was a Sunday evening before tourist season began so it was a bit slow and very little was open.


Drive 45 min to Custer State Park Lodge. We loved staying here. Downsides: It is a bit out of the way being in the park, the dining service was open yet (they did offer a continental breakfast) and the place is somewhat dated. Every one was so nice and helpful and the park itself was so pretty. We thought it was well worth it to stay in the park.

Monday

Drive to Crazy Horse

We splurged on a helicopter tour. Very lovely tour company and what a view! They are located just up the road from the Crazy Horse monument. Very easy to work with. It is expensive but a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the monument up close. They offer a few price points from a quick trip to see one or two monuments to a 50 min tour.


Visit Crazy Horse - museum first, then school bus ride out to the monument. This was a highlight of the trip for us. The museum was spread out with a lot of info. The video was really well put together. The school bus ride out to the monument was not what we expected, but you get out and can take a few pictures.

From there we drove up to Deadwood. The road was having work done so there was a lot of stop and go - that was stressful, esp because we were hungry for lunch. Deadwood was not yet fully open. The hotels with the casinos were all open but the touristy stuff was not open yet. We walked around a bit and got lunch to go from a cute place called Jacobs. We took the lunch up to Spearfish Canyon and had a nice picnic. It was nice to relax and my daughter spent some time sketching. We then did one of the hikes. There were bathrooms at the restaurant / hotel which was nice. The walk was hilly and a little muddy but not strenuous. Pretty falls at the top.

It was late in the day but we decided to go for it and drove to Bear's Ledge/ Devils Tower. This was probably one of our favorite places on the trip. We thought it was magical. The prarie dog village at the entrance was a fun start. We walked around a bit a the base and read about the history and spiritual significance. The sight of the tower is so impressive - driving in you can see it and it was breathtaking. Being a the base was even more awesome.

It was a long drive back to Custer State Park (about 2.5 hours), but all on the highway, which moved fast! We stayed at Bears Ledge for a bit and with the later sunset made it back to Custer in time to grab some food from the market and back at the Custer lodge right after sunset.

Tuesday

Jeep ride at Custer Park - morning time slot
So amazing! Do not pet the fluffy cows! So amazing to see these majestic creatures. Loved the Bison. Also loved seeing the differently types of deer, prarie dogs, donkeys, birds, etc. The park was not crowded and the animals were all awake and active - amazing!

The Iron Mountain road was closed in the morning due to repairs, so we decided to go out of order. This added some driving time, but there was no traffic and the speed limit on the highways is so much faster than the east coast - I really didn't mind it. Locals thought our route was a little excessive, but it is all what you are used to.

From the Custer park lodge we drove to Custer to get lunch to go and then drove to Wind Cave Nation Park. We picnic'ed by the info center. So many bison and prarie dogs on our way there. Then we drove about twenty minutes north through the park to do a hike to the fire tower. It was steep at times, but do-able for this middle aged mama. Again we were on the look out for snakes, but didn't see any. Thankfully minimal bugs!

After Wind Cave (we didn't go down into the Cave), we drove through the park down to Hot Springs. The entire town was under construction which is a shame. None of the spas / springs were open as they are only open later in the week. We only went to see the dinos and mammoths. This was a hit from my palentology loving kid. This would be a bust for most people. We liked it b/c it was very much in our wheel house, but I wouldn't make the trip for a different kid.

From there we hopped on the highway but cut west early to get back on the local road (36) and hooked into Iron Mountain Road. Not the most efficient route, but we were told that we had to view Iron Mountain Road. I am glad we did this, but we both got car sick driving it! It was interesting to see how the road was designed to view Mt. Rushmore but one and done. We also got to see a few more bison on this route. We got to Mt Rushmore later in the day - the gift shop and cafe was open but the visitor center was closed. My daughter did some painting in the ampitheater while I did the full loop walk. Lots and lots of stairs but some interesting views. Later I walked half the loop again with my daughter. We took 40 through Keystone back to 79 and then on to 36 to get back to Custer. I was done with winding roads by that point. Maybe a little more time, but easier driving for me.

We had purchased microwavable dinners and salad bags in advance- the lodge had mini fridge and microwave, so we didn't need to worry about grabbing food on the way back. Again because it was not full tourist season a lot of places were closed for the season still or were not open on Monday/ Tuesdays.

Wed
Jewel Cave - we headed east to a 9am Jewel Cave tour. It was as cool as people said. It is a very long tour, a lot of walking and stairs. I didn't mind the distance/ stairs, but being underground for so long was a bit strange. We both have allergies and felt like our sinuses were going to explode.

We checked out of the hotel and headed to Rapid City for a nice lunch at the Fire house. I wanted to have a good meal before we drove to the Badlands.

From Rapid City it was a long but fast drive to Wall. We shopped around Wall Drug which reminded me of the ultra indoor flea markets of my youth. We got a donut - thumbs up! and took some silly pictures. We drove through the town to get a picture of the large wooden Jack-a-lope. LOL.

We then went to the missle museum. As someone who grew up during the Cold War I found this very interesting. My kid also was interested in the assured mutual destruction mentality and has some interest in the nuclear non-proliferation so liked it - but we didn't spend that much time there.

From there we went into the Badlands from the eastern entrance. We stopped along the way to the park lodge to take photos and climb (well some of us did climbing while others watched). We checked in, refreshed and my daughter had some time to draw We had some food in the park cafe. Very limited offerings but it did the job. It was about an hour or so before sunset so we took off around the loop - again stopping when the mood struck us. We made it nearly to the western entrance to the park before sunset. We stopped at some great vantage points to view the sunset - it was a little cloudy- bummer. Still amazing! Driving back to the lodge after sunset was fine. There was still the after glow and a moon. We had to be careful of deer and animals in the road; we made it back fine.

I was grateful that we booked in the park. There are placed in Wall and Interior where people stay. Because we were in the park we were able to go out and do a few things, and come back to the cabin. We also woke up to an amazing view in the park. It allowed us to drive the loop at sunset - highly reccomend.

Thursday
I would have liked to have spent another day in the park, but it would have pushed a lot of driving into Friday, so we woke up early and got a lot in. We did two short walks - one of the prescribed walks on a boardwalk/ trail and another we drove down a side road and jumped onto one of the trails through the prairie and went out and back for a bit.

We had a simple breakfast in our room (the cafe had very limited offerings) and then went back to do some climbing and hiking.

It was a fun time, but very warm so we were done after a few hours.

The Badlands were the top highlight for both of us. We were both intimidated by and loved the open hiking concept. At first we tried to only do the "easy" hikes listed in the park info session. Then we realized we could do "out and back" - we started a few of the hikes and then walked back when it got too much for me. I could not scramble up the pillars like my little one could! We did not see any snakes, but were mindful in our prarie hikes that they might be around. I had read so much about the Badlands and nothing could have prepared me for them. It was out of this world. I tried to describe it as something from another planet - it really was like nothing I had every seen before. I would not have enjoyed a visit in the summer- with extreme heat and crowds. Late April was a perfect time to visit.

From Badlands we drove what seemed like forever. I had filled up with gas in Rapid City and then again in Mitchell. We went to the Corn Palace in Mitchell. It is neat and artistic, but if we didn't need gas we probably could have skipped it. It had started to rain and the wind was quite aggressive. There was no traffic and the roads are nicely paved - but it is a long drive.

We went to the Best Western in Sioux Falls because they have a restaurant attached and a wonderful pool/ slide/ indoor water park. The hotel was dated and our room literally was falling apart. It was clean and the staff was lovely - that is all we were looking for. The bonus was the amazing pool/ water park which was a fun treat.


Friday
We walked around Sioux Falls park. It was pretty but it started to rain so we didn't stay long. We thought about going to the aquarium or other fun sights but were eager to visit our friends in Minneapolis, so off we went. It was a tough drive on local roads in windy/ rainy weather but moved quickly enough. We made one stop for lunch in Mankato. A super cute down town area as well as some outdoor sculptures.

We have visited Minneapolis before so we spent time with friends and did not do any sight seeing.

Overall an amazing trip with my daughter - one we will both remember. Many people would find the driving too much. I drive a lot and on the East Coast, traffic makes short distance drives gruesome, so I didn't mind the driving (except for some of the windy roads). I liked that we stayed three nights in Custer State Park. We found it was a good base and loved the peacefulness of it. I imagine during high season it is not that peaceful. If I could change anything - we would have spent more time at Bears Ledge/ Devils Tower and another night in the Badlands. Thanks everyone for the great advice!

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Old May 6th, 2024, 08:50 AM
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We have created a new thread Trip Report from cdc's latest post.

Find it here South Dakota Trip Report

Last edited by Moderator1; May 6th, 2024 at 08:53 AM.
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