SD and NE with kids - advice please!

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Jan 2nd, 2014, 05:30 PM
  #1
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SD and NE with kids - advice please!

We live in Indianapolis and are planning a family drive to South Dakota and Nebraska for early summer. We'll be first driving to Minneapolis for a family event, so our actual vacation time will total five days starting in MN and ending up in Omaha before we have to drive back on day six. It will be DH, me and two daughters ages 8 and 5.

We're planning some side stops to Laura Ingalls Wilder sights, since we drive past and my girls would be interested (one in WI on the way to MN, then SD on day one). We're also planning visits to Mt Rushmore and Henry Dooley Zoo, as well as national and state park sights as recommended. So some questions...

1) Which national / state parks are recommended and why?
2) Which are best for wildlife viewing in early summer?
3) Is there a good park where we can rent a cabin overnight? Cheap lodging, no running water necessary, but a "camping" experience without the tents or RV?
4) Any other good, inexpensive lodging recommendations between MSP, Rapid City, Black Hills and Omaha?
5) How much time is suggested for Mt Rushmore with an 8 & 5 year old?
6) From Black Hills to Omaha - any sights to see, or do we make it a long one day drive? We're planning 2 days in Omaha, so a long drive the day before could work.

Thank you thank you thank you!!!
hlphillips2 is offline  
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 04:26 AM
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If you click on my name, you'll see two of my trip reports which might be helpful. One is from 2010 and the title starts with Midwestern Road trip and the other is from 2009 and starts with We SAW the USA.

Enjoy your trip. We were surprised by how much there was to see in those states.
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 05:16 AM
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Probably just a couple of hours @ Rushmore for younger children would be enough.

Badlands-Cool landscape and Prairie Dogs. See Wall Drug too

I would do either Jewel Cave or Wind Cave.

I would suggest staying at Custer State Park and driving the Wildlife Loop there. They have cabins there(we are staying there at the end of May this year). They are not inexpensive though.

Mammoth Site-Dinosaur discovery digging.

Crazy Horse
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 08:11 AM
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I'm a little confused by your itinerary, but it looks like you will have a total of 3 days from the time you leave Minnesota until the time that you leave for Omaha. This does not give you a great amount of time in South Dakota, so here are my suggestions for that limited time based on my many visits to SD (both as a child and as an adult):

Day 1: Drive from Minneapolis to De Smet to visit LIW sites . Drive from DeSmet to the Badlands. Stay at Cedar Pass Lodge in the park, if possible. If not, find accommodations in Interior. Due to the long driving times between Minneapolis, DeSmet and the Badlands, there's not a whole lot you can do this day besides the LIW sites.

Day 2: Drive the Badlands Loop Road, stopping at overlooks and/or for a short hike. (There are several short walks in the park which are suitable for young children.) Exit park but skip Wall Drug which I find to be just a big tourist trap and time-waster. Continue to Rapid City to visit Storybook Island and Dinosaur Park, both free attractions in Rapid City which your kids would like. Drive to Mt. Rushmore. I think 2 hours is just about right for Mt. Rushmore. Drive to accommodations in Custer State Park. I recommend getting a cabin in the park. If you can't stay there, then look for accommodations in Custer or Hill City. (I find Keystone too built-up.)

Day 3: Get up early and drive the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. (The earlier you go, the better chance you have of seeing wildlife.) Other activities for this day could be Wind Cave or Jewel Cave, Sylvan Lake for easy walk around lake, swimming and/or paddleboats, Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. Overnight again in Custer State Park, Custer or Hill City.

Day 4: Depart for Omaha
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 11:46 AM
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longhorn55 gave you some excellent advice. I would just add that if you are wanted an alternative to a second night in Custer, et al that Fort Robinson State Park in NW Nebraska is not terribly far and has been one of our favorite spots for an occasional vacation for over 30 years. You can get a cabin (refurb-ed officer's quarters), go horseback riding, ride in a stagecoach, have a chuckwagon dinner, swim, fish, take an open-air jeep ride through the buttes or even attend a play! Here is a link:
http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/parks/...asp?Area_No=77
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 01:27 PM
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longhorn -you're right, three full days in SD and then one day travel to Omaha and either 1-2 days there.
Great suggestions! I'll explore those park lodging options. Thanks!
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 06:02 PM
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A couple of follow up questions based on the great advice:

1) approximately how long is the Badlands Loop (how much time should be allowed) & will the loop really showcase the distinctive landscape I keep hearing about?
2) approximately how long is Custer Loop?
3) Needles Highway - is that within Custer SP, or an off road? Sounded interesting - is it worth the drive?
4) Any thoughts on Paleo Park vs Mammoth Site?
5) Fort Robinson SP doesn't have rooms available for only four people, but I like the idea of staying somewhere in NW Nebraska - any other recommendations?
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Jan 4th, 2014, 11:49 AM
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5) Not to nit-pick, but did you also check into their cabin lodging and not just the rooms at Fort Robinson? The cabins are restored officer's quarters and quite spacious--probably way more room than you need, with kitchens, living rooms, front porchs, etc. The cost is pretty reasonable so it's not like you are paying a lot for space you aren't using and it's nice, with kids, for them to have some room to run and play, especially on a long trip...just a suggestion. Chadron State Park is a little further east, but Fort Robinson has always been our favorite.

Your trip sounds wonderful--I hope you have a great time!
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Jan 4th, 2014, 02:42 PM
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You could take scenic drive from Custer to Mount Rushmore, you're going that way anyway.
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Jan 4th, 2014, 06:21 PM
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Thanks Musicfan - yes, for the specific day we would need it the cabins aren't available. There are much larger (and pricier) rooms we could get, but for the cost we've now decided to keep driving instead and get that much closer to Omaha. It sounds really cool though! thanks for the suggestion.
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Jan 4th, 2014, 08:09 PM
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1) This link should help answer this question and, yes, the loop will really showcase the landscape. http://www.nps.gov/badl/faqs.htm

2) and 3) Here's a link to info on the Wildlife Loop, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, all located in Custer State Park:
http://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/direct...es/drives.aspx
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Jan 5th, 2014, 08:02 AM
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You're welcome. As an Omaha native and a longtime Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, I love all you are doing on this trip. I don't get many chances on here to recommend all there is in that part of the country!

There is also a nice state park between Omaha and Lincoln, Mahoney, which has many cool amenities so you might take a look at it. It is right off I-80. Just across the interstate from it is an affiliate Henry Doorly Zoo that emphasizes wild animals from the area. It is much smaller than the main zoo, but nicely done so you might want to consider it if you have time.
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