Our 10-Day Camper Trip, Part 1: South Dakota

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cowboys in South DakotaI originally wrote this a few days after coming back from our 10-day trip with our little old camper à la Covid in September – October 2020. I know it’s summer now, so this information might not be useful just yet. But, if you are a planner like my Excel-spreadsheet-lover husband, you may appreciate this now.

We decided to go away for a bit last fall because we suspected things with Covid would get a bit crazier. Like most of everyone, I do not have a magic ball to tell me the scoop other than my 40+ year-old gut instinct! Plus, because our kiddo was doing mostly distance learning, it worked out well. And it turns out, my gut was right to go when we did! Our trip started Sept 22.

First stop was the Green Giant, as I have been wanting to go there since we moved here over 6 years ago! Turns out, the Green Giant is only 2 hours away from Rochester, so it’s a perfect day trip outing.

Sioux Falls, SD Area

After seeing the Green Giant, we kept driving and stopped for the night at a beautiful camp site called Palisades State Park, SD. It is a park with quartzite formations, pipestone quarries, beautiful Split Rocks creek, and hiking trails. We did not have much time to hike, but we did enjoy a bike ride and the beautiful views.

Next stop, Sioux Falls! If you only have time for one stop, it has to be Falls Park which you can see from the Visitor Center.  From inside, we got to see awesome views. Even though this was a quick stop, we got to relax and enjoy the beauty. The park was busy with many tourists and residents enjoying the water and soaking in the sun in this well cared-for park.

Next stop was Dignity Statue, in Chamberlain, SD.  What a beautiful thing to drive up to and walk up to! To this day, this was one of my favorite things I saw!! I will not lie, I was moved by it and I recommend stopping here and enjoying it if you can. Here is also where I started to learn about Lewis and Clark. At the park around the statue, we enjoyed a picnic with beautiful views!

The Badlands

Did you know you can dry camp at the Badlands?
It is a first come, first served dry camping, meaning no water, showers, etc.  Campfires are not allowed, but boy are the views amazing and the quietness so good. We got to see wild goats, and bison too. The striking landscapes, geological formations, and the incredible colors that changed depending on the time of day were simply amazing. Pictures do not do it justice.

Driving in the badlands
Driving in the Badlands

The camping area is located just north of the Badlands National Park which connects the Badlands to the town of Wall, SD. We stayed there for 2 nights.  My husband was able to bike in the National Park early in the morning, which was much safer with less cars present. I will disclose he did bring some bear spray along, as the bison were closer than what this city boy liked, and the horned goats were in their little packs too!

Wall Drug
Amazing donut! Nut free too!

While hubby was biking, my son and I went to Wall Drug  to enjoy the free ice water and a donut. If you drink coffee, you can buy one for $0.05 a cup. This place is the king of kitsch and worth a stop, whether kitsch is your thing or not. We found post cards to send to friends and family, and got to see the Jackalopes!  We bought our postcards there and enjoyed watching everyone shop.

Monkey on a Jackalope

Custer State Park

We made it to Custer State Park on Thursday Sept 24.
Did you know you that at the end of the month of September, you can go to Custer State Park to see the Buffalo roundup?  It’s free, it just takes waking up early (5:45 am), then driving to the North or South side to view. Be sure to pack blankets, a book or game for the kiddos, camping chairs, camera, cash, and plenty of patience to see the whole thing.  But it was worth the wait to get to see cowgirls and cowboys round up 1300 buffalo.

1300 Buffalo Roundup
Almost 5000 people watching the Buffalo Roundup

One thing to note: it took quite a while to get to the parking, and was even more challenging to leave the parking lot. If I could make a suggestion here: bring a picnic and wait it out, as it was an intense exit.

 

While at Custer Park, visit the Wild Life loop, which is home to various animals and 18 miles of open grasslands and pine-speckled hills. The very cool Needles Highway, created in 1922, is 14 miles of hairpin turns, tunnels carved through the mountain, up and down with beautiful views and places to stop and take in the views along the way. The last time we took this highway, we had a different pickup truck. The new one is wider and so it made the turns a bit more interesting. Remember to give yourself plenty of time!!

Postcard perfect photo early morning

Mount Rushmore

Even though this was my 2nd time visiting Mount Rushmore, I was still very impressed with seeing the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills. At Mount Rushmore, make sure to take the walking tour to see the carved heads from a lower angle. Some of the sites were closed due to construction when we went, but there was still plenty to see. The site has lights for after sunset, and that is something we will try to do next time around.

Iron Mountain Road & Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

We also truly liked the Iron Mountain Road which is a 17 mile stretch you aren’t soon to forget!
The Iron Mountain Road Experience, as explained by the website:

  • 17 MILES
  • 314 CURVES
  • 14 SWITCHBACKS
  • 3 PIGTAILS
  • 3 TUNNELS
  • 4 PRESIDENTS
  • 2 SPLITS

You will see wildlife and cool views! Remember it’s not a race–at times you go less then 40 mph so it makes it a bit long, but you should be done within 60 minutes.

After Iron Mountain Road, we continued on with the scenic drives. Near the town of Keystone, you will find the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, is also a figure-8 road that makes for a very interesting drive. I always envied the motorcycles I got to see on it. This 70-mile byway includes spiraling bridges, hairpin curves, granite tunnels and awe-inspiring views. No wonder it was named one of the 10 Most Outstanding Byways in America.

Quick summary of what we did in 4 days of being in South Dakota:

Days 1 & 2
Camped at Palisades State Park
Quick visit of  Sioux Falls and Falls Park
Quick picnic at Dignity Statue
Arrived to our dry camping destination in the Badlands for the next two nights.
While here visit Wall Drug and enjoy donuts, free ice water and $0.05 coffee

Day 3
Arrived to Custer State Park

Day 4
Get up very early for Buffalo Roundup
After this awesome event, drive the Needles Highway,
Drive Iron Mountain Road, continue with Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

I should note, because we were travelling with our camper during Covid-19, we did not get to try most recommended restaurants.  So if you have any to suggest for our next time there, please share!

Next destination: Montana!!

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Born and raised in Canada, Lucy is relatively new to Rochester. Her and her husband Richy moved here in 2015 after he accepted a position at Mayo Clinic. They bought a now over 20-year-old camper, and have been exploring the USA on State at a time. This French Canadian speaks French at home or while camping, with her hubby and son Eliot. Sometime she speaks French/ English to her newly found friends. Lucy is a social butterfly. She will challenge you step out of your comfort zone and take on any and every event that is kid related or not in this city. They have been watching our city grow fast before their eyes, and enjoy navigating through the change. She loves to try new things because how else do you figure out if you like it, or are good at something if you don’t try? Engaging people is Lucy’s passion. She takes this on by baking, volunteering, and giving back to this community. Lucy was an office manager in Montreal and loves to organize and host events. She loves people. Having a husband that is Bi-Sci-Fi means the dogs in their lives are named after Star Wars or Star Trek, this includes the newest member of the family. Miss Nimoy is 100% American and a Golden Retriever, she is a great companion for their son Eliot. Eliot has an interesting middle name, when you meet Lucy ask her about it. Lucy has had three miscarriages and as painful as it is to talk about, it helps Lucy heal and feel closer to people who also experienced loss. We are never alone and Lucy makes an effort every day to connect with people and be a part of her community.

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