Have you ever wanted to travel or go on a long weekend family vacation but you just weren’t sure exactly where to go? That’s kind of how we stumbled upon traveling to South Dakota. We knew that we wanted to go there someday and visit Mount Rushmore, but we didn’t know if we would have enough time since we were going to drive. Memorial Day weekend, traffic, long drive it just didn’t sound like the vacation for us at the time. We’ve done the staycations in Colorado, but we wanted to go somewhere new. As we started looking up how far it was to drive from our house and how long it would take us, we were absolutely surprised, Mount Rushmore was only five and a half hours away. Why have we not been there before? That was the most essential question, Christopher, and I asked each other.
Decision Final, plans would be made to pack the car, the girls and head to South Dakota for a fun long Memorial Day weekend. Christopher loves planning our vacations, he always seems to find the most obscure, fun, ridiculous things to see, and we all love it! However, we didn’t realize just how much there is to do within thirty minutes of Mount Rushmore. Christopher opened up his excel vacation sheet and got to work! With everything that popped up on our google search, Bear Country, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, Dinosaurs, Cosmos, etc. we knew we were in for an exciting time! When Christopher plans our vacations, he packs in everything that we could possibly do, and I always look at the list like there’s no way. I swear my husband is magic because no matter what, we have plenty of time to do everything. The best part, we usually aren’t exhausted at the end of our vacations.
With our Vacation all planned, we headed out to South Dakota. The drive wasn’t too exciting; it was kind of dull, but we always find ways to make it fun. Playing family games, reading, taking detours to see something that wasn’t on our lists, or taking pictures. We did the typical touristy stop to take a photo with the South Dakota State line sign, and then it was off to our hotel in Custer. I love how all the little towns and cities are set up. A simple main street with all the shops, restaurants, and motels makes finding things extremely easy! They are all so adorable! I have to take a moment to RAVE about the breakfast place we found in Custer, Baker’s Bakery & Cafe, they bake their bread fresh daily, and it was utterly delicious. I couldn’t get enough of it. We ended up eating breakfast there every morning just so I could have toast and jam, but seriously it was so good! 🙂
Crazy Adventures In South Dakota
As we rolled into Custer, South Dakota, we had plenty of time on our first day to head into Custer State Park for a little drive. We checked out Sylvan Lake, took Needles Highway, which if you have never been to South Dakota. I highly recommend it. The scenery is beautiful in a completely different way than we are used to. With all kinds of rock formations, single lane tunnels going through the rocks, big open views of the mountains, and even a spot where you see Mount Rushmore through one of the tunnels. It makes for an epically framed picture! Next stop Mount Rushmore! We all were very excited and a little nervous about seeing it. You know why we were nervous; well, we have seen a few things that others hyped up for us, and they weren’t as exciting as we had anticipated…so that’s how it was with Mt Rushmore. We wanted it to be as impressive as we imagined it to be.
Once we got into the park, it did not disappoint. Seeing the faces on the mountain and learning exactly how they blasted and chiseled away at the rock to create these fantastic images truly blew my mind. I loved how they had all the fifty state flags flying as well. There are so many trails that you can take and a few that will get you pretty close to the presidents. I think what made Mount Rushmosh more exceptional was the evening lighting ceremony in the amphitheater. They only do the video From Memorial Day to Labor Day apparently, so we were there for the first showing of the season. Which was super cool because we didn’t know anything about that part. The video was fantastic; it gave you tons of information on why they chose the mountain, who the artist was, how they did the blasting, and the stages of creating the faces. Then at the end of the evening, this part truly touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes, they invited all military persons in the audience down to the stage and acknowledged them for their service and sacrifice. My nephew serves in the military and to see them honored that way was emotional and truly a blessing. They had them all stay on stage for the lowering of the flag.
From Devils Tower To Storybook Island
Over the next few days, we explored so many places! We took a drive over to Devils Tower in Wyoming, and on the way there, made a quick turn around when Christopher noticed wolves and a fenced-in area. The owner of the Rock shop that was there also owned the acres of land for the wolves. They had fenced it off to save and protect the few wolves they had from others trying to hunt them. It was exciting seeing these majestic animals and being close to them, but the best experience there was that she had baby silver foxes, and we got to hold them!!!! The Baby Silver Foxes were so tiny, and the little sounds they made were the cutest little squeals. It was a very surreal moment as I never thought I would ever be holding a baby fox on our vacation. As much as we didn’t want to leave those beautiful foxes, we continued on our way to Devils Tower, which again we were nervous and hoping it lived up to the hype, and it did! It was so majestic, odd, and kind of bizarre, but incredible. If you have never read the legends or stories of Devils Tower, I highly recommend it, the stories are fascinating, and a lot of those legends are Native American legends.
When we got back into Custer, we decided to hit up Crazy Horse and MAN; that area is phenomenal. The Native American history and the time it’s taking to complete the monument are beyond believing. Plus, how big it is, just blows us away. We also stayed for the laser night show that they project straight onto Crazy Horse. Another one of those MUST do activities in South Dakota!
From then on, it was fun stops to Bear Country; we LOVE bears; we have a large Newfoundland at home people always ask if he is a black bear 🙂 Driving through the area with all the bears was one of the coolest bear experiences we have had, other than seeing them is Jasper National Park in Canada, but that story is for another day. After driving through the bear area, we walked around and saw all the other animals they have and saw some of their bear cubs! Every time we go to South Dakota now, we make sure we stay at the Waitiki Waterpark Hotel and go to Bear Country; it’s a MUST do every time for us.
Our tried and true favorite South Dakota tourist experience is… The Cosmos. I don’t know how to explain it other than be prepared to feel completely off balance! It was like fighting gravity to move in the houses. We had a blast though! we were laughing so hard and practically falling at the Cosmos, Tristan and Nevaeh both were picked to help with one of the experiments. The Cosmos is a must-go tourist place. It’s so unique, and I’m pretty sure it is a one of a kind place.
After all the excitement from Bear Country, The Cosmos, Crazy Horse, and the rest of our vacation, there was one last place I wanted to take our family, StoryBook Park in Rapid City. Totally free and absolutely adorable! It brought me back to my own childhood, it’s whimsical, fantastic, and we could have spent the whole day there. 🙂 They have all these old statues and areas with different fairy tale creatures, stories, princesses…you name it, they have it. We walked around the park, followed the yellow brick road, and ventured to the 100 Acre Woods. I wish we had a park-like this in Colorado!
Finally, it was time to pack up and head home, but not before one last stop for freshly baked bread toasted with delicious homemade jelly at Baker’s Cafe in Custer. 🙂
Have you been to South Dakota? I’d love to hear about your favorite place there or anywhere to add to our vacation list!