Author Topic: Rapid City and its Environs (Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park)  (Read 2057 times)

Offline Naftali

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Note: All comments are appreciated and provide encouragement for these to be written.

What would you do? I had two days and a night for a quick getaway alone, roughly 40 hours. I was to leave Tuesday morning, and had to be back home the following day, Wednesday, before midnight.  It is mid-September. I live in the NYC area. National parks, easy hikes, and beautiful scenery are my thing. Two summers ago, I went to Acadia National Park https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=83086.0 for my quick trip; last summer, to Smoky Mountain National Park https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=94840.msg1971055#msg1971055. Both are readily accessible from NYC; the former a long drive, the latter a short flight. With these off my list, I was at a loss as to where to go for my trip this year. With only 40 hours, I pondered where best to maximize actual sightseeing and minimize cost. After briefly exploring the possibility of heading to Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, I chose western South Dakota.

I took a flight from Newark to Rapid City SD; departed Tuesday morning at 7:30am, and after brief stopover in Chicago landed in Rapid City at 11:45am. United Airlines, 12,500 miles + $80.

Unfortunately, the only rental car available was an SUV through Hertz for $200 a day [… the week prior, I repeatedly checked Hotwire, Priceline, and Autoslash but no cheaper rates/cars ever appeared]. However, because my flight out of Rapid City the following day was scheduled for 1:30pm, I booked the car for only one day.

I left Rapid City Regional Airport at about noon, heading to Badlands National Park.

On the way, one will notice that there are hundreds of signs for hundreds of miles along Interstate 90 advertising for Wall Drug, a tourist trap which one passes when heading to Badlands. I made a brief stop. Not much to see, but worth a ten-minute detour to satiate one’s curiosity about the advertisements.

Wall Drug:








I then continued to the eastern entrance of park and took the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway (SD 240) through the park. A few miles in, one will notice the Badlands Ranch Store which has giant Prairie Dog statute. There is a prairie dog field adjacent to the store – a prairie dog is a glorified squirrel which digs holes. Great opportunity to take pictures of these critters.

Prairie Dogs:





The loop road [SD 240] has many scenic overlooks and there are basically no park restrictions with regard to where one can walk around. Heading from west to east, the first two scenic overlooks provide the best vistas, while one of the last, Yellow Mounds, is a great stop for the odd Yellow tinged mountains.

Badlands National Park:









Yellow Mounds:





After the three-hour loop drive and a brief hike, the loop road brings one back to Interstate 90, and I headed back west to Mount Rushmore. The drive from Badlands to Mount Rushmore take about an hour and a half. Noticeable is the change from the prairie terrain to the mountain range of the Black Hills.

There is currently construction in the visiting area of Mount Rushmore but the mountain is still quite visible from the viewing area. Not much else to do here but take pictures. I then left, heading west towards Crazy Horse Memorial.

Mount Rushmore:







Crazy Horse Memorial—far less famous than Mount Rushmore—is another mountain carving about a half hour drive from Mount Rushmore. It is an ongoing project; started in the 1940s and is far from completion. Still worth the visit. The visiting center has several exhibits which focus on Native American history [Crazy Horse was a Native American Warrior]. I stayed for the laser show at dusk, which was a bit underwhelming.

Crazy Horse Memorial







For the night, I stayed at the Quality Inn Near Mount Rushmore, which is located in Hill City, about 15 minutes from Crazy Horse Memorial. As always, I chose the cheapest hotel with a free breakfast (hotel breakfast are an easy way to load up on food for the day – fruit, cereals, etc.).

The next morning, I headed out at about 6:45am to Custer State Park. After a brief stop at the picturesque Sylvan Lake, I drove along the scenic Needles Highway. It is not as treacherous as it is described online – the tunnels and views of the granite pillars/towers are fantastic.

Sylvan Lake



Needles Highway:












I then headed west on US Hwy 16A, and drove through the entire Wildlife Loop Road of Custer State Park. There were hundreds of buffaloes, and even some burros (wild donkey). Very cool. After a brief stop at the State Game Lodge, I drove back north to Rapid City and arrived in “downtown” Rapid City at about 10:30am. [Wind Cave National Park is closed because the elevator is broken :( ].

Custer State Park – Wildlife Loop:















Went to Starbucks to get the obligatory “Been There” South Dakota Starbucks mug, and then walked around the street corners to check out the statutes of all the U.S. presidents which grace the street corners of Rapid City (“City of the Presidents”).

Rapid City









15-minute drive back to the airport, took the 1:30pm American Airlines flight back to Newark, with stop at DFW. 20,000 miles + $80. Home by 11:45pm.

« Last Edit: September 19, 2019, 12:48:12 PM by Naftali »

Offline flyingace

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Re: Rapid City and its Environs (Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park)
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2019, 02:40:19 PM »
Great TR! Thanks for posting!

Offline ludmila

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Re: Rapid City and its Environs (Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park)
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2019, 03:34:27 PM »
Great TR, very interesting short trip.
I was the Best,still the Best, and will always be the Best.
Pele Good,Maradona Better, George Best.

Online mme

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Re: Rapid City and its Environs (Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park)
« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2019, 09:10:09 PM »
very nice TR! thank you!

Offline tmendy226

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Re: Rapid City and its Environs (Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park)
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2019, 01:51:14 AM »
Great TR!

I was just there a couple of weeks ago, indeed an amazing place! Custer State Park is unbelievable. true hidden jem

Offline Kobe Bryant

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Re: Rapid City and its Environs (Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park)
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2019, 07:00:04 PM »
If one has more time, Wind Cave NP is gorgeous, and is a bit under an hour drive from Mt Rushmore

Offline cgr

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Thanks for the TR! Hoping to visit all National Parks one day, so this is much appreciated!

Offline jose34

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Any point in seeing Mount Rushmore?

Offline tmendy226

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Any point in seeing Mount Rushmore?

Definitely not worth the 10$ parking fee IMHO (which is charged even if you have the national park pass since this is a parking fee not an entrance fee although there's no way to walk there....)

If you're in the area just drive on the road towards it and stop on the road to see it and take a picture

Offline Denverite

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Thanks so much for this TR! It’s not a bad drive from Denver, and I’ve always wanted to go to these places and probably Deadwood too. The Buffalo pics are awesome!