The way to our hearts has always been through adventures. When it came time to choose a destination for our journey back westward, we were both craving a place where we could safely enjoy the Great Outdoors, socially distanced from other people, and adventure in a safe way. We were in complete alignment that South Dakota was an absolute must stop as our first entry back to the Wild West. From the seductively unforgiving terrain of the Badlands to the endless fields of stunning sunflower fields, the lush mountains of the Black Hills to the remote and private camping, a South Dakota road trip was exactly what our adventurous spirits needed.
We decided to step our South Dakota road trip adventure game up a notch with a visit to Badlands National Park. The vast, unique landscape of the Badlands are an awe-inspiring representation of America, the beautiful. The arid, seductively unforgiving terrain creates majestic red and grey pyramid-like rock formations spread over a vast 244,000-acre National Park.
Where We Stayed: Public Bureau of Land Management Land.
Coordinates: Ask us for the details!
This campsite was one of our favorite campsites in the world and it’s a must if you’re on a South Dakota road trip. While it’s not technically in Badlands National Park, it’s very close to it. There are plenty of dispersed camping spots along the edge of a cliff. While the sunsets are amazing, there’s wildlife that roam around the area, and the topography is stunning, the $0 price tag
What to Do:
- Hike the Notch Trail: If there is one hike you should do in Badlands National Park; it should be the Notch Trail. While it’s short and sweet at 1.3 miles, the vistas and spires are awe-inspiring. This trail does have a notched ladder (hence the name) so it does require a bit of scrambling.
- Hike the Castle Trail: If you’re looking for something a bit more intense, head across the street from the Notch Trail to the Castle Trail. This trail is 10.5 miles in length, and it takes you through beautiful wildflowers. The only “downfall” is the lack of shade. We recommend arriving early if you’re visiting in the warm summer months to avoid the heat.
- Visit the Sunflower Fields: As we drove west on highway 90 across the plains South Dakota, we were welcomed by endless fields of summer sunflowers that surrounded the highway. As we continued to explore the Badlands and the surrounding areas, we could breathe easy knowing that we were in the epicenter of mother nature’s flower fields. South Dakota is one of the world’s top sunflower producers. While the locations of the fields fluctuate year after year, you can guarantee to see sprawling yellow fields of sunflowers in late July into August.
Hiking the Notch Trail
The sunflower fields of South Dakota
The Black Hills and Custer State Park
The next stop on your South Dakota road trip should be the Black Hills. Less than two hours from the ethereal landscape of the Badlands lies the Black Hills, a lush forested region known most for its iconic monument, Mount Rushmore. While Mount Rushmore is an impressive achievement, the Black Hills offer so much more than just a memorial. We spent most of our time in Custer State Park, a 71,000-acre region that’s home to copious amounts of wildlife.
Where we Stayed: We stayed at the Big Pine Campground just outside of downtown Custer, South Dakota. It was absolute perfection – private, surrounded by ponderosa pines (hence the name), and each site had its very own fire pit. If you can, request site number 59 – it’s by far the best, biggest, and most private site. If you cannot secure a reservation at Big Pine Campground, there are plenty of beautiful campgrounds and RV Parks in the Black Hills area.
What to Do:
- Drive the Wildlife Loop: The Wildlife Loop, located in Custer State Park, is approximately 18 miles of wildlife watching. Enjoy the beautiful vistas and keep your eyes peeled for wild bison, burros, coyotes, elk, and deer.
- Drive Needles Highway: Leave your trailer or RV at home if you want to go on this exciting drive! Needles Highway is home to the Needles Tunnel, an 8’ wide tunnel through the Black Hills and it’s a must see (or drive!) when you’re in the Black Hills.
- Hike Black Elk Peak & Little Devil’s Tower Loop: If you’re looking for a heart pumping adventure in the Black Hills, take yourself on a 7.7-mile hike on Black Elk Peak & Little Devil’s Tower Loop.
- Partake in Water-sports at Sylvan Lake: Custer State Park is home to plenty of beautiful lakes. We especially loved the scenic Sylvan Lake, close to Needles Highway. While at Sylvan Lake, you can go swimming, rent standup paddleboards, kayaks, or canoes.
- Sip Brews at Miner Brewing Company: Miner Brewing Company, located in Hill City, is home to absolutely delicious brews. Miner Brewing Co. has plenty of outdoor seating, a bocce court (bring our own bocce during summer 2020), and tasty craft beers.
- Visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial: You cannot visit the Black Hills without a trip to the iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This absolutely colossal sculpture includes U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
- Visit the Crazy Horse Memorial: Located in the heart of the Black Hills, the Crazy Horse Memorial serves as a way to preserve the culture of the Native Americans, specifically that of the Lakota Sioux leader, Crazy Horse.
Bison on the Wildlife Loop
Standup Paddleboarding on Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park
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