We flew into Rapid City, which is located really close to all of the sites in South Dakota that we visited and described below. We had a layover in Denver, and we ran into my cousins in the airport, which was a really funny surprise!
Badlands National Park
We explored the Badlands National Park is by driving the 27-mile long Badlands Loop Road (Hwy240), which is highlighted in red in the north eastern part of the map. Visit the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn about the history of the area, and ask the park rangers any questions you have. This scenic road takes you along colorful butte rock formations, and there is lush green grasslands in between. There are many different overlook pullouts, and we stopped at almost all of them to take in the views. Many of the pullouts have short hikes you can take as well. We saw abundant wildlife throughout the park as well, including bison, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and prairie dogs.
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park is located west of the Badlands National Park. The park is home to many bison, elk, and prairie dogs, similar to the Badlands. Hiding beneath the praries is one of the world’s longest caves, called the Wind Cave because of the barometric winds at its entrance. To tour the cave, you have to go on a guided ranger tour. Check the NPS website to see tour times. I have claustrophobia, so we last minute ended up skipping this park because I was too nervous to be down in a cave for 2/3 of a mile.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore National Memorial was created by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, and it includes the famous mountainside carving of four great American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. It is really easy to find, and there is plenty of parking; it costs $10 per car to park, and the memorial is free. There’s gift shops, a museum, walking trail, and a few places to eat. There is also a light ceremony that starts at 9PM during the summer; we came one weekend too early!
Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a sculptural mountain monument that is currently still under construction, and it is on privately held land in the Black Hills not too far from Mount Rushmore. The drive is very scenic, and we saw plenty of deer along the side of the road (make sure to pay attention!). When you enter in the memorial, you watch a video where you learn about the mission of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, which is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition, and heritage of the Native American Indians. The Foundation is working on sculpting the memorial the Native American leader Crazy Horse, and the Foundation has built a college and museum for the Native American Indians. They also have a light show starts at 9:30PM. We enjoyed learning about the history, and I hope to see the memorial completed one day!
Keystone is a town is located near Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, and it is filled with many hotels, tourist shops, and other activities for tourists. We walked through the town and browsed the shops, and our favorite shop was The Rock Shed. This shop has beautiful rocks/crystals from around the world. We purchased a few, and they were a really good value! Be careful if you try to fly with rocks in your carry-on! I was stopped by security because they can be considered a weapon, but they let me through.
The Center of the Nation Monument
The Center of the Nation Monument is the geographical center of the United States. There is a large marker in a park with all of the state flags around the marker. There is also a visitor center and museum, but it was not opened when we visited; we just briefly stopped here on our drive to North Dakota.