Our first adventure in South Dakota
Randy was not excited about the idea of going South Dakota when I first proposed it to him. He usually loves our getaways, but this one seemed boring compared with others that we have done in the past. Staring up at carved rocks would be boring, and then what would we do? He ended up loving the trip, as he usually does, and we had all sorts of adventures on our road trip from Denver to South Dakota. We’re on a mission to see every state at least once, and the Dakotas were still on our list. We decided to go for it and check off one of the Dakotas on our list since it’s such a easy road trip from Colorado. I began preparing for the early October trip, wanting to see the changing trees before they were finished for the year.
Planning Our Long Weekend
We’re on a mission to see every state at least once, and the Dakotas were still on our list. We decided to go for it and check off one of the Dakotas on our list since it’s such a easy road trip from Colorado. I began preparing for the early October trip, wanting to see the changing trees before they were finished for the year. The next steps after deciding on a location was where to stay, what to do and where are we going to eat!
Finding a Place to Stay
The first item on our epic weekend to-do list was finding a place to stay. There are a few towns in the region, most notable being Keystone, but I opted for a VRBO in Custer. I looked at the hotels in Keystone on Booking.com and there were many great choices, but I kept returning to the idea of something more remote than Keystone. Eventually found just what we wanted when checking VRBO. The cottage was perfect, it totally lived up to the photos and reviews. Front porch with views of the hills that I could enjoy with my hot tea and stocked with everything we needed. It was also a short drive from Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore.
I’ll admit that house/cabin rentals aren’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a place where you can grab a quick breakfast, have amenities like a swimming pool, and want your bed and room straightened up every day, you will be happier at the Custer Holiday Inn or Comfort Inn & Suites, which offer services such as this.
Planning Activities for Our Trip
After finding a great place to stay, I started looking at activities for us to do. There are a lot of different activities that you can do but I really wanted to focus on exploring the nature and wildlife of the state. We love hiking and it’s impossible to beat autumn foliage hikes. Some of the best hikes I discovered were in Spearfish Canyon, and going all the way from Custer to there would allow us to at least explore Deadwood and get a taste of what they had to offer.
In addition to several different trails to go hiking, cycling, or fishing, Spearfish offers three waterfalls in the same region. I enjoy river hikes, and I discovered a hike called the Devil’s Bathtub that included several stream crossings and a little pool at the end of the route. We also wanted to do the Wildlife loop in Custer State Park and were definitely interested in driving on Needles Highway to see the fantastic fall views that it has.
Day One of Our South Dakota Adventure
We had perfect timing on our trip, you can’t always catch beautiful fall colors but this time it worked out. Our first day started with a stop at Calamity Jane’s coffee shop in Custer to grab some lattes and pastries. We ended up here every morning of our trip for coffee, it is a great little place. After we acquired our coffees, we were off to Mount Rushmore. When we got there, it was still pretty early, so not tons of people, which was great. I’ve noticed that, in general, we have more success avoiding crowds if we arrive at a destination as soon as it opens.
Visiting Mount Rushmore
We took our selfies, walked around the property, and then hit the gift shop, which actually had some great stuff in it, not just full of t-shirts and stuffed animals. They had a lot of art, sculptures, books, and jewelry. We acquired a small ironwood buffalo. We also tried the Thomas Jefferson ice cream, which was a lot of fun and rather tasty for vanilla ice cream; I’d try it again. After our souvenirs and ice cream, we were ready for other adventures. Mount Rushmore was on our list of things to see in the United States, and I’m glad we visited, but I don’t think I would make the trip again. It’s a one-and-done sort of thing for us personally.
First Stop in Spearfish was Lunch
It was still rather early, so we set out on our trip to Spearfish Canyon, which took around an hour and a half from Mount Rushmore. I’d scoped out a farm-to-table restaurant, The Farmhouse Bistro & Bar in Spearfish, South Dakota for a late lunch to fuel up before heading out on our hike. This was such a fantastic restaurant, everything on the menu was homemade with fresh seasonal ingredients. Another plus is that the location is fantastic, with views to enjoy during our outstanding lunch. Also, we were sitting there and could see a meadow with a stream flowing through it, which was lovely.
Hiking in Spearfish Canyon
After lunch, we headed to our first hike, the devil’s bathtub. I discovered this trek on Alltrails and the trailhead was a little hard to locate, but once we got started, it was an outstanding trip. The hike wound through a canyon with a stream at the bottom. The views were beautiful and the weather was lovely. The scenery changed dramatically as we hiked through trees, followed the river, and did a little bouldering before ending at a small pool. This is a moderate trek that may be slippery, but it was awesome and I’m glad we did it.
We chose to do the other two waterfall hikes that were in the vicinity since they were both short. We drove to the Roughlocks Falls parking lot, where we parked and hiked along the falls. There are restrooms and a hotel, as well as a restaurant and bar, very nearby. The Roughlocks falls trek was lovely, an easy hike to the waterfalls, which was convenient after our first excursion. The waterfalls were spectacular; more like veils in terms of quantity than one big drop. The final hike was more of a stroll to the base of Spearfish Falls. The falls can be seen from the parking lot, so the hike isn’t necessary to see them. It was getting later in the afternoon and we decided to head back to Custer with a stop in Deadwood.
Thoughts on our Deadwood Stop
I have to confess that we have spent the majority of our lives in the western United States, near many mining and wild west towns, so Deadwood , South Dakota was a stop because it was on the route and renowned, not because we had to go there. If you enjoy Western towns, you would like Deadwood, which had typical Western bars, casinos, and stores. We thought it was a fine town, but we wouldn’t go back because it wasn’t our sort of location; however, I am glad that we at least visited it. I believe that Virginia City, Nevada, or Georgetown, Colorado, are a touch better, and would visit one of those cities for a Wild West experience over Deadwood.
Day Two of Our South Dakota Adventure
The next day, we visited Calamity Jane’s to pick up coffee and were off for our adventures in Custer State Park. It was an amazing day of driving, stopping to walk around a bit and eating some great food.
Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park
We drove the wildlife loop in Custer State Park, hoping to spot some Bighorn sheep! We enjoyed our trip and observed deer, as well as buffalos and feral burros. We didn’t see any sheep, but maybe next time ! It was such a gorgeous day to observe wildlife and there were plenty of places to pull off the road to view them. After our nature drive, we stopped at Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. for lunch before doing some shopping in Custer.
Driving Needles Highway and Sylvan Lake
After shopping, we hopped on the Needles Highway, which was the surprise win of the trip. The views are spectacular, and the needle-like mountains were fantastic to see. The views from the top were stunning! We stopped frequently to explore the meadows and woodlands, as well as go on a hike at the top. We stopped at Sylvan Lake on the way down the mountain to stretch our legs. There are several walking trails with benches around the lake, as well as restrooms and a small souvenir shop.
When we went, it was at the end of the season, so there wasn’t much going on, but I can picture myself staying there in the summer for a peaceful lake getaway. After our journey, we returned to Custer for dinner at the Custer Wolf. We liked this restaurant; it was quite packed when we went, but the food was excellent and we had a good time.
The Last Day of Our Road Trip from Denver to South Dakota
The last morning of vacation, we packed up before going into town for breakfast in Custer. It was by far the most enjoyable meal of the trip and a great way to end our amazing trip to South Dakota.
Delicious Brunch and Good Company
We got a last-minute reservation to Skogen, a Norwegian restaurant, and only the community table was available. I’m not really a table-sharing kind of person, but the other couples at the table were great company. Instead of being uncomfortable, it was a highlight of the journey. The meals are delicious, they no longer serve breakfast, but I have spoken about this restaurant to others and they claim the dinner is just as great, so do give this place a try if you are in town! I had the Robert pancakes, fluffy pancakes with lemon cream and lingonberries, they were fantastic! After we had stuffed ourselves, we started back to Colorado.
Thanks for reading about the adventures on our road trip from Denver to South Dakota. It is a great place to visit, especially if you love the outdoors. We had a wonderful time hiking and checking out the local restaurants. Have you been to South Dakota? What are your favorite places to go?
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We wanted to share all of our experiences with you, so you can see what fun things you can do on your next vacation in South Dakota. Click the link for a rundown of all the awesome places we visited!
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