Top Things to do in South Dakota

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota, USA

I visited South Dakota to see a friend but ended up seeing some amazing places.  A few I had heard of previously but had no idea they were in South Dakota.  It’s a great state with lots to see.

Watertown

Lake Kampeska, Watertown, South Dakota

On my 2 month trip around the US, I decided to visit South Dakota to visit a friend I had met in Patagonia to see him and his wife.  He lived in Watertown, a small city in the East of South Dakota.  Luckily the greyhound bus made a stop here at a gas station out of town and so I got dropped off there before Bipin picked me up.

The first night Bipin and his wife Surekha took me to see Lake Kampeska which is quite near there house.  It’s a great lake for taking a walk or cycling around.  Though it is 13.5 miles around it.

Lake Kampeska, Watertown, South Dakota

The next day Surekha took me to Yoga, the first time I had ever tried.  I didn’t understand the whole breathing part but it felt good to have a good stretch.  After we had lunch before going to the Redlin Art Centre.  Terry Redlin was born in Watertown and is one of America’s most popular wildlife artists.  The centre contains most of his artwork.  It is free to visit and I really enjoyed seeing his paintings.

Redlin Art Center Watertown, South Dakota

Thanks Bipin for the pic and for letting me stay with you and Surekha, I had a great few days.  That evening we went to their friend’s for a meal and the next morning, I left to carry on my trip to Sioux Falls.

Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA

Sioux Falls is the biggest city in the state of South Dakota and the city was originally settled around the falls which is in the centre of the town.  The falls are beautiful and are lit up at night too.  There is also a 16 mile bike trail along the river.

Rapid City

After my visit to Sioux Falls I got the bus to my next stop in Rapid City. I arrived about 6pm and found that the local bus service finishes at 5.30pm and so I had to walk the 2 miles to my hotel.  Unfortunately there were no hostels in Rapid City but I did manage to get a cheap hotel/motel that had a pool!!

The next morning I then had a short walk to go pick up my car from the rental company before I headed off for the day.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota, USA

I had previously seen Mount Rushmore in films and once I found out that it was in South Dakota, I knew I had to visit.  As I had just picked up a rental car in Rapid City it only took me 35 mins to drive out.  The entrance is free but it costs $10 to park.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

Custer State Park was one of my favourite parks in the US, but maybe that’s because it was the first time I had seen Bison, it is a great park, with a lot of wildlife.  It’s about a 40 minute drive from Rapid City or as I did it, a 45 minute drive from Mount Rushmore.  It costs $20 per vehicle into the park and this is valid for 7 days.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial South Dakota USA

Crazy Horse Memorial is still a work in progress.  They began work on it in 1948 and there is no finish date as all work is funded by donations or the fees from visitors.  It costs $11 per person and an extra $4 to take the shuttle for a closer look.  Though being able to get right up to the face of Crazy Horse will set you back about $125.  On a evening there is a laser show, which is well worth staying to watch if you visit late afternoon.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

Badlands National Park is located about an hours drive east of Rapid City.  It’s a great park to visit and see the way the landscape has been shaped over the years.  The mountains have been eroded by water over time and further on in the park is a prairie.  It costs $20 per vehicle or if you are visiting a few national parks then worth investing in the $80 annual pass as I did.

Is there any other places you have visited in South Dakota, you think should be on the list? If so, let me know.

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A day trip to Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USAWhile I was in South Dakota, I decided that I had to visit Badlands National Park.  I ended up falling in love with the US National Parks on this trip and ended up seeing 10 and changing my plans.  They are well set up, with such helpful staff to advise you the best things to see and do in the time you have there.

I had just visited Sioux Falls and got the greyhound bus across to Rapid City.  I had wanted to rent a car and drive but it was going to cost an extra $900 to pick the car up in Sioux Falls and drop it off in Rapid City!!  To rent it in Rapid City for 2 days was less than $100.

My first day in Rapid City, I visited Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and Crazy Horse Memorial and the second day I decided to visit Badlands National Park.

Badlands National Park is around 60 miles from Rapid City back towards Sioux Fall, so it takes about an hour to drive and I entered at the Pinnacles entrance as it was the nearest to Rapid City.  It costs $20 per vehicle to enter the park, though if you are planning to visit a few of the parks it might be worth buying the annual pass for $80 which is what I did.  Visiting 10 parks on this trip I certainly saved a lot of money!!

It was originally declared a National Monument on 4 March 1929, before becoming the 39th National Park in November 1978.  It covers an area of 242,756 acres with a large grass prairie and rocks eroded over time to create pinnacles and spires.

For 11,000 years this area was used by the native americans to hunt.  The prairie’s were home to many animals with the views from the higher rocks making it an ideal hunting ground.

The area is also popular with fossil hunters, with fossils from 77 species being found in the White River which flows through the park.

I decided first to drive part of the Sage Creek Rim Road to see the views, it is a gravel track so you are unable to drive fast along it, but it’s worth doing part of it to see your first views of the park.  The road is 25.5 miles but I only did the first 4 miles to see these views.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

I then decided to drive along the Badlands Loop Road, it is 22 miles long and winds through the park and takes you to the Northeast entrance where the visitors centre is located.

The views along this road are amazing and there are quite a few overlooks and viewpoints to stop at to admire the views through the valley.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

The colouring of the different layers of rock is stunning to see as you drive through the valley.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

Once you get near the visitors centre there are also a few trails that you can walk, with the castle trail being the longest.  Unfortunately as I had to be back in Rapid City to catch a bus to Bozeman for the next part of my trip, I never had time to do any of the walks.

There are quite a few nice boardwalk walks that are short, the Window Trail, Door Trail, Notch Trail and you also walk down into the prairie.

You could easily spend a full day exploring Badlands National Park but if you are short of time then it would take you half a day to do the trip I did.

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Read about my trip to Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA and what there is to see and do there

 

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A visit to Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA









Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

As I was in Rapid City I decided to see Custer State Park, that morning I had visited Mount Rushmore and after I decided to head straight for Custer State Park.

It was South Dakota’s first state park and is the largest it has.  It was named after Lt Colonel George Armstrong Custer, who I had learned about at school, who had fought and died in the Battle of Little Bighorn and one of a few places in the US named after him, though it is a few hundred miles away from where he died in the battle. Continue reading

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial – A day trip in South Dakota, USA

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota, USA

When I was looking at my journey through the US I saw that my route would take me near to Mount Rushmore National Memorial so I decided to make sure that my route passed through Rapid City so that I could rent a car to go see the famous site.  I mainly knew it from films and knew no history about it before I went but decided I had to see the famous monument for myself. Continue reading

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Zion National Park, Utah, USA – What to do in 2 days

Zion National Park, Utah, USAAfter already enjoying 3 national parks in the US on this trip so far, I decided when I hired a car in Las Vegas to see more national parks rather than drive up the west coast.  The first park I decided to see from Las Vegas was Zion National Park.

Zion became a national park on the 19th November 1919 when it became the 15th national park and the 1st national park in Utah.

I picked up in the car in the morning in Las Vegas and drove the 120 miles to the hotel to drop off my bags before continuing on to Zion which was a further 42 miles.  I decided to upgrade and buy an Annual National Park Pass when I arrived as I had already in the past few days paid entrance to Yellowstone & Grand Teton which was $50 and the entrance to Zion was $30 which was the same price as upgrading and getting my annual pass.  If you plan on doing a few parks on your trip then it might be worthwhile.

I normally stay in hostels while I am travelling but around the Zion area there were no hostels available and the cheapest place for me to stay was in Rodeway Inn Red Hills in St George.  It was about an hours drive from Zion National Park but in the US an hours drive is not far and the roads are easy to drive.

After I had bought my pass, my first stop was to the visitors centre to find out exactly what I should be doing while I was in the area.  Also from spring until autumn (fall) the canyon is not open to cars and only to the shuttle buses that will drop you at various points through the park.  You catch the shuttle bus from the visitors centre.  It’s not a huge park and this is a great way to get around as the buses are very frequent.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

My first stop was the Zion Human History Museum where there are indoor exhibits and there is also a 22 minute film on the history of the park.  Well worth watching if you have time.  I also got my first picture in the canyon.

I then decided to get the shuttle bus out to some of the stops so I could get some pictures of the views and to do a little walk from the Grotto to the Zion Lodge.  As it was getting to dusk I saw some deer too.  Dusk is a great time to see animals and the time when I have seen the most in all the national parks.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Deer at Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Once I got back to the visitors centre it was back in the car for the drive back to the hotel.

The next morning i was up early so I could be back to the park and able to park in the carpark before it was full.  It does get full early so it is worth getting there early otherwise you will have to park outside the park and walk in.  I once again went to the visitors centre to check the weather forecast, I was wanting to hike part of The Narrows but the risk of flash flooding was high that day and they advised against hiking it.

The Narrows is a gorge carved through the canyon by the river and is 16 miles long and in places only 20 – 30 feet wide. The path is through the river, though at times you can walk along the side, but you need to be prepared for wading and sometimes swimming through the river.  You always need to check with the rangers before attempting it as it might be a sunny day at Zion but 50 miles away there might have a storm and that water can travel down the river causing a flash flood.

As the risk of rain and flash flooding was at its highest I decided instead to just do the Riverside Walk, this takes you from the final bus stop up to the start of The Narrows and is a 2.2 mile roundtrip.  It’s a nice easy walk and getting to the start of The Narrows did make me want to give it a go especially when I saw a few people setting off, but as the risk was at it’s highest I decided to be sensible and give it a miss for this trip.  I will be back though as it does look like an amazing hike.

Zion National Park, Utah, USAZion National Park, Utah, USA

After this I decided to stop at the weeping rock trail which is a short 1/2 mile walk.  From here there is the option of a couple of other longer hikes, the Hidden Canyon Trail which is 2.4 miles or to the observation point which is 8 miles.  I decided against these as I wanted to do the Emerald Pools Trail.

I then caught the bus from the Weeping Rock to the Zion Lodge to start the Emerald Pools Trail to the Upper and Lower Pools.  It is a 2.2 mile high, but is quite steep and tricky in places but well worth it to see the views.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA

After this hike I then got the shuttle bus to canyon junction where I got off and walked the final 1.75 miles to the visitors centre along the river, amazing views and great to be able to do a final walk.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Another hike I really wanted to do but was advised against due to the weather, though the sun had come out in the afternoon was Angel’s Landing.  It is a tough 5.4 mile hike (generally takes 3-4 hours), up to the summit 450 metres high.  The last half mile is hiking along the sandstone ridge and this trek can be very dangerous after rain as it gets very slippy.  It can also be a problem for people with a fear of heights.

As the weather wasn’t good for the 2 hikes I wanted to do, I will be back in the future to complete these!! They both look amazing and I am excited about returning for them.

Once I was back to the visitors centre it was back in the car for the 75 mile drive to Panguitch, where I would stay overnight before exploring Bryce Canyon National Park the next day.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

To get to Bryce the quickest way is on the Zion Mount Carmel Highway, this road goes up through the park and through a 1.1 mile tunnel cut through the mountain.  Anything larger than a car needs to have the traffic stopped as they need to drive down the middle of the tunnel.

As you can see when I entered the tunnel it was a beautiful day with a few clouds in the sky, when I left the tunnel 1.1 miles later, probably not even a 5 minute drive later, the heavens had opened and the rain was unbelievable.  I put my windscreen wipers on full and still couldn’t see anything.  Thankfully there was a car park next to the entrance of the tunnel and I pulled in there to wait until it eased.  While I was waiting I could see and hear the hail coming down and hitting the car, it was the size of a tennis ball!!! After about 10 minutes it eased off a bit so I got out to check the car.  What I saw and heard when I got out of the car amazed me.  Below me was the river, raging and carrying huge trees downstream as if they were twigs.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

The ranger controlling the traffic came over and told me that 10 minutes ago where the water was coming down into the river below, it had been totally dry.  Now there was a huge amount of water coming over the edge and into the river below.   Now I saw how quickly things can change.  Five minutes before it has been a sunny day, now there was a huge torrent of water where there had been a dry river bed and I had seen how quickly a flash flood can happen.  I was certainly pleased I had made the decision not to hike in The Narrows.  It just shows that if the rangers are advising against hiking in an area due to flash floods, to listen to their advice.  Zion will always be there for you to return and have another attempt in the future.

After it had stopped raining so hard I continued my journey down Highway 89 until I reached my hotel and chilled out for the night.  The scenery along the way was stunning and we even got a rainbow after the rain had stopped.Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Zion National Park was certainly one of my favourite national parks to visit in the US and if you are in the area one you must certainly visit.

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Zion National Park, Utah, USA

 

 

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Everglades National Park, Florida

After 4 days in Miami and driving from Key West I arrived at the Everglades Hostel in Florida City, a hostel with a big outdoor area, pancakes for breakfast, free wifi and nice big dorm rooms, as I was out of season it was very quiet and on my second night I had the dorm room to myself.  I love it when that happens, though it’s very rare.  That night I spent planning what I wanted to do the next day in the Mexican restaurant next door.

As I was going to the everglades I wanted to do an airboat tour in a small boat and I decided to do this in Everglades City, Continue reading

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