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South Dakota: The Badlands, Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore

Updated: Mar 23

The year 2020 was a lot of things for a lot of people. We decided, instead of flying to see family in the Midwest, which is what we would normally do, in early August, we would jump in the Land Cruiser with our little travel trailer in tow, and head east for 1,884 miles of road-tripping.

After spending a week in the summer humidity with our families and friends in Wisconsin and Minnesota, it was time to begin our trek back to Tahoe, but this time, we were taking a different route – a 2,453-mile route – with some key stops along the way.

Once we reached South Dakota (my first time in this state), we drove to Badlands National Park for sightseeing and a hike.

After finding a parking spot, we stepped out of our vehicle. The dry heat hit me like a blast furnace.

We walked around and took a few photos of the unique terrain, then donned our hiking gear and headed out on Castle Trail.

It was so hot. Much hotter than what we are used to hiking in throughout the Sierra. We only lasted about 2.5 miles on this fully-exposed trail on account of the heat. And, thankfully, we didn't cross paths with any snakes, only some cute little cacti and sunflowers.

When we returned from the short hike, we got back in the Land Cruiser and continued on our journey to Custer State Park for a 4-mile hike on Lover's Leap Trail.

It was another hot hike, and I dropped my phone on a rock and shattered the screen, but we did see a small, lone deer, so that was fun. We kept our eyes peeled for roaming bison, but no such luck.

Then it was on to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, another well-known landmark I had not yet been, so I was excited to finally see it in person.

Our stop at the monument was brief, but the drive there, however, was pretty wild, and we weren't even sure we'd make it with the travel trailer.

We took Iron Mountain Road, a scenic drive in the Black Hills. Narrow in many places – including 3 one-lane tunnels, 14 switchbacks, and 3 pigtails (turns that loop over their own road, allowing the road to climb rapidly) – the road winds to the 5,445-foot summit. Not exactly an ideal route when you're towing a travel trailer.

Thankfully, we made it to our destination without any damage or incidents, but we did narrowly escape hitting a deer!

From here, it was on to the Cowboy State for adventures at Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Jackson.

Road Trip Return Route:

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