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Riding the buses » Family travel, Road trips, Travel itinerary, United States » Black Hills of South Dakota, USA

Black Hills of South Dakota, USA

 Andrew and Erin Sunter and their children Aidan and Parker travelled from Toronto, Canada through the northern United States, before heading up to Canmore, Alberta. The first couple of days were mostly spent driving, with stops at playgrounds that they found along the route. Parker had a meltdown and Aidan got carsick but the kids actually travelled very well. Finally they took a long break in the magnificent Black Hills of South Dakota. Highlights are Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, Needles Highway, Custer State National Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Black Hills National Forest. Mighty impressive!

Badlands National Park


Badlands National Park in South Dakota is the beginning of the ‘wild west’. At first it’s a big open expanse of grassland that seems to go on forever. It’s home to the bison—the American buffalo.


It’s also home to rattlesnakes!


The grasslands change to jagged, rocky hills and deep canyons and their colours seem almost layered. It’s very rugged and a little inhospitable.


Dirt roads run throughout the park and you can drive along them and take in the landscape. It was called ‘bad land’ because of its appearance and because the rugged terrain was difficult for early settlers to travel over.


Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

Mt. Rushmore is famous for the 60-foot faces of four American presidents that have been carved into the rocks: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. It took the sculptor 14 years to do it. The backdrop is the Black Hills. It is quite an amazing accomplishment and worth a visit.


Needles Highway

This spectacular drive is only 22 km (14 miles) long with needle-like granite formations on either side.


Custer State National Park, South Dakota

It was September and way too cold to camp. We almost froze!


So we stayed in a cabin at Sylvan Lake. There were lots of trails for walking and rocks for climbing and that was just adventuresome enough for Aidan. It’s only 8 km (5 miles) from Mount Rushmore.

 There are lots of scenic drives you can take—The Needles, Harney Peak, Wildlife Loop Road, Iron Mountain Road. We especially liked driving through the tunnels.


Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Wind Cave is 16km (10 miles) north of Hot Springs in western South Dakota. This is one of the world’s longest caves, 220km (137 miles) in length, and the first to be designated as a national park. It was named Wind Cave because of the whistling noise the air makes rushing in and out of the cave’s mouth.


The cave is known for its rare mineral formations, especially one called boxwork that looks like honeycomb.


We took a guided tour through the cave. You walk down and take the elevator back up. Aidan didn’t like it. If you are claustrophobic you should probably skip it.


Above the cave the landscape is prairie and a national game preserve for bison was established here. The bison roam freely and you probably won’t miss seeing them!


Black Hills National Forest

This area was named Black Hills by the Lakota Sioux first nations because the thick forest that covers the hills make them appear black from a distance. It’s one of the oldest parks in the US and a great place to hike, bike, fish, and watch wildlife.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Photo credits Andrew and Erin Sunter

© Riding the buses 2013

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2 Responses to "Black Hills of South Dakota, USA"

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