Our original plan was to spend two weeks in western South Dakota, splitting our time between the area around Custer State Park (Rapid City) and the area around Badlands National Park (Wall). However, because of persistent cold and snowy weather, we repeatedly extended our stay in Colorado and shortened our visit to South Dakota. In the end, that left us only four days in each location which wasn’t nearly long enough, but we tried to make the most of the time we had.

Mount Rushmore

As much as I’ve been whining about our awful weather, we knew we were taking a gamble by going up to South Dakota early in Spring. During its short summer tourist season, the region can be a madhouse, but visitors willing to gamble on early Spring (or late fall) are sometimes treated to beautiful weather and empty parks.

Or, if you’re us, it’s 36 degrees and raining for days on end and the dog has diarrhea because of course he does…

Anyway, while, for the most part, our gamble was a huge fail, we did have a couple days where things worked out perfectly. Not only were temperatures comfortable, but we found empty parks, empty roads, and empty famous stops on the great American road trip.

Nowhere was that more evident than Mount Rushmore.

The flag decorated promenade that leads to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
The flag decorated promenade that leads to Mount Rushmore

There were only a handful of other people milling about while we were there, rather than the busloads of tourists who materialize during the Summer.

Picture of us in front of Mount Rushmore
Mandatory selfie

Nighttime was even better….

Night time view of promenade leading to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota

We arrived around 9:00 to find the gates to the parking garages completely open (usually you have to pay 24/7) and maybe 6 or 8 other visitors at the monument.

Nighttime view of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota

As an aside, I had read online that some folks found Mount Rushmore to be disappointing. They thought the sculptures would be bigger. In our professional opinion, those people are nuts. We thought it was fantastic.

Finally, if you’ve ever wondered why the faces of four presidents were carved into the side of a random mountain in South Dakota, wonder no more (spoiler: it was a really expensive marketing campaign)…

Custer State Park

Custer State Park has two pretty distinct landscapes. The northern section is home to massive granite spires, forests full of Ponderosa Pines, and twisting turning roads that offer drivers and motorcyclists some of the most beautiful roads in the country.

Road sign warning of twisting roads in Custer State Park

The southern section is home to prairie grasslands that stretch as far as the eye can see, and those grasslands provide lunch to the park’s sizable bison population.

Bison sitting in large grassy area at Custer State Park

Throughout the park, spaghetti-like roads meander through dense forests, cut across huge swaths of open prairie, and cling to the sides of the mountains.

Scenic routes in the northern section of the park include: views of the famous granite needles…

View from the Needles Highway in Custer State Park in South Dakota

single vehicle tunnels carved right into the mountains…

Xterra driving into small stone tunnel

and access to several picturesque lakes.

Sylvan Lake is famous for the large rock formations located both in and around the water.

Fallen tree and rocks in Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park in South Dakota

Picture of me taking photos at Sylvan Lake
Kevin taking a picture of me taking a picture. So meta….
Picture of Kevin and Thor on the banks of Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park in South Dakota
Me taking a picture of Kevin and Thor… Kinda predictable at this point.

Wildlife Loop

The wildlife loop is an 18 mile long road that travels through the grasslands in the southern section of the park. There, herds of bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer, prairie dogs, and friendly burros make their home.

Rolling hills and trees at Custer State Park in South Dakota

We ran into several bison before we even got on the road. These guys were hanging out outside the visitor’s center:

Bison grazing near a tree at Custer State Park

Once on the loop, we found several smaller herds…

Herd of bison next to a road at Custer State Park in South Dakota

as well as a couple pronghorn. However, they were too far away to get decent photos.

We had the opposite issue with the burros.

These famously friendly, adorably pushy, and just-a-tad obnoxious animals have learned that humans are where it’s at when it comes to free food and they are NOT shy about begging for handouts.

Burros approaching a car at Custer State Park in South Dakota
“Hey…whaddaya got for us? Whaddaya got???”

As we drove up, they made their move.

This one tried playing shy… batting her eyelashes at Kevin…

Burro at car window

While this derp went with a more direct approach….

Also, they lick cars….

Burro licking neighbor's car

“Don’t judge me until you’ve tried it.”

Thor was not a fan. We had to roll up the windows almost immediately because he was about to have a stroke.

Thor staring out window at a burro
The great stare down of 2019…

Nope. Not a fan.

The Minuteman Missile Museum

After leaving Rapid City, we headed east about an hour and set up in Wall, South Dakota. This gave us easy access to several sites we wanted to visit, one of which was the Minuteman Missile Museum. When we were in Tucson, we visited the Titan Missile Museum. The Titan was the 1960’s era ICBM program designed to end the world. The Minuteman followed Titan and is still active today. While the Minuteman missiles were (and are) designed to be strategically launched rather than launched en mass, they were still part of the incredible build up of nuclear weapons that occurred as part of the mutually assured destruction (MAD) strategy.

At its height, there were over 1,000 Minuteman missiles buried in silos all over the Great Plains. As a result of the START Treaty of 1991, 400 of the silos were decommissioned and destroyed. The rest remain today – with modern ICBMs and active missileers maintaining them.

The museum is actually located in 3 different places along I-90. First, there’s the museum itself – a freestanding structure containing a theater, a series of exhibits, and a gift shop. The documentary that plays in the theater recounts the historical, political, and scientific background of the arms race and was absolutely fantastic. The museum exhibits explored the history of the conflict, the effects of the buildup on everyday Americans, and the procedures involved in operating, maintaining, and securing the missile sites.

It also included an eye opening (read: horrifying) look at some of the near misses that have occurred over the years.

The “Holy shit… Seriously???” portion of the museum

The second site that makes up the Minuteman Missile Museum is one of the old missile silos. Located off the highway in an otherwise unremarkable field, the silo, which contains a de-weaponized missile, and supporting structures are available for viewing through protective glass.

Decommissioned missile silo from the Minuteman Missile Program Decommissioned missile from the Minuteman Missile Program in South Dakota

Finally, if you reserve tickets beforehand, you can go on a Ranger led tour of a decommissioned control center. Our Ranger was a former missileer and we were fascinated by the various similarities and differences between the Titan and Minuteman programs.

This was a really interesting stop for us – not just because we had spent so much time at Titan, but because it was so well done. The museum did a good job of showing how the Cold War escalated organically and explored all facets of the political, historical, scientific, and environmental impact of these weapons and events.

Badlands National Park

Finally, we visited Badlands National Park. Fortunately, this is a park that can be visited in just a day – which is all we had after 3 days of unrelenting rain and misery. Of course, had we had more time we could have kept ourselves busy with hikes and further explorations, but with just a day, we were able to drive the main scenic loop and get a decent feel for the park.

Scenery at Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Going in, we thought we knew what the landscape would look like. After all, we’d just recently visited the Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park, another famous landscape known for its colorful rock formations.

And parts of the Badlands certainly looked like the Painted Desert…

Layered rock formations at Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Layered rock formations at Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Painted rocks at Badlands National Park in South Dakota
There were areas of colorful ‘painted rocks’ here too.

But in other ways, it looked completely different. Most notably because there was so much green!!

Large fields of green grasses leading to the layered rock formations at Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Large fields of green grasses leading to the layered rock formations at Badlands National Park in South Dakota Large fields of green grasses leading to the layered rock formations at Badlands National Park in South Dakota

We were blown away by how much life we found in this brutal area.

Hell, sometimes, it was walking right next to us…

Bighorn sheep at Badlands National Park in South Dakota


We thoroughly enjoyed visiting this region and are only sad we didn’t have more opportunity to explore. As we so often say, we’ll be back….

Next up: We head east – directly into the path of a freight train full of aggravation and some of the biggest headaches we’ve faced thus far. A veritable cavalcade of clusterfucks! A symphony of shitstorms! A dynasty of disasters!

Ugh… It was exhausting.

More on that next.


Where we stayed:

Happy Holiday RV Resort, Rapid City, South Dakota

Sleepy Hollow RV Park, Wall, South Dakota


  1. Great pics!! Really would love to go to Mount Rushmore some day! Maybe I’ll plan a marathon around it ????. The missile place looked awesome, reminds me of the museum in NV. Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks!!

    • There are a bunch of interesting nuclear sites and museums we’d still like to visit out west. That whole period of history and the science behind all of it is fascinating. There’s just always more to see. You should definitely consider a race out that way, if there is one. It would be a fun place to go for a long weekend. The scenery is beautiful and the sites are unique. Absolutely a worthwhile destination.

  2. It’s a bummer that you got hit with such terrible weather but I think you managed to still see the highlights, which is impressive. We rarely leave the house when temperatures are in the 30s! You will definitely need to plan a return visit. The hiking at Custer and at Wind Cave was fantastic during our stay last May/June but would be intolerable in cold, windy, wet conditions. Oh, and kudos to you for NOT being sucked into the tourist trap that is the Crazy Horse sculpture. We were not so wise……

    • Haha, that’s funny. I really struggled with the whole Crazy Horse thing. It seems to be on every “must see” list, and yet, it just seemed like a tourist trap. It’s been like 60 years and the thing isn’t even close to complete. And since the main sculptor died, almost nothing has been done. Sorda seems like they’re not trying very hard. And yet, people keep paying lots of money to see it…. a half finished sculpture that may or may not look anything like the guy it’s supposed to memorialize who may or may not have even wanted to be memorialized in that way. It just seemed a bit off to me, so I nixed it. Glad to hear that was the right call. It’s always hard to make those decisions – you’re in a spot maybe just this one time. Do you go see the must-see item, or do you skip it and maybe miss something incredible? Anyway, given all the other stuff in the area, we weren’t that torn up about it. We will absolutely have to return when the weather is better. We were bummed we didn’t get to hike through that spectacular scenery.

  3. May has been filled with crazy weather everywhere. We’ve lucked out with temps in Phoenix being 20 degrees below normal and thus not having to run the A/C 24/7. But we’re about ready to roll and should be in the Black Hills in mid June. At least you were able to take in the sights and scenery without all the tourists.

    • Yeah, it’s a tough call. Crap weather and no tourists vs great weather and all the tourists…. Each has its benefits, but after our recent experiences, I would give anything to stay in decent weather for a bit. It’s been really frustrating this year. Hopefully you’ll have better luck. I look forward to seeing your awesome wildlife photos from up there . You guys will love it!

    • Thank you! The monument was really beautiful at night. Though, it was pretty weird driving through the little nearby town and seeing these bright, disembodied heads floating in the sky in front of us. 🙂

  4. Once again, I loved this post and your take on life. Two things that Dave and I tell each other when weather or other things disrupt our perfect plans……Aren’t we glad that this isn’t our much awaited one week of vacation – and – if we saw everything at every stop we wouldn’t have a reason to come back! Those thoughts keep us from complaining too much about crowds, or weather (well, I DO complain a fair amount about the weather). I was pretty impressed with Mount Rushmore too, but we were there in the 70’s before it became so popular and we had it to ourselves also.

    I always hate to see wild animals become so habituated to human contact that they become obnoxious and then must be, ahem, relocated….

    We look forward to hearing about your symphony of shitstorms as you moved east.

    • I’m not sure why my spam filter decided this comment was spam, but it did… Anyway, I just found it and released it. Sorry bout that.

      You are totally right about the fact that we are not on vacation and that we can always come back. It’s easy to get disconnected from reality when living this lifestyle. I think the cold and rain were particularly tough this winter and spring because our insulation is seriously lacking and, as you know, dealing with a wet dog, and wet dog towels, wet dog tracked-in dirt in a tiny space can wear on you pretty quickly. But yeah, in the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that big of a deal.

      With regard to the begging burros… not only were we surprised by how friendly the animals were with humans, but continuing to feed them was not really discouraged by NPS. We thought that was pretty odd.

    • I can absolutely see that. We could easily spend a month or two there and never get bored. It’s got a little bit of everything – especially in the summer.

  5. Those burros!! You got such cute shots of them. Sadly, they were not interested in us when we were there. I had to chase them down like a burro paparazzi for a crummy photo. 🙂

    I’m glad you were able to get out and see the highlights of the Badlands and Custer State Park, despite the supremely terrible weather you had. You now have me convinced that we really should go to see Mt. Rushmore. We assumed it was a tourist trap and just did a drive-by, which was clearly a mistake on our part. We loved our day at Crazy Horse, but that was ONLY because we were able to participate in the annual spring Volksmarch and could hike up and onto the monument for $3. That was cool. Otherwise, I doubt we would have bothered.

    We’ve never visited the missile sites…but you make them look interesting. Nice to see the missile men and women have a sense of humor—I think? That Domino’s Pizza box door is hilarious in a really scary way!!

    • LOL – “Burro Paparazzi.” Love it!

      If we had the opportunity to hike up to Crazy Horse, we absolutely would have. But from what I read, for the high price of regular entry, visitors are only allowed to see the monument from a distance. Since they don’t seem to be working all that hard on it, I don’t see why they can’t let people get closer. Anyway, your experience was a total outlier. If we could have done what you did, we’d jump at the opportunity. Unfortunately, our timing for all things this time was pretty lousy. Oh well. Can’t win em all.

      The missile sites are definitely interesting – at least if you’re interested in recent American history. And yes, it’s always fun to find these little bits of humor in places that are so serious.

    • Thanks! We were happy to at least get a few days that were cooperative. Hopefully we’ll have better luck next time.

  6. Bummer the weather did not cooperate. Aren’t the Custer SP lakes beautiful?!?!? Even better with a little snow. Hopefully next time you come through the area the weather will cooperate!

    • I absolutely understand why you all decided to stay in that area. It is really phenomenal. We watched the park’s introductory video at the visitors center and they had some beautiful footage of those lakes during summer. What a lovely place to set up for a couple days, go swimming, paddle around, etc. Next visit will definitely be summer – which apparently means the last week of July/ first week of August?? 🙂

  7. Great pictures… glad you got there despite the poopy weather and poopy dog. Love the burros and our dog Bentley would have blown a gasket or maybe an alkaline gland if they had walk up and licked our SUV!!

    We got to get back there!!! Damn boat has us in the PNW most of the Summer.

    • I mean, there are worse places to be than the Pacific Northwest on a boat…. Just sayin…. 🙂

      And yes, I had suggested to Kevin before we took off that perhaps bringing the dog along on our wildlife loop drive was, perhaps, not the best idea, but I was overruled…. and then proven correct very quickly. After which, I kept pointing it out. Just to make clear that I was right and he was wrong. Repeatedly.


  8. It’s been over 20 years since I visited SD. We went during the Sturgis rally so everywhere was PACKED. The bison are a lot more intimidating when you are on a motorcycle! Your post has me itching to go back. Hope Thor is over his stomach bug. A cavalcade, a symphony and a dynasty? Oh no!

    • I imagine the Sturgis rally is a sight to see and must be fun, but man, it must be crazy. We saw the price changes for that period for the various campgrounds and they obviously charge a premium. And yeah, we kept plenty of distance between us and the bison even when we were in a car. I would be pretty freaked out on a bike or motorcycle. Those things are not to be messed with.

      Thor is a bit better these days, but German Shepherds are famous for having rather lousy stomachs, so it’s an ongoing issue. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure….

  9. Loved your pics! We went to Mt. Rushmore in October 2017 when we became official South Dakotans (Dakotites?). I loved Mt. Rushmore. We did not see it at night, love those pics. We were also there practically by ourselves. I would not want to visit at high tourist time. We plan on being in South Dakota in a couple of months, so thanks for the heads up on places to see.
    I feel your pain for lingering in a state. We’ve been a bit stuck in Northern New Mexico for a couple of weeks because of storms and high wind warnings. I want to get to Colorado, but the weather in southern Colorado has been a bit scary to head into.
    Safe travels to your next destination!

    • Ugh, I feel for you. It’s taken us driving all the way to the northeast, of all places, to finally find stable weather that isn’t terrible. It sucks when you just get stuck in one place for long periods of time, and I feel like a whole lot of people have been feeling stuck recently. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It is definitely not worth risking your safety to drive through bad weather or set up in it. Hopefully, Mother Nature will get the message about this whole “Spring” thing at some point in the near future…

      As for South Dakota, other places we wanted to visit, but didn’t because of all the terrible weather, were Jewel Cave and Wind Cave. Both came highly recommended, but we skipped them. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck than we did.

      Safe travels to you too!

  10. Beautiful night photos at Mt. Rushmore! We love that area and like you hope to return. Custer State park is one of our favorites. Amazing photos of the Badlands!

    • Thank you! We are absolutely going to have to go back. It was one of the prettiest areas we’ve been through in recent memory. Just the kind of hiking we love. And Badlands was just too cool. So otherworldly…. It’s amazing to think such incredibly different landscapes can be found just miles away from one another.

  11. Glad you got at least a little good weather! Looks like you were able to have a good time. We are facing that now in Utah. It was 70 and sunny yesterday, rainy and 40 today!

    You really know how to tease a blog entry, I can’t wait to hear what happens next! (Though I’m sorry it was aggravating)

    • Ugh, I have to say, as much as there are downsides to east coast weather (humidity, primarily), at least the temperatures don’t swing wildly like they do out west. It may rain here, but it’s still in the 60s and 70s, which is much more bearable. I hope things improve for everyone soon. It’s been a tough year.

      As for the next post, as aggravating as it all was, it did provide plenty of blog material… so, there’s that! 🙂

  12. South Dakota is just another amazing state where one can spend months. Our favorite place you missed:( Crazy Horse Memorial is one place we have visited four times starting back when we did a motorcycle trip 14 years ago. We’ve even been up on the arm, thanks to friends who volunteered there. This park has so much significance. Make sure to add it your list next time through. We, too, really enjoyed Custer State Park. We got stuck in a very large buffalo jam. Thanks goodness we weren’t in a hurry. The weather certainly has been wrecking havoc on cutting each visit short for both us. Good luck in the east!! How long will you be in the east?

    • Hey!

      So we are in New England until late July, then we’ll be heading across NY (stopping to see Sue and Dave on the way!) and then spending most of August in Michigan. We’re spending winter in Florida this year, so we’re on this side of the country for the rest of the year…. So far, while not perfect, the weather has been much improved from what we were dealing with out west. What a nutty year.

  13. We love South Dakota, especially the Blackhills area, besides it’s our home state! Steve was so bummed when he read that you visited Minuteman. He would have loved to visit it had we known there is a museum there. Could that be our excuse of revisit?
    Each time we hear about weather issues up north, we always think of you and wondered if you dodged it or just getting the tail end of it. But you made the best of what you can get, and from your great photos, looked liked you had a great time there. And you even went to Mt Rushmore at night! how cool is that!
    Love the stare down between Thor and the burro.

    • I’m not sure where I heard of the Minuteman Museum, but I don’t think it was from a blog. I don’t think it’s on many folks’ radars. It is absolutely worth a visit though and I have no doubt Steve would enjoy it very much. So, yes! You should definitely user it s an excuse to revisit. 🙂

      As for the weather, for once, we are NOT stuck in the worst weather in the country. We’ve actually been quite lucky recently. Almost immediately after we crossed through Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, they had terrible tornadoes. We may have gotten rained on, but at least we didn’t have trees flying through the air. We’ll take it!

    • Us too! It would have been a real bummer if we went all the way up there just so we could sit in our RV watching Netflix for a week. 🙁

  14. I maintain that it’s not really a selfie if you’re not holding the camera yourself, so you’re in the clear! We loved Badlands and had a really good hike in there. Mount Rushmore ???? The night photos are so cool and dramatic!

    The burros are adorable, and I think Thor just wanted to be buddies. They could have all licked cars together ????

    Like everyone, I wish the weather hadn’t pushed you through faster than planned, but like you say, it just writes your future itinerary for you!

    I’m glad you are safely east and enjoying better weather at last.

    • You’re right. I guess if we’re really being accurate, a selfie requires me to be holding the camera. Ergo, this is totally and completely different and not self indulgent in the least. Sweet!

      I think Thor would definitely be up for licking a car once in a while because he’s a male puppy and that makes him NOT the most thoughtful being on the planet. I’m just not sure about the burro thing. He got pissed off and started angrily barking at a large sculpture of a bison last week. I think he’s got a bit of a Napolean complex, if I’m being honest.

      Anyway, we’re glad to be safely off the road for a bit too!!

  15. Love reading your blog! We haven’t been to South Dakota yet, but will put these beautiful sites on our list. We too have been plagued with weather issues this spring (mostly cold, rain, and now tornados) and it sort of took us by surprise since we are newbies and didn’t realize how much weather can be a factor in RV travel. I had to laugh at the dog diarrhea— only because I am currently facing the same issue… ugh. Safe travels!

    • Thanks!

      If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years doing this, it’s that weather plays a HUGE role in how we feel about places. It can absolutely make or break entire locations – which isn’t fair, but it’s true. I guess it’s just important to keep it in mind when you’re evaluating how much you like or dislike any given spot. And this year has been a tough one to just be getting started. It’s hard to “chase 70 degrees” when it’s 40 degrees everywhere you turn. I hope you all don’t get discouraged. When it’s great, it’s really great.

      I also hope your dog feels better! Thor is always on a roller coaster. Every tie we think we’ve resolved his stomach issues, he starts with something else. Never a dull moment….

      Good luck!

  16. Oh there are too many nice photos to count. Some stunning shots. Rushmore at night, Badlands with stream meandering through the Meadows, and the Sylvan Rocks photo of the lake with solo tree are at the top of my list.

    Best of all, it didn’t look rainy or crappy reading the post. You made it memorable.

    • Thanks TBG! You will appreciate this tidbit: when we went to Rushmore at night, I was motivated enough to break out my tripod – which I never use – and bring it along. We got all the way there and I realized I had forgotten to grab the connector piece that fits on the camera – meaning the tripod would not work. So, instead, I set the DSLR up on the brick wall on the plaza and used a combination of my winter hat and a glove to get the camera correctly angled to get the photo. Goofy, but true! In the end, I was pretty happy with what I got, but the really good news is I will never forget that connector piece again!

  17. Great reading and great pics! If you guys are headed east and have some time, don’t miss the Porter Sculpture Garden in Montrose, SD (right off I-90 on the way east to Sioux Falls). We stopped years ago, and it was such a weird mix of Kaczynski-like rants mixed with giant sculptures. Very weird, but very fun. Hope your travels are good!

    • Awwww man… I hate missing cool stuff like this, but we had to quickly make our way across the country this time (we got to the east coast last weekend), so we didn’t get to stop very often. The upside, though, is that we will, unquestionably, be going back to many of these places to actually explore them. So I will add this to the list. It certainly sounds like a unique place that we would enjoy!

  18. We haven’t been to the US badlands in years, a visit is well overdue, one of these days. Too bad the weather didn’t cooperate but hey it kept the tourist away, always a gamble that early and real late in the season.

    • The Badlands are definitely worth a stop. We’d love to spend more time there. And I am just glad we got at least a day or two of good weather, because, really – not having the whole place crawling with tourists was pretty wonderful!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here