Roaming South Dakota

Wind Cave National Park

We were excited to explore the underground caverns of the world’s 6th largest cave system at Wind Cave NP. All tours are ranger-led and in order to join a specialty tour like the candlelight or wild cave tour, which you should definitely look into, you need to:

  1. determine the date you plan on visiting 
  2. call their reservation line at 605-745-1134, a month in advance of that date (no earlier) to hold your place on the tour

I joined the Wildcave tour and had a blast! It starts at 1pm and runs for 4 hours. While that seems like a really long time, it didn’t feel like it. Keep in mind that some of that time is dedicated to ensuring you’re properly outfitted with kneepads, a helmet, headlamp, gloves, etc. before descending underground. During the tour, you’ll wriggle through tunnels, walk through twisting caverns and get to explore a portion of the caves not accessible on the general tour. The tour may not be suited for those afraid of enclosed spaces.

Further, no backpacks or cameras are allowed on the tour. Unfortunately this means I don’t have pictures to share, but it was a fun though slightly muddy experience. And in addition to what it had to offer underground, Windcave NP was also beautiful above ground:

Rolling hillsides and broad prairies
So excited to see our first bison! He was standing right outside our campground entrance. Can I take him home? 😍
The sunsets were beautiful pastel swirls

RV/Oversized vehicle parking: We stayed at Elk Mountain Campground, located in Windcave NP. The campground is first-come, first-served and offers no hookups and no cell reception. There were only a handful of sites that could accommodate a rig larger than 30ft, with many sites more suited for tent camping. But like the image above shows, the sunset views were nice here!

Badlands National Park

While Windcave NP offered up prairies and grassy hills, Badlands showed us a drastically different landscape all together. Here, stark, severe spires rise up from the ground, which you can explore up close through hikes around the park.

It may look desolate but I saw some prong horn sheep while walking about
Hiking in this seemingly barren landscape

Mount Rushmore 

Glad we can check off another iconic American site! As popular and busy as it was, I enjoyed our visit to Mount Rushmore. I also learned a number of interesting facts from the various interpretive exhibits. For example, did you know:

  • President Jefferson was originally going to appear to Washingtons’s right, but due to the quality of the rock, he was moved to the left.
  • Despite the dangerous and hard work involved with constructing the monument, there were no deaths suffered in its creation
  • Sculptor Gutzon Borglum wanted to include President Roosevelt’s pince nes glasses, but rather than carve the entire frame, he sculpted a few borders around the eyes and bridge of the nose to give the illusion that the president was wearing glasses. The effect was so successful that visitors have asked park rangers how they go about cleaning the glass on Roosevelt’s glasses!
Do you see Washington’s profile peeking through?
What I came to see – these four gentlemen!

Honorable mention:
Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD

The Mammoth Site is a museum, non-profit organization and active archaeological dig! The site boasts the largest concentration of mammoths found in the world. Most of the mammoths found have been Columbian Mammoths, although three Wolly Mammoths have been unearthed, as well as animals such as the extinct short-faced bear, camel, llama and prairie dog.

Adult admission was $10 and includes a tour and an intro video that was quite well done.

I geeked out on all the mammoth bones! 😝
There’s so many bones! And they’ve barely scratched the surface on this dig.
If you have the time to spare, you too can volunteer to dig up bones and make cool discoveries.
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