I feel like taking a family vacation to South Dakota is a very American thing to do. I had actually never been to SD and I naively thought it was a boring state. Since we have some family who live in Spearfish, we thought it would be the perfect chance to get away and not have to spend a ton of money on lodging and eating out. I had been looking forward to taking the girls on their first family vacation and even though there were PLENTY of meltdowns, we went in with low expectations and overall had a great time.
On our way up to Spearfish (a 9 hour drive!) we stopped in the badlands. It was stunning. I mean, truly breathtaking. The girls were tired and cranky at this point so we didn’t get to stick around and explore as much as I would have liked, but I’m really glad we stopped and I would recommend it to anyone who passes by. We were told to avoid Wall Drug because it’s a huge tourist trap–it is. But. Doughnuts. We stopped because we were starving and I caved and bought a few of their cake doughnuts. Zero regrets about it.
The Black Hills felt a lot like Colorado at some points. We decided to take the girls on a hike in Spearfish Canyon and it couldn’t have gone any better. They were such troopers! They loved pretending to be warrior princesses and they jumped over rocks and climbed their way to the top. We hiked to Devil’s Bathtub and it was beautiful.
Hiking with children on your back is no easy feat, let me tell you. I got more of a workout on this trip than I have in years! It’s easy to do when the scenery is beautiful.
We went to Keystone one day to do the Rushmore thing because you have to! Keystone reminded me of a condensed version of Branson and I’m not a big fan of giant tourist traps, BUT they did have a chairlift that took you to a restaurant and on the way down you could ride the alpine slide. That was the girls’ favorite part of the whole trip and they would have been content to ride that over and over again all day.
A lot of people told us that we needed to visit Storybook Village in Rapid City. The girls loved it and I wish Nebraska had something like it! It’s free and it’s this giant, weird park that’s full of children’s story characters. Of course the favorite spot was Cinderella’s carriage.
On our last day, we decided to explore Custer State Park. I really wanted to see a killer view before we left and it seemed like that was the place to do it. The mistake we made, however, was going through the wildlife loop. I was expecting to see herds of buffalo surrounding our van. We saw two. TWO. The entire 45 minute drive was very uneventful and disappointing. Obviously it’s wildlife so you can’t guarantee anything, but the girls were getting restless and we wish we would have skipped that part. We took a VERY long drive all the way across the park up to Sylvan Lake and even though everyone was cranky and tired of being in the car, Sylvan Lake turned out to be my favorite part of the trip. It was beautiful. Had I known it existed beforehand, I would have planned an entire day to spend up there on the beach. The trails were pretty, the beach was clean, and the girls loved playing in the water.
Needless to say, South Dakota wowed us. Even though there were a few bumps along the way, we enjoyed our first adventure with the girls and I even learned to like the uncertainty of traveling. Part of exploring a new area is learning how to go with the flow and take risks and that’s not easy for me, but we learned a lot on the trip and we’re looking forward to more vacations in the future!