Roadtrip to Mt.Rushmore
Our road trip to Mount Rushmore is one of the most memorable trip we had ever taken. We had a great time and this trip felt like we had sufficient time for checking out all the places we wanted to.
It all started on the first week of June 2013. We had a long weekend coming up on Independence day. Well, it was not really a long weekend, but we made it! We recently did a NY and DC trip and wanted to go on a road trip. My initial plan was to go to Detroit and then to Niagara Falls. But Preethi was somehow not very interested with my plan. So we started by looking up good places within 10 hour drive from us. Preethi’s suggestion was Mt.Rushmore and I started reading about the place and its history and immediately became very interested. We booked our hotels about 3 weeks before the trip. All the hotels were expensive since it was long weekend and Independence day! But our rooms were decent and clean.
Day 1: July 3rd 2013
Starting Point:Milwaukee, WI
Destination: Sioux Falls, SD
Distance: ~500 miles
Our first leg of the trip was a 500 mile drive to Sioux Falls, SD. I had to work 1/2 a day on wednesday (Jul 3rd). We started around noon from home. Our first stop was 2 miles from our home (:P) for ice and then we were on I94 heading west. The weather was awesome and the lush green surroundings were perfect. We couldn’t have asked for more. We had made cake for the journey the previous day and enjoyed having it on one of our rest stops. It was only a drive the whole day. We reached at Sioux Falls around 9 pm. Our stay for the night was at the Holiday Inn. The room was good and had a good night’s sleep.
Day 2: July 3rd 2013
Starting Point: Sioux Falls, SD
Destination: Rapid City, SD
Distance: ~370 miles
Key Destinations:Badland National Park, WallDrug, Crazy Horse Memorial
Notable Restaurant: Teddy’s Deli, Keystone
The next morning, we were on our way to Badlands. The roads in SD were arrow straight and there were virtually no vehicles in sight. And the best part was the speed limit – 75mph! We reached Badlands and were amazed with what we saw. The views were just breathtaking. We had read about the area a bit before coming here. It is called Badlands by the native Lakota people due to the unique topography and simply by the way it looks.
We enjoyed a good 2 hours there (I know its less, but Badlands was never in our original schedule. We are just glad, we stopped there! Its that beautiful). It also has a mini scenic drive and numerous view points where we can just stop and enjoy peaceful time with nature. Even though it was a long weekend, there was not much crowd (I really like it that way) and we did the drive through loop
Our next stop was Walldrug, located at the small city of Wall. There are about a million advertisement board on the way to Wall throughout the sides of the road. It creates a sense of curiousness just to check it out. It was a very unique experience and I had never expected see anything like it. A few pics below will give you an idea what this place is.
We left WallDrug to our final destination of the day – Rapid City. We will be staying in Rapid City for the next 2 days and visiting all the nearby places. The drive was getting a little boring – there were no traffic for miles and just a few trucks once a while. I was doing about 80 mph. It would be getting dark soon and we wanted to catch a glimpse of Rushmore during the night and again visit it in the morning. I saw a truck a mile ahead of me and the road was straight. I was definitely going above speed limit at the moment. As I closed in the gap, the truck moved to the left lane and it overtook a slow moving car. Moments later, I realized it was a cop car!! :). He was going very slow, doing about 60 mph. I did not have enough time to slow down to speed limit, I had to overtake him (I did slow down a bit). But, it seemed like I zipped past him. He turned on the lights. I pulled over, cursing myself. I honestly did not know how fast I was going, but it was definitely more than the speed limit. The cop jumped out immediately and approached our car (It was my first time getting caught). Thankfully, it was only a warning. He was friendly and asked me to keep it within the speed limit. I was just glad he let us go. Not to mention, I maintained speed limit till we were out of South Dakota!
We reached our hotel – La Quinta Inn & Suites at Rapid City. Checked in, freshened up a bit and left out. Mt.Rushmore was about 16 miles from our hotel. It was getting dark soon. Our plan was to check out the monument at the night and it being the 4th of July, we were expecting fireworks and great events. The roads were good throughout, but very steep. Once we reached the front gates, we were surprised to see hundreds of vehicles before us. Unfortunately, we were not able to get in as the parking lot was completely full and all the vehicles were asked to turn back.
With a heavy heart, I drove ahead and found a view point. We were able to get a glimpse of George Washington’s side profile.
Crazy Horse memorial was never on our itinerary, but having nothing else to do, we left to Crazy Horse memorial. It was a 30 min drive from Mt.Rushmore, but the traffic was heavy. We finally reached the memorial and we were let in without asking for any entry fee. We came to know that the laser show was going on, we were just asked to park anywhere and switch off our headlights. We only caught the last 10 mins of the show, which was good.
We were hungry by then and it was past 10pm. It took over 30 mins to just exit the memorial. We had to pass through Rushmore memorial on our way back to the hotel. It was closed by the time we reached. We stopped at a small lovely town of Keystone. It was lively even at that hour with few shops and restaurants open. We chose to have burgers at the Teddy’s Deli and we were pleasantly surprised. The food was so good that we came back the next day too. Came back to our room after midnight and had a good night sleep.
Day 2: Day 3: July 5th 2013
Starting Point: Rapid City, SD
Distance: ~200 miles
Key destinations: Reptile Garden, Spearfish Scenic Drive, Deadwood
Notable Restaurant: Notable Restaurants: Everest Cuisine, Rapid City & Teddy’s Deli, Keystone
The next day I had to work remotely. Finished up my work around 2 pm and we went out for lunch at the Everest Cuisine at Rapid City. We were starving and The food was excellent. After the awesome lunch, we went to the Reptile Garden. This was also not on the original plan, but Preethi wanted to visit. The whole place was neatly maintained and they had a whole collection of reptiles. Many kinds of snakes, alligators, even birds too. We entered the Sky dome which houses many tropical plants and exotic flowers. We did not notice at first, but when we looked down, we were shocked to see small reptiles and frog on the ground! Small kids were fearless of these creatures and they wanted to touch those. I am personally scared of reptiles and kept my distance. We had a great time. We were lucky enough to get seats for the Bird Show which was awesome and very informative. They even had large tortoise and we were allowed to touch them. Overall, it was a fun experience and definitely a must-see place. You can cover everything if you spend about 3-4 hours.
Our next next destination was the famous historic gold rush town – Deadwood. Then we were on our way through the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway which is an absolutely gorgeous drive with stunning surroundings and many view points. It was a very nice calm, relaxed drive and one of the best scenic drive ever. Our last stop of the day was Mt.Rushmore Memorial, since we missed it the previous night. We reached there, parked our car and started our small walk towards the memorial. You get small glimpse as you enter the memorial. I have seen various photos of Mt.Rushmore and also in a few movies, but I didn’t expect it to be such a majestic piece of architecture. It was totally breath taking. It was raining for a bit and it looked like the statues were crying. We spent a couple of hours and had our dinner at the Teddy’s Deli on our way back to the room.
Day 4: July 6th 2013
Distance: ~325 miles
Key destinations: Rushmore Memorial, Alpine Slide, Air & Space Museum
Next day morning, our first stop of the day was the Heli Tour!! We had booked the Mount Rushmore Tour with Copter Tours. It was our first time in a Helicopter and it was an unique experience. The view of Rushmore was spectacular from the Heli and up-close. It was about a 10 min ride and it was one of the highlights of our trip. Our friendly and very knowledgeable pilot talked us through the history of the place and was happy to answer our questions. A small video of the ride..
We then went to the President’s Alpine Slide. Its also located at Keystone. They have got 2 parallel tracks which descend from the mountain. You can reach the mountain by the chairlift ride. The view from the mountain is absolutely stunning. We were lucky because the weather was perfect. We wouldnt have enjoyed much if it was cloudy or raining. At the top of the mountain, there are view points a mini trail and a small snack bar too. We spent some time roaming about and came to the point where the sledge ride starts. There is a slow and fast track – we both chose the fast lane. The ride is pretty quick, I dont think it lasted even a couple of mins. We had good fun though. There was ziplinning too, but we did not have enough time to check it out.
We left for Rushmore Memorial one last time. This time there was absolutely no crowd when we came in. I was able to get a parking lot close to the entrance of the memorial. I collected the camera bags and closed the door. I immediately realized the keys were inside the car. We did not know what to do and we went to the information center to ask if they could help us. A kind elderly gentlemen took our name and the location where we parked our car and told us it happens often than we would expect and said not to worry. I will let a ranger know and he would come and help us out. We were told to go back and wait near our car. We did and would have waited about 10 mins before the ranger showed. He was a friendly guy and he got the door open in a second. We thanked him and apologized too for the inconvenience. From that moment, I make it a point to lock the doors using the keys. (my car is not equipped with remote locks).
We spent about an hour or two checking out the museum a level down. It was a little after noon, we had ice cream and left Keystone. Our final attraction stop was at Ellsworth – An Air and Space Museum. Few pics below.
Our night stay was at the Ramada Inn at Mitchell, SD. The final day was just the drive back to Milwaukee, a journey of about 550 miles. Overall, it was a memorable and a fun road trip! 🙂