A couple months ago I received an email from South Dakota Tourism ( @southdakota ), with the opportunity to come and explore the state. I without hesitation accepted! I had never been to South Dakota before, and I truly did not know a whole lot about it. When I started to look more into it, it was clear that my few days spent there were going to be a true adventure. South Dakota is known as the “State of Great”, and I soon realized why. It does have great sites, great hiking, camping, history, kayaking and more.
I was fortunate to bring a plus one on the trip with me. My good friend Jessie aka @jadubya and her fur baby @boone_tails joined me. I decided to leave my pup (@timber_tails) with a sister back in my home town. Jessie was not only a great adventure partner but also helped me capture some of the amazing images I will be sharing with you! Before arriving in South Dakota on Friday June 1, I spent three days in Denver, CO, where Jesse is from, trail running and sight-seeing, before making the six hour drive up to SD.
The focus of our trip was around ‘State of Great Camping’, and exploring and hiking around the southwest area of the state. Throughout the blog I will take you through a little itinerary of our 4 days and 3 nights spent in the area.
Day 1 – Friday June 1
We arrived in South Dakota on the morning of Friday, June 1. We took a drive through Wind Cave National Park – before heading to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The beauty had already surpassed our expectations within the first hour of being in the state. There were bison everywhere. The greenery and landscape were breath taking. The orange depicted in one of the photos below is due to the pine beetle, which has swept through different areas of the national park.
Since I was young, I had always heard of Mount Rushmore – and seen photos of it. Being able to experience it first hand was wonderful – Boone and Jessie both agree! South Dakota is not only known as the “State of Great” but also the state of “Great Faces, Great Places”.
From there we headed to Rapid City for some food, then off on a little hike close by in the Black Hills, called ‘Spring Creek Loop Trail’. This trail was only 3miles long and a perfect way to spend the afternoon, stretching out our legs. The trail followed along Spring Creek and up onto a ridge coming back.
From the hike we headed to the Badlands! We could’ve easily spent a week in itself exploring around the Badlands, though we did our best to explore with the time given. We found a great spot where we hung out for a couple hours (pictured below), before heading back down the road to our campsite for the evening.
The road out of the Badlands to our campsite provided great opportunity for photos. Theres a quote that says “Forever a girl that gets excited when the sky turns pretty colours”… that is me to a ‘T’! The photos say it all.
After the evening sunset adventure we headed to our campsite to bunker down for the day. We stayed overnight at Sage Creek Campground. Access is located off the Sage Creek Rim Road, an unpaved road. Camping is free of charge, and potable water is available!
We woke early to enjoy the sunrise in Badlands National Park. We didn’t have to go far from our campsite to enjoy anything thats for sure. To start off, we woke up and opened our tent doors to bison hanging out in the campground. What a unique experience. Then we headed down the road a bit and were greeted with some morning traffic (bison)… traffic I don’t really mind!
We then headed back to our campsite for some much needed coffee and breakfast! One great thing about traveling with Jessie is that she appreciates that coffee multiple times a day, is extremely necessary!
From there we headed for another little drive through the Badlands before we went over to Cluster State Park, making a quick pit stop at the places below.
Custer was about an hours drive from Sage Creek Campground. We spent the morning hiking Little Devils Tower (pictured below), which was only 4 miles round trip.
From there we then drove through the ‘Wildlife Loop’ (which takes approximately an hour). The Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park is a beautiful drive, where you can spot a number of bison, donkeys, deer, foxes and more. From there we took a drive along Needles Highway, a scenic 14-mile drive through pine and spruce forests, ending up at Sylvan Lake. Everything is very close by and easy to do within a day.
We ended the day with another hike on ‘Sunday Gulch Trail’. The trail head began at Sylvan Lake. What a unique hike! We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into, we were just happy we chose to wear our @keencanada Ethos/Newport water shoes. Sunday Gulch is a 4 mile loop, which starts out as a very rocky downward hike. The park service has provided handrails as you would likely struggle to climb down without them as you cross a stream a number of times. Once you reach the bottom of this hike you are treated to a stroll along a creek with views of the various rock formations.
The loop leads you right back to Sylvan Lake, where we enjoyed the sunset, before heading to our campsite for the night. Sylvan Lake is known as the crown jewel of Custer State Park. I would have to agree. It’s a place where visitors enjoy hiking, swimming, boating and fishing. It is surrounded by impressive rounded rock formations and ponderosa pine trees.
We spent the night at ‘Grace Coolidge Campground’ a half hour drive from Sylvan Lake.
We woke early yet again, to take full advantage of the day. We headed straight to Pactola Lake in the morning, for a kayaking adventure with Carrie from Black Hills Adventure Tours @blackhillsadventuretours . We spent close to three hours exploring Jenny Gulch, a beautiful lake that feeds from Pactola Lake. The lake is also popular for cliff jumping, boaters, swimming and fishing. Keep an eye out for turtles along the shore!
From there we headed to Spearfish Canyon, to check out a couple small hikes and waterfalls in the area. Below are three of the pit stops we made. Starting with Spearfish Falls, a quick mile round trip to get to the base of the falls, the walk begins with the beautiful Botanical Gardens of Spearfish Canyon. Roughlock (pictured after) is just across the street from Spearfish Falls. We had the pleasure of meeting up with Jesse (@jessebrownnelson) who toured us around these stops, and then took us for an evening hike.
From Roughlock Falls we headed to Community Caves (pictured below), (photos by @jadubya) which is a quick 30 minute hike up a steep canyon. The caves are only a few miles into the canyon if you are traveling from Spearfish, the trailhead is at mile marker 13. You can park in the pullout on the right side of the road.
From there we headed for a quick bite, and checked into our cabin at the @spearfishsdkoa Spearfish KOA campground ( @kampgroundsofamerica ). After a couple nights in a tent it was nice to cozy up in a cabin.
We headed for a sunset hike in Spearfish Canyon (pictured below), with @jessebrownnelson, and his pup Marley, which was worth every single step!
We again woke up early to take full advantage of our last day in South Dakota. We headed out for a trail run on ‘Iron Creek Trail’ in Spearfish Canyon, bright and early. Iron Creek was approximately 6 miles out and back, shaded by the canyon and trees. We then headed back to the KOA for coffee and breakfast (pancakes for the win!), along with cooling down in the pool, and getting showered up before making our trek back home.
South Dakota is a place you truly have to experience for yourself to understand. Like I said at the beginning of the blog, SD was not first on my list, when the opportunity to come explore it, thanks to @southdakota I grabbed ahold. From Mount Rushmore, to Custer State Park, the Badlands, the wildlife, Spearfish Canyon, the waterfalls, endless hiking, lakes, kayaking and more, South Dakota surely has endless adventure opportunities awaiting. No wonder they are known as the “State of Great”.
For any of you interested in hearing more about my South Dakota trip, whether it’s with regards to our itinerary, hikes we did, sights, campgrounds etc. feel free to email me! Always happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thanks for reading! Also again a huge thanks to the tourism board of @southdakota, @jadubya and @jessebrownnelson for all their help in making this trip possible. Also @boone_tails for being the best adventure pup around. Next time I am in South Dakota I will be sure to bring my pup Timber.
If you are planning or thinking about traveling to South Dakota you can find out more at www.travelsouthdakota.com . For things to do, places to stay, or things to simply know before you go.
One thought on “State of Great”
I can’t express how happy I am that you enjoyed your visit there! The entire Black Hills/Badlands area is my favorite corner of the world, and we’re currently in the early stages of relocating there (a process that will take longer than I would like before we can leave our current home in the Quad Cities).
I’ve often remarked in my writing on the area that I’m surprised that this isn’t a bigger destination for outdoor recreation; it has everything you need, as you’ve seen. On the other hand, I’m also glad that there’s plenty of places where you can still go disappear into solitude. It’s just a wonderful place, and again, I’m thrilled that you had such a great time.