Black Hills Family Road Trip
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
With my husband's busy schedule as a fishing guide and tournament angler, we were only able to find one free weekend. So I snatched that time up and we headed out on a family vacation. With my oldest being in high school, it is even more important to me that we take the time to make memories together while everyone is still under one roof - even during a pandemic.
Last summer we road tripped to Colorado (you can read about that here) and our family loved that trip so much, so we packed up and headed west once again. This time, our destination was the Black Hills of South Dakota. Now, we are from South Dakota (the opposite end of the state), and have been to the hills many times, but most of the time we go in the fall or winter when it is less busy. This time we thought we would try something different and go during the summer months. Plus, due to the pandemic, our economy was hit hard, much like the other states. Because of this, it was really important to me that we spent our money right here in our home state of South Dakota.
We headed down the road with our first stop being in Mitchell, SD, to drop off our dogs to stay for the long weekend. Originally, I wanted our first stop to be 1880 town, just west of Murdo (almost center of SD). However, due to COVID this site wasn't open. I was so extremely bummed. I hadn't been since I was little and really wanted my kids to experience it as well. But we continued on and didn't stop until we got to Spearfish Canyon.
Spearfish Canyon is one of my favorite all time spots. The drive is so gorgeous with the towering hills, cliffs and stream surrounding you as you drive through. It's just breathtaking. You may remember a YouTube video I made a little over a year ago of our winter hike to Devils Bathtub (You can view it here). But during that trip I really wanted to see this hike during the summer when the snow was melted so we decided to make a stop and hike the trail. It felt so good to get out after the 6 hour drive! You'll notice in the YouTube video that we had the trail to ourselves. Well, that was far from true this time. During the summer months this trail is very busy. Most of the time we were waiting in line to cross streams, etc. That was definitely a bit disappointing. Overall, the end result was not as interesting as I had hoped it would be. I definitely prefer the hike during winter months instead.
After the hike, we continued to wind our way through Spearfish Canyon towards Deadwood, SD, where we would be staying that night. We checked into the Tru by Hilton hotel, which was in walking distance to the main part of downtown Deadwood. We headed down for dinner, took an old time photo, visited the cute shops, and watched the mainstreet shootout that happens multiple times a day, every day. I had never seen it so I wanted to make a point to do so on this trip. But it was absolutely cheesy and we couldn't understand most of it (the microphones were fuzzy). So we giggled and wondered what the heck we just watched then headed back down the street for ice cream before heading back to our hotel for the evening.
The next morning, we got up early because we had rented an ATV from Mystic Hills Hideaway for a half day excursion. This is something I had never done and thought could be a fun way to see the Black Hills! About 1 hour into our 4 hour excursion, our GPS unit lost all battery and we were on our own. Luckily, we had a paper map, but who even knows how to read those anymore!? So we tossed it aside and just kept driving. We made our way around the hills and up to some high points to catch the view, take a break, and have some snacks. The bumping around on the trail eventually put the kids to sleep! No idea how they could sleep like that, but we continued around the trails and after about 3 hours decided to drop off the ATV just a bit early. We were all exhausted. While it was nice to see the Black Hills from a different perspective, after driving 6 hours the day before, it was sort of tiring to just drive around for another 4 hours today.
After having lunch at the lodge at Mystic Hills we headed on down the highway and made our way to Sylvan Lake for the afternoon. We hiked our way all the way around the lake and just as we were going to do a little swimming, a rain cloud came and sent us running for our vehicle. We tried to wait out the storm, but it just didn't seem like it was going to pass anytime soon. So we packed up and headed down the scenic Needles Highway for a beautiful drive on our way to the next evening spot, Creekside Lodge.
That evening, we had dinner at the Legion Lake Lodge and then decided to drive the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. We saw tons of Buffalo up close, a herd of Elk in the distance, some veeerrrryyyyy friendly donkeys (too friendly for me!) and a few Pronghorn Antelope. This 16 mile drive was just beautiful and a perfect way to end our evening.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the State Game Lodge and then headed to Keystone for a day of fun via the Iron Mountain Road. This highway is extremely scenic with lots of tunnels, bridges, and winding roadways. There is even a lookout where you can view Mount Rushmore. There were points on the road where I was a bit nervous because of the height, but we made it unscathed!
Once we arrived in Keystone, we headed to Rushmore Tramway Adventures where we rode the alpine slide, did some summer downhill tubing, and rode a zipline! The kids were looking forward to this activity the most and we all had a really fun time! We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Keystone before heading to our final evening spot, a cabin at Legion Lake.
We hiked around Legion Lake and spent some time on the beach so our daughter could swim a bit. But another storm rolled in and we raced back to the cabin. When the sky cleared, we headed back down to the beach for a bit before more rain came pushing us back into the cabin where we hung out the rest of the evening.
This morning we packed up and headed into Rapid City for breakfast at Tally's - a cute little diner downtown across from the haunted Historic Hotel Alex Johnson. After breakfast we headed down the interstate towards home!
Overall, we had alot of fun seeing things together as a family that we hadn't experienced before!