Six Days in “West River” South Dakota

We have learned that South Dakotans are either from “West River” or “East River.” There does not seem to be much animosity between the two sides of the state, but they do belong to different camps based on which side of the Missouri they live.

Our first day in “West River” was technically right on the Missouri River in the state capital, Pierre. This northern capital has a surprisingly small population of around 14,000 people; however, there was still plenty to do!

We began by dropping our rig at Griffin Park, where the city hosts a self-serve campground right on the Missouri!

The first thing we did was get our bearings by taking a tour of downtown along both the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Trail of Governors. The former is a lengthy bike trail spanning over 3000 miles from Illinois to Montana. We only walked along a 2 mile section that borders Griffin Park. The latter is a short walk through the city around the Capitol featuring bronze statues of all of South Dakota’s former governors.

Griffin Park also has some truly spectacular tennis courts, so we just HAD to play. We’ve had our rackets with us a month and not played once. Not that it matters, but I won :).

Next, though we were tired, we chose to go for a trail run from the park to the La Framboise Island Trail. The trail was well maintained and provided a beautiful secluded natural world in a large-ish city.

 

On our second day, we drove into the Badlands! To prepare for the adventure, we stopped along the way at the recommended Badlands Distillery for some free tastings!

Next, we drove onto one of the most renowned boondocking sites of all time right alongside the cliffs adjacent to the Badlands National Park! Our view was the very definition of breathtaking!

Once settled, we headed down to the park, knowing our visit would be limited because of our dog. Many people are surprised to learn that dogs aren’t allowed in most national parks, but it is true. In the case of the Badlands, there is very good reason! The prairie dogs there all have the plague! Seriously…I’m totally happy to keep my dog in the car if it means avoiding plague.

 

On our third day, we headed for the hills…the Black Hills! We had been reading about how the Lakota considered this to be sacred land and we understood immediately. The lushly forested hills make such a sharp contrast to the prairies and badlands of the eastern part of the state.

 

Upon arrival, we dropped our rig at our campground and had planned a hike, but saw that every other camper there had ATVs with them and that the campground rented ATVs. Our choice became clear – rent ATVs!

During our four hour rental, we were recommended to ride along the Gallena trails and up to Custer Fire Tower. Both were stunning and highly recommended.

 

On our fourth day, we had to get out onto the hills by foot! We selected the Crow Peak Trail in the northeastern region of the national forest. It was steep but paid off with a beautiful 360 degree view of the hills.

 

Next, we headed into Deadwood to explore some of the notorious town’s features, starting with a climb up to the Friendship Tower on Mt. Roosevelt. The tower was built by a local hero, Seth Bullock, a long time friend of Theodore Roosevelt to commemorate their friendship.

Afterwards, we found our way to Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where both Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane are buried. Dogs aren’t allowed, so I ran in, shot some pictures, and ran out.

We also wanted to get a sense of the downtown area, though touristy, so decided to visit the Saloon No. 10, which we read was dog-friendly. We didn’t know that there is a daily re-enactment of the shooting of Wild Bill Hickock every day at 3:00pm…and we walked in at 2:50 – just in time for Reuben to be volun-told to be a part of the show!

On our fifth day, we headed south. The Black Hills is a vast forest that covers most of the western side of the state. In our opinion, the jewel of the southern Black Hills is Custer State Park. We knew we wanted to hike Black Elk Peak and see the Cathedral Spires. Fortunately, the very nice ranger who checked us in gave us advice for making a loop with several trails to see both of those PLUS a side trail to Little Devil’s Tower!

Little Devil’s Tower was by far some of the most beautiful hiking we’ve done. There are some scrambles to get to the top, but it’s totally worth it!

Black Elk Peak is the highest peak between the Rockies and the Swiss Alps – a very enticing feature! We were excited to visit the tower at the top…and Chip even made a new friend!

After the hiking, we opted to stop at the Crazy Horse Memorial. We hadn’t done much research, just knew that the memorial was supposed to be roughly the same size at Mount Rushmore. We were surprised at the ambitious project, but even more surprised that they only have a very small amount completed after 70 years!

That evening, we stayed at the Naked Winery, our Harvest Hosts for two nights, where we sampled delightful beers and wines and fished along the adjacent Spring Creek.

On our final day, we continued our southern explorations by first dropping Chip at a dog sitter found on Rover.com in order to visit a few must-sees that aren’t dog friendly.

We began our adventure at Wind Cave National Park, the seventh oldest national park and the first to protect a cave. The park has mapped over 143 miles of cave formations, making it one of the most extensive caves in the world.

We took a 90 minute tour of one of the caves to view the rare boxwork and other formations.

Afterwards, we had a little extra time, so we headed down to Hot Springs to splash around at Evans Plunge! If you haven’t seen the Youtube video of Reuben’s Ninja Warrior attempts, you really must!

Refreshed, we headed north to Mount Rushmore to see those four men famously carved into the side of a mountain. I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but honestly, it was cool to consider how amazing it was that they created such lifelike likenesses using mostly TNT. Incredible!

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