Sometimes a place does its best to work against you in every way possible. After a few rainy (but spectacular) days in Badlands National Park we decided to hit up the Black Hills of South Dakota, boy was that a bad idea.
It’s early May, it’s our first sunny day in a while and the weather here in South Dakota is just beautiful! We pull into our campground and they welcome us with that typical KOA friendly smile and a check-in note saying due to the weather we will be shutting off the water and we may lose power over the next couple days. Since we’re fully off grid capable we happily say “No Problem, we can handle a little storm”!
We were snowed in for three solid days. Restaurants were closed, roads were closed, breweries were closed and there was no way in hell we were going to get our little Smart Car out of the two foot snowbank surrounding it. Needless to say we had a huge case of CABIN FEVER. Fortunately the RV park was surrounded by National Forest so we were able to brave the cold for a few mini-hikes with our little snow leopard (Cleo stayed in snuggled up by the fireplace).
Our fourth day was absolutely beautiful and all we could think about was getting out to see Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, hike the “mini devils tower” trail and finish it all off with a local brew. We set out with our hopes set sky high for a great day…we should have known better than to jinx ourselves like that.
We caught our first glimpse of Mt. Rushmore at a roadside pull-out, and I hate to say it, but we weren’t in awe. We sat in the car and contemplated whether or not we wanted to spend our time inside the national monument. We drove to the other side of the entrance and viewed the George Washington profile. After a little soul searching we decided to skip it and head to Crazy Horse instead since many people claimed they preferred it over Mt. Rushmore.
We saw Crazy Horse from the road and thought “there must be more than what we can see from the road”. We drove into the park, but we did a U-turn. It just didn’t feel right. We pull off the highway, eat a snack and talk it through. “For the Good of the People” we say, “it’s our duty to experience and report back”. So we drive back into Crazy Horse and pay the $22 entry fee. Was it interesting? Sure. Would we do it again or recommend it for travelers with similar interests as us? Probably not. You can see the unfinished monument from the road, and unless you want to pay more money to take the bus or a helicopter to the monument you won’t be able to get a much better view that what you see from the highway.
For the comparison we decided to drive back to Mt. Rushmore, pay the $11 parking fee and most importantly take the short walking trails around the monument. FAIL!
After paying and parking we get to the visitor center only to find out that all the trails are closed because they are not “safe” as there is still snow on the ground. SERIOUSLY (It wasn’t that much snow) ?!? We have proper snow hiking gear and you still won’t let us on the trails?
Another major bummer is the afternoon light on the mountain is not as good as the morning light, we just can’t catch a break!
The monument is a spectacular feat considering it was created nearly 100 years ago, but for us it’s a piece of man made art that only requires a few minutes to appreciate. As I write my honest opinions I’m feeling guilty, people say this is the most patriotic location but we see it as a commissioned piece of public art that you can’t truly appreciate because you can’t get close enough to it.
Our biggest thrill here was getting to meet Judy Kerns, an inspirational woman that shared her story with us a while back about her life on the road and how she makes money on the road.
Departing Mt. Rushmore with plenty of time for a solid hike we make our way towards two short trails: Cathedral Spires and Little Devils Tower. We were met with this, it was a sign that our day was over (and we visited this area way to early in the season).
We stayed at the Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch for our Black Hills visit. It’s the first KOA “Resort” we’ve visited and it definitely lives up to its name. The check-in facility is top notch, there’s an on-site winery and coffee shop, a restaurant, off-road UTV rentals, horses and so on. Unfortunately everything was closed during our visit, which was kinda nice because the place was extremely quiet. With a central location to both Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore, and being surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest I can honestly recommend this Kampground for all travelers, especially RVers with families.
We do our best to be honest to you, our readers, and to ourselves. We do think the area is worth a visit, but if you’re strapped on time and you’re more into nature than museums you might want to skip the attractions and spend your time hiking in the National Forest or Custer State Park, but that’s just our two cents.
Have you been to the Black Hills area of South Dakota? What do you think? All opinions and personal recommendations are greatly appreciated in the comments below, with our limited exploration days coupled with snow, we weren’t exactly setup for success in the area.
Disclaimer – All of our opinions are based on our experiences. Thanks to KOA for allowing us to use our vouchers to stay at the park and we really wish we would’ve arrived a bit later in the season.