A picnic in the tall pines, spotting four presidents and dodging severe weather highlight our time in the Black Hills of South Dakota

South Dakota offers such a diverse range of scenery across the entire state.

The rolling hills of its eastern grassland prairies contrasts with the rocky moon-like monotone of the Badlands National Park. Then there are the famous Black Hills of South Dakota, where the prairie turns to mountains and dark green towering pine trees fill the landscape.

After our drive through the Badlands National Park, we returned to Interstate-90 and continued our trip westward to Rapid City, SD.

Lots of things to see and do

It’s a pretty quick jaunt from the Badlands to Rapid City. We had reservations for a night at Rushmore Shadows, a membership group of campgrounds we belong to.

A drive through the heart of congested Rapid City is necessary to reach the campground. Rushmore Shadows Campgrounds is located in the center of all the tourist attractions of the Black Hills. After an early check-in to secure our camp spot for the night, we decided to do some sightseeing before stopping for the day.

Checking out “The Heads”

In nearby Keystone, Mount Rushmore National Memorial looms over the trees.

Several years ago, we paid the entrance fee, visited Mount Rushmore, and walked the grand Avenue of Flags. The experience of viewing the stone likenesses of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln is unforgettable.

On this visit we opted to not stop at the Memorial and view simply “The Heads” from outside the gates of the memorial. During that previous trip we found a couple of locations along Highway 16 that offer safe pull-outs to view Mount Rushmore and pulled over to snap some photos and take in the view.

Granted these vantage points do not have the pomp and circumstance of the visiting the actual memorial, but the view is nonetheless awe-inspiring.

Carving continues at Crazy Horse

Another huge rock carving effort continues to this day at the Crazy Horse Memorial to the south of Rapid City, near Custer City. Tours of the famous memorial site are available and visitor’s center and Native American museum are open for self-guided tours.

Here you are deep within the Black Hills National Forest with thick groves of lush green, Black Hills Pines. One last downhill stretch and a tight turn brought us into the touristy mining town of Keystone.

The historic old mining town of Keystone attracts thousands of visitors each summer with its hotels and motels, campgrounds, steam train ride, shops, restaurants, helicopter tours, and other fun family activities.

The highway gets curvy through this area, with steep grades and tight turns, but we saw plenty of big RVs and Class A motorhomes rolling along the roadways.

Time for a pine tree picnic

It was the long Independence Day holiday weekend, and the town was buzzing with cars and people. We opted to continue driving to find a more secluded spot in the forest to park the van and have a picnic lunch among the tall pines.

We pulled into the Breezy Point Picnic Area located within the national forest. Except for another family just packing up to leave, we had the place to ourselves. That was surprising considering it was a busy holiday weekend.

It’s easy to enjoy couple quickly-made chicken salad sandwiches with chips on paper plates and a cold soft drink when you are sitting in a camp chair under the pines. The only distraction from the peace were the tour helicopters droning overhead every few minutes.

Enjoying the aroma of Black Hills pine

Kim loves to hike and explore new walking trails, so as she marched off for a short adventure and JK put food away and babysat the girls. Breathing in the perfume of pine pitch and dry pine needles brought back fond memories of camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California so many years ago.

While on her hike, Kim snaped some excellent photos from a lookout point she discovered of the granite rock formations jutting out from the pines.

She also found some romantic graffiti penned by a traveling couple on a railing. Ah, love and travel. “B & B,” whoever you are, we are kindred spirits, indeed!

Storms a ‘coming!

The winds began to pick-up (it is called Breezy Point, after all) and skies got dark. About that time, we began to hear distant thunder.

We had a decent cell signal and Kim checked the local weather. A severe thunderstorm was bearing down on the Black Hills area. We decided it would be in our best interest to head back to the campground and ride out the storm.

By the time the storm reached our location, its intensity was gone, and we enjoyed only a few showers and a glorious sunset in its wake.

Sunset and storm clouds are always a photo-worthy combination, and we had a good view of the approaching storm from our west-facing camp spot.

Night in the van – Number 2

After a good night’s sleep in the van – only our second of the trip – we thought it would be a good idea to both take showers at the campgrounds before hitting the road again. Our towels dried as we ate breakfast and enjoyed our coffee.

The South Dakota morning sun already had some sting to it, and we knew it was going to be a warm drive into Wyoming that day.

Thanks for coming along with us so far on this #vanlife adventure!

Next Time: Hot temperatures in Wyoming and a sketchy Montana rest stop keep us driving.

Leave a Reply