Hello and happy Monday! What a crazy weekend it has been: full of IKEA boxes, Target runs, and soaking in our first home together. I’m totally in love with our new apartment and can’t wait to show you around once it’s all set up. Today, though, I want to start recapping our road trip and tell you all about stop #1: Custer State Park in South Dakota.
For those of you who are new here, Eric and I attended college in Minnesota and graduated in March. Afterwards, we lived at my mom’s house in the Twin Cities for a couple of months while preparing to move out to the Bay Area, where Eric’s new job is. Since you only live once, we decided to make a cross-country road trip out of the move!
The drive to Custer is about nine hours from my mom’s house, so we left early in the morning. It was chilly and grey in Minnesota, but I told Eric that I still didn’t believe that it was right around freezing in the park (famous last words!). Our drive went smoothly, and we got to the park entrance around dinnertime. And once we’d made it into the park, I started believing my weather app. As we drove towards our campsite—up into the hills—the snow on the ground went from small white patches to a thick layer coating the ground and tree branches.
Our campsite was mostly clear of snow, but it was cold. We quickly pitched our tent and I prepared dinner while Eric built a fire. Luckily he got a blaze going before it started drizzling rain, because we really needed a hot dinner that night! Afterwards, we put on several more layers of clothing before snuggling into our sleeping bags. The temperature dipped below freezing overnight, but being from Minnesota, we were just fine!
Seeing the Sites: Mount Rushmore
I woke up early to bright sunlight streaming in and took a few minutes to appreciate the view right outside our tent. I’ll include details about our campground at the end of this post—we loved where we stayed. It was so secluded and peaceful, and our tent-only site had an amazing view of the hills.
We made oatmeal for breakfast on our camp stove, then headed out to see Mount Rushmore. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the southern part of Custer (where we camped), but I really wanted to see the memorial.
The verdict? I’m glad I saw it, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. There’s a small museum with displays about how the memorial was built and maintained, which was interesting, but we only stayed for about half an hour because there wasn’t too much to do besides take pictures. Know that it’s $10 for admission and parking, too!
Where We Hiked: Black Elk Peak Trail
After leaving Mount Rushmore, we drove to a different part of Custer—Sylvan Lake—to start our long hike (for us, this hike took about 3½ hours—the trail guide tells you to budget 4-5 hours). We chose a moderate-difficulty trail, Black Elk Peak Trail #9 (also known as Harney Peak Trail). It was 3½ miles out to the lookout and 3½ miles back and definitely a moderate-difficulty, if not a strenuous, hike for me! I probably should have anticipated that, as Black Elk Peak is the highest point in South Dakota at 7, 242 feet above sea level and I’m no mountain climber… but you live some and you learn some! 😛
The first two miles or so of the hike are fairly easy—a little bit of up and then a little bit of down. There are some brilliant views in the first couple of miles, too, so if you don’t want to do the whole route, it would still be a worthwhile hike.
After about two miles, you leave Custer and enter Black Hills National Forest. From there, the climb gets steeper. I had to pause every quarter mile or so to catch my breath. And be warned—you’ll get to a point with an amazing view that seems like it’s the top, but there’s another half mile of very steep climb to get to the lookout tower. Also, if you tend to get cold easily, like me, this is where you’ll be very glad that you remembered to wear long underwear! It was late May but still only about 40F at the peak.
By the end of the hike, the climb was so steep that I actually did feel like I was climbing instead of hiking, using my hands to pull myself up to the next rocky stair, but the view from the lookout was so worth it.
Plus, the hike back is incredibly easy because it’s nearly all downhill!
After our hike, we drove back to our campsite, snacked a bit, and made an early dinner (tomato-less vegetarian chili for this tomato-intolerant girl!). Not surprisingly, we were both pretty exhausted after the hike, so we turned in early.
The next morning, we were up early, packed up our car, and drove the six hours to Eric’s parents’ house near Boulder. And our way out, we got to see one more cool site: the bison herd that Custer is known for. I only wish we’d had more time to explore the park, but then it was onto the next adventure: exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park with the Walkers!
We stayed at Blue Bell Campground, which has both RV and tent-only sites. We paid $21/night for a tent-only site, plus a small non-resident fee. You’ll also usually need to purchase a 1-to-7-day temporary park pass, which costs $20. However, we unknowingly showed up during Open House Weekend and got in for free! The only extra supplies we bought while camping were two bundles of firewood, which were very reasonable at about $5/bundle.
I’d love to hear about your travels this year though! Have you been on any trips so far? Do you have anything planned for later in the year? Stay-cations count, too! 🙂