VACATION IDEAS: ROAD TRIPS
Road Trip: South Dakota's Badlands and Black Hills
Drive along gorgeous rolling prairies, twisting mountain roads, and past iconic American monuments like Mount Rushmore in this spectacular corner of South Dakota.
Drive along Iron Mountain Road, or Alt. 16, a winding two-lane road that will take you through one-lane tunnels (honk first!) and past beautiful mountain vistas. As you get closer to the park, get your cameras ready-buffalo roam in and around Custer State Park and will often decide to randomly cross in front of your car. Resist the temptation and only take photos from inside your vehicle—these animals are majestic but strong and big enough to cause some major damage. Pay $4 per person to enter Custer State Park and stay in the middle of all the action at the Game State Lodge, the former Summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 (room rates from $115 a night in June for a lodge room). While you're there, sign up for a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour to get up close to the park's resident buffalo, prairie dogs, and other wildlife on a bumpy, off-road adventure through the native wilderness. End the day with a chuck wagon cookout in the wild, where cowboys sing as you feast on your choice of sirloin steak or hamburger, beans, cornbread, potato salad, coleslaw, watermelon, and fresh lemonade ($85 per adult and $65 for children under 12 for the combination Jeep Tour and Chuck Wagon Cookout; $45 per adult and $38 for children under 12 for just the Jeep Tour; $49 per adult and $40 for children under 12 for just the Chuck Wagon Cookout).
CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL, HILL CITY & RAPID CITY
Drive along Needles Highway (Highway 87), another mountain road with several one-lane tunnels and beautiful views of Sylvan Lake along the way. When you get to the end of Highway 87, turn left and head south on Highway 385/16 for about 20 minutes to Crazy Horse Memorial. Started in 1948 as a way to pay homage to the legendary Lakota leader and our nations' Native American heritage, Crazy Horse Memorial is funded by admissions and donations rather than the U.S. Government—the upside being, it will never close if there is another National Parks shutdown, the downside being the stone carving is still a work in progress. Tour the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center while you're there, and stop by the restaurant for the best Tatanka Stew in the area—people kept telling me to try it at Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park the day before! ($10 for adults, $27 per carload, $5 for motorcycles, and free for children under age six, Native Americans, active military members, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in uniform, and all residents of Custer County, South Dakota).
Visit the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City on your way back towards Rapid City on Highway 385/16—it's 20 minutes up the road and kids will love seeing enormous dinosaur skeletons and a room full of shiny gemstones (admission is $7.50 for adults ages 16 and up, $6 for seniors, veterans, and U.S. military members, $4 for children ages 6-15, and free for children ages five and under). From here, it's a half-hour drive on Highway 16 into Rapid City, home to the Museum of the American Bison, a vibrant downtown with concerts and outdoor festivals year-round, and have your picture taken with life-size bronze statues of your favorite former Presidents that line the streets of the historic district. Stay at the Adoba EcoHotel Rapid City, a newly renovated hotel that is stylish and eco-friendly (room rates from $99 a night).