As I begin to write this, I’m still unsure of how we fit so much into one weekend. We packed up and left Salt Lake around 3:30pm driving toward South Dakota. We decided that it was now or never to make the drive to the Badlands before winter really set in.
We made it to Mount Rushmore first. Coming around a corner on the highway, four giant stone heads appear. They were huge! While the monument itself is free, parking is $10 and interagency passes don’t work. I even tried to use my government ID card for free parking to no avail.
Leading up to the monument are flags for each of the 50 states. After we found Alabama, Tennessee, and Utah, we made our way to the viewing deck…. and then maybe stared at it for 10 minutes before heading back to the car. Not to knock Mount Rushmore – it is amazing- but the real destination was Badlands.Where to stay: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Mt. Rushmore
The drive from Mount Rushmore to the Badlands was quick and scenic. We first entered the park on the highway, nowhere near the visitors center. I got out to take a photo of the sign and noticed a field full of prairie dogs! They were scurrying around, popping in and out the their dugouts, and making the cutest noises ever. There was a sign stating to stay back because apparently their fleas can carry the plague. As much as I wanted to get close, I really don’t need the plague.Where to stay: Badlands Motel and Campground
We drove for a few more miles leaving and then reentering the park. We stopped at the visitors center for the traditional magnet and postcard and of course a map. The ranger recommended a few trails and pullouts. A lot of the trails are actually boardwalks to protect the living ground, so they were easy to traverse.
At a few pullouts we actually could venture down into the badlands, which was a little sketchy at times considering the wind. We got up close and personal to some big horn sheep who apparently love to do the mannequin challenge in the road.
We then drove to Devils Tower National Monument. Devils Tower is actually in Wyoming, but is super close to the interstate and was on our way home. Just like Rushmore, you are driving down the highway and then all of a sudden you see it – it was huge. I still can’t put into words how amazing it was to see flat land and this giant structure coming from the ground-visible miles away.
Devils Tower is a Native American sacred site where a lot of tribal members come to pray. You could definitely feel something special in the air there and prayer tokes swayed from tree limbs. There is a trail that circles the entire tower and I recommend walking this (it is super easy). We spent two hours here enjoying the different views and angles of the tower.Where to stay: Best Western Devils Tower Inn
There are so many more places in the Dakota Territory and the Black Hills worth exploring. I can’t wait to plan a trip back!
Author: Jessica recently moved to Salt Lake City from Tennessee with her husband, Karl, and dog, Buddy. Over the past year, they have travelled all over the west – squeezing in trips every time there is a free day or weekend. Jessica hopes to inspire others to pack up for a weekend road trip!