Looking for some solo travel advice in South Dakota? Or just some straight-up travel tips? In this part of the world I think it’s probably cheaper (and more fun?) to travel as a group, but wanted to prove that you can have an amazing time if travelling solo. Embrace some luxurious soul-searching time and stock up on some good books – or let’s be more realistic: a full to the brim kindle. South Dakota is great, holding some draw cards like Mount Rushmore – which I’ve always wanted to see – as well as a heap of really off-the-wall attractions. It’s Americana plus the Great Outdoors on steroids.
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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
WALL DRUG STORE | this place is ridiculously good! I’m a huge Americana fan, but I think you’d love it regardless of your level of enthusiasm: it’s just so unique. Be warned, it is a full hour’s drive from Rapid City which I found very tiring after a full morning driving Black Hills National Forests, but once there you can still enjoy ‘free iced water’ and 5c coffee like the good old days. Grab a burger in the awesome diner.
MOUNT RUSHMORE | let’s be honest, the reason you’re probably in Black Hills, South Dakota in the first place is to see the four mighty presidents carved in to monumental rock face. I know I was. You’ll need a car to drive the Needles scenic route, which takes you through cool tunnels carved in to rocks, and along the amazing Iron Mountain Road from where you get your first glimpse of Mount Rushmore. I admit my pic below was taken from the side of the road: I was just too exhausted from endless days on the road to drive all the way up to it (and too broke to pay the fee). If you can’t be bothered to search Wikipedia, I can tell you that Mount Rushmore features 18m sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson(1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).
Also check out: another famous Black Hills mountain monument under construction, depicting Crazy Horse – an Oglala Lakota warrior – riding a horse and pointing into the distance. I visited when it was very overcast so failed to drive up, again. Probably should have for the full impact! Stop in Custer to see painted bison.
DEADWOOD | as in the TV series, is an outrageously cute cowboy town jam-packed with casinos. This was definitely my kind of place, and I could have lost myself for hours gawping up and down the street.
Also check out: the awesomely random roadside kitsch of Boondock’s Theme Park and Diner, and pull in for tacos in Hill City. My solo travel advice in South Dakota is stop off at as many of the random ole towns nestled in the vicinity of Black Hills National Park as you possibly can! They’re great.
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
BADLANDS | this National Park – near Wall Drug – is pretty cool, but unfortunately the weather at the time of my visit let the area down as the colours just couldn’t pop. You can get a feel for some of the rainbow mineral layers in my pics, but for the most part the scenery just looked a little bleak.
STURGIS | I had hired a car from Rapid City and this small town – famous for it’s annual mega biker congregation – was my first pit stop. I’ve actually seen programs about Sturgis on TV before (the festival looks mental!) and it’s a good starting point, as I then saw hundreds of motorbike cruisers (is that the right name?!) on the roads in this part of the country.
Also check out: the town of Spearfish and beautiful nearby Bridal Veil Falls, and Leed: a charming town that winds right down in to the valley, and you can see first hand the scars where the earth has been completely over-mined.
HERMOSA | is a quaint and rural little village (well, I don’t think it can be called a town) 20 minutes drive South of Rapid City, where I found myself for 2 nights through a couch-surfing host. It’s a lovely albeit remote spot, and it was refreshing to wake up to cows in a field!
Also check out: more likely than not however, you will stay over in Rapid City. I liked this place: it doesn’t feel like a ‘city’. The town was setting up for a street music festival when I was there, and go see Art Alley, which is full of graffiti and very Melbourne-esque. Dinner at The Independent Pub was nice enough.
3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:
ATTEMPTING TOO MUCH | I quite vividly remember how much I overdid it over these couple of days and the coming weeks, smashing it solo around America’s humongous National Parks. After a particularly exhausting day when I drove out to Wall, giving myself a very bad headache, I wrote a note to myself reminding me that I needed to chill out with the itinerary! My solo travel advice in South Dakota is take it eeeeeaaasyyyyy.
BUS TIMETABLES | maybe my itinerary overdrive caused my admin override! In this part of America, in many parts of America, it’s really blimmin’ difficult to get around without a car. Which is obviously not always feasible when travelling on a budget and solo. I encountered a major bus f-up: as I was trying to leave South Dakota, I realised I had bought x2 tickets from Minneapolis to Rapid City at $106 each, and none from Rapid City to Billings. It was another $100 for the correct 6pm bus, and I had no accommodation sorted for a 1am arrival. Gulp. Avoid yourself the stress and stay organised!
CREEPY LOCALS | this section wasn’t intended to be whine: I guess it’s a funny story really. Luckily I’d managed to sleep on my 10.5 hour bus journey in to Rapid City (the original ticket; not my duplicate….) only to wake up with detailed pencil drawing of a flower on my lap! Watch out.
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
CORN PALACE | there can surely only be one contender here?! The World’s only Corn Palace, in Mitchell, South Dakota, of course. It hosts all sorts of events and concerts, but most importantly this Moorish Revival building is decorated ENTIRELY with ‘crop art’! The murals and designs covering the building are made from corn and other grains. Brilliant. (Am I allowed to type a-maize-ing? Cringe)
AND KNOW THIS: The largest and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil in the world was discovered just outside of Hill City, South Dakota, by paleontologist Sue Hendrickson.
–> –> –> Next stop The Peach State | Georgia –> –> –> (post coming soon)