Tag Archives: SD Black Hills

South Dakota – Black Hills – Day 7

SD – Black Hills / Custer State Park | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7

Our last day in the Black Hills we headed to Spearfish.  Our travels brought us through Hill City on our way to our first stop, Silver City, situated on the West side of Pactola Reservoir.  It is a cute little town nestled in the hills with a small one-room church.  We existed the town through Nugget Gulch on Edelweiss Mountain Road – the wrong direction – and ended up quite a ways south of the reservoir need Clear Creek.  It was a beautiful drive and worth the time; the kind of back-roading I had wanted to do if not for the snow.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway was delightful as anticipated.  I hadn’t been here is quite some time (Cyndie’s first time here), but it was as I remembered.  We stopped at the first dam to stretch our legs and take in a bit of the canyon.  There was a nice little reservoir and cascades below the dam.  Our second stop heading down canyon road was at Roughlock Falls on Little Spearfish Creek off of 222.  Another picturesque place to get out, tromp about and snap some photos.

Further down the canyon we had brief roadside stop at the apply named Bridal Veil Falls.

Bridal Veil Falls

My favorite stop along Spearfish Canyon had was Spearfish Falls.  Once we found the trail to it that is; the trail to the falls was a bit obscured by trees.

After a lengthy stop at the DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery we made our way back up the canyon.  We took the long way back to Custer, crossed into Wyoming for some different, but similar views.  It was a long day and I was enjoying sitting back and driving.  I couldn’t resist shooting this pano at the Salt Creek Overlook off of Canam Hwy (Wyoming 85) on our way to Newcastle.

Salt Creek Valley
Salt Creek Valley

We had a wonderful week in South Dakota.  The next day we woke early, packed quickly and began the 10 hour drive back home.

South Dakota – Black Hills – Day 6

SD – Black Hills / Custer State Park | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7

untitled-IMG_1299-1299A quick peek outside around 11:30 p.m. gave us a good idea of what was in store for us on Day 6.  We were so glad we moved from the tent to a cabin.  The scene was all too familiar – the first snow – but it was way too early.  Snow is not necessarily what I want to see on September 11th, but it was quite beautiful and hard to get too upset about.  The fresh blanket of snow was going to make for lovely photos.  We awoke to an accurate forecast – about 6″ of fresh snow fell overnight.  It was a bone chilling 27 degrees as promised.  It was brrrrrrr-eautiful!

I made short work of the snow on car with the broom from the cabin – no brush in the car this time of year.  It just didn’t feel right turning on the heated seat this time of year, butt it felt alright soon enough 🙂  We headed into town for our coffee and bagel at the 1881 Bank Coffee House.  This was our third visit.  As the name implies, the store was originally a bank; the interior is quite nice.  The coffee was wonderful.  The bagel situation on the other hand had issues every day for some reason.  Two of the three days a cream cheese or butter was missing each day and this day one was toasted and one was not.  FYI, the dash defrost barely provides enough warmth to reasonably heat up a bagel.  Check your bagels before departing 🙂

The Scenery

We didn’t really have a plan for today.  We didn’t know what to expect from the snow fall.  We ventured into Custer State Park to see what we could find.  The fresh blanket of snow was quite pretty.  Back-roading was out of the question today; we tried.  The roads were snowy, wet and extremely muddy.  We made it as far North as Pactola Reservoir (last photo) on the main roads and decided to head back to the park to look for wildlife.  We ran into a group of long horns that where pretty lively in the fresh snow – especially the little one.  Cute lil bugger.

The Wildlife

We explored several Custer State Park roads today in addition to well-traveled Wildlife Loop Road.  4 Mile Draw Road (CSP 7), Swint Road (CSP 5), Fisherman Flats Road (CSP 2) and Oak Draw Road (CSP 3) were all nice to drive.  You never know what is around the next corner.  We were pleasantly surprised to stumble upon several Mountain Bluebirds having just read about them at the Wind Cave National Monument.  We found more Elk, but the herd was not any closer than earlier days sightings.  The buffalo and pronghorn looked great against a snowy backdrop. //Custer State Park map//

Here is a video clip from heading into Custer State Park the morning after the snow fell.


South Dakota – Black Hills – Day 5

SD – Black Hills / Custer State Park | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7

Day 5 – the day of mist, rain and dense fog before the expected 6″ of snow fall and subsequent 27 degree morning temp.  We wisely decided to move to a camper cabin before the unseasonably cold and snowy weather moved in.  It was a bit damp and breaking down the tent was not on my to do list at this point.  The cabin was a short distance from our tent site; relocating camp was easily accomplished.  We left the tent up in hopes that mist/rain would subside and breeze would dry things out and headed for Wind Cave National Monument.

Hidden beneath the rolling prairie of the southern Black Hills is one of the world’s longest caves.  Swaying prairie grasses, forested hillsides, and an array of wildlife such as bison, elk, and prairie dogs welcome visitors to one of our country’s oldest national parks and one of its few remaining intact prairies. Secreted beneath is one of the world’s longest caves, Wind Cave. Named for barometric winds at its entrance, this complex labyrinth of passages contains a unique formation – boxwork.

There are a few different cave tours to choose from, we went on the Natural Entrance tour.  It was a lot of stairs, but they are mostly all down.  The elevator that takes you back to the surface is lower in the shaft than the level you entered the cave on.  Here are some iPhone shots on the monument grounds and inside the cave.  Great tour.

It was still very foggy and misting some when we left Wind Cave.  Once back at the campground it was time to take advantage of the break in the mist/rain.  Packing away a wet tent is never any good.  The rain fly was a bit damp, but that is all; it would dry quickly in the cabin.

The day was still young and there was much of the Custer State Park to explore.  We drove up to Mt. Coolidge Fire Tower in a blanket of fog.  There were breaks at times that offered somewhat of a view.  At 6023 ft. I am sure the view is dandy on a clear day.  From there we explored North Lame Johnny Road (CSP4) as we made our way toward the donkeys down by the Buffalo Corrals.  We were a bit disappointed to find no donkeys around especially since we were toting two large bags of carrots.  Perhaps they were driven away by yesterdays stampede.  We headed South on Red Valley Road (CSP6) into Wind Cave National Park where we spotted some Elk at a great distance.  We would have liked to get a bit closer, but that opportunity never arose.  We made a big loop South in Wind Cave Nation Park and came back around North and headed for Custer.  The light was getting low and our stomachs where empty.  [[Custer State Park Map for reference]]

Here are a few shots from Lame Johnny and Red Valley roads.  Beautiful country and a bit of wildlife as well.  Another great day in the hills.

South Dakota – Black Hills – Day 4

SD – Black Hills / Custer State Park | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7

It was a beautiful morning.  We did not feel like waking at 4 a.m. to search out a sunrise spot.  The puppy-kid was very much at home in the tent. We slept in some, gathered our gear and prepared for a day of traveling.  Coffee and a bagel from a shop in downtown Custer was just the time-saver needed to get us moving along with ease and wide eyes.


The plan for today was the Needles Highway (87) – an incredibly beautiful stretch of road between Legion Lake and Sylvan Lake (see map below).

Needles Highway Map – click to enlarge

Distance: 14 miles | Expected travel time: 45-60 minutes | Tunnels: Tunnel 5 (Near Needle’s Eye), 8′ 4″ wide by 12′ 0″ high; Tunnel 6, 9′ 0″ wide by 12′ 3″ high.

The Needles Highway is a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen and rugged granite mountains.

The road’s name comes from the needle-like granite formations which seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.

The roadway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922.

Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing and thawing.


I do not recall how many times we stopped along Needles Highway, but it was frequent.  There is so much gorgeous scenery to take in.  To really take a look around you will want to dedicate more than the suggested 45-60 minutes.  The road is curvaceous and steep in spots.  Take you time and enjoy.  Here are some shots from the Needles Highway.  We went from Sylvan Lake to Hill City to Key Stone; from there we experienced the 17 miles of 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails, 3 tunnels, 4 presidents and 2 splits along the Iron Mountain Road.

The first four photos are from an area between the town of Custer and Custer State Park and the last few are from Mount Rushmore area and the Iron Mountain Road.

If all that wasn’t enough, we were pretty entertained by the donkey’s in Custer State Park along the Wildlife Loop Road.  Remember to bring a big bag of carrots and you will receive all the attention you want – perhaps more.  They are characters.

It was quite a day and we saw a lot, but it wasn’t over.  We continued on our way along the Wildlife Loop Road; just down the road from where the donkey’s where we ran into a bit of a stampede.  The Buffalo were right out of the car window raging past the car – on the road, in the ditch and further out in the grass.  We were at the park a few weeks before the roundup and parts of the herd were being moved closer to the Buffalo Corrals in the Southern part of the park.  It was quite a spectacle.  What a day!

It didn’t even occur to me to roll video until well after the masses of buffalo had come through, but here is short snippet of video of a few stragglers toward the end..

South Dakota – Black Hills – Day 3

A continuation from the Badlands Series | Day 1 | Day 2 | Scenery | Wildlife

SD – Black Hills / Custer State Park | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7

Day 3 we opted to sleep in a bit, pick up camp and ready ourselves for the next leg of our vacation, The Black Hills & Custer State Park.  From Interior, SD we head West on 44 to Rapid City. We really didn’t need to go to Rapid City, but Caribou was calling our name.  After obtaining two vessels of turbo-charged caffeinated awesomeness we continued on South on 79 towards Hot Springs; heading West again at the Flying J truck stop.  We opted to stay at Custer KOA campground as we were unable to find a tent camping option within Custer State Park that allow pets.  The KOA is just West of Custer; it was plenty close to town.  This became our home base for the next few days.   The campground was sparsely populated with motor-homes.  There were no other tent campers in sight.  Clean bathrooms and showers just like our previous experience at the White River KOA.

After setting up camp we headed South to see what Hot Springs, SD was all about.  We didn’t really find much there in town other than the Dew Drop Inn.  I was in the mood for some ice cream, but no luck here as it was closed and for sale.  A few minutes East of Hot Springs we located a cold spring.  It was a nice little pit stop in the middle of the warm day; a refreshing place to dip your wiener in the cold water to cool her off.

We headed back to Custer State Park in search of wildlife .  It didn’t take long to find some.  We had a great day 3.  Here are a few shots from our first day in the Black Hills.

The Scenery

The Wildlife