Updated: Feb 1
For my birthday this year, we decided to take a trip to South Dakota! So here are some tips and tricks you may want to keep in mind for your trip.
Before I traveled to South Dakota, I had no idea what to expect. Honestly, I hadn’t done that much research on it, but I had an amazing time there! We were there during off season, so we decided to wing it and hope everything was open. Of course, we checked and made sure the “must see” places were open, but we had no hotel reservations, no tickets for anything, no park passes, all we had was a plane ticket and a car rental, and I wouldn’t do it any other way! Now, since our visit was during off season, we were able to do this. If you are going during peak seasons, such as April through October you might not want to risk it and prepurchase hotel rooms and any other excursion that requires tickets. If you are going during off season, you will be fine because there is no one there, seriously. We went to Mount Rushmore because we wanted to see it at night, but we didn’t get out because the ski town below the monument was closed for the season, the parking lots were empty, and I kid you not me, mom, and the park ranger were the only people there and it was only 6 p.m.! We stopped to talk to the park ranger, and he was telling us about how slow tourist traffic was this time of year and that we were probably the only ones around, but we could still walk up to see the monument if we wanted. Needless to say, mom was not about it, so we drove around to the different viewpoints you could pull off on and stay in your car. So when they say off season, they REALLY mean off season. When we went back in the daytime there were only like 14 or 15 people there max and it was close to lunch time, so we weren’t even there early. Normally there are thousands of people that visit during peak times. I think the average is like a little over 6,000 people a day, but the max on off season is around 1,000 plus there are shorter daylight hours.
8 Things You Should Know Before You Go:
Here are a few things you should know: 1. Off season begins at the end of October, because the weather becomes extremely unpredictable. We definitely got lucky with the weather we had while we were there, but we could’ve ended up with tons of snow, so it’s a little bit of a gamble.
2. You basically make a big circle around Rapid City when you do all the national parks, so if I were you, I would stay there (I recommend the Hampton of Hilton…. They were both great!) or if you are headed towards Wyoming then Cadillac Jacks in Deadwood is the place to be.
3. During off season, there are lots of roads that they do not maintain in the parks so you drive them at your own risk, but we only ran into one the whole time we were there, and there will be plenty of signage to let you know.
4. The badlands park has a main road but there are also gravel roads you can drive on. This allows you to see even more of the park, get out and explore (carefully), and even see more wildlife. If you choose to go down it make sure you note where it goes and if the land starts to flatten out, just turn around and go back to the main road (that’s what we did).
5. I know this sounds like a given, but make sure to plan your schedule around the sun, because after the sun goes down you can’t see anything in the parks. There aren’t streetlights or anything to even give you a better visual. All you have are your headlights and you have to watch out for wild animals. We went through as many places as we could during the day and used the nighttime hours for driving to our stop for the next day, so we didn’t waste our mornings driving. Plus, during off season stuff closes really early, with the exception of some food places and casinos.
6. Casinos are EVERYWHERE. We even saw some in gas stations. If you’re old enough and want to try your luck definitely do it! We went to Cadillac Jack’s in Deadwood and rang in my birthday at the three-card poker table! We even left with some winnings, and it was attached to our hotel and multiple restaurants which were kid friendly! (As long as the kids didn’t stop in the slot area).
7. The Rapid City airport is where you need to fly into. It’s very small and I’d say its equivalent is probably Huntsville. There are not really any major airports nearby and the ones that are close by are about the same size and hours away from where you would need to be.
8. Do your research! There are so many things to do while you’re there and it’s good to have an idea of where you want to be. There are activities for outdoor lovers, indoor lovers, and kids of all ages! If you have an idea of what you want to do that will make your planning much easier!
I recommend going to the Badlands about 3 or 4 hours before sunset so you can see it in the daytime and when the sun sets because it changes the color of some of the rocks. It’s awesome!
-We flew out of Birmingham at 5:30 am.
-Landed in Dallas at 8:00 and flew out of Dallas at 8:30. Would not recommend such a short layover because the airport is so huge if the flights aren’t in the same terminal, then there is no way you will make your flight. Thankfully our flights landed and departed from the same terminal, but that was not the case on the way home. We only did this because of the scarceness in flights to Rapid City. There is one in the morning and one late at night and we didn’t want to be stuck there all day on the way there and on the way back so we risked it instead of wasting a whole day that we could be spending in South Dakota.
-Landed in South Dakota at 11:00 am. Since South Dakota is an hour behind Alabama time we gained extra time!
-We had already rented our SUV, so we went and picked it up. I used an app called Hotwire and I got the car for half price. We decided on an SUV just in case the weather got super snowy so that we 4WD and were higher off the ground.