Sometimes you book a trip and you just have no idea what your stepping into when you walk off that plane. Which, to us is the best kinda trip. It’s amazing to explore a completely new territory and just have no stinking idea where you’re going. It can also be a bit overwhelming though too. So if you’re like us and have never been to South Dakota, I decided to lay out our entire itinerary! I’m talking the best hikes, to our favorite eateries, and of course a safari Jeep tour! Take a peak out our rad SD trip!
We landed in Rapid City, South Dakota on a Saturday am. It was sunny and beautiful out, everything was green! Picked up our rental car (our first time in a minivan) and headed to our first stop, Firehouse Brewing Co. in Rapid City. A cute little town and the restaurant was quaint. We split a pulled pork sandwich and a beer and it didn’t disappoint. As we left the restaurant, a rain cloud came over head and the biggest rain drops we had ever seen started falling from the sky. It was hot, sunny, and rainy… and so much fun! It lasted for about 10 min and by that time we were off to the next spot!
The drive to Mt. Rushmore was a sight in its self. It seemed like every other building was an attraction of some sorts and everything almost looked like a prop from Disneyland! We pulled up to Mt Rushmore and we couldn’t believe our eyes. Never had we seen something so historic and monumental as that. It was bold and beautiful! Of course we had to try the original Thomas Jefferson recipe ice cream, which was absolutely delicious.
We made our way to the cute town of Custer, picked up some groceries at Lynn’s Dakotamart and we were on our way to our cabin at Sylvan Lake Lodge.
Did I mention that this was still day one?! Whew! We did a lot, but it was all a must! We checked in to our cabin, which was a cozy two bed room. Fully equipped with a tv, fireplace and even a picnic table outside. We tried to take a nap, but we have 3 kids and that lasted about 5 minutes before the kids were ready for more fun. So off to the lake we went!
Sylvan Lake is just a dream. Again everything looked like it was man made. The kids had so much fun playing in the water. We all hiked around the lake, which was about a mile hike, and then finished off with another swim. I loved this lake not only for the gorgeous scenery, but for the fact that it was very calm and small. It was safe for the kids to swim and play in, plus it was a hop skip and a jump from our cabin!
That evening we dined at Sylvan Lake lodge. The sunset was beautiful so we sat outside and shared a bottle of wine. The kids played on the giant rocks that surrounded the restaurant while we drank and ate, a perfect way to end day one.
We enjoyed a yummy breakfast at the lodge before we headed out to our Safari Jeep tour in Custer State Park. The drive alone to the tour was a tour itself, just stunning scenery! Once we arrived at the Custer State Game Lodge we hoped in our jeep with the sweetest old man driver. Within 5 minutes of our tour, a giant Bison was crossing the road! We drove right along side of it and the kids freaked out! We might have freaked out a little too. It was AMAZING! We also saw a group of Antelope, a heard of bison, pretty birds, and prairie dogs! Beyond the animals, the land was a sight to remember. The rolling hills of greenery, the wild flowers everywhere and the orange and green trees. It was an event we will all remember!
We had worked up an appetite so we grabbed a bite at Legion Lake Lodge and then a slice of homemade pie from the Purple Pie Place in Custer, holy yum!
Another hike around Sylvan Lake in the afternoon, this time we went a little further out and went off path a bit. The kids were able to climb rocks and explore.
A friend had recommended Skogen Kitchen in Custer for dinner, (reservations are required). I am SO glad we went and wish we could have gone for a few more meals! A husband and wife from California own this little 7 table restaurant. Service and food were a ten!
We ate a quick breakfast in our room because we had an 8am Rock climbing session with a Sylvan Rock Climbing. It was on the back side of the lake, climbing those beautiful rocks. None of us had rock climbed before so it was very important that the staff was super friendly and helpful. They taught us exactly what to do, Dino and I even belayed one another! We rock climbed for 3 hours and the kids said it was their favorite part of the trip!
At this point we were starving again! So we headed back to Custer to Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. Be prepared to wait 20-30 min for this one, but it was worth the wait! An amazing burger and great staff!
Back to the lake we went for an afternoon of kayaking and swimming! They had boat and paddle board rentals right at the lake.
That evening we headed back into Custer State Park for a Chuck Wagon dinner at Blue Bell Lodge. On our way to dinner a rainstorm came out of nowhere and hail hit the ground the size of olives! It was so crazy and fun for the kids to see! We just don’t get thunderstorms in Cali! That fresh rain made our wagon ride all the more beautiful! It was clear skies and all the animals were out as we drove through Custer State Park to dinner. We ate on picnic tables outside and listened to live music with the kids. It was a full on country experience!
Last day of our trip and we ended on a high note! We ate breakfast at the State Game Lodge and went right over to the Peter Norbeck Visitors Center for one of their free naturalist classes for the kids. We wish we would have taken the kids sooner! It was such a cool place for the kids to run around and explore. The volunteers there taught them about wildlife and fun state facts. They had hands on crafts and activities for the kids, they even got to pet a snake!
On our way to the airport we stopped at a cute hipster little coffee and sandwich spot in Rapid City called Harriet & Oak. It was just what we needed to end our trip. A little coffee and a little pastry treat.
We really didn’t know what to expect on this trip and it made it all the more fun because it blew away all of our expectations. I would highly recommend exploring this beautiful state and Custer State Park. It was a family vacation for the books!
Favorite Custer State Park Hikes
Shorter Hikes: Sylvan Lake Loop, Cathedral Spires Trail, Lover Leap.
Longer Hikes: Little Devils Tower, Sunday Gulch Trail, Black Elk Peak (tallest point in the US east of the Rockies).
sponsored by South Dakota Tourism and Custer State Park