Voices from the Road

What happens when a family of five wins a trip to South Dakota and turns it into a road trip

I never thought I’d travel to South Dakota, but I entered a giveaway on Instagram and shockingly won a 2-night stay in a tepee at Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort. I packed up my family of five (plus two dogs and one cat) from Colorado Springs, and headed north with our 27-foot travel trailer. We figured if we were already up there, we’d make the most of it and stay a few days longer. Looking back on it, I still can’t believe all of us fit in a tepee, but we made it happen.

The resort was located in Custer, South Dakota, and during our stay, we were able to keep our trailer in a back parking lot for free. During our first day there, we went into the town of Custer and walked the streets and decided to eat at a pizzeria. We sat outside under a canopy of vines and enjoyed being surrounded by history. An old stagecoach cabin and some of the carriages were located nearby. You’d completely miss this from just walking along the main street, so we were grateful it was a beautiful day and we decided to eat outside. 

The Black Hills area of South Dakota is unbelievably beautiful. The next day, we headed to Custer State Park—it’s an absolute must. We were on the hunt to see some buffalo so we took Wildlife Loop Road and enjoyed the countryside drive. Along the way we spotted the infamous wild burros and had to stop and say hi—they’re so friendly! We didn’t see any buffalo until the very end of the drive, but it was amazing to see a giant herd spread across the plains.

A family poses in front of spires at Custer State Park in South Dakota

Going underground 

The next day, we made reservations to visit Jewel Cave National Monument. It’s hard to believe how these caves and all their beauty were discovered so long ago. We enjoyed the ranger-led underground tour and learned so much. I can’t imagine the days when explorers only had candles to light their way through these rocky tunnels. 

The rest of the day was devoted to checking out of the resort and heading to the KOA with our trailer. Two nights was enough in a tepee, but what an experience and we’re glad we did it. It was also nice to have A/C and full hookups to our trailer. The KOA in Custer was just down the road from the resort, so we spent the rest of the day hanging out, making dinner, and enjoying a bonfire with s’mores—we slept well that night!

The following morning, we gathered supplies (mostly sandwiches and water) and headed to Badlands National Park. It was the farthest planned part of the trip but we’re so grateful we made the effort because it’s a very underrated park. We took the main loop around the park and stopped at all of the pull-off parking lots for mini hikes and photo shoots. It was hot out there, but worth the walk further into the park to see all of the views—it’s a geological masterpiece.

A couple poses for a photo at South Dakota's Badlands National Park

On the drive out of the park, the road leads you directly into a tiny town named Wall, South Dakota. From Wall and down the highway headed back to Custer, you’re surrounded by endless fields of sunflowers. It’s definitely worth the drive during the summer months. 

“Incredible in their own right”

Our trip was nearing the end but there was still so much more to explore—we could have stayed for weeks. We took this day to drive around and headed back to Custer State Park. I had to stop by Sylvan Lake, which is a gorgeous small lake surrounded by boulders and forest. We weren’t the only ones who loved the lake. This is a very busy tourist spot, but worth the stop to have lunch before moving on. 

We then drove a bit further into the park to go for a hike. The Cathedral Spires are worth every bit of the praise it gets online, and I was so happy we were all able to get out there to see the rock formations up close. We didn’t have any plans after that, so we just decided to get in the car and start driving, and we ended up in a small town called Spearfish. 

We spotted a giant playground for kids so we headed over to the park and realized that behind it was this slow-flowing creek. It was like a little fairytale, so of course we all went over and played in the water for a while. The only other place I wanted to see was Deadwood. By the time we got there, this tiny town was overtaken by motorcycles and there was absolutely no place to park. We had no idea just how busy South Dakota became during the time of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. We ended up just doing a drive through and headed back to the RV. 

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The author and her family stand in front of a sign for Wind Cave National Park

Our last day before our trip home involved a quick trip to see Wind Cave National Park. The underground network of these caves is quite impressive. I’m not sure I needed to go to both caves and in my opinion, Jewel Cave was more beautiful than Wind Cave but they’re both incredible in their own right. We went on the longer tour and by the end my kids weren’t having it and we had to be escorted out to leave the cave safely. These are the trials and tribulations of traveling with toddlers. 

It was perfect timing to say goodbye to South Dakota and the gorgeous Black Hills and head home. This trip goes down as one of the best family vacations we’ve ever taken.

Shara’s trip

Meet the Roadtripper

Shara Fairman