We saw Mount Rushmore, even walked the new (to me) Presidential Trail and stayed for the Ranger’s Program at 9 PM. Patriotic and inspiring don’t even do it justice…but interestingly, my favorite part of our trip found us meandering the switchbacks and tunnels and granite spires of Needles Highway. If you ever go to the southwestern corner of South Dakota, you must treat yourself to both Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road.
These scenic routes will both land you in the vicinity of Mount Rushmore, and have many outlooks along the way full of granite outcroppings to clamber upon and around. Great family photo opportunities abound. Sadly, my youngest slept through most of these pleasure jaunts. The best outlook exploring/picture taking we did was on Needles Highway at the outlook between the first two tunnels as you head north on 87. I even marked its location on our map, that’s how much we enjoyed it.
I just have to say that for the money, you can’t beat this area of South Dakota, especially if you’re camping at $15 a night as we were. We took our own food, and gas cost us $287 total for a week away (and remember, we drive a gas-chugging Suburban!). Everything we most enjoyed was free…these highways, and the Wildlife Loop Road we took every morning and night to exit our campground. Even Mount Rushmore is free except for the $8 parking garage fee. The best things about Iron Mountain Road were its pigtail bridges and that all the tunnels framed Mount Rushmore. We also saw plenty of wildlife along the beginning of this route…buffalo families, antelope and their young, etc.
We gave the girls some spending money for the rock shops in Custer, and for the kettle fresh taffy we watched being made at Rushmore Mountain Taffy Shop in Keystone. We visited Cosmos where no one stands straight and balls roll uphill, Bear Country U.S.A. with its hundreds of bears on 250 acres, and Evan’s Plunge a natural hot springs swimming resort that refills itself 13 or more times each day at a rate of 5,000 gallons per minute!
But all those things merely succeeded in wearing us out, fun as they were. I’m so glad we started out that first morning exploring and playing in French Creek near our Bluebell campsite. That and Needles Highway were our personal family favorites.
…it’s hard to see them, but my girls are atop rocks in the two middle pics…