Well, the title of this post is dumb because I’ve been referring to the trip as the Tetons & Yellowstone even though it also included the South Dakota Badlands. The Badlands was kind of an add-on, somewhere to stop on the drive if we had time. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect or how long we were going to want to stay in the badlands.
Our first stop was on the way to the Badlands in the Black Hills at Mount Rushmore.
While Mt. Rushmore might be an impressive National Monument, the general area is a complete tourist trap. Keystone is a small town just outside Mt. Rushmore which resembles a year round carnival, kind of like Pigeon Forge, TN. We drove through Keystone and continued up toward Mt. Rushmore. There were occasional vehicles pulled over on the side of the road, which we found odd, given that we were less than a mile from the actual entrance.
Turns out, although the National Monument access is free, parking is privately run and cost $11, park passes not accepted. Between that and a general distaste for the tourist trap we had just driven through, we decided not to pay, dubbed the entire place Mt. Shmushmore, turned around and just took some pictures from the road around the area.
We considered doing one of the scenic drives, but in the end decided that would take a lot of time and weren’t sure it would be worth it, so we checked the box labeled “See Mt. Rushmore” and continued on our way tot he Badlands.
The Badlands overall is a huge park, and we drove through a good chunk of it getting to the campground. We took some time to set up camp, go to the general store (mistaken for the visitor center), the visitor center to get a map, make some quick food, etc.
We had a few hours in the evening so we went up to Castle Trail which then links up to Medicine Root Trail to form a loop out to the White River Valley overlook. It took us a bit to get acclimated to picking out the trail markers in the distance, but no big deal.
On the return, we did divert and follow the Old Northeast Road since it was getting dark enough that following a trail might be an issue. It was interesting seeing cars parked along the road at night, illustrating the open, back country camping allowances in the Badlands – you can camp anywhere so long as you’re far enough off established roads and trails.
We got back to camp a bit after sunset, made dinner and had some nice cold beers from general store.