South Dakota, you are beautiful. You are also very windy, and we almost didn’t make it through you alive.
Pulling our camper in our big SUV/truck with air conditioning blowing, going uphill forever, and trying to keep our vehicles on the road through 30-40 MPH winds was exhausting. Getting from St. Louis, Missouri, to Spearfish, South Dakota, was stressful and probably not the best start to our trip.
While Chris does all the driving with the camper hooked up, it was exhausting for me too. Feel sorry for me. I need your sympathy.
SERIOUSLY. It was hard. I was stressed because Chris was stressed. I felt like a first-time mom hovering over her new baby while Chris drove.
Do you want a new CD in?
Do you need a snack?
How are you feeling?
Should we get gas?
Do you want some gum?
Can I rub your shoulders?
Should we pullover?
Do you need sunglasses?
Do you want a drink?
Should we go home?
Do you still love me?
Okay, that last one is a stretch. Of course, he loves me. He has to, Jesus-rule.
Traveling from Missouri to our first South Dakota stop was about one thousand miles. When I mapped out our trip, I figured it would take about fifteen hours to make that distance. But so much of this trip was learning how to not do things so what sounded good on paper didn’t necessarily translate well to real life.
Those two days of travel were almost enough to make us wish we didn’t do the trip. I was so scared we’d gotten in too deep and were trying to tackle something we weren’t prepared for. But what we ended up learning is getting out west, the actual traveling to the area we wanted to be, was going to be hard nonetheless. We had two options which was take days and days to get there and not leave much time to explore the states we wanted to see or push through and make the first few days rough so we could spend more time in the western states. We chose the latter and it worked, but it was truly mentally and physically exhausting getting there.
But once we were in South Dakota and off of never-ending highways with crazy winds and no cell service, we LOVED the state. Minus the camper awning the state destroyed. But otherwise, we LOVED South Dakota.
Where we stayed
Spearfish KOA in Spearfish, South Dakota; this KOA is fantastic. The location was beautiful and quiet yet we could easily get to a Walmart and restaurants if we wanted to. I know people have all kinds of thoughts on Walmart, but when you’re on the road, Walmart is your best friend whether you want it to be or not. The Spearfish KOA was really well maintained and we had the BEST campsite in the whole park, no joke. If you get there, ask for site 61. I don’t know if you can request a site, but site 61 (and the ones on both sides of it), backed up to a creek and an empty field. The July weather was cool and perfect at night, and we slept with windows open listening to a babbling brook. It was the best welcome after two days of hectic travel.
What we did
On the way to Spearfish, we stopped at Wall Drug (major tourist trap with four million signs leading up to it, but still a fun stop and the girls enjoyed it), Badlands National Park. (Side note: At one point, we discussed going to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead which would have been such a great experience. It was on the way between Missouri and Spearfish, AND I happened to be reading Little House on the Prairie to the girls on the trip. But it was at least an hour out of our way and then another hour to get back on track, plus whatever time we spent there and we just couldn’t do it. I do regret it, but at the time, we were just so exhausted and ready to be out of the car that we didn’t stop.)
I think one thing I just didn’t understand before we traveled is how much you still have to drive to get to all the places you want to see even when you’re spending a few days in one place. I’m not sure that makes sense, but we stayed two nights in Spearfish but spent our days out exploring the area and national parks. Driving from the campsite to Mt. Rushmore was about two hours. Driving to the Black Hills was about an hour. There are closer places to stay to each of those, but because we had so many things we wanted to do, we picked a (sorta) central location and then just did a lot more driving. I can’t tell you how many hours we were in the car on this trip, but even when we weren’t pulling the camper, we were still driving long distances to get to everything we wanted to see. So just know in advance if this is on your bucket list, be prepared to spend endless hours in your car. Sure, there are amazingly beautiful things to see along the way (seriously, I felt guilty reading my book or playing on my phone because everything was so breathtaking), but it’s a lot of road miles.
Next stop: North Dakota