South Dakota National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

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Shortly, I am going on a road trip to visit the South Dakota National Parks and Lands.  South Dakota has two National Parks, 2 National Memorial, 1 National Historic Site, and 1 National Recreation River.  This makes for 6 national lands.  I am visiting 5 of these 6 parks on my 7-day road trip in South Dakota.    I will be visiting all the parks in the Western part of the South Dakota.  I am looking forward to visiting my 30th and 31st National Parks.  This means only 28 more parks on my National Park Quest.

South Dakota National Parks Road Trip

The Stops

Stop 1 : Mount Rushmore National Memorial


Photo Credit: J. Stephen Conn

Mount Rushmore National Monument was founded in 1925.  It was designed and construction was supervised by Gutzon Borglum.  The project’s goal was to increase tourism in South Dakota. The carving started in 1927 and ended in 1941.

Stop 2: Jewel Cave National Monument


Photo Credit: Robin Zebrowski

Jewel Cave National Monument protects the third-longest cave in the world.  It is the second longest cave in the United States after Mammoth Cave National Park.  The cave has 175 miles of mapped passage way.

Stop 3: Wind Cave National Park


Vicky from Buddy The Traveling Monkey

I visited Wind Cave National Park on a whim and I’m so glad I did. I was traveling through South Dakota on a weekend road trip and was looking for things to do in the area. The wind caves did not disappoint! A park ranger gave us a guided tour, where she explained the history of the caves and some of the things that make it so unique. In case you were wondering, the wind that led to the parks name is due to the change in barometric pressure between the cave and the surface. It’s also one of the longest cave systems in the world and has the rare cave formations known as boxwork. Tours run about an hour and if you have time afterwards I’d recommend walking along some of the hiking trails in the park. There’s a good chance you’ll see lots of wildlife, including buffalo.

Stop 4: Minuteman Missile National Historic Site


Photo Credit: Josh Grenier

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is the only remaining intact nuclear missile field.  It was the home to 150 Minuteman II missiles during the Cold War.

Stop 5: Badlands National Park


Photo Credit: John Lillis

Badlands Natioanl Parharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.  The park was home to the hunting grounds of Lakota Indians.  The buttes and pinnacles are home to many fossils and pathologist regularly find bones in the park.


Day 1


My first day is a five-hour drive from Fort Collins, Colorado to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  I plan to leave early in the morning and be at Mount Rushmore before lunch.  I will spend the afternoon  learning about Rushmore and exploring the monument.  I will stay for the lighting ceremony and then retire to a campsite in the surrounding Black Hills National Forest.

Day 2


I will get up early and drive from my campsite to Jewel Cave National Monument.  I plan on taking the Scenic Tour, Discovery Tour, and Historic Lantern Tour.  This will allow me to spend several hours in the cave.  I would like to do the Wild Cave tour but they are fully booked for the time I am there. I plan on camping somewhere further south near Wind Cave National Park.

Day 3


I will spend today in Wind Cave National Park.  I plan on taking the Natural Entrance Cave Tour, Garden of Eden Cave Tour, and the Fairgrounds Cave Tour.  Hopefully, Wind Cave will have some recent Mountain Lion sighting and I can spend my evening camped out somewhere hoping to catch sight of one of these animals.

Day 4


The goal is make it to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site by 8 am to with some luck claim one of the 66 tickets available for the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility.  Depending on the time of my ticket, I will do a self-guided tour of Delta-09 Launch Facility either before or after.  Once I am done with the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, I will head over to Badlands National Park’s Sage Creek campground and settle in for the night.

Day 5

I will spend the day exploring Badlands National Park and completing the Badlands GPS Adventure. I want to visit the Paleontology Lab and do some small hikes.   In the evening I will be attending the 2015 Badlands Astronomy Festival.  Hopefully, we will get clear skies.

Day 6

Erosion In Badlands of South Dakota A low-altitude helicopter photo of the Badlands National Park in Southwestern South Dakota, showing the unique erosion of this wilderness area.

Photo Credit: Royce Bair

Depending on the weather, I want to do an overnight backpacking trip into the Badlands.  I am not quite sure where I want to go yet.  I will ask a ranger for advice on where to go.

Day 7

I will hike out from my overnight backpacking trip.  Depending on my mood, I will either camp in Badland for another night or I will head back to Fort Collins.

Possible Day 8

If I decided to camp out for another night, I will head into Wyoming and visit Devil’s Tower National Monument.

Would you do on a South Dakota National Parks Road Trip?

South Dakota National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

23 Replies to “South Dakota National Parks Road Trip Itinerary”

  1. Pingback: My 9 Favorite Moments in the US National Parks

    • Jennifer Post author

      I would be it would be. It might take a little more planning but at least Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, and Rushmore are in the National Forest so you can camp almost anywhere within the dispersal camping rules. Let me know if you try it.

    • Jennifer Post author

      I have yet to go to North Dakota. I need to go visit a national park there. I am thinking that I will be doing that in a couple of weeks.


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