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 > Michigan to South Dakota Trip Report (very long)

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SouthWest, MI USA

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Posted: 07/22/09 08:54am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

So we just got back this past Sunday and figured I would share what we did and where we went as a help to others that might go that way.

We left Sunday the 5th from the Grand Rapids area at about 6am headed to Sparta, WI for the night... This was the longest leg of our trip at 464 miles. We arrived mid-afternoon at our campground for the night.


Nice place, probably a third seasonal and two thirds transient sites. Very sprawling. Had a nice pool and we had a water and electric site, which was fine as we were only there for one night..

Not too much to do around Sparta, especially on a Sunday night, but we did check out Ben Bikin (see link below).


We also found a little sports bar in town for dinner and darts.

We left about 9am Monday headed to Sioux Falls, SD... About 320 miles in all, except for stopping in Austin MN at the SPAM museum (see below), this was probably the most boring part of the trip. Out side of crossing the Mississippi River, driving I-90 across the bottom on MN is very long , straight and uneventful..


We spent the night in the Sioux Falls KOA. Mostly a transient , overnight campground by the side of I-90, which is exactly what we needed... Nice facilities, but we didn't use much of them, except for the dryer and showers.


While in Sioux Falls we visited three small state parks

Palisades: http://www.sdgfp.info/parks/Regions/Heartland/Palisades.htm

Split Rock: http://www.garretsonsd.com/index.php?opt........on=com_content&task=view&id=21&Itemid=38

Devils Gulch: http://www.garretsonsd.com/

This was supposedly one of Jesse James' hideouts...

We also spent the rest of the evening , including a picnic dinner at Falls Park in Sioux Falls.


It was right downtown and a great place to hangout. We had planned to stay for the light show, but got itchy for some ice cream. Got in the car, drove around town and used the GPS to look for an ice cream place... We like to go to places for dinner and treats at places we do not have at home, so we bypassed the DQs, and Culvers and headed for a place called Kops Ice Cream on Pine Lake drive... After a ten minute drive , we found ourselves in a residential neighborhood at the house of a guy that owned an ice cream truck.. We almost knocked on his door for service, but retreated to the nearby Dairy Queen for blizzards and a good laugh.. Note this is not the first time my GPS would steer me wrong...

We left early the next morning, headed to Hill City for the week. Planning to go through the BadLands and Wall Drug on the way...

Before entering the BadLands, we stopped at the Minuteman Missile historic site. We like to get our National Park passport stamped, every chance we can. We were unable to get on a tour (need to call ahead), but checked out the visitor center. Also had a picnic lunch sitting in the parking lot. Not a lot of room for RVs by the way.


We entered the BadLands on the 240 scenic loop. We purchased a day pass for my truck and a annual pass for the other car, as we would be using it the rest of the trip for touring... It paid off to invest in the annual pass... Saved us money at Rushmore, and several other stops along the way.

The BadLands we very cool.


the scenic loop road is well worth the trip. We did the Window and Door hike, would have done a couple of others, but just were pooped... We drove through the park, checked out the visitor center and went across Sage Creek Rim Road to see the Prairie Dog town. This was a major highlight for my wife. The 10+ miles of gravel road from there onto Wall Drug, made our truck and trailer a dusty mess, but it was well worth it.

Wall Drug is a must see... If you haven't heard about it, you will see a b-jillion billboards for it.. Much classier than Pedro's South of the Border in my opinion... Had a great hot dinner and checked out the sights for a while. Finished with ice cream and started our way to Hill City.


Sioux Falls to Hill City, ended up being about 400 miles and probably a 12 hour trip, with the BadLands and Wall Drug in the mix. Very long day, but very fun...

Our campground in Hill City was the Rafter J-Bar Ranch.


If you look at the photo on the main page of their website, you are looking at our campsite. We were at site 172, across the field from the pool.. We had a great view of Harney Peak and Little Devils Tower.

Rafter J is a great campground and from what I could see of the campgrounds we drove by, probably the nicest in the area. We weren't there much, but when we were, we took advantage of the pool, hot tub and pancake breakfast... BTW my GPS lead me astray on the way to the Rafter J as well. Had me turn off on some back road just north of Hill City and we ended up on a road not suited for a 31 ft trailer and after several miles made a three point turn in the driveway of a church camp... took another back road that put us on rt-16 south of Hill City... I am amazed the truck and trailer made some of the tunrs we did.

Here is kind of the day by day of what we did in Hill City area...

7/8: Bear Country USA drive through animal park. Very cool, especially to see the baby bears..


Mount Rushmore for the lighting ceremony... Arrived about 7pm and stayed for the ceremony... As a military veteran it was quite an honor to be invited to go on stage for the closing ceremony and flag lowering... We were also there, the evening of the day, the Greenpeace folks hung the sign on Abe...


7/9: Custer State Park, Needles Highway and Wild Game Loop drive.


Needles is super cool, we also hiked the Cathedral Spires trail on our way through... It was a nice hike, but the view at the top was not that great. BTW none of the estimated distances for the hikes in that park, seemed accurate...

We drove the wild Game loop at the wrong time of day to see much, but got to see some animals, especially burros that came right up to your car...

Highlight was stopping at center Lake campground in the park for a swim. We also stopped at Coolidge General Store for lunch.

On the way back towards Hill City, we stopped by Crazy Horse monument...


So it was definitely cool to see what they are trying to do, but I felt like this was one of the bigger tourist traps... I realize it is privately owned and they are trying to raise funds to finish, but from the time we paid our $27 admission for the car till the time we left, all I felt was like we were being sold too... Everything cost more money..

Dinner was at the Hill City Cafe for the dinner buffet.. Yum.

7/10: Jewel Cave. We signed up for the Scenic Tour. Four of us tried to get on the splunking tour, but my daughter was not yet 16 (missed by 3 months)...Wouldn't have matter as my buddy and I were too large for the splunking tour... They have a concrete box you have to crawl through to qualify and we failed... You really need to call ahead to get spots on these tours... If you just show up planning to get on, they are in many cases already filled...

Jewell cave is the second largest system in the US at 146 miles... We had been to Mammoth cave last fall, so this was a great one to see as comparison.


Later in the day, we drove up to Spearfish along the canyon Scenic by-way...


Really too much to try and do in one day, as we only drove through Lead and Deadwood, vs stopping to tour... The canyon by-way is gorgeous as many had told us. Along the way we stopped at Roughlock Falls, Bridal veil falls and Spearfish Falls...

In Spearfish we walked the main drag to check out the shopping... Picked up a few things and headed up to Bell Fourche SD as we had seen a sign for the Geographical Center of the US.


We stopped in at the visitor center and checked out the commemorative marker... The real on is 20 miles NE in a corn field...

We stopped at a diner in Spearfish on the way back for a great dinner and made our way home...

Doing it again, I would have given the Spearfish trip it's own day and not tagged it on with Jewell Cave...

7/11: we had planned to go to the real Devil's Tower in Wyoming, but after our Spearfish day, decided not to spend a whole day in the car again...

We ended up having a picnic at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.

Hiked the Little Devil's Tower trail in Custer State park as well.. this was one of the highlights of my trip... Really cool hike.


Ran into Rapid city to go to Scheel's Sporting Goods, very cool store if you have not been to one before... Picked up some gear in preparation for hiking Harney Peak.


Back to camp for a dinner of Puggie Pies and a dip in the pool..

7/12: Took the Candlelight tour in Wind cave.


Great example of calling ahead, as they only do two of these tours a day and only take 10 people per tour... The other family that signed up, did not show, so it was just the six of us, with two park rangers, going through a section of the cave with no walkways or railings... Our only light being from candles in metal buckets... This was the highlight of my trip...

Also stopped through Custer SD at the following...


if you like pie, you have to stop here...


this looked like a tourist trap, but turned out to be very interesting...

back to camp for dinner of leftovers...

7/13: our last day in Hill City.. We started with four of us hiking to the top if Harney Peak. This is in Custer State park and is the highest point east of the Rockie Mountains...

It was very difficult, but worth it. We started at the Little Devils Tower trail head, but descended to Sylvan Lake. Was a 1/2 mike hike up the road to get the car, while the others picked up cool drinks in the general store... If you go on this hike, take plenty of water... We had four nalgenes and 2 liter camel back between the four of us and ran out on the way down...

It was about 6 miles round trip... and a 1300 ft change in elevation.

We then went into Hill City to check out the Winery , Christmas store and Cosmos..


Cosmos is a tourist trap, but hard to explain what goes on there... couple of things just didn't make sense and you leave feeling very strange...

Here is the winery we visited.


Good stuff...

Lastly we went to the Alpine Inn for dinner... All they serve for dinner is Fillet Mignon and they have 14 different deserts... Probably the best meal we had on our trip. Well worth the 45 minute wait on the porch.


I had overheard a guy in Wall Drug mention this place and was glad we checked it out..

We left early the next day for Mitchell SD for an overnight stay here.


Nice place, and was just what we needed for an over nighter... Had puggie pies for dinner again after visiting the Corn Palace.


I am glad I got to see the Corn Palace, not much else to do in Mitchell that we saw though...

Next day headed to Minneapolis on the way there swung by Pipestone National Monument.


Didn't really have this on our itinerary, but saw signs for it along the way. It's a historic quarry where Indians got a special kind of stone to make pipes out of ... Very pretty area and we took the 3/4 mile loop trail to check out the waterfalls and such.

Took route 14 across MN headed to our campground in Jordan MN.


Nice enough place, except for the dog owner who let their dog go through my garbage... Was noisy due to adjacency to rt-169. We were mainly using it as a home base, so didn't need much out of it. The last morning was interesting as my buddy went to the showers. Bypassed the first one as it had a condom on the floor... Was in the second one, reached for his shampoo and noticed a large piece of poop (yes human poop) laying on the ledge....

First day in Minneapolis we checked out a bunch of smaller sites...


while we were there getting our stamp, we checked out the museum of science.


Also checked out the Foshay Building. worth the fee to go to the observation deck.


We also went here, which is a beautiful park, but the waterfalls were dry..... :-(


Also drove by the Metrodome for my baseball loving son and then to the Container store for some shopping and dinner at Maggiano's Little Italy (YUM)


Also made a stop at Napa as the house battery on the trailer finally died after 5 years....

Next day was all about the Mall of America. Spent the whole day there lunch and dinner included... Had a great time, but very tiring...


Left the next morning headed for Baraboo WI for our last stop along the way.

Stayed here for a night.


Very nice campground and I would see using as a home base if we went back to visit the Dells... We stayed around the park, played Candy Bar Bingo, make barbecued chicken and played cards...

Trip home, we stopped in Schaumburg, IL to eat at Sweet Tomatoes and shop at Ikea. Both well worth the trip..



Got home about 9pm MI time, unhooked and went to bed... Working this week to unpack, clean up and fix some things..

Mentioned earlier the house battery failed... Also started having problems with my trailer brakes on the way home. Intermittent shorts and opens reported by the Prodigy along with losing brakes here and there... Replaced the magnets last night and re-wired the brakes in a star configuration with much better wired and connectors...

The exhaust brake on the truck helped a ton with the TT brake issue and the truck was basically a rock star in pulling through the hills along the way. I dod suspect I have a u-joint going out that I am going to see about getting fixed this week..

I know this was long, but hope it helps someone else plan a future trip.


PS one note about the CGs we selected. All were great from what we needed from them. I got the rafter J recommendation on this site, but selected the rest from RV parks reviews website, after determining the areas we wanted to stop for the night... Three of the four one night stays worked great as the spot we had enabled us to leave the TV hooked up for the night, as we had a second vehicle with us..

* This post was edited 07/22/09 09:06am by troll3193 *

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LEN Retired

SW Michigan ( Two Paws )

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Posted: 07/22/09 09:40am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Sounds like you had a great trip, thanks for shareing. Bill

06 GMC 2500HD Duramax, 2007 Holiday Rambler Alumascape Suite 32SKT,3 slide 5th wheel " SEMPER FIDELIS "">
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North Central MA

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Posted: 07/25/09 06:02am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for this post, I just book-marked it because we are making plans for a similar trip next summer. Always good to see things like travel times between places, whether there is time to stop, and most importantly - places that are difficult to get through with a truck and trailer!

As far as southern Minnesota, we are thinking of stopping at some of the areas from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I have a daughter (now 10) who fell in love with those stories when she first learned to read. She read the entire series that winter from start to finish, so we will try to make some brief stops for those.

Ultimately, the trip is for our oldest son who wants to get back to Yellowstone and the Tetons for a graduation present. I figure if he is still looking forward to camping with us at this age after all we've been through in the past two years, I'm going to make it happen. May mean some long travel days to and from, but hoping to do it in three weeks.

Again, thanks for the details and links.


Fort Thomas, KY USA

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Posted: 01/20/10 03:53pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for all the info. I found it very helpful. We are planning a trip this summer and find it overwhelming because of all the places to visit. It was great to hear your take of the trip. We are just in the beginning stages. Did you think the ranch was a better location than staying at Custer Park? WE would like to have full hook-up if possible because we plan on staying in that area at least a week or more if we can just go out from that location and not have to move the camper.


Holland, MI

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Posted: 01/20/10 06:47pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

We have stayed at Rafter J Bar many times and always go back when in the area. They have many sites with FHU. We also loved Bear Country. Custer State Park has herds of donkeys that are great freeloaders.

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Foster, Ky./USA

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Posted: 03/24/10 05:30am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great information. Thanks so much.

Sugar Bear & Catbird

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