Black Hills of South Dakota and Northeastern Wyoming

When we left Estes Park, CO, we had some time to kill on the way back to Texas so we decided to go to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We had been there once before about 4 years ago but we have been wanting to go back and spend some additional time there. When we were there last, we stayed at the Mount Rushmore KOA Campground but this time we stayed at the Rafter J Bar Ranch Campground. We had seen the Rafter J last time and knew that we would stay there if we ever returned to the area.

The Rafter J is really a nice campground and quite different from the Mount Rushmore KOA. The KOA is very crowded and very busy and the campsites are fairly close together. The Rafter J is a very large campground in physical size. It use to be a working ranch and therefore has a lot of open space that is not used for campsites. Most of the campsites are wider than the average. They have a nice swimming pool and play area. There were a lot of children there but it was a quiet campground because of the open spaces. We really enjoyed our stay there!

Since we didn’t have a lot of time, we didn’t do Mount Rushmore again. It’s easy enough to see the faces from the road. We did go into the Custer State Park and drove the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Highway and went to Sylvan Lake. These roads are very narrow in places and have about 8 one lane tunnels. The tunnels are narrow so I had to pull my mirrors in on the truck to keep from hitting the sides. A couple of the tunnels frame the President’s faces of Mount Rushmore. The drive along these roads is very impressive. Unfortunately, the pine bark beetles have done a job on the trees, as they have in much of the mountains from New Mexico to Canada.

We took a day trip to the Devils Tower, which is in the Black Hills but is in northeastern Wyoming. We were told that the fastest route was to go through Rapid City, SD and pickup Interstate 90 to Sundance, WY and then to Devils Tower. We followed that route since we wanted to go through Sturgis, SD. I’m not a motorcycle fan but I’ve heard a lot about the large motorcycle rally they have there every year and I wanted to see the town. I’ll have to say that we were not overly impressed with Sturgis but we can now say that we have been there.

Interstate 90 was not very scenic from Rapid City to Sundance. However, when we turned off the Interstate at Sundance, the scenery became must more attractive. The trip from Sundance to the Devils Tower is about 24 miles through some very scenic hills. When you come around the last turn and see the Devils Tower in the distance, it is very impressive. It is much larger than I had envisioned and is much more of a monolith than I thought.

For those who might be interested and don’t know, there is a KOA campground at the entrance to the National Monument. There are also some campsites inside the park.

On our trip back to Rafter J, we took Highway 85 down to Deadwood, WY and then Highway 385 which took us right into Hill City where the campground is located. This was a much more scenic drive than the one we took through Rapid City. The Black Hills, although they are not mountains, are very impressive. There are several lakes along Highway 385 with the most attractive being Pactola Lake. It is a fairly large lake and serves as a water source for Rapid City and the farmland around the area.

If you have never been to the Black Hills, I certainly recommend that you go at some point in your travels. There is a lot to see so be sure and plan to say for several days.

Campers at campground

Our campsite at Rafter J as seen from across the open area



Mount Rushmore as seen through tunnel on Iron Mountain Highway


Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park

Devils Tower

Devils Tower as seen from the highway




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