Empty Nest Road Trip To South Dakota And Glamping!

By Carolyn Hauptman

Road trips don’t scare us. We have driven to Park City, Utah a few times with our dogs, driven our older daughter to college in St. Louis and did several college visit road trips.  So, when we decided to drive our younger daughter to move her in to her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, it was no big deal.  But, we haven’t spent much time in the northern states, and South Dakota was calling us. Why not do our first empty nest road trip to South Dakota after leaving Wisconsin?

We spent a full day driving across Wisconsin, Minnesota and eastern SD, finally arriving in Wall, SD. Wall is a town filled with budget hotels and the famous Wall Drug Store (you start to see signs for Wall Drug when you are 365 miles away and they keep coming and coming) and is the stopping point for many people visiting the Badlands.  After a below average dinner at Wall Drug and seeing the crazy tourist trap that it is, we were excited for our National Park visits.

First, we did the scenic drive around the Badlands.  Part of it looks like you stepped on a planet far away – there are layers of rock formations – and part of it is prairie.  We saw buffalo, prairie dogs, big horn sheep, antelopes and fossils of extinct animals.  It was a great way to spend half a day.  Next, we drove on a pretty barren scenic highway to our next destination, Keystone, SD. Keystone is a cute, if not touristy town, filled with wax museums, zip lines, general stores, and tons of kid-friendly activities, all while maintaining a western feel.  We had lunch, did a wine tasting of South Dakota wines (they are quite fruity and have fun names like Lawrence Elk) and visited Mt Rushmore, which was very cool.  And finally, after a long, yet great day, we arrived at the destination we were most excited about.

Glamping!! Something I have always wanted to do.  The lodging is called Under Canvas, and Mt. Rushmore is the newest location, having opened in 2018.  I believe there is one coming to the Smoky Mountains, TN and they have locations at Yellowstone, Zion, Moab, Glacier Nat’l Park and the Grand Canyon.  We had a deluxe tent, which included a bathroom and hot shower, a king size luxury bed, a wood-burning stove and a front porch with Adirondack chairs.  There is also a really tasty restaurant on-site, a deck where they had a musician playing guitar as the sun went down, games, a bar, and of course, Smores.  We stayed outside as it got dark, long enough to see Mt Rushmore illuminated in the distance, and socialized and drank wine. The temperatures dropped pretty quickly, and we made a fire in the stove in our tent and got warm under the many blankets.  It was amazing and peaceful and beautiful.

The next morning, we woke up to cold temps for August.  The high for the day was 54 degrees!  But that didn’t stop us.  We threw on some layers and did the scenic drive to Custer State ParkThere are a lot of switchbacks, some very narrow tunnels and beautiful scenery.  Highly recommend taking Needles Highway which is surrounded by rocky, needle-like formations. We arrived at Sylvan Lake and did a perfect 1 mile loop with our dogs, who also got to swim.  What a gorgeous place.  Then, to take it up a notch, we did a more strenuous uphill hike.  There are many to choose from, but we did the hike called Cathedral Spires. Custer State Park is filled with some much natural beauty.

As much as we wanted to explore other sites nearby, such as Crazy Horse monument, we felt pretty satisfied by all that we had done in two days, and hope to get back one day.  It was the perfect way to start empty nesting, and we continued our road trip to our final destination, our home away from home, Park City, Utah (summertime PC blog for another time).