This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series 

The draw of the Four Corners is that you can be in four states at the same time. In fact, my right index finger has done exactly this. The draw of Belle Fourche, South Dakota is that you can be right smack dab in the middle of it all. The United States, that is. If you count Alaska and Hawaii (you really should).

See also:

Where is Belle Fourche?

Belle Fourche South Dakota: The Geographic Center of the United States

It’s in western South Dakota, serviced by Highways 85, 212, and 34. The nearest airport is in Rapid City, South Dakota and it takes just under an hour to drive over.

If you choose to fly into Gillette, Wyoming, the drive to the Center of the Nation Monument is about 90 minutes.

Luckily, the drive from both directions is easy and scenic.

See also:

Why is Belle Fourche Important?

Belle Fourche South Dakota: The Geographic Center of the United States

Before Alaska and Hawaii became a thing, the very center of the United States was somewhere near Lebanon, Kansas. In fact, it still is, but it’s now known as the geographic center of the contiguous United States.

When the two youngest states officially joined the Union, things had to be switched around a little bit to accommodate their locations. Enter Belle Fourche.

Belle Fourche South Dakota: The Geographic Center of the United States

See also:

What Is There To Do in the Area?

Belle Fourche South Dakota: The Geographic Center of the United States

Other than stopping to take a photo with the large granite compass flanked with flags from all 50 states that marks the center of the nation, you can stop into the Center of the Nation Visitor Center and the Tri-State Museum, if open.

It’s hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10AM to 4PM, Mountain Standard Time, but the monument is always accessible.

See also:

What’s the Catch?

Belle Fourche South Dakota: The Geographic Center of the United States

Unfortunately, the actual geographic center of the nation is located on private property about 20 miles away. When it was discovered, a metal pole was placed into the ground to mark the location, but the owner of the land wasn’t interested in turning his property into a full-blown tourist attraction.

So, based on the results of a National Geodetic Survey, it was decided to place the monument in Belle Fourche, as it is the closest town to the real location, and actually within the margin of error.

See also:

You have my permission not to mention this to your friends after your visit, though. Just let them think you stood right in the center of it all.

Belle Fourche South Dakota: The Geographic Center of the United States

If, however, you’d like to really go and see the actual geographic center of the nation, follow these instructions from the Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce:

Drive 13 miles on HWY 85 north from the intersection of HWY 85 and 212. Turn left onto Old HWY 85 (look for a small blue sign with white lettering) and drive 7.8 miles until you see a barn on your left hand side.

On the right side of the road, you will see a small sign in red, white, and blue telling you that you have reached the Center of the Nation. Looking into the pasture, you will see a US Flag flying freely. Feel free to park and climb through the barbed wire fence and make the short walk out to the location. Make sure to watch for cow pies and snakes! At the location you will see the survey marker highlighting the “Center of the Nation.”

Belle Fourche South Dakota: The Geographic Center of the United States

See also:

Pin it:

 

Belle Fourche South Dakota: The Geographic Center of the United States

Follow:

This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series 

Many people choose to visit South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore, but there is so much more to the state than just seeing the men in the mountain!

One of my favorite “alternate activities” was a nearby geological wonder. The reasons to visit Badlands National Park are boundless, but I’ve narrowed it down to my top ten.

10 Reasons To Visit Badlands National Park South Dakota

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

Scolding the lands for being so bad.

See also:

Its Convenient Location

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

Badlands National Park is a quick one hour drive from “Mount Rushmore hub” Rapid City, South Dakota and only 84 miles from the memorial itself, making it a viable and accessible option for tourists looking for other interesting things to do while visiting South Dakota.

It makes a perfect day trip from Rapid City, or pit stop on your way back east if you drove to see Mount Rushmore.

See also:

The Cute Prairie Dogs

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

See also:

Y’all. Never in my life have I seen such adorable, chunky, and chatty prairie dogs as I did during my trip. They are reason enough to visit Badlands National Park.

Since I visited at the beginning of Spring, the little guys were just awakening from their winter stupor and were having a little bit of trouble navigating the entrances to their tunnels as they hadn’t quite started working on their summer bods yet.

It was very entertaining to see…like watching a tube of Pillsbury dough explode.

The Badlands Hiking Trails

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

See also:

Perhaps the number one reason most people want to visit Badlands National Park is the hiking trails. There are steep, rugged trails. Flat, accessible trails. Long trails. Short trails. Easy trails. Hard trails. All kinds of ’em!

I’m not an expert hiker and definitly prefer moseying along a scenic byway as opposed to breaking a sweat, so I appreciated the variety of trails available.

The Breathtaking Views

Things to do in the badlands how to get to the badlands

See also:

This reason goes along with hiking because as I attempted a trail that was harder than I thought it would be, I found myself needing to stop and “admire the views” quite often, if you know what I mean.

I’m still not sure if I couldn’t breathe because of how beautiful the Badlands looked glowing in the afternoon sun, or if because I was (and still am) very out of shape.

Be sure to build enough time into your visit to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the Badlands!

The Movie Moments

 reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

See also:

Did you know that Badlands National Park was the Dances with Wolves filming location? The 1992 film Thunderheart was also partially filmed inside the park.

This is one of my favorite reasons to visit Badlands National Park. It’s such a cinematic place, as soon as you arrive you’ll understand why Hollywood couldn’t stay away.

I also love seeing where movies were filmed, as it’s kind of like meeting a celebrity in its own way, so make sure to watch both of the films before visiting!

The Wide Open Spaces

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

Big, blue South Dakota sky. Miles and miles of prairie land, stretching as far as you can see.

I think sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in ourselves. Whether we spend all of our time worrying about inconsequential things or acquiring a false sense of importance, a visit to the Badlands is almost spiritual in that it can instantly dispel both of these feelings.

Its wide open spaces remind you how small you are, but just like the insect buzzing from flower to flower, the deer drinking from the stream, or the mighty stone rising from the earth, you have a purpose and you have a place.

The Native American History

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

The Badlands and surrounding areas have been sacred to many Native American tribes for thousands of years. For nearly 11,000 years, the area was home to paleo-Indians, the Arikara, and more recently, the Lakota and the Sioux. The hunting near the Badlands was particularly good and the rock formations offered natural fortifications and vantage points.

However, as a young United States pushed west, the Native Tribes were violently pushed off the land they called home and often forced into reservations. The conflict between American Homesteaders and the Plains Tribes cumulated in the Wounded Knee Massacre, a shameless slaughtering of the Native people about 45 miles from the park.

A visit to the Badlands can help expand understanding of a terrible event often omitted, or barely mentioned, in formal eduction.

The Unique Vegetation and Wildlife

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

Called “the Badlands” by Native peoples because of the area’s harsh terrain and weather conditions, the lands within the park still support a plethora of life. There are prairie dogs, rabbits, deer, sheep, bison, and even coyotes out all the prowl. Although thankfully I didn’t come across any during my visit.

Make it a game and see how many you can spot during your time there!

The Geology

I only took one geology class in college, but it was enough to get me hooked! I love rocks. They rock.

The rock formations in the Badlands are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The subtle tans, reds, and browns of each stone are so lovely they look painted and the varied jagged peaks of each mountain are thrown together with such clumsy perfection you’d think they were created simply to be photographed.

I imagine there are more specific and science-y components of the Badlands to be explored, but it’s all still pretty cool, even to my untrained eyes.

  • Pin it: 

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

Follow:

The post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series 

Reasons to visit Mount Rushmore? Who wants to go there? Isn’t that like in…South Dakota? Is that even a real state?

Yes, it’s a real state (jury’s still out on North Dakota though…and Idaho tbh). A pretty interesting one at that. While Mount Rushmore was literally carved as a reason to draw tourists to the Black Hills region (pretty effective marketing campaign y’all), it’s such a part of the American cultural narrative at this point that everyone should make a point of going to see it at least once.

Here are nine reasons to visit Mount Rushmore:

best time to visit Mount Rushmore best time to visit mt rushmore

See also:

To Check South Dakota Off Your List

My map from https://m.maploco.com/visited-states/

If you don’t go to Mount Rushmore, you’ll probably never go to South Dakota. Which is a shame because it’s awesome. But because of its Midwest location, just doesn’t seem to have the draw of tourist hubs like NYC, LA, or NOLA.

But going to all 50 states seems to be on the bucket list of many Americans. It’s certainly on mine. Planning a trip to Mount Rushmore offered me the opportunity to check one of the “harder to get to” states off the list.

See also:

To Spend Time with Family

best time to visit Mount Rushmore best time to visit mt rushmore

My sister and I.

Mount Rushmore was packed with families! Moms, dads, grandparents, pairs of adult siblings (like my sister and I), groups of friends who might as well be brothers.

Everyone was laughing, learning, and loving it. It’s a place you want to share with those you love. You’ll look back at the pictures, years from now, like “Hey, remember when we had a blast staring at some old men carved into a mountain?”

There’s something very communal about the park.

See also:

To Feel Patriotic AF

things to do in Rapid city South Dakota Berlin Wall Memorial

My sister in nearby Rapid City.

The intense patriotism of the monument might also contribute to this communal feeling. Mount Rushmore is such a quintessential American icon that’s it’s hard not to get a little sentimental about our country while there.

It seemed easier to talk to people while visiting — to swap stories and laugh together because we all had one thing in common. We came all the way to South Dakota to see a giant rock.

See also:

To Inspire Your Own Passion Project

best time to visit Mount Rushmore best time to visit mt rushmore

It’s hard not to get fired up about your dreams when you see Gutzon Borglum’s realized in stone. He achieved his dream. He mastered his art. When I left, I felt excited about my writing. I had a renewed creative passion and excitement.

Whether you like knitting, writing music, running marathons, or volunteering, I would hope that this one of many reasons to visit Mount Rushmore gives you the same vigor!

See also:

To Learn Some American History

best reasons to visit Mount rushmore south dakota trip

The presidents on Mount Rushmore were selected by Gutzon Borglum for very specific reasons.

Washington for the struggle for independence and the birth of our Republic; Jefferson for territorial acquisitions and westward expansion; Lincoln for the permanent union of the states and equality of citizens, and Roosevelt for the 20th century role of the USA in world affairs and the rights of the common man. Although construction ended in 1941, it’s as if the carvers foresaw the “Great American Century.”

But there is always a flipside.

It’s important to remember that while each man on the mountain is meant to stand in for these ideals, he did not embody them perfectly. Understanding the conflict and context of each administration and historical period represented on Rushmore is another essential element of a visit to the monument.

See also:

To Pick a President’s Nose

things to do at Mount Rushmore National Monument Mount Rushmore Vacation

I honestly don’t think that there is any other setting in which this is appropriate, so I was pretty excited about the opportunity. It’s not like you can go to the National Portrait Gallery or the Smithsonian and pick peoples’ noses.

Not that I haven’t tried.

See also:

To Get the Perfect Gram

best reasons to visit Mount rushmore south dakota trip

Mount Rushmore looks like a movie scene. Probably because we’ve seen it in so many movies. Because of this, taking bangin Instagram photos is pretty easy because you’ve got such good terrain to work with. It’s one of the best reasons to visit Mount Rushmore.

It’s also nice to know people won’t be looking at you, they’ll be looking at the mountain, so you can do pretty much whatever and it’ll get a lot of likes.

See also:

To Eat Some Delicious Food

things to do at Mount Rushmore National Monument Mount Rushmore Vacation

I can’t say it enough: the food at Carver’s Café at Mount Rushmore is actually delicious. Go ahead and eat there. It’s not like other tourist attractions where you pay an exorbitant amount of money for something that tastes like an old shoe.

I felt like I was eating at a friend’s house. A friend that can really cook. A “Hey, come here and let me fix you a plate” kind of friend. Eat there.

To Hang with the Goats

things to do at Mount Rushmore National Monument Mount Rushmore Vacation

These goats are one of the best reasons to visit Mount Rushmore. Just watch out for them.

The goats at Mount Rushmore might seem friendly, but my theory is that they are actually highly trained attack goats hiding some sort of weird illuminati secrets stashed in the mountain. Or maybe this goat tried to kill me just because I went too close to him. It definitly could also be that.

  • Pin it:

best reasons to visit Mount rushmore south dakota trip

 

Follow:

This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series 

Jewel Cave National Monument has rock formations that look like bacon.

So, in the eternal Jewel Cave or Wind Cave debate, I think it’s very clear who the winner should be. My sister and I tacked Jewel Cave onto the end of our grand tour of South Dakota and were very glad that we did so!

Jewel Cave National Monument interior

While it’s not number one on a list of things to do in South Dakota (that would be Mount Rushmore, duh), if you have the time, it’s a fun look into the geographical history (and mystery!) of the Black Hills.

See also:

Getting to Jewel Cave National Monument

Knowing how to get to Jewel Cave National Monument is step one to a great trip. You don’t want to end up lost somewhere in the Black Hills only to have a Donner Party moment with your travel mates.

how to get to Jewel Cave National Monument

As you can see, Jewel Cave National Monument is about an hour’s drive southwest of Rapid City. Set your GPS to Custer, South Dakota and from there, follow Highway 16 West. There are signs for the monument’s entrance along the road.

If needed, its exact coordinates are as follows

594270, 4842528 (UTM NAD 83)

Latitude / Longitude:

43 43′ 46.6153″ N

103 49′ 46.6522″ W

See also:

Purchasing Jewel Cave Tour Tickets

Jewel Cave National Monument tickets

You’ll need to wake up and get going quite early on the day of your visit.

This is because you cannot reserve tickets for the guided tours online. You can only get them in person on the day you wish to tour. Because of this, you’ll want to arrive early in the day to purchase and pick up your tickets, even if you don’t end up touring Jewel Cave until the afternoon.

Seriously. Get there early. During the summer, tours for the day are almost always sold out before noon.

The quantity and scheduling of tours depends heavily on the season. The year is divided into ten sections, each with its own tour time table. You can read this in detail on the NPS website here.

See also:

Types of Jewel Cave Tours

Jewel Cave National Monument interior

  • Scenic Tour

$12 over 17 / $8 under 17 / free under 5

This is the one my sister and I took. It lasted just about 90 minutes.

We entered and left the cave through an elevator and walked on paved trails and metal platforms throughout the cave. It was a nice group, about 20 people (although they will take up to 30), so it didn’t feel crowded. The parts of the cave we walked through had high ceilings and felt very open.

At the beginning of the tour, after the Park Ranger gave his little intro, he gave the opportunity for anyone feeling scared or uneasy to leave at that point. So, if you are unsure how you will feel going down into the cave, you should still try! If you get down there and you don’t like it, you can bail. You just don’t get your money back.

The scenic tour is also well lit. I didn’t feel afraid at any point.

So, if you are scared of the dark or of tight spaces, you should be fine on this tour as there is no pitch darkness and no squeezing through anything. You are just walking around. There are 723 steps on the route; however, so those with limited mobility will unfortunately not be able to take this tour.

See also:

Jewel Cave National Monument interior

  • Discovery Talk 

$4 over 17 / free under 17

The Discovery Talk tour lasts only 20 minutes and is accessible to visitors with limited mobility, kids in strollers, and those with apprehensions about caves. You take the elevator down into the Jewel Cave’s Target Room, enjoy the introductory talk, then take the elevator back out again. Easy!

Jewel Cave National Monument interior

  • Historic Lantern and Wild Caving Tours

During the summer season, visitors looking for a more “authentic” spelunking experience can join the Historic Lantern and Wild Caving Tours with offer the opportunity to enter Jewel Cave through its “natural entrance” and shimmy and squeeze through stalacTITE (oh ho ho) spaces.

This honestly sounded terrifying to me, so I took a hard pass on these options, but hey, if it sounds fun for you, go for it.

More information on the NPS website here.

See also:

Tips for Visiting Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument interior

  • Bring a jacket!

Even if you visit during the summer months, it’s still a chilly 49°F/9°C year-round down in the cave. Just enough to be uncomfortable in a t-shirt.

  • Leave your purse in the car!

Lock it in the trunk if you need to, but the folks that run the cave don’t like backpacks, purses, or bulky camera bags along for the  tour.

  • Bring your camera!

Like I said earlier, there are rock formations inside of Jewel Cave National Monument that look like freaking bacon. If I didn’t see it with my own two eyeballs, I might not believe it. So make sure to bring your camera so the people at home don’t think you’re yanking their chain.

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Jewel Cave

  • Save the bats!

If you have been to any other caves outside of the Black Hills, do NOT wear the same clothing or bring the dame gear.

A terrible disease called White-Nose Syndrome is wiping out bats at an alarming rate across the USA. We love our bats and want to keep them save, so do your part to stop the spread of the disease. 

See also:

Pin it: 

Jewel Cave National Monument

Follow:

This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series 

Most people visit South Dakota for Mount Rushmore, but there is so much more to do in the area! One of my unexpected favorites was to explore the Minuteman Missile Site along Interstate 90 in Western South Dakota.

Minuteman Missile Site

It’s actually pretty easy to get there.

As you can see, the park is nestled near Badlands National Park, so combining the two of them into one action-packed day is very doable.

5 Reasons To Visit the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota

Depending on your pre-booked tour time for Delta-01, you might have to do a little backtracking along the perfect loop created by Route 240. Plan to spend an entire day between the two parks, paying attention to the more time-sensitive nature of the activities at the Minuteman Missile Sites.

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

Outside the visitor center.

Here’s what you need to know about visiting (or why you should if you haven’t considered it yet!)

See also:

You’ll Gain Some Useful Trivia

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

Freezing, but impressed.

Before I added the Minuteman Missile Site to my South Dakota itinerary, I honestly thought that the Feds kept all of America’s nukes in a vault somewhere near DC. Kind of like a Fort Knox situation, but with weapons of mass destruction instead of gold.

The nice thing is that this is the first time I’m letting anyone else know this, so while I was touring the former bunker and missile silo locations, noone was looking at me like, “Wow. This girl is a Class A IDIOT.”

For all they knew, I’d always been in the loop about Uncle Sam stashing his nukes in the ground throughout the Midwest. Because putting things that have the potential to end the word on regular ole’ farmers’ land is a totally rational and normal thing to do.

See also:

It’s like Taking a Free Cold War History Class

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

My sister taking in the exhibits, under construction at the time.

You should start your visit to the Minuteman Missile Site with a stop by the visitor center, where you can take in the exhibits, films, and bathrooms.

There is a 30-minute film called Beneath the Plains which introduces you to the Minuteman Missile Site’s context within the Cold War, as well as the system’s continued role as a nuclear deterrent…because yes, as mentioned, there are still top secret sites somewhere out there in the Midwest with active missiles in them.

You can also go through exhibits on the Cold War as a whole through the lens of the Air Force and Defense Departments.

See also:

You’ll Get To Explore Launch Control Facility Delta-01

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

“Topside” at the launch site.

This was one of the coolest parts of visiting the Minuteman Missile Site.

Delta-01 is a real-life decommissioned missile launch facility. From 1963 until the early 1990’s, rotating sets of two Americans would spend hours of pure boredom punctuated by moments of acute panic locked down in this bunker.  If the Soviets launched, this team was our first line of defense…or the people pushing us once step closer to M.A.D. 

Also, fun fact: my sister and I learned that the launch codes changed with each new pair of personnel that went down for a shift, and the old ones had to be incinerated.

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

The white barrel is where they burned the launch codes after each shift.

Obviously, since this was top-secret stuff, it was important that every shred of paper be completely destroyed, and if a sliver the size of a dime blew away, the workers had to scour the South Dakotan wasteland to recover it…or else.

You start the tour up top and see what it was like to live day-to-day above a launch control facility, then take the elevator 31 feet down into the “launch room” itself.

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

The toilet down in the launch bunker.

The tour typically lasts about 30 minutes and because of limited space, accommodates six people and one Park Ranger. You should reserve your spot ASAP, up to three months in advance, here.

Unfortunately, no same day reservations are allowed. You don’t want to miss out, so book now!

See also:

You Can See a Real Nuclear Missile Silo, like Delta-09

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

A reconstruction of the warhead.

During the height of the Cold War, there were approximately 150 missiles spread out across the western portion of South Dakota. Most of these missiles have now been decommissioned, but if you’d like to get a look at what one looked at during the height of America’s pissing contest with the Soviets, then you should check out Delta-09.

Delta-09 was once home to a  fully operational Minuteman Missile, bearing a 1.2 megaton nuclear warhead. Casual.

There is a cell-phone tour available because there are typically no Park Rangers onsite, so you can call in to get the deets.

It was so windy when my sister and I visited that we just peeked down into the silo and quickly left, but if the weather is nice, I recommend staying for the tour.

See also:

You Might Even Meet a Veteran

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

I took this for my dad, a USAF veteran.

A few days after our tour of the Minuteman Missile Site, my sister and I were eating lunch at a creepy little café near Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The place the local Park Ranger recommended was closed, but we were too hungry to wait to eat until we got back to Rapid City, South Dakota, so we found ourselves in a dimly lit hovel with three tables that smelled a little too musty to be serving food.

Two older men walked in, wearing flannels and trucker hats, but sporting sweet smiles. They greeted us as soon as they entered with a “Howdy, ladies!” and asked for pie and ice cream. The woman at the counter, who was barely pushing five feet tall and had nails nearly longer than her fingers, was out of ice cream, so she quickly scurried to buy some from the podunk grocery next door.

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

Two locks with two keys, so no one person could launch. They had to work as a team.

Alone in the creepy café, the gentlemen struck up a conversation with my sister and me, as it became very obvious that we weren’t from around these here parts. This might sound like the beginning of a Criminal Minds episode, but if you had seen these men in person, you’d know that they gave off a sweet grandpa vibe and not a murderous one.

When we mentioned we had toured the Minuteman Missile Site, one of the gentlemen beamed, “I worked in those! Back in the ’60s. I was just a kid with Nuclear Codes in my hands.”

“Wait, what?” my head has never swiveled around so quickly (okay, except for when I met Eddie Redmayne, but that’s another story.)

He paused, the color slowly leaving his face.

See also:

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

Interesting info graphic about the power of modern weapons.

“Wow, the wood paneling in here is awfully well done, isn’t it?” Suddenly, he was out of his chair and very, very interested in the obviously fake “wood” peeling off the walls. His buddy was shoveling ice cream-less pie into his mouth at a pace too quick not to be suspicious.

The bell above the door jingled as the waitress lumbered in with the ice cream. Another local family showed up for lunch. I never got a further explanation.

Still mad about it, tbh.

  • Pin it:

 

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

Follow: