This year, we had our sights set on Mt. Rushmore! I can't tell you how many times people said "South Dakota?! In the winter?!". Yes, we get it, we're from California, we think it's sunny everywhere... and we booked it without thinking about weather conditions. But we really lucked out! The weather was a cool 50-60 degrees (phew!).
We booked our hotel + flight + rental car on Expedia about a month before. We flew Delta (LAX --> MSP --> RAP), rented a compact car from Dollar Rent-a-Car, and stayed at The Foothills Inn.
I don't know if you've been to Rapid City before, but I recommend a weekend at most.
DAY 1 - Saturday, February 15
Once we picked up the car and checked into the hotel, we drove into Downtown Rapid City and ate dinner at Firehouse Brewing. Yelp reviews don't lie! This place really holds up to its good name. The service was great and the food was sooooo good. We planned an early morning, so we got to bed early for the big day ahead!
DAY 2 - Sunday, February 16
Up early and off to see Mt. Rushmore! We took advantage of the convenient continental breakfast at the Foothills Inn. With Cap'n Crunch and toast in our bellies, we hit the road! Rapid City must be pretty touristy because there were signs for everything. We didn't even need the map to get to all the major sites. We desperately wanted to go to Bear Country USA, but funny thing - bears hibernate in the winter, so yelling at the bears to come out and play is pretty useless. Moving on. After Mt. Rushmore, we stopped by Crazy Horse. We really didn't have a desire to do so, but we turned into the driveway up to Crazy Horse and there was no turning back. Literally, you are NOT allowed to turn away. If you made a wrong turn or don't want to pay the $10/person entrance fee, you have to continue down this long driveway to the ticket booth. But let me tell you, the "museum" is crazy cool, and not just because you feel like you're inside a big tree (the entire inside is wood paneling), but there is a lot to see and learn. The actual sculpture itself is neat, but it's hard to really understand just how big it is when you're so far away. After Crazy Horse, we started our drive through Custer State Park. As we were driving through, we contemplated skipping the Wildlife Loop because of the weather (not snowy or rainy, but pretty freakin' cold). I'm so glad we didn't. You'll see the pictures below and know why I'm glad we didn't. :) Later that night, I planned a special belated Valentine's Day dinner at Dakotah Steakhouse. Word of advice: do not use Apple Maps to get there, otherwise, you'll think dinner is on a freeway overpass (fail, Apple Maps, fail). The food, drinks, ambiance and service were AMAZING. This was one of the best meals we've ever had!
DAY 3 - Monday, February 17
Call us "crazy" but we woke up at 5:00 AM to catch the sunrise at Badlands National Park! If you know me, you know this wasn't easy. The only times I ever get up that early are when I'm leaving for Maui... alohaaa!
It was an hour drive to the park and we were a little nervous it would be snowy/icy being so early in the morning. The drive to get to the park wasn't, but as soon as we turned down the road leading us into the Badlands, we were driving on ICE! It was manageable, but scary (especially for us SoCal folk! We have enough trouble driving in rain!).
We stopped at the Pinnacles Overlook, the first lookout spot about 15 minutes into the park. The sun rises over the mountains on the left, so you'd think that it would be prettier on the other side, and honestly I wouldn't know. We stayed on the Pinnacles side because the terrain is so rocky that when the sun hits it... it's just spectacular. Even seeing the other lookout points as we drove through the rest of the park, we were so happy we stopped at Pinnacles for the sunrise.
The drive is beautiful (cue Dixie Chicks' Wide Open Spaces) about an hour through the park and another hour back to Rapid City. We killed a couple hours at Hobby Lobby and then went back to the airport!
Enjoy some fun travel pictures below!