We recently learned that we are less than 6 hours away from Mt. Rushmore. It's one of those things you see in your history books and think, "oh bucket list item! I'll go there one day!" but...you don't really think about it. I knew Mt. Rushmore was in South Dakota. I just didn't realize it was in the far south west corner of it! I had no clue we would be so close!
Since our trip to Michigan for the summer was cancelled, we decided to look into it.
The KOA Palmer Gulch had fantastic ratings for families, so we booked a tent site and started gathering all of our things. We ordered a tent on Amazon (that was freaking HUGE, by the way!), gathered up all the random items we would need to camp with kids and packed our minivan to the brim! Literally!
Bowie got carsick on the way there. His carseat was a mess, but we did our best to clean it up and kept going. The KOA actually has laundry facilities which is A M A Z I N G! South Dakota is beautiful! I had been to the other side of the state when we took my brother to college about 14 years prior. But I was really able to soak it in this time.
The first night we met a family that has quickly become great friends already. The mom was from Michigan so we bonded over the fact that we grew up in the same area. We learned they are also from Colorado and only about 40 minutes away! Our kids hit it off instantly! Our husbands quickly became budds. We just had an instant connection and really enjoyed their company for the duration of the trip!
Going to Mt. Rushmore was so awesome! It's 15 minutes away from the KOA. The kids were so excited to see the faces in the mountain. We got there early, at about 9am. There weren't that many people there which was nice. You just have to pay for parking which is $10. They have a gift shop but it didn't open until 10, so we didn't stick around to get any goodies. We got some videos and pictures, learned a little about how it was made, and then made our way back to the camp site.
Our friends went to Custer State Park and while in their car they got stuck in the buffalo herd which was so cool to see videos of! We didn't make our way there but they definitely recommended it. The little town of Custer was very cute to walk around. We had icecream there on Sunday for Tim's birthday. There's also the Crazy Horse monument that was started in the 1940's and is still not close to being completed. The story behind it is pretty fascinating!
When we go back we will explore more of the town of Keystone, where they have a presidential wax museum and another nice downtown area to shop and eat. This little area of South Dakota is just really cute!
All in all, camping with the kiddos was really fun! We were rained out for about 3 hours on the second night. But it cleared up quickly and we were able to enjoy our friends' fire for the rest of that night. The kids mostly played with their bug catching kits as well as coming up with games with their new friends. It was nice to see them have a bit of normalcy for once. Our meals were very basic and easy. We threw snacks at them pretty often to keep them from complaining too much! No one really took naps so by the time bed time came around, they were exhausted! Keeping Bowie from running off was definitely the hardest part - which is a pretty easy trip if you ask me! We brought a little potty with us so we weren't constantly walking back and forth from the bathroom facilities. That was a huge help!
The campground had a pool, splash pad, and water slide but they were not open yet due to Covid. They also had a big trampoline pillow and mini golf that the kids really enjoyed. There's a $3.50 all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast in the morning where they also serve eggs, coffee, sausage, and biscuits and gravy for an extra charge. At night that same tent sells tacos, nachos, and margaritas. There's a store at the front of the campground where they sell just about anything you might have forgotten - food, camping gear, medicine, etc. That was really helpful! There's horseback riding that we may try in a few years. For now though, being able to pet them was really fun for the kids.
If you're not into tent camping or renting an RV, they offer cabins! So you can still get the camping feel in a more civilized way! I talked my family into coming out in a few years to at least stay in one of those!
I made a video compilation for those that wanted to see our little trip. I took short videos here and there to be able to remember it all! At the end the kids all say what their favorite part of camping was.
We had a great time! We will definitely go back! We highly recommend it!