“Adventures of an RV Road trip to South Dakota”

Buying a camper or RV has never been on my radar, but after watching several movies (such as “RV” starring Robin Williams) the idea of doing a trip like that appealed to me. It sounded like the perfect trip for a family adventure with teenagers. Unlike the movie, my kids were excited for the trip and will tell anyone that it turned out to be one of their favorite family vacations.

I had always wanted to see Mount Rushmore and that area, so we choose South Dakota as our destination. The first thing I needed to understand is that this trip would be a lot of work and would not be cheap. I began looking at RV rental companies and decided to go with www.cruiseamerica.com.  The reason we choose Cruise America is because none of us had ever driven an RV before, let alone know how to camp with one. Cruise America sounded like a good fit for newbies. They offer 24hr roadside assistance and have locations throughout the United States. We decided that because we wanted to go so far, and also wanted to maximize our time exploring, we would do a one-way rental and fly home to Boston. We had to pay around $600 extra to do this. Our time was more valuable, so we decided the cost was worth the expense. The additional cost of the RV included daily rental fee, mileage, gasoline, and the cost of the campsites. The mileage can easily add up and take you by surprise if you do not plan carefully. We used google maps to plan out our route and calculate our mileage.  It was surprisingly accurate. We were careful to map out a route that was suitable for RV driving. Paying attention to the need for ferries and low bridges was something we almost missed. Google maps took us through the great lakes when we put in the “fastest” route and involved the need of a ferry. Thankfully the good people at Cruise America warned us to pay attention to these details and we were able to “recalculate” a more suitable route.

After reviewing our route, we learned that it would take about 30 hours to get from New Hampshire to South Dakota. We decided to break the driving up into three legs of long driving, giving ourselves a short respite to explore Niagara Falls. I did a ton of research and found campgrounds that I thought were reputable and convenient to what we were looking for. I paid the extra charge for pull through campsites since we were new to the RV world. I did extensive research for the South Dakota area and carefully planned an itinerary that allowed us to visit all the sites we were interested in. A lot of the sites were natural wonders and scenic drives that involved slightly difficult driving. Therefore, we decided to get a rental cars for our time exploring. In addition, it saved mileage that we would have to pay on the RV (if we used that for transportation) and eliminated the need to disconnect and reconnect water and electricity each morning and evening. When looking for car rentals and flights home, we learned that Rapid City only had a small airport and the cost for both would put us over our budget. I began researching all nearby larger cities for car rental and air fare prices. I found that the prices for car rentals at Sioux Falls were significantly less, and was conveniently on our route to Hill City, SD. Finding inexpensive one-way flights home proved to be more challenging. The best I could find was a six-hour drive to Denver, CO. I had never been to Denver, and it was a road trip after all – so we decided to go with it! We did a one-way van rental from Sioux Falls to Denver and returned the RV in Rapid City as previously planned.

Doing a one-way trip saved a lot of time having to not drive home and allowed us to spend more time exploring, but it meant more work as far as preparing. We needed camping gear for our trip. For months I asked friends and family for their old bedding, dishes, towels, etc. I went to yard sales and thrift stores collecting inexpensive items for our trip. By the time our trip arrived, we had more than enough supplies to fill our RV. At the end of the trip, we donated all the items to other campers and discarded the rest.

We had the most amazing time and fell in love with the South Dakota area! I really believe that this area is one of America’s best kept secrets. It was not overflowing with tourist, and was absolutely stunning to see. I could write a whole other blog just for that area. I highly recommend a trip there! Our campground (https://www.palmergulch.com/) was truly a resort, and the location could not be beat! The RV itself, was not top quality. The ride was rough, much like driving a box truck. The engine was not powerful enough to go very fast down the highway either. We also encountered other problems along the way. We had a broken drain pipe once we arrived in South Dakota and the microwave died. When we called for our 24hr help, we were told they did not have anyone convenient to come fix it for a few days. It turned out to be fine because we didn’t really need the microwave at that point and were close enough to the campground bathrooms/showers to use those. We had some use of water for dishes and hand-washing. We honestly did not want to waste our vacation time dealing with it either. We were given a substantial refund for our inconvenience when we returned the RV. Over all we were satisfied.

If you do not like to fly or are looking for a different type of vacation this may be a good option for you. It’s a great way to bond with the family and see a lot. Traveling in an RV made the long ride go by so much faster because we did not have to stop for bathroom breaks or meals. We only stopped for gas, and quick meals made in the RV. We took turns driving and navigating while the others slept comfortably in the back. Below is the itinerary we used to guide our trip. We made minor adjustments along the way, adding in stops to the Full Throttle Saloon, downtown Rapid City, and an evening illumination ceremony at Mount Rushmore offered by our campground. 

Day 1 (Thurs, July 18) –
~ 4pm – Pick up RV in Tyngsboro MA (after work)

Day 2 (Fri, July 19) –
 ~6:30am -Drive (7hr 30 min + 30 min buffer) to Ace Car rental in Niagara Falls
~ 2:30pm – Arrive at Ace and pick up car rental
~3pm – Drive (9 minutes) to Jellystone Park Niagara in Ontario Canada
~3:15pm – Arrive at Campground; Explore the park and hang out for the night

Day 3 (Sat, July 20) –
~8:30am – Drive (18 minutes) to Cave of the Winds Parking
~9:am  – Arrive at Cave of the Winds
~11am – Drive (10 minutes) to Clifton Hill; Explore area; See Falls: Have light lunch at Rainforest Café
2:45pm – Drive (20 min) to Floral Clock/ Whirlpool Jet Tours
4pm – Arrive for (60 min) Boat ride
5pm –  Drive (20 minutes) back to Jellystone Park; (return rental car by 6pm & Uber back $20) Make dinner & hangout at Campground

Day 4- (Sun, July 21) –
~2am – drive (14 hrs 15 + 2hr buffer) min to Jellystone Park, Austin MN *Avoid route with Ferry
6:30pm (will be 5:30pm CDT) – Arrive at Campground; relax and have dinner

Day 5 (Mon, July 22) –
8am – drive (3hrs) to Enterprise car rental in Sioux Falls to pick up van
11am – Arrive at Enterprise and pick up van
11:45am – Drive (5 hr 30 min) to KOA Palmer Gulch
5:15pm (will be 4:15pm MDT)– arrive at KOA Palmer Gulch; relax and have dinner

Day 6 (Tue, July 23) –
Go to grocery store to restock, enjoy the campground (horseback riding, ATV rental, swimming)

Day 7 (Wed, July 24) –
8am – Drive 25 minutes to Iron Mountain Rd (Spend 1h)
9:45am – Arrive at Mount Rushmore National Memorial (Spend 1.5 hrs)
11:30am – Drive to Keystone (shop & have lunch at Ruby House)
1:30pm – Drive to Crazy Horse (30 minutes)
2pm – Arrive at Crazy Horse (spend 1 hr
3pm – Drive back to KOA Campground (15 min drive)
3:15on – Cook dinner and relax at campground

Day 8 (Thurs, July 25)-
9am – Drive 35 minutes to Bear Country USA (spend 2 hrs.)
11:30am – Drive 20 minutes to Hill City to have lunch at Desperado Cowboy restaurant
12pm – Eat lunch (1 hr.)
1pm – Drive 6 min to Prairie Berry Winery
2pm – Drive 30 minutes to Needles Hwy (1 hr.) Stop at Sylvan lake
3:30pm – Drive back to Campground; make dinner and relax

Day 9 (Fri, July 26) –
9am – Drive (1hr 30) minutes to Badland National Park (Spend 2 hrs.)
12:30pm – Drive (11 min) to Wall Drug; eat lunch and walk main st
2:30pm – Drive (1hr 30) min back to Campground
4pm – Arrive back at Campground; Make dinner and relax

Day 10 (Sat, July 27) –
9:30am – Drive (45 minutes) to drop of RV
10:15am – Arrive at Cruise America
10:45am – Drive (35 min) to Belle Joli Sparkling Wine House in Sturgis
11:20 – Arrive at Belle Joli Sparkingling wine House (spend 40 min); Drive thru main street Sturgis
12pm – Drive (22 min) to Deadwood
12:30 –  Have lunch in Deadwood and walk the downtown
2pm – Drive (35 min) to Spearfish Canyon,Bridal Veil Falls (spend 10 min)
2:10pm – Drive (11 min) Spearfish Lodge and walk to Roughlock Falls (Spend 1hr)
3:15pm – Drive (1hr) back to Comfort Suites
4:30pm – Either walk across the street to Dakota steak house

Day 11 (Sun, July 28) –
8am – Have free breakfast at hotel
8:30am – Drive (6 hrs) to Denver
2:30pm – Check into Airbnb
5pm – Uber or Drive (8 min) to Osteria Marco and have Pizza and explore Larimer Square
7pm – Walk (10 min) to Milkbox Ice creamery and explore Union Station

Day 12 (Mon, July 29) –
9am – Drive (25 min) to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
9:30am – Arrive at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
10am – Enjoy Bear Creek Canyon Scenic Drive (25 minutes) to Historic Downtown Evergreen
10:30am – walk Main St and explore shops; Have lunch at Little Bear Saloon
12pm –  Drive (45 min) to Echo Lake park (spend 20 min)
12:20pm – Drive (37 min) to Mt.Evans Summit (Spend 30 min)
1:30pm – Drive (1hr 35 min) back to Airbnb rental
3pm – Arrive at Airbnb renal
5pm – Uber or Drive (8 min) to 16th Street Mall and eat at Cheesecake Factory

Day 13 (Tue, July 30) –
6:00am – check out of rental house and drive to airport
9:19am – fly home to Boston
3:22pm – Arrive in Boston

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: