From Devil’s Tower to Mount Rushmore to the Badlands National Park in 24 Hours

On July 15th, we left the Rockies to start back east. Along the way, the plan was to visit Mount Rushmore and stop in the Badlands. But first, we made the very long drive from Banff in Canada to our hotel in Billings, Montana.

Billings, which has an overlook where someone could stand looking down at the city pretending to be Luke Skywalker overlooking Mos Eisley. Not me of course, but someone.

Then we crossed from Montana to Wyoming to get to Devil’s Tower.

Where someone could pretend to be making contact with the aliens from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Not me, of course, but someone.

By this time, completing Junior Ranger packets at each park had become a holy quest for McKenna, and, in the brief time we were at Devil’s Tower, the packet was completed with some “help” from Laura.

It was at about this point that Laura started filling in the Junior Ranger packet directly, claiming that her writing was “smaller” and “fit into the answer boxes better.”

Laura was so proud… of McKenna.

Continuing our odyssey, we cut south and east toward the Black Hills. Over the past two days, we had driven almost 1,000 miles, and at this point we entered a new state: South Dakota.

Along the way, we had a chance to see a bit of Custer State Park with its awesome rock formations.

Then we started north to see Mount Rushmore, driving along the windy Black Hills roads. Apparently, more of South Dakota’s road tunnels are located in this region than in all of the other parts of the state combined

We made it to Mount Rushmore at 9pm, just in time to see the lighting ceremony.

But a little too late for Laura, er, McKenna, to complete the Junior Rangers packet there.

It was ridiculously crowded in the viewing area. Beyond the crowd below, an entire amphitheater was totally full.

The lighting of the monument was very cool, and we gave that cool moment its due: we took about five pictures before sprinting to stay ahead of the tidal wave of humanity rising up from the amphitheater

Escaping just ahead of most of the crowd, we made it to our nearby hotel in Keystone, about five minutes away. The next day, the plan was to see Mount Rushmore in the daytime and then continue east to the Badlands.

Many other people had chosen the same time to see Mount Rushmore, as roughly the same number of people were trying to pull into the park as had been in the amphitheater the night before.

Finally, we made it through to see the monument in the daylight.

McKenna, who had been less than thrilled at having to stop listening to her Harry Potter audiobooks and get out of the car, rediscovered her enthusiasm for the site when she saw the rocks along the trail.

Children were actually SLIDING down one rock, a rock that had the consistency of coarse sandpaper, which proves, yet again, that children are idiots.

One of the very cool things about the trail was that it offered “spotlight” views of each President on the monument.

When I told Laura that Washington had a bat in the cave, she started vigorously looking around for actual bats, forcing me to ruin the joke by explaining it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Mount Rushmore trail was closed after the Lincoln viewpoint, so we didn’t experience the spotlight views of Jefferson and Roosevelt. We wound our way out of the park and took highway 16A back through the Black Hills in the general direction of the Badlands.

Hey! A tunnel!

This part of the Black Hills offered some impressive views of the surrounding area.

Once we were out of the Black Hills, we headed to Badlands National Park, staying just ahead of a series of storms, eventually entering the park through a dirt road close to the town of Scenic, South Dakota.

Our first stop was at the aptly named Roberts Prairie Dog Town.

Then we started to see some of the unique rock formations of the Badlands.

The variations in color and lines in the rock formation was striking. Of the parks we visited during our Western odyssey, I knew the least about the Badlands, which I suppose I had thought of as that bleak landscape in cowboy movies. It was much more than that.

Between the prairie dogs, the deer we saw, and the goats below, we saw more wildlife in the Badlands than in any park other than Yellowstone.

Good news: bears are not a major problem in the Badlands, so our inability to properly employ the safety on our bear spray could not be exploited here. Bad news:

I think I prefer the bears.

Finally, on the eastern edge of the park, we reached the “Wall” of the Badlands with its “window” opening.

We finally left the park around 6pm, starting our four hour drive to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When we arrived at our hotel, we found this in the parking lot.

I think I prefer bears and rattlesnakes.

The next morning, we inspected the car to find that our drive had apparently been a genocidal culling of the South Dakota bug population.

5 thoughts on “From Devil’s Tower to Mount Rushmore to the Badlands National Park in 24 Hours

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  4. Hello Ryan,

    I ran across your blog while searching for information for the Badlands and Devil’s Tower. Looks like you folks had a great time.

    We are planning a 2 week trip starting in late September. We live in Ohio and it looks like about 5,000 miles round trip.

    If you have any tips for overnight lodging, it would be greatly appreciated.




    • John,
      I sent you an email with my lodging information. The Badlands was at the tail end of our trip, so we were mostly looking for lodging that was as far east as we could drive after spending most of the day in the park. Keystone is a nice, small town near Mount Rushmore that we stayed in.


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