My Trip out West: Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and More!

Hey everyone! I am now home from my two weeks away! I had an amazing time on my vacation with family, and of course for my first blog post back, I really wanted to share my trip with you all! When it comes to my travel posts, they tend to be a bit lengthy, so I’ll try to go over all of it without going on for too long! All photos in this blog post were taken by me (besides the group photo of my family/photos of me).

We left for the airport on June 7th, and we took a short plane ride to Sioux Falls, South Dakota! When we arrived, we wanted to see all that we could, so we hopped in our rental car and left to see the sights! It was actually very hot for the first week of our trip. There was a heat wave going on, and from what I understood, this is pretty unexpected for the area. We decided to first stop by Falls Park, which was very close to the airport. We walked around for a bit to explore the falls, and then made our way to Mitchell, South Dakota. While driving through, we ended up passing The World’s Only Corn Palace, so we got out to see what was inside. It was built in 1892 and the purpose of its creation was to present the products of the harvest of local farmers. There are murals outside and inside the building made up of corn and other grains which I thought was pretty cool. It is free to go inside the palace, so if you are in Mitchell, SD, it is worth a quick stop!

I will never forget the sunset we saw that first evening. We were driving through what felt like the middle of nowhere (aka prairielands), but it was the most peaceful and beautiful thing. The sunset seemed to last forever; slowly falling below the horizon as time went on. I’ve never seen a sunset like it before! The sky was orange, yellow, and pink, and no picture could do it justice, so trust me when I say that it was incredible. On this entire trip, the sky was so blue, and I’m not used to seeing that daily! Make sure to look up and appreciate the wide blue sky out west! While service may have been a bit spotty throughout this trip, it allowed me to be fully present and to not miss such beautiful natural sights.

The next day we saw Badlands National Park. This stop was truly incredible, and there was so much to see at the park including the many rock formations, canyons, and spires! When traveling to many national parks, you can expect to do quite a bit of driving to different locations and then stepping out to walk around and enjoy the views, which is exactly what we did. Also, we were excited to see the wildlife in this part of the country, which you can spot on your drives through the parks in this area. As the day came to a close, we saw yet another gorgeous sunset! We were really hoping to see the stars that night, but sadly it was a little too cloudy. We still decided to stop by the amphitheater at Badlands to hear more about the stars from two astronomy rangers.

Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

The next day, we were in Rapid City! This was definitely a bit different compared to our previous stops. This looked more like a typical small city, which I really liked! Our first stop of the day was Chapel in the Hills. This chapel is an exact replica of a church in Norway called Borgund Stave Church. The architecture was really unique to anything I had ever seen before! Something about it even reminded me of the architecture you may see in Asian countries such as China. It was a small but beautiful chapel, and I enjoyed being there. We went on a short prayer walk, and then stopped by the gift shop where we picked up a couple souvenirs.

Chapel in the Hills

That same day, we went up to see Deadwood, which was a very fun town! Everything about it definitely looked old western, and walking around there almost felt like we went back in time. We even saw a short performance of an old western gun fight! There is a lot to see and do there, and I highly recommend stopping by! Later that evening, we walked around Rapid City, and concluded our day with dinner and ice cream.

The next day was a very exciting one! We were heading to see the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It’s one of those things that you have to go and see in your lifetime! While we were driving, we could start to see parts of the monument from our car. When we got in, we walked along the Avenue of Flags, and stood right before the monument itself. There are 56 flags total and they represent the 50 states, one district, three territories, and two commonwealths of the U.S. I’ve heard a couple people say that seeing it in person was actually quite an emotional experience, and for me personally, I wasn’t very emotional but I was definitely amazed! The fact that people were able to carve such incredible detail into the rocks really fascinated me. While we were there, we were able to learn more about the people who worked on the monument and what their working days looked like. I’m sure it was very dangerous and risky, and hundreds of people worked on it from 1927 to 1941. I actually thought that it was a bit older than it really is!

My family and me at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial

After our time at Mount Rushmore, we went to the Crazy Horse Memorial. I was not aware of this memorial previously, but I recommend visiting, especially if you are around Mount Rushmore or visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Crazy Horse Memorial is still being made, and it has been in the works since 1948! The Black Hills actually belonged to the Sioux Indians and Crazy Horse was a war leader who fought to keep their territory. At the time, the president of the United States agreed to leave this land to the Sioux Indians, however when gold was found on the land, it was taken over. This monument is being made to honor the war leader Crazy Horse and his people. They are making short-term goals and are unsure of when it will be completed. I thought this was really amazing to see, and while I can’t imagine the amount of work and dedication that this has taken and will take, I do know that the end result will be outstanding! We took a short bus tour, where our tour guide explained the meaning behind the monument as well as the history. We then stopped by the Indian Museum of North America as well as the Native American Cultural Center.

The Crazy Horse Memorial in progress

The next few days were spent in Custer, South Dakota! I really liked this area, and I enjoyed walking down the main road with all of the restaurants and shops. For our first day, we went to Custer State Park. One of the highlights of this trip had to be when we got into the park, and just a couple miles in we were stopped by a herd of buffalo! Up until this point on the trip, I don’t believe that we saw any, at least not up close! Obviously it is very important to keep your distance from wild animals, so we all stayed in our car. We watched in awe as they all passed us by; taking videos and getting pictures. They took their time walking in and along the road, and a long line of cars was forming on both sides of the road. Eventually they started running. It was a really great start to our day! On this trip, we saw buffalo, antelope, moose, elk, horses, and even prairie dogs. We also saw a black bear and two cubs from very far away. We ended up doing a hike at the park and we took the Cathedral Spires Trail. I highly recommend this hike if you are visiting the park! It wasn’t an incredibly long trail, but it was a little strenuous in parts. It is worth it in the end (trust me)! After, we went to Sylvan Lake, which is also in the park. We walked around the entire lake, which was stunning! Many people were out on canoes, swimming, and relaxing by the water.

Me at Custer State Park after hiking the Cathedral Spires Trail

The next day, we went to Wind Cave National Park! We were able to take a tour of wind cave, which I thought was really cool! My family and I have taken a couple tours of caves in the past, and I always find it so interesting. We first saw the natural opening of the cave which was pretty small. If you stand in front of it, you’ll feel a blast of cool air hit your face and blow through your hair! We obviously did not and could not go into the cave this way, and we went for the manmade entrance instead. Our group had about 40 people (including us), and we all stayed together while we went about 200 feet below the surface. The cave is more than 500 feet deep (only 5-10% has been discovered). Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, and she was able to tell us about the history of this cave and what it meant to the Native Americans. She also shared stories with us about the young boy who was the first to explore the cave.

Later that day, we took some time to relax at Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa. I had actually never been to a spa before this, so I was really looking forward to it! It was a very quiet place and there really weren’t very many young people besides my siblings and me, but it was very relaxing and enjoyable! It was a beautiful and tranquil place, and we had fun swimming in the natural springs. It was a perfect afternoon after all of the walking we had done on the trip so far!

We had a wonderful time in South Dakota, but the next day, we drove into Wyoming! We decided to stop and see Devils Tower National Monument. I don’t think I had ever seen anything quite like this before! We took the loop trail that surrounds the tower and read about the legends, history and how it was formed. The next town we stopped at was Buffalo! I really liked this town, and thought it was adorable! I liked walking along the streets and we spent some time souvenir shopping and looking at antique stores which I absolutely love to do! We also saw the Occidental Hotel, which apparently has a lot of history behind it. I loved seeing all of the vintage furniture and items from many years ago. We even saw a book complied of many newspapers from the 1920’s! We ended up having lunch at the saloon attached to the hotel.

Devils Tower National Monument

The drive from Buffalo to Cody was just breathtaking! We drove along the scenic route where we saw and drove through snowcapped mountains! If you are traveling from Buffalo and making your way toward Yellowstone, I would say it’s worth it to drive into Ten Sleep and then to Cody. By doing this, you will be able to see more, and the scenic route is beautiful! Ten Sleep is a super small town, and there wasn’t a lot to do there, but it was nice to see. We also saw some Native American Petroglyphs nearby, which was really incredible! To know that these carvings and symbols have been there for many years and the fact that we could still see some so clearly was remarkable!

We eventually made it to Cody, which was another town I really liked visiting! We stayed in an adorable cabin with a few horses outside and a river flowing through the backyard. We fell asleep to the sound of the river, which was the most relaxing thing and it helped me to fall asleep so easily.

The next day we went to see Old Trail Town. This is where cabins from 1879-1901 were brought and reassembled in order to preserve them as well as the artifacts from this time. The cabins were all from different areas in Cody. We walked through some of the cabins and peeked inside others. There are 26 buildings at Old Trail Town as well as a gravesite. Some of the people who were reburied here are Jeremiah “Liver Eatin” Johnston, Jim White “Buffalo Hunter”, Belle Drewry and more. It was very interesting to see these old cabins, and to think about what may have happened inside. Some were homes, some were hiding places, and others were shops and saloons.

Old Trail Town

After this, we finally made it to Yellowstone National Park! Along with seeing Mount Rushmore, this has been something on my bucket list for quite some time! If I am being honest, although I had wanted to come here for so long, I really did not know much about the park. If I knew anything, it was that the park is very big. It is around 3,472 square miles and it all sits on top of a volcanic hot spot! There are so many things to do and see here, which is why I am so grateful that we had multiple days here. I would say that if you are planning a trip to Yellowstone, you should at least stay for three days. There are five entrances to get into the park. On that first day, we went into the park through the east entrance. We stayed in a town called West Yellowstone in Montana, which is apparently the most popular town for Yellowstone visitors. We did a lot of driving in Yellowstome (we pretty much drove through entire park on this trip). I will never forget seeing Yellowstone Lake for the first time. It was our first stop in the park and deservedly so! The water was a gorgeous teal/blue and it almost seemed like an ocean. In the distance, we saw snowcapped mountains which was always incredible to see! We enjoyed this spot, and we talked about possibly booking a boat trip on the lake during our stay. We continued on after this and took a hike on Natural Bridge Trail. I was a little nervous about seeing bears or really any wildlife while we were out hiking. Luckily we did not see anything at this time! It is a flat hike, and it was around 2.5 miles. The end was beautiful with a waterfall and of course, the natural bridge! We then went to see some of the sulphurous pools and hot springs which are very dangerous. If you go, make sure to stay on the boardwalks and to hold on tightly to your belongings. These pools and springs are incredibly hot, and you can burn yourself if you get too close. Some temperatures of the pools can reach up to 456 degrees Fahrenheit! It was so interesting to see the steam rising from these pools. A couple of the things we saw that day include Chruning Caldron and Dragons Mouth Spring.

Natural Bridge in Yellowstone

The next day at Yellowstone, we stopped by Firehole Falls, which was a gorgeous sight! Something about waterfalls are always so majestic. Seeing the sun shine on the water was stunning. We continued the pattern of driving and getting out to see more of the sulphurous pools and springs. On this day, we saw some pools that were a gorgeous intense blue color! Some were more of a lighter sky blue, whereas others were more teal/dark blue. We also saw the Grand Prismatic Spring, which is the largest hot spring in the U.S.! This was definitely a favorite stop for me, and I highly recommend seeing it for yourself! The colors were just phenomenal, and even in the steam, we could see the vibrant colors of blue, orange, and yellow. Later on, we made our way to Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s most famous geyser! Many people gathered around to wait for the geyser to erupt. Old Faithful is very predictable, and its eruptions are estimated pretty accurately (it goes off every 35-120 minutes, and lasts for 1 ½- 5 minutes). It can get up to 90-184 feet!

A hot spring in Yellowstone
The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone
Old Faithful erupting

If you’ve never heard of Grand Teton National Park, all I can say is please make plans to visit this wonderful place at least once in your lifetime! Before visiting, I had never heard of it, but I am so grateful that I was able to go! It ended up being a highlight on my trip. You can enter this park through Yellowstone, or by going around it. The views were breathtaking, to say the least! Seeing the mountain range sitting in front of us truly felt like we were looking at a painting, and the photos don’t even seem real! Being here made me wonder about all of the stunning places in the world that I am not aware of. I loved exploring this park, and if you’re going to Yellowstone, you might as well check out Grand Teton too!

Grand Teton National Park (my favorite photo I’ve taken on the trip)

For the last few days of our trip, we were back in Yellowstone to see the other side of the park. This time, we were entering through the north entrance and staying in Gardiner, Montana. This day was a bit more relaxed for us. We went to see a very pretty waterfall and spent some time simply enjoying the view at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (though my mom and I are scared of heights, so we enjoyed it from further back). That evening, we finally went on our boat ride on Yellowstone Lake! I love going on boat rides, and we do this on most of our vacations. Our tour guide took us to different stops where he was able to tell us more about the park and its history.

We saw Mammoth Hot Springs the next day, which is another popular stop. Most of our day was spent around this area. We walked along boardwalks to see the complex of hot springs, and even saw photos of what it looked like years ago. The scenic views were outstanding here as well! For our last day, we decided to go on a hike. We were hoping to do the Fairy Falls Trail, however it was extremely popular and crowded. We ended up choosing the Bunsen Peak Trailhead. This trail was 2.1 miles, and getting up to the summit was a little bit difficult at times (though uphill is always more of a challenge). The view was worth it though, and once we got to the top, we were happy and relieved. We could feel the cool breeze and the sunshine on our skin. For the final time, we were able to soak up the incredible views of Yellowstone before making our way back down and exiting the park.

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone

That concludes our trip out west! We flew home from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. I am extremely thankful and appreciative that I was able to go on this trip and see more of this beautiful country. There were moments when I forgot that I was still in the U.S. I think at times, we forget that this country is very unique in that there are so many different and special landscapes, mountains, beaches, parks etc. around us. Exploring each state is still on my bucket list, and now I don’t have many more left on my list, which is so cool! I know this post was long, but I hope you enjoyed reading about this very memorable trip! While I enjoyed it very much, I am happy to be home and back to blogging regularly! Thank you again!

2 thoughts on “My Trip out West: Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and More!

  1. I enjoyed all the places that you just visited, some years back. They are all wonderful natural and manmade locations. You reminded me of those great moments when I was out West. Thank you, Amanda. 🙂

    Like

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