Epic Road Trip. Day 16. Custer State Park
Day 16, Custer State Park, officially the longest I’ve ever traveled at once. And I was feeling it a bit. The whole day was polar extremes. I was either loving everything, or just completely wiped. Traveling with your husband, kids, siblings, and parents is awesome for so many reasons. It’s also completely exhausting and it can be challenging. There’s a lot of different people, energy levels, wants, desires, and opinions. And my family has a lot of opinions.
So we floundered around a bit this particular Monday. BUT. We all actually had an amazing day anyways.
Our first stop of the day was Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. This was a nice easy hike around the lake, with lots of options for rock climbing. To be honest, when we pulled in there was a palpable underwhelmed vibe. Everyone was like ok, this is pretty. Errr. We were spoiled by the Tetons I suppose.
Once we got going though it became apparent why this kept popping up in my South Dakota trip research. The loop around the Lake was short and easy, but there were so many cool features right of the trail that it became an awesome morning adventure.
We spent a lot of time climbing rocks and exploring little caves.
The trail wound through the rock in really cool ways. I did not expect this based on my parking lot trail assessment. Jake and my mom had to find some big rocks to climb, of course.
While the rest of the group was playing in a hidden waterfall, I snuck off and climbed up this giant rock/hill. It wasn’t pretty and it took me a hot minute, but here I am. Basking in my glory.
After our hike, and some awkward scheduling convo, we split into two groups for the afternoon. Our kids needed to rest, and I was dead set on seeing a bison walk in front of my car, so we headed over to the wildlife loop in Custer State Park. My parents and Molly decided to take on a hike that looped off the lake trail. By all accounts this hike was worth it, but absolutely more challenging than they expected. I’m honestly so excited that they wanted to tackle it. My parents went into REI normal people and emerged as Survivorman. It’s all that moisture wicking gear, it changes you.
So my little group headed off in search of bison. They proved tricky to find. We drove a significant portion of the wildlife loop and didn’t see much. We did see a couple bison off the side of the road right near the beginning of our drive, but it wasn’t the herds I was expecting from my pinterest research.
So on we traveled. Then we found the donkeys and I lost my mind. These donkeys are basically domesticated at this point because so many people stop and feed them. The girls had a blast petting them, and I was in heaven.
Up the road a bit we could see where there were all these donkeys approaching the cars on the road. I was determined to lure a donkey to Odell. We slowly drove up and tried to lure a donkey away from another car. Much like a contestant on Bachelor in Paradise, once our target was interested, I was like NOPE TO MUCH OMG GET AWAY. This donkey just stuck it’s giant head right into my window and was basically trying to eat me. But you can’t get away because you can’t exactly drive off with the donkey still in your car. And they won’t leave because they want food. So I was losing it and Jake is laughing and taking pictures. Classic husband move.
One thing leads to another and before we know it we are driving down a gravel park road in search of the ever elusive bison. I was having so many childhood flashbacks. We joke that it wasn’t a family vacation unless we found ourselves a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. The tradition continues with my own children.
And then we found the prairie dog colony. I am a grown woman and I behaved like 14 year old girl in the presence of Justin Bieber. I can’t even explain why I was so into these little things.
AND THEN WE FOUND THE HERD OF BISON. I mean. Yes. And finally one walked right in front of our car and Olivia cheered for me, because she knew how bad I wanted it. Eventually these stragglers hooked up with the herd, and that was something to see.
It was such a neat experience. I don’t know how to convey it without gushing like a teen with a crush. We watched the entire herd walk across this huge prairie and they got pretty close to us. Eventually we moved on, but it was everything I had hoped it would be. We just had to find the gravel road first.
We met up with the rest of the family later that afternoon. There were perhaps some unpleasant emotional outbursts, a trip to the grocery, and some laundry before dinner. I had a great conversation with my sister though, and ended up feeling much better after my parents whipped up some dinner.
We topped the night off with a romantic date to the night lighting ceremony at Mt. Rushmore. J/k. Jake and I were on our way out when Molly was like. CAN I COME TOO (said in Urkel voice). So our third wheel/grown child came along. And we even bought her ice cream for good behavior. The night lighting ceremony was very pro America. I realize that they have to condense a lot of history into a short video that needs to be family appropriate buttttt…. it was a bit of a stretch. Like. The Native Americans and the US Government had more than a disagreement. Hmm. It was a textbook whitewashing of history, but by the end I felt like joining the military for this GREAT NATION. GO AMERICA.
We made it back to the cabin in one piece, ready to rest up for one of my most anticipated days of the trip: The Badlands!