The New Midwest Vacation
Big adventures on a budget: South Dakota
For those with modest budgets and a tolerance for driving across the prairie, the mountainous Black Hills still provide the stuff of family-vacation legends.
Up-close views of Mount Rushmore (free, except for $10 for parking) and the Crazy Horse Memorial ($10 each, or $27 per carload) alone make the trip worthwhile. Everyone should walk Rushmore's Presidential Trail. This one-mile paved path loops under the presidents' noses and provides outstanding places to snap photos. Some rocks you pass still show drill marks from carving in the 1930s.
The storied Iron Mountain Road winds around corkscrew bridges to connect Rushmore with Custer State Park ($15 for a week's pass). About 2,000 bison, the nation's largest remaining herd, roam part of the 70,700-acre park. Seeing them can be as easy as driving the Wildlife Loop. Trails throughout meander to overlooks and creeks perfect for wading.
Each of four affordable, family-friendly lodges at Custer State Park offers unique character. Three bucks buys a day pass on the George S. Mickelson Trail, a converted-railbed bike trail running 109 miles through the Hills beside streams, over trestles and through tunnels.
Your Custer State Park pass gets you one of the Hills' best views at the end of a drive up Mount Coolidge, encompassing Crazy Horse, Rushmore and the Badlands. And that scene, as you probably guessed, is priceless.