South Dakota: What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

Last week, Emma and I went to South Dakota as guests of the tourism board, and I found out just how much I’d neglected my own backyard for the first 27 years of my life.

Despite having grown up in Iowa, which borders South Dakota, I’d never visited. I also had no interest in changing that, and had even leveraged against taking a detour to see Mount Rushmore during our Great American Road Trip. I was pretty sure I knew what South Dakota had to offer.

Namely, this:


(which I could see plenty of in Iowa)

And this:


(which, meh, so there’s some dried up lands or something.)

I was wholly unaware of this:


As it turns out, the Badlands are perhaps the most poorly named landmark in all the world. The WTFLands would be more apt, because that’s exactly the reaction one has when one suddenly sees a moonscape explode onto the prairie.

IMG_8773The Badlands 7

This is the sort of place that fuels conspiracy theories about UFOs and aliens making Earth landings. It makes no sense, and its ridiculousness is as beautiful as it is bewildering.


And I grew up just eight hours away.

I also, as it turns out, grew up about 10 hours from the Black Hills National Forest, a sprawling collection of hills and pines. It is here where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play.

Antelope DSC_0207 DSC_0232

(The buffalo also nurse.)

As Emma and I were shuttled around the state, we constantly wished for more time. More time to pan for gold, more time to hike among the spires, more time to walk through the woods and whisper to the wildlife.

IMG_8821 DSC_0301 Jeep Safari Mount Rushmore 3 DSC_0251

But now that extra time will require another plane trip, another vacation that is saved and planned for. Now we live another day away, and it’s driving me nuts to know what I didn’t take advantage of then.

And isn’t that how it goes? We all have treasures in our own backyards, places other people board planes to visit, and so often we take them for granted. It’s so easy to ignore the simple pleasures.

How far are you from South Dakota? Do you visit the national and state parks within driving distance of you?

Emma and I were guests of the South Dakota tourism board. They paid for our flights, lodging, attraction admittance, and food. If you’re planning a trip to South Dakota in the future, I highly recommend getting in touch with them for help planning your itinerary.

You can see more of my photos of South Dakota here.

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  1. Allyson says:

    Those Badlands look pretty cool. Are people allowed to go walk about there? Or is it all fenced off?

  2. Marsha J says:

    My grandparents lived in southwestern North Dakota so we visited Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, and Rapid City several times.

    I am moving to an area that has several state parks within driving distance and I have been looking forward to visiting them. I have been showing my oldest daughter the state park website to spark her interest. Growing up we spent a lot of time in this area (my other grandma lived there) but we never visited the state parks, even the one that was less than 20 minutes away!

    • Miss Britt says:

      I should have done that when we moved to Florida! We did make a point of exploring the local area once we moved though, and we’re planning to do the same here in Pittsburgh.

  3. Julie says:

    We live within a four hour drive of the Great Smoky Mountains National park and I visit those mountains every chance I get. To me, the Smoky Mountains are the most beautiful place on earth.

    Our big yearly family trip is always Disney World. But we’ve decided that for our next family trip, we are going to the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana. So your blog post about South Dakota came at the perfect time.
    Julie’s most recent post: Afraid After Boston

  4. Heather says:

    One of my biggest dreams is to RV across the U.S. and see what’s in everyone else’s backyard! I do have to admit I tend to ignore my Florida yard because I hate the heat, but slowly my girls and I are getting out there!

    Beautiful photos! I love the ones of the buffalo and the one of of Emma fishing!
    Heather’s most recent post: I Made It Monday (Or We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Program)

    • Miss Britt says:

      It always cracks me up to hear people who hate the heat live in Florida. (And you’re not the only one!) ;-)

  5. My folks drove us from Nashville, Tennessee across the American West to Washington state and up into Alberta, Canada in the late 1980s. I loved our stops in South Dakota! Is the Crazy Horse carving finished yet? It was under construction when I was there 25 years ago.
    Father Muskrat’s most recent post: the rise and fall of lola the muskrat

  6. Megan says:

    Never been to SD, and really never wanted to go.

    I’ve been to the Everglades, but it’s just a great big swamp with water, bugs and alligators. I’m sweating just thinking about it.
    Megan’s most recent post: Cherry Forever

    • Miss Britt says:

      I’m trying to imagine you on an airboat in the Everglades. hahahahahhaha

      Have you been to Mexico City?? I bet you would LOVE it!

  7. Jen Anderson says:

    The badlands are amazing. If you go again, try to stop by the Corn Palace in Mitchell. If there is a more ridiculous, more American place on Earth, I don’t know what it is. (It’s a concert hall decorated on the outside with ears of corn arranged to make pictures. On the inside is a giant gift shop/marketplace on the floor of the concert hall. Just Google it–it’s indescribably awesome.)
    Jen Anderson’s most recent post: Happily Ever After

    • Miss Britt says:

      A friend of ours went there on their honeymoon and said the same thing. We’ll put it on the list!

  8. Those are some pretty awesome pictures. I remember visiting Mount Rushmore when I was a kid.
    Sebastian Aiden Daniels’s most recent post: I Have Borderline Personality Disorder and I’m Not a Psychopath!

  9. THANK YOU BRITT and EMMA for joining us for a great time in the western portion of South Dakota. We so enjoyed having you along, you were so pleasant to be with.

    Glad to hear that you enjoyed the sights of SD!

  10. Tara says:

    When my husband proposed a road trip to South Dakota last year, my initial reaction was very similar! What the heck is in South Dakota? Wow was I ever pleasantly surprised by the natural beauty, diversity, and wildlife! Definitely a place worth visiting and to this day I am SO glad he sold me on SD. Thank you for sharing your experience – it brings back fond memories!
    Tara’s most recent post: South Dakota: Custer State Park: Alone Amongst Bison

  11. Nanna says:

    Gorgeous! I also had no idea!
    Nanna’s most recent post: This is a Bigger Deal Than it Looks

  12. Marta says:

    Huh, despite being in Minnesota for nine years I’ve never gone to South Dakota. I’ve sort of never wanted to until I just saw your photos of the badlands which look amazing. I feel like this could be a really easy and fun weekend trip for the family!
    Marta’s most recent post: Night Like That.

  13. Eve says:

    I’ve been to a lot of states around SD, but somehow I never visited that state (yet). Great post and lovely pictures.

  14. thrilled that you two had a great time! i was scheduled to go to SD last year, but sadly the plans fell through. still, the badlands are on the list! :)

    the grand canyon of pennsylvania (pine creek gorge) is pretty damn cool if you are looking for something around three and a half hours from home. just don’t ask a man with an ax for directions on a dark, dark night like our group was forced to do. (actually, he could not possibly be nicer, but still, plan ahead or stop at the ice cream store like i wanted to!)
    hello haha harf’s most recent post: Adventure in Tahn

  15. Darla says:

    90 miles.

    We went to the Black Hills for our summer vacations a couple years ago. Loved it!!!

  16. You can perhaps plan another trip from Denver next time to do the more southwest areas? Santa Fe is awesome, but Taos and Albuquerque are also great.
    Heath Y. Davidson’s most recent post: No last blog posts to return.

  17. [...] are places that make you want to come back. The Grand Canyon. Savannah. South Dakota. They say, “You could spend hours getting lost here. You’ll have to come back, but [...]

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