Taking a 12 hour road trip and camping with 4 kids under 8 is an adventure in itself. Giving ourselves less than 48 hours notice of the road trip and not having a tent may even seem reckless to some. But not us. Nope, that’s how we roll!
After watching Hamilton on DisneyPlus, Maggie had a ton of questions about the presidents and history of the United States. After watching National Treasure 2, she had endless questions about Mount Rushmore. This is when homeschooling is quite convenient. The ability to pack up and take the classroom anywhere allows for unmatched learning moments.
Before packing ourselves up and heading out, we watched several YouTube videos on how Mount Rushmore was created and several brief biographies on each of the presidents carved into it. (Did you know that the creator, Gutzon Borglum did not even live to see it completed?)
We set out with the sole intention to visit Mount Rushmore, review what we learned about it through videos while there, and head straight back home. (See, I told you we were crazy! Only crazy people set out to take a 24 hour round trip road trip to see one site and head straight back.) On the way there though, we decided to play it by ear with it all depending on whether or not the kids did well camping the first night.
The first stop was our campsite at the Hot Springs KOA. Not only was this our first experience at a KOA site, but it was also our first experience camping as an entire family. The KOA was a wonderful way to try camping for the first time! The staff there was so informative with things to do that were FREE! (And I LOVE free because as a family of 6, things start to add up quickly!) One of my favorite parts of this campsite experience was where they placed the gravel pad to set up our tent. It was placed in an area with no overhanging tree limbs nearby, making it the best spot to lay in bed, star gaze and search for the different constellations.
We have this really neat app, SkyView, on our phone that we were able to put to good use. The app allows you to point your phone towards the sky in any direction and it will name any of the visible constellations.
After setting up the tent, we went straight to Mount Rushmore. While we were there the kids were excited to share everything they knew about the monument to my husband. It was nice to see the roles reversed where they were the teachers and he was the student! If you haven’t been before, I suggest it be a destination to add to your list of places to go. Why? Well, at the very least it shows how an artistic vision and 14 years worth of hard work created such an outstanding piece out of nature. It truly was amazing to see the amount of detail that went into creating each of the faces. It’s even more amazing to know that the majority of it was created by dynamite!
On the way back to the campsite we stopped at a local woodwork shop in Interior, SD, where the big kids got to play on the wood carvings. The attention to detail on the carvings was impressive.
Because the kids did so well camping the first night, we decided to stay one more night! Thanks to extending our trip we decided to go to the Black Hills National Forest. Visiting the forest provided a day long science lesson. The narrow roads were pretty stressful in the area we drove, so we hoped to find a place to park and explore by foot. As soon as we pulled over, Johnny saw a massive rock formation at the very top of a mountain. Naturally, he wanted to get to the top, so with the baby on my back and my husband helping the older 3, we slowly made our way up! Boy, was this such an amazing experience. On the way up we had a treasure hunt as we found several rocks and minerals. Our favorite rocks found were the Pyrite (Fool’s Gold) and Granite. Our favorite mineral found was Quartz. Did you know that that the best location in the world for finding Rose Quartz is in the Black Hills of South Dakota?
As if finding the rock treasures wasn’t an experience in itself, when we got to the peak of the mountain, Maggie screamed with delight as she turned and saw the 4 presidents of Mount Rushmore staring right at us! We had no idea we would get a front row view of them and I can’t explain how glorious it felt! It was like winning a first place trophy for climbing the mountain!
Thanks to the suggestion of a KOA employee, after climbing what felt like Mount Everest with 4 kids, we decided to cool off at Cascade Falls. The neatest part of this location was that there were different areas where the kids were able to walk, swim, or just splash around in. We did not venture out into the bigger swimming hole, but we did splash around in the knee/waist deep waters. On a day of 106 degrees Fahrenheit, the chilly temps of the water turned out to be a warm welcome!
And can you even say you camped if you didn’t make s’mores? After a long day in the Black Hills Forrest and a dip in cold water, we headed back to the campsite to indulge in a camping favorite.
The next morning, at 5 am, we packed up our stuff and started the drive home. It was then that we realized we never went to the Badlands National Park. Because of this, we decided to take a quick drive to just see it in person. Little did we know, that the quick trip would turn into 5 hours of absolute awe and amazement. We stopped several times on the side of the road to explore the land. From the peaks, to the valleys, to the free roaming bison, deer, big horn sheep, and prairie dogs, it was a sight to be seen. Witnessing the different animals in their habitat was really neat. We even got to see around 100 bison stampede creating a huge cloud of dust.
I must add that we took the opportunity to hike off the beaten path here. While it was equally terrifying and amazing, I don’t regret any of the grey hairs that were gained as I stressed over our safety. (Yeah, it’s time to admit that we live on the edge a bit at times and sometimes you have to go off course to appreciate all of the beauty!)
Try as I might, I could not take pictures to adequately portray the amount of beauty that each of the places we explored offered. We do not normally say that we are going to return to a vacation spot, because there are so many more places to go. But, we will definitely be returning to South Dakota.