To get from the east to the west of South Dakota, it was once again many hundreds of miles or kilometers straight ahead for us. This time, however, we were rewarded upon arrival with an incredibly beautiful landscape – the Badlands National Park.
Since we unfortunately could not get a free tentsite at the campground directly at the national park, we stayed at the Badlands / White River KOA Holiday at Interior (only about 10 minutes from the park entrance). Even though this campground is actually quite nice, the extremely many flies made our stay very uncomfortable; and even the free pancakes in the morning couldn’t change that. Instead of having dinner outside in peace and sitting comfortably by the fire, we quickly crawled into our tent. This had at least one advantage: We had time to sort pictures or write blog posts. 😊
Let’s go off-road then …
We used the next day for our first off-road experience. At check-in, I had seen that there is an area nearby where it is allowed to drive four-wheel drive vehicles through the landscape. So we headed to the Baja Motorized Area – also known as the Baja ORV Staging Area. This is located south of Badlands National Park on Highway 44 and is really highly recommended!
On our arrival in the Baja Motorized Area, however, we did not consider that the rather violent thunderstorm the night before might have left a few traces (typical beginner’s mistake 🙄) – and so Micha & Gernot landed right away in the mud. This gave immediately times a damper, but with combined forces and a few attempts we could free Gernot from his predicament. Thank God dirt was the only thing this fall, if you can call it at all so, left.
We then followed the various trails up, over and around the various sand/clay hills. A really great way to deepen our riding experience on unpaved terrain. At this point a big thank you goes again to Thomas Weber – our instructor from Enduropark Hechlingen – for the great offroad preparation! It really helped us a lot (even if at the end of this excursion my clutch and brake lever had to go again ).
After about 2.5 hours of fun in the most beautiful sunshine, we made our way back to our campsite covered in clay. There we could fortunately organize for Gernot & Gisi an extensive shower with the garden hose to get rid of the clay to some extent. Micha’s combo, however, had to be satisfied with the shower in the washroom of the campsite 😉.
Hiking & Sundowner Tour in Badlands National Park
After the effort during the day, we took it a little easier in the evening. Before sunset we made our way into the park with its 244,000 hectares consisting of prairie and various rock formations offering numerous places where Micha could expand his skills as a photographer. And so, wonderful pictures of Gernot & Gisi at sunset were taken 🤩. (Of course, more pictures can be found in our gallery.)
For the following day we chose one of the many hiking trails in the park – the so-called Notch Trail. With about 1.5 miles a nice, small hike through craggy rocks, which also brings a little bit of adventure. At least you shouldn’t be afraid of heights: You climb up a wooden rope staircase rather steep (but doable) at the upper end, walk along narrow paths on the rocks and stand at the viewpoints on the precipice, so to speak. For this you are rewarded with a really nice view of the surrounding area! A great option if you do not want to go, like us, for hours hiking in sweltering heat or you are not used to this.
The next day, unfortunately, we had to continue our journey. After the morning pancake strengthening we went first along the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway (SD 240), which has many more viewpoints. For the approximately 39 miles you should plan about 1 hour pure driving time, which of course is absolutely not enough due to the many photo stops. If you don’t have much time, you should definitely plan a stop at the Yellow Mounds Overlook. The sight of the yellow, orange and beige striped rocks in surrounding green grass is simply breathtakingly beautiful. And if you’re lucky, you might spot a chilling bighorn sheep (Micha calls it capricorn) on one of the rocks and a pronghorn or two along the way.
But it is also necessary to be careful: A prairie rattlesnake could not be stopped by the people at the lookout point to bathe in the sun; from it we have made (unlike many others) no photo, but perceived its warning signals and made a wide berth around it. (That’s why we don’t have a picture of it for you.) But of the sweet, wild prairie dogs and the bison, which we could experience on our onward journey.
Coming from the south, we turned left onto Sagecreek Rim Road shortly after the last viewpoint on SD 240, Pinnacles Overlook. Here begins the so-called Big Loop of Badlands National Park: On unpaved road this beautiful, winding and recommendable route leads through different prairie types to Highway 44.
Sturgis without rally, but with great alternatives
From Highway 44 we went from one wonderful environment to the next. Through the Black Hills National Forest we drove to Sturgis – THE Mecca for motorcyclists in the USA. Every year in August, thousands of bikers – mostly Harley riders – from all over the world gather here for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and enjoy being together at free concerts and organized rides through the Black Hills.
Even though we were three weeks early, we could feel the spirit of this event in advance. Everything and everyone in Sturgis seems to have an enthusiasm for motorcycles. What do I base that on?
- There is the famous Days End Campground, where we also spent the night and whose reception (actually more a fan store 😉) reflects the enthusiasm of the owners for Sturgis and Harleys. Actually quite a nice place, even if the cute free-ranging rabbits have chewed through our tent rope.
- Then at the various biker pubs like the Iron Horse Saloon & Restaurant or The Knuckle Brewing Company, which for me represent the typical biker cliché – rocky & a bit dirty, but also cozy & friendly – while offering really good food & beer. I can well imagine that you can spend a good time here on the rally weekend. A bit like the Ballermann of the Harley riders. 🤣
- I found the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum really impressive, where you can marvel at specially made or converted machines, some of which are provided by private individuals. Besides the original motorcycle driven by Mickey Rourke in Marlboro Man, there are some insanely geniune artifacts to see.
- And last but not least, the numerous tattoo stores that you pass while strolling through Main Street and that complete the typical biker cliché – every biker has at least one tattoo. And indeed, so far we can only confirm this observation, although it must be said that generally in America there are significantly more people with tattos. Or maybe they are more noticeable, because here you wear less (sometimes unfortunately too little and too tight 🤭) clothes …
Please do not misunderstand. It is not negative at all, but even meant in a positive way. Sturgis is a really cool place that we recommend every motorcyclist to visit. And if you have the opportunity, you should definitely experience the rally. It’s certainly a great experience.
And if, like us, the rally doesn’t work out, Sturgis is definitely a great starting point for day trips in the Black Hills National Forest as well as the adjacent Custer State Park. We decided on a round trip of 164 miles (about 264 kilometers), which took us through both and which we can only recommend to everyone:
- From Sturgis, we drove via Rapid City to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Definitely a must stop in this region! It is really impressive to stand in front of the huge stone faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
- We continued on the 360 degree curves of Iron Mountain Road to Custer State Park. Since we have already seen the bison in Yellowstone National Park, we skipped the Wildlife Loop Road this time and decided to turn onto the Needles Highway. Every motorcyclist should have ridden this highway once. It is a lot of fun to drive on the narrow, windy road through the rugged rocky landscape – not to mention the passage through the Needles Eye Tunnel. With only one lane through this narrow section, it’s not uncommon to find that a vehicle is coming toward you as you enter and then have to scoot backwards while sitting on your motorcycle. How nice would it be to have a reverse gear in such cases. 🤭
- If you like to cool off, you should definitely plan a stop (or preferably a several-hour swim) at Sylvan Lake (picture below). Only a few miles after Needle’s Eye, the highway passes directly by the lake and offers another highlight on this route.
- After this really great second highlight on this day, we made a detour to the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is a sculpture in honor of the Oglala Lakota Indian Crazy Horse, which is also hewn into the mountain and is supposed to be many times larger than Mount Rushmore. Although the memorial should actually have been finished since 1978 (according to the artist’s estimate 30 years after its start), it is still in the process of being built and is therefore not (yet) that impressive in our eyes.
- From here we headed back to Sturgis, stopping briefly at Pactola Lake and turning onto a gravel road through the Black Hills at Merritt.
Even though we would have liked to spend more time in South Dakota after these great experiences, it was time for us to head further west. And so we made our way to Wyoming.