Did you know that Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park are a 6-hour drive from Denver? Below I'll highlight some recommendations for a fun weekend in South Dakota that won't break the bank.
The city of Custer is a great place to stay because it's the perfect middle-ground for various activities. It's a 25-minute drive to both Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park as well as a 2-hour drive to the Badlands (which goes by faster than you might think.) If you're looking to make this a weekend trip, I recommend driving to Custer on Friday night. It makes the weekend feel longer and you can avoid waking up early on Saturday.
As for lodging, there's a campground in Custer that I highly recommend. This campground offers cabins and spaces for tents or RVs. It's located in a woodsy area only 5 minutes away from town - convenient for souvenirs, gas, or some food.
Upon arrival, the cabin is an ideal place for a weekend stay; the only caveat is that you need to bring your own pillows, blankets, and sheets. However, the cabin was the perfect size and has everything else you need. There are two beds, a mini-fridge, a microwave, a dining table, chairs, and even an outdoor deck with a grill (pancakes and bacon are a must!) There's also a fire pit which is perfect for staying warm at night while stargazing or roasting marshmallows. Also - did I mention that it's only about $90 per night? Quite inexpensive for what you get!
Start your Saturday morning with a quick breakfast and begin driving to the Badlands! The drive is about 2 hours but worth it. There are fun activities to check out along the way - like a Drive-Thru Wildlife Park (bears included) and Reptile Gardens if you don't mind snakes.
Once you arrive at Badlands National Park there's a $30 fee per vehicle. This gives you access to the entire park for 7 days. Spend the morning and afternoon exploring many small but beautiful hikes that won't leave you feeling exhausted. Be sure to pack a lunch so you can enjoy it on one of the hikes or on the many picnic tables around the park.
Wrap your day up by going to Wall Drug. Wall Drug is a roadside attraction where you can grab a quick bite for dinner, take some photos, buy souvenirs, or buy their 5 cent coffee. After Wall Drug, either stick it out for a sunset at the Badlands or head back to the campsite.
If you still have energy on your way back to Custer, you can visit one of the many breweries or wineries in the area. Another option on the ride back is to visit Candyland or Rushmore Candy Company if you want some sweets.
On Sunday, I recommend booking a helicopter tour at Black Hills Aerial Adventures. Payment isn't required upon making a reservation - they charge you upon check-in which offers some flexibility in case plans change last minute. Rides are available for only $60 per person. The ride itself is about 15-minutes long but there are pricier options if you want a longer ride. The views were incredible and our pilot was very friendly.
After the helicopter ride, check out Custer State Park - even if it's brief. The views are stunning; it's an experience you don't want to miss. And last but not least... Mount Rushmore! Parking admission is $10 per vehicle and there's a free museum - making this a super cheap activity. It takes about an hour to experience Mount Rushmore.
That's it - once you're done visiting Mount Rushmore, begin your journey back to Colorado. Enjoy this fun-filled weekend that won't break the bank.