Summer Vacation Part 3: Fun outings in the Black Hills

As we shared in our previous blog posts, in late June we visited Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods in Colorado and then Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Uncle Chris joined us for the full trip, and Grandma Debbie and Grandpa Rod joined us for a few days at Sylvan Lake too.

We spent the last few days of our vacation exploring the sights of the Black Hills. Thursday morning we all packed into the SUV, and we made the short drive to Mount Rushmore. Yeah, we definitely couldn’t miss this!

On the way to and from Mount Rushmore, we drove on a portion of the scenic Needles Highway. Here are a few pictures of Hood Tunnel.

Here’s a fun time-lapse video of our drive from Mount Rushmore back to Sylvan Lake too. As a reminder: If you’re reading this post in an email, you may need to open the blog webpage in order to view the video. To do so, just click on the title of the post (the link in blue) at the top of the email to open the blog in your web browser.

That afternoon we all hopped in the car again and headed to the Wilderness Loop Road, which is an 18-mile drive through the hills and grasslands of Custer State Park. We saw a variety of wildlife, including bison, deer, and prairie dogs.

Grandpa Rod and Grandma Debbie drove home Friday morning. Thanks for joining the fun! We’ll see you again soon!

Friday was busy with fun outings too. After we said goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa, we drove to nearby Hill City and boarded the Black Hills Central Railroad’s 1880 Train for a scenic round-trip ride between Hill City and Keystone.

The 1880 Train opened in 1957 and is the oldest continuously operating tour railroad in the U.S. The train follows the original route of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad that serviced the mines and mills between the two towns. Yeah, we had some great views!

Here is a short video of our train ride too. As you can see, the train moved very slowly because of the steep grades and sharp curves. In fact, the 20-mile round-trip ride took about two hours. Also in the video, because the train tracks crossed several roads along the way, we got to hear the train whistle multiple times—very cool!

The 1880s Train is famous for its historic steam engines. The steam engines were being repaired that morning, so our train was pulled by this diesel engine instead.

One of the steam engines was up and running by the time we got back to the depot though—and so we got to see the train operators uncouple the diesel engine and replace it with the steam engine for the afternoon ride.

Here’s a fun video of the steam engine too. We got the best of both worlds in the end; we got to see the steam engine in action but didn’t have to ride in its smoke and soot. Ha.

Riding the 1880 Train was the perfect way to experience the Black Hills!

We had a quick lunch at the train depot, and then we drove to Keystone to pan for gold at the Big Thunder Gold Mine. We didn’t strike it rich at the gold mine (we only found a few tiny flecks), but we had a lot of fun.

When we got back to the cabin, we went for a final hike around Sylvan Lake.

Ryan, Noah, and I stayed on the easier trails around the lake…

Chris was more adventurous and hiked toward the granite cliffs of Black Elk Peak (formally Harney Peak). He made it halfway to the top before he had to turn around because a storm was rolling in. He had a fantastic view of the tower on the top!

Fun fact: With an elevation of 7,242 feet, Black Elk Peak is the highest point in the Black Hills and is the highest elevation between the Rocky Mountains and the Alps.

We ended our South Dakota adventure with this awesome rainbow over Sylvan Lake Friday night…

We had a great time exploring the Black Hills! I’m from South Dakota, so I’ve been to the Hills numerous times (though not for many years before this trip)—and Ryan’s family visited there too when he was young. We had a lot of fun taking Noah to some of the places that we remember.

We spent most of Saturday driving back to Denver, and then we flew home early Sunday morning. Here’s a time-lapse video of our drive leaving South Dakota and then going through Wyoming.

Thanks for coming along, Uncle Chris! What a great summer vacation!

Categories: Animals, Grandparents, Mountains, Nature, South Dakota, Summer, Trains, Vacations | Leave a comment

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