Pinnacles National Park

The Pinnacles National Park, home of the condor, was born some 23 million years ago when volcanoes erupted. The remains of it is a unique landscape through which you can hike; rare talus caves and towering rock spires.

Leave you can at the campground and take the shuttle to the main trailhead,  The Bear Glutch Trailhead. The Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop allows you to walk through the heart of the Pinnacles rock formations, particularly along the Steep and Narrow section of the High Peaks trail. On the way back add the Balconies Cave trail to see the lake and the caves.

From the West end of the park, you can use the Chaparral trail to see the amazing Balconies Caves. Flashlight required and be ready to truly emerge in a cave. I really thought I’m going on an expedition.  You can loop it back to the parking lot on continuing the trail to the high peaks.

 

 

 

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Wind Cave and Jewel Cave, SD

Wind Cave National Park, SD

Wind Cave is one of the South Dakota’s National Park, a few hours away from Rapid City. As you can guess, the park is known for its cave. It’s called the wind cave because somehow the wind is always blowing in the cave. It has over 100 miles of know passages and you can tour few miles of it as the Park offers different tours from the regular hour-long tour to the candlelight one. The cave ceiling is covered by box work calcite and the walls with white popcorn! The National Park has also some trails and is known for its wildlife, especially bison.  From the Visitor center drive towards Custer Park and Mt Rushmore, you will see a lot of prairie dogs, deer, and bison on that scenic drive.

 

Jewel Cave National Monument, SD

Jewel Cave is as the name indicates known for its jewel cave. You can take a tour inside of the cave to see the jewels in the rocks. It’s so beautiful. The cave has over 180 miles of passages and is still expanding with many adventurers volunteering to go into the cave and discover new passages. It is one of the top 10 largest cave passages in the world.

The Park has only a few small trails that you can take to discover the surface of the cave.

South Dakota, exploring new lands

Mt Rushmore is one of the must-see US Monument. I used that as an excuse to go to South Dakota and explore the region around Mt Rushmore. What scenery.

Day1: Wall, Badlands, and Deadwood

I land in the small regional airport of Rapid City rented a car from there and start my South Dakota Road Trip. 1st stop to refresh myself, the Wall Drugstore on the I90. During the whole drive on the I90, you will see signs for the famous Drugstore situated in Wall. The place was a famous stop for travelers that needed water while going through that deserted region.  The big Drugstore offers great souvenir shops and a restaurant with famous Buffalo Burgers.

After a good lunch and some shopping, I was back on the road to go to Badlands National Park.  Wall is a few miles away from one of the parks’ entrance.

Badlands, named that way by the French that had a hard time to cross that new deserted land, is one of the National Parks in South Dakota. Enter from the Pinnacles Entrance and take the scenic byway (SD240) to cross the park. The Park, like all National Parks, has a bunch of small trails that will allow you to discover the unique mountains recognizable by their red and yellow horizontal lines. Stop at few viewpoints to admire the breathtaking view of those mountains. Be aware, the viewpoints will be most likely very windy.

The must stop trails:

  • Fossil Exhibit trail to discover the fossils
  • The Door Trail: you can get inside of those mountains. It’s an amazing feeling. You will realize that the park and those mountains are mostly mud and not rock. It’s not possible to climb them like in Joshua Tree
  • The Window Trail: it’s a small trail that ends with a window to the mountains

The longest trail is the Castle Trail that is 10 miles. It’s a good trail to take if you are spending the whole day in the park. It is said that at night you can see the stars but this is less and less true with the pollution.  Make sure to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get your National Park stamp.

After few trails and a lot of viewpoint stop, I was back on the road to go to Lead and the historic town of Deadwood. 2 hours later, after a drive through the Black Hills Forest, I found myself in that little cowboy town ready to immerse myself in one of those old cowboy movies. Deadwood Main Street is full of souvenir shops, casinos and old saloons. Make sure to check out the Saloon #10. You will see Wild Bill, Calamity Janes, Preacher Smith, Potato Creek Johnny and Seth Bullock heads over the bar. Every night, the saloon offers a show around 8pm.

For the night, I drove to the Hotel near Mt Rushmore called the K Bar S Lounge Lodge in Keystone. This lodge is very cozy and you can actually see the president’s head from the backyard.

 

Day2: Mt Rushmore

Start your day by going to Mt. Rushmore. What an impressive monument. 2016 is the 75th anniversary of the completion of Mt Rushmore, what a better occasion to go and discover this majestic monument. The Sculptor Created by Gutzon Borglum is a must stop on a US Road Trip. The Mount is overlooking the whole Black Hills, SD area. It took Gutzon and his 400 workers 14 years to crave those 4 presidents, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt and Lincoln in the mountain. First, discover the heads by walking through the Avenue of Flags that has all the state flags and then you will have a full clear view from the Grand View Terrace. If the weather is nice, take the 1-mile Presidential Trail to have a close-up view of the monument.

The weather is foggy, I decided to not go to Crazy Horse and drove instead to my next National Monument, the Jewel Cave. Jewel Cave is as the name indicates known for its jewel cave. You can take a tour inside of the cave to see the jewels in the rocks. It’s so beautiful. The cave has over 180 miles of passages and is still expanding with many adventurers volunteering to go into the cave and discover new passages. The Park has only a few small trails that you can take to discover the surface of the cave.

For the night I stayed at the best lodge in the middle of Custer State Park called the Sylvan Lake Lodge. That Authentic lodge is right above the majestic Sylvan Lake and if you are a hiker like you will enjoy all the trails nearby. I personally did the Sunday Glutch 4.5 miles trails that offered a great view of the mountains and the lake.  The Lounge, with a fireplace, offers you a great relaxing area after a day of hiking and exploring.

 

Day 3: Wind Cave, Crazy Horse Memorial

From the hotel, the Crazy Horse Memorial is only 30 min away. That monument is one of the lesser known monuments in the area but it’s worth stopping by. It is the worlds’ largest mountain craving still in progress. The monument represents the brave Indian Crazy Horse. For now, the head is finished and for the next 10 years, they will be working on the hand. There is a small scale version of the monument in the visitor’s center so you can see how the monument will look.

From there take the more scenic longer Iron Mountain Road to get to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is one of the South Dakota’s National Parks, a few hours away from Rapid City. As you can guess, the park is known for its cave. It’s called the wind cave because somehow the wind is always blowing in the cave. It has over 100 miles of know passages and you can tour few miles of it as the Park offers different tours from the regular hour-long tour to the candlelight one. The cave ceiling is covered by boxwork calcite and the walls by white popcorn! The National Park has also some trails and is known for its wildlife, especially bisons.  From the Visitor center drive take the ) Wildlife Loop Road towards Custer Park and Mt Rushmore, you will see a lot of prairie dogs, deers and bisons on that scenic drive.

For lunch or Happy Hour stop at the Blue Bell Lodge right by Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. Their Saddle Bar is to fall in love with. A little bit further down, if Mt. Coolidge Lookout Tower is open, check out the view at 6,023 feet and on a clear day, you can even see the Badlands, which is almost 90 miles away. To go back to the hotel, I took the Needle Highway which curves and winds through 14 miles of rock formations called “Needles”. It was truly a scenic drive.

 

Day 4: Rapid City

It took me 1 hour to get back to Rapid City and before catching my flight I had enough time to explore the city. Downtown Rapid City is famous for its presidential walk. The sidewalk has a statue of each president every few feet. The neighborhood offers many shops and restaurants. Stop at the graffiti art alley and grab lunch at the famous Firehouse Brewery.

 

Badlands National Park , South Dakota

Badlands, named that way by the French that had a hard time to cross that new deserted land, is one of the National Parks in South Dakota. Enter from the Pinnacles Entrance and take the scenic byway to cross the park. The Park, like all National Parks, has a bunch of small trails that will allow you to discover the unique mountains recognizable by their red and yellow horizontal lines. Stop at few viewpoints to admire the breathtaking view of those mountains. Be aware, the viewpoints will be most likely very windy.

The must stop trails:

  • Fossil Exhibit trail to discover the fossils
  • The Door Trail: you can get inside of those mountains. It’s an amazing feeling. You will realize that the park and those mountains are mostly mud and not rock. It’s not possible to climb them like in Joshua Tree
  • The Window Trail: it’s a small trail that ends with a window to the mountains

The longest trail is the Castle Trail that is 10 miles. It’s a good trail to take if you are spending the whole day in the park. It is said that at night you can see the stars but this is less and less true with the pollution.

Make sure to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get your National Park stamp.

 

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree for a weekend

If you want to get away from the city, Joshua Tree is the perfect getaway if you live in SoCal. The park, located in the Mojave Desert not too far from Palm Springs, is a great retreat location in Fall and Spring until Mid May. It does get too hot during summer time.

You can camp inside of the park as they offer many camping grounds or stay at a cabin or at the Joshua Tree Inn, in Yucca Valley,  1 mile away from the park. The closer to the park, the better you will be able to admire the sunset and the stars at night. The best way to finding cabins is to go to Airbnb, they offer so many great choices but they best cabins sell out very fast.

I entered the park from Yucca Valley. Make sure to stop at the visitor’s center to collect your national park stamp and take a map of the park.

Start your day early, maybe around 9am with the most strenuous hike. Ryan Mountain is a great 3 miles hike that allows you, once at the 5,458-foot summit, to have a beautiful view if the vast park.  You can then discover the park with different short trails. The Arch Rock trail, the Skull Rock trail, the Barker Dam Trail and the Chella Cactus Garden will allow you to discover a different aspect of the park. Make sure to stop at the Key’s View, also called inspiration point, from where you can see the San Andreas Fault, Mt. San Jacinto and Coachella Valley. The Park is also known for its rock climbing spots like Hidden Valley Trail.

The Park is vast so you might explore the Hidden Valley to Skull Rock side in one day and the Cottonwood Spring side of the park the next day.