Last month South Dakota Tourism sent my mom and I on a mission to explore South Dakota. We found ourselves hundreds of feet in the air on a hot air balloon ride, spotting all kinds of wildlife on the trails, and getting rained on in one of the most out-of-this-world landscapes I have ever seen. Check out this list of our top 5 favorite activities in South Dakota.
Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride at Sunrise
Getting to experience silently floating through the sky as the sun illuminated the frost on the ground below is one of the best memories of my life. South Dakota Tourism asked if I wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride with Black Hills Balloons, and I immediately responded, yes.
My mom was coming along, and it was a dream coming full circle. You see, about 10 years ago my mom and I drove 3 hours to a tiny town in Kansas for a hot air balloon festival we discovered was through the local newspaper. We arrived too late to see the balloons, but we still had a great time enjoying the town and talking to balloonists. Ever since then we’ve wanted to ride in a hot air balloon together.
So a decade later when the opportunity landed in our laps, I was thrilled. We had a gorgeous view of Custer, South Dakota and even spotted some elk running through the forest below. The experience was perfect and I especially loved the ballooning story our guide told at the end, along with a mimosa toast.
Hike Black Elk Peak
This beautiful hunk of granite, located in the Black Hills National Forest, is the tallest peak in South Dakota (7,242 ft.) and the highest peak in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains.
We started the hike at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park and hiked 3.8 miles to the summit. The trail has stunning views the entire time and we were fortune enough to experience sunset during our hike.
There was wildlife, snow, and gorgeous fall colors during our outing this time, but my mom and I had previously hiked the peak 15 years earlier in the summer with the rest of my family. Afterward we spent the rest of the day swimming in Sylvan Lake.
Whatever time of year you make the trek, it’s worth it to see gorgeous views of the area in every direction.
Photograph the Badlands
When you enter Badlands National Park it is really like entering another planet. The park is out in the middle of nowhere and as you drive in the landscape changes to something that more closely resembles the moon than anything else on Earth.
Hiking through the unique desert landscape is a special experience and my mom and I found ourselves ooohhhing and ahhhhing with every turn of a corner. We woke up for a sunrise hike and when the rain cleared the lighting was truly special. I can’t wait to go back in search of clear night skies in order to photograph this stars in this ethereal place.
Explore the waterfalls of Spearfish Canyon
My mom and I only had the afternoon to enjoy a couple hikes in Spearfish Canyon, and luckily there were some close by. First we enjoyed a beautiful nature trail that took us to Roughlock Falls, just a mile away from the lodge we were staying at. The waterfall flowed over terrain that was surrounded by beautiful fall colors.
Next, when we arrived back a the lodge we walked across the street to Little Spearfish Falls Nature Trail. You can see the top of the falls from the beginning of the hike, but it’s worth it to walk the ¾ mile to see this 47 ft. waterfall in all its glory. The path was easy and a perfect way to cap off our trip.
Drive the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park
What didn’t we see along this amazing loop? The drive started off with us enjoying the scenery and the fall colors. Soon we ran into a bison traffic jam as the animals were crossing the road to head to a nearby watering hole.
Once we made it past them we continued up the hill and we were able to see them arriving at the watering hole from afar. After that we saw mountain goats, pronghorn, elk, prairie dogs, and plenty of deer. Make sure you have one person spotting the wildlife and one paying attention to the road!
Bonus Activity: Leaf peeping along the Cheyenne River in the fall
This post brought to you by South Dakota Tourism
Join us for a one-night adventure writing and photography workshop with these two outdoor industry badasses! With a little practice, your snapshots, postcards, tweets, and scribbled notes can be crafted into a unique narrative — and in this one-of-a-kind workshop, you'll learn the secrets that outdoor storytellers swear by to turn those creative sparks into polished stories and published photos. Whether you're a climber, skier, hiker, alpinist, surfer, or weekend warrior, these pros have been there — and they're stoked to share what they've learned.
Join Charlotte Austin (travel/adventure writer and international mountain guide) and Kat Carney (outdoor photographer and climber/canyoneer/surfer) to learn tricks of the trade, share secrets of the travel writing industry, get hands-on, and get practical tips for shooting, editing, and publishing your photos. Writers, photographers, and artists of all experience levels and mediums are welcome — wherever you are in the creative process, you'll leave with concrete and helpful hacks to immediately start crafting your individual story.
The evening will consist of three parts. Charlotte will lead a high-energy, hands-on writing workshop, which will include exciting prompts, constructive feedback, tips for incorporating writing into expeditions/trips, and a discussion about formatting your stories to keep your reader's attention. Kat will discuss story-telling through images, tips for dynamic composition and lighting, and tricks of the trade to create visual interest anywhere. Then there will be a Q&A session about publishing, how to pitch stories, working in the outdoor industry, etc. If you're interested in getting sponsored, selling blog posts, or just telling better stories on Instagram, this is the place to bring your burning questions.
No experience is necessary; just bring an open mind, a laptop or pen or pencil and notebook, and your creative sense of curiosity. Whether you're brand-new to writing, a hobby photographer, interested in blogging, or want to pursue publication, you'll leave this workshop one step closer to meeting your goals.
To encourage creativity, libations will be provided by Helix Brewing Co.
Buy Tickets Here:
San Diego Workshop Link: 4/4/17
LA Workshop Link : 4/6/17
Here's an update that gets you caught up to my whereabouts through mid-Feb. More of the last month coming soon!
Check out our newest entries on Expedition Portal to find out what on earth we have been up to. Hints: driving all over the west and chasing snow has been high on the list of things to do. Follow the LINK
We made our own custom awing fitted to our Suburban for 1/5 the price of pre-made awnings. In this video we show you the set up and describe the steps we used to build it. Tools needed are a drill and hammer. You can find all the supplies at Harbor Freight. Ask any additional questions you have in the comments below.
Here is the build THREAD we used to build it.
We just finished detailing our month in Baja on Expedition Portal. It wasn't without it's mishaps, including one of our solar panels ripping off the roof at 70mph! Read the full story HERE.
After spending a few weeks galavanting around the Southwest with friends, we are back in San Diego and packing for a month-long surf trip in Baja. We are trading the bikes on the roof for surf boards and can't wait to hit the surf in Baja Sur! Check out the last few weeks in our newest post on Expedition Portal HERE.
A tour of our adventure mobile Hooper, a 2002 Chevy Suburban Z71 4x4. This tour includes some info on what we had to do to make the burb livable for a year of adventure travel from Baja to the Arctic. Luxurious amenities include: a refrigerator, custom built shelves, ample storage for adventure gear, a sliding lockbox, and a solar system that let's us live off grid for weeks at a time! If you want to know more about something we mentioned in this video, ask in the comments below!
A while ago Craig and I decided that when he retired from track & field we would hit the road for a while so that we could chase all the sunsets, adventures, and activities we wanted to do instead of weekend warrioring as we have been for the past 4 years. Our relationship was forged in adventure travel, so we might as well test it's merit there too, we figured. We bought a 2002 Z71 4x4 Suburban and built it out to live in. That's right...60 glorious square feet of space to call home for a year of travel. We did the build out with a massive amount of help from our friend, Grinder (his trail name). He was priceless to us, both with his vast knowledge of literally everything and his tools and manpower to help build what we envisioned. We really can't thank him enough, the project is what it is because of him. Also, Craig sent innumerable hours researching, planning, purchasing, and building the truck into the awe-inspiring adventure-mobile we live in today. A huge resource for him during the research and planning phases was Expedition Portal. So after we hit the road and wanted a place to document the trip chronologically we started to put together an "Adventure in Progress" forum on the site. I'm going to link those posts here, so friends, family, future friends, and generally interested people can keep up with where we are, what we are doing, and how we are doing it. Follow the link below to see the first part of our trip :)
Expedition Portal: Photographer & Olympian Chase Adventure from Baja to the Arctic
PS- I guess our relationship stood the test...we are engaged as of 4 days ago.
29 year old, volleyball playing, photo taking, red headed, mountain and adventure loving woman