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Yellowstone Family Vacation via SoDak

Author Larry Sickmann
Yellowstone Family Vacation via SoDak

Having not making our plans early enough, we needed to get creative with our lodging, since most things were sold out, on our way to Yellowstone National Park from Minnesota through South Dakota. Lodging involved a variety of stays, including a teepee, a guest house, a drive-in camper, a tent, and only a couple hotels. This seemed like a good idea. As I made plans, I remember a friend of my dad's that would just get in the car and drive for their vacations.


Teepee Overnight

Day 1

Our first night in South Central SoDak was in a teepee on private property along Pepper Creek in the Pine Ridge Reservation "just off" the freeway. At least that's what the AirBnB listing mentioned. So after the Corn Palace and Wall Drug, we toured the Badlands, and made our way south toward Wounded Knee, thinking we'd get there in no time, was much further than we had thought. Our navigation began by taking us down what I'd call a field road with cattle standing in the road. Once we found a paved road, it didn't last long and turned to gravel for the rest of the route. Now this gravel is more of a sand - kind of like sandblasting sand - and we well exceeded recommended speeds, if there would have been any posted. We lost cell coverage intermittently, as we started noticing abandoned vehicles, miles between homesteads and a not a soul in sight. This all added a certain level of anxiety for the wife and myself, but not wanting to worry our two boys (7 & 12 years old), we stayed (kind of) calm, as the sun was getting awfully close to the horizon.

We finally arrived and what seemed to be an abandoned home, with a handful of men sitting around. They glared at us like they were thinking "well, well, what do we have here". My wife and I looked at each other like we needed to say our final prayers. I got out, and asked "is Charlotte here?", with no response. One man headed inside. My thought was he was going to get his rifle, but a minute later Charlotte sprung out welcoming us with a smile. All anxieties vanished, and we hastily opened the tonneau cover and tried to dust off 1/4" of dust on the luggage and Rubbermaids. Charlotte showed us our teepee and porta-potty, and we nestled into our sleeping bags, just after dusk.

Teepee Overnight

I've never seen a real teepee before and I guess I expected it to be closed?! Open air below and an open entrance "door", plus open up-top, great airflow I guess. Snakes were our main concern at first, but then we heard coyotes howling. That didn't stop us from falling asleep immediately after the long day. Nothing got to us during the night, "we made it", I thought as I laid there coming out of my slumber when all of a sudden an animal jumped onto me! I was relieved to find a cute kitten looking for a new friend. We packed up and headed out shortly after.


Mount Rushmore and Cody Wyoming

Day 2

After taking in Mount Rushmore and Devil's Tower, we made our way to a nice little guest house just south of Cody, Wyoming, a great stay compared to the previous night. While in Cody, we visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, the Cody Firearms Museum, took in a rodeo, and I had me some Rocky Mountain oysters.


Jackson Hole and Driggs, ID

Day 3 & 4

We made some stops on our way through Yellowstone, but needed to make it to the Spud Drive-In over in Driggs, Idaho where we had reserved a camper which was at a drive-in theater. As we made our way through Jackson Hole on our way to Idaho, we again were pushing daylight, but got nestled in by dusk and took in a movie.

The camper was very affordable and a neat experience, and really wasn't too far from Jackson Hole, so we were able to do some hiking and sightseeing the next day in Grand Tetons National Park. We had a fabulous dinner at The Kitchen in Jackson Hole.


Old Faithful

Day 5

We headed out through Idaho on the west side of Yellowstone to may way to Old Faithful. This was a great drive, with very little traffic and we had the ability to see the mountains from another angle. Old Faithful was a first for all of us and we stayed in a hotel near Yellowstone Lake where we spotted a large bull elk the parking lot.


Yellowstone's Grand Canyon

Day 6

Next, we headed up toward the north rim where we spotted some bison along the road. Yellowstone's Grand Canyon was great - such great scenery. Well now all that camping gear we were hauling around needed to be dusted off and setup as we camped the next night. Here's where we did a bit of laundry and continued to try to clean off our luggage. Prior to this camping experience, we had camped where black bears roam, but never where grizzlies may do, we had some bear spray - but thankfully we didn't need it.


Gardiner, MT

Day 7

Next we drove to Gardiner, Montana to find a nice little shack to stay for the night. With a great meal at the Ironhorse Bar & Grill. The next day we toured Mammoth Springs, and headed out through Shoshone National Forest and Beartooth Pass, with plans to make it all of the way through Montana and North Dakota, to the cabin northwest of Alexandria, Minnesota. We didn't realize that the majority of Montana is identical to the scenery you'll find in North Dakota. While I appreciate wide open spaces, enough was enough and we stayed one final night in the middle of NoDak.


We had never been to Yellowstone and the amount of time it takes to get from one point to another was something I had underestimated. For our Yellowstone trip, we made sure South Dakota wasn't just a drive through state, and this trip was the inspiration for Lakes Supply Co's South Dakota Collection. We learned that instead of jumping from hotel to hotel, the variety of lodging added many unexpected experiences and memories. The over planned perfect vacation usually is not perfect. It may be surprising to find out how much better it could it be with no plan and no expectations.

Get in the car and drive.


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