After thoroughly exploring Badlands National Park, I continued west toward Yellowstone. On the way was South Dakota’s scenic Black Hill National Forrest. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time for the pretty forest, because I was on a tight schedule.

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore

I had time for the highlights. No trip to the Black Hills is complete without a visit to Mount Rushmore National Monument. I was lucky to have perfect weather, and the stone presidents looked good against the clear blue sky. Walking the short trail was fun, and provided the opportunity to photograph the famous sculptures from different angles.

Looking up at Washington
Looking up at Washington

I wanted to stay the night, which would allow me to shoot the monument during sunrise, nighttime, and sunrise. But my schedule forced this to be one of the most hectic days of #TerryTreksUSA. After spending only about an hour here, I got back in the car and headed south.

Four presidents
Four presidents

The Black Hills are a big area, and it was a long drive. It was a scenic drive, which several viewpoints of the forrest. Many large stands of dead trees were visible. An invasive species, the Mountain Pine Beetle, is killing the trees.

Washington through the trees
Washington through the trees

Wind Cave was the second national park on #TerryTreksUSA. I’m not much of a cave enthusiast, but I took the tour anyways. While not a famous cave, Wind Cave is the only cave to have so much “boxwork.” These are intricate honeycomb patterns of minerals lining the ceilings.

Boxwork in Wind Cave
Boxwork at Wind Cave

After the tour, I was excited to finally have a chance to camp in the wilderness. Above ground, the park is 70% mixed grass prairie. I got my free permit from the visitor center, packed up, and headed out on the well-marked Centennial Trail. I was immediately alone in a peaceful grassland nestled in a valley.

A mummy head in Wind Cave
A mummy head in Wind Cave

I got a late start, so could only walk about an hour before I had to set up camp. This was good practice, since it was my first night alone in the woods. I was deep in the backcountry, with no sign of civilization anywhere. But if I had to, it would be a quick walk back to my car.

On the trail in Wind Cave National Park
On the trail in Wind Cave National Park

Before it got dark I climbed up the ridge and looked into the next valley. It looked really wild and remote.

A buffalo guards the trail
A buffalo guards the trail

Nothing went wrong, and the night passed uneventfully. Except for all the growling. It sounded like there was a lion outside. I didn’t think there were any lions at Wind Cave, so I wasn’t too worried, just curious.

It's easy to get away from it all in Wind Cave.
It’s easy to get away from it all in Wind Cave.

The next morning I looped back via the Lookout Point trail. This went up to the top of the valley, where there is a large prairie. It wasn’t quit as interesting as the grasslands in the valley. But I did discover the source of the growling. A small herd of about a dozen bison were running around, making all the noise. A bull stood guard on the trail. The last think I wanted to do was anger a bison, so I went far around.

Storm brewing on the prarie
Storm brewing on the prarie

When I got back to my car and looked at a map, I saw the Crazy Horse Memorial was on the way. But first I stopped for a big breakfast at a diner. It’s hard to eat enough food while traveling and trying to cook for myself.

Wind Cave sunset
Wind Cave sunset

Crazy Horse Memorial probably wasn’t worth the price of admission. Maybe it will be in a couple hundred years. What they are doing is beyond ambitious. I don’t think it’s even possible.

A mule deer on the prairie in Wind Cave National Park
A mule deer on the prairie in Wind Cave National Park

I regret not spending more time in South Dakota’s beautiful Black Hills. I didn’t even have time for Custer State Park. Wind Cave National Park turned out to be a gem. It’s not known for backpacking, so it’s very easy to have a crowd-free wilderness experience there.

Come back in a couple hundred years.
Come back in a couple hundred years.
Terry
I'm Terry, former cubicle-dweller, and now traveler, photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. I quit my job in 2014 to travel to US national parks, then to South East Asia. I write about independent, flexible, long-term, budget travel. Sign up to my newsletter to get the latest news on what I'm up to. I hope you join me on my trek around the world.

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