One Tank Trip for South Dakota Camping

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August 2, 2010

South Dakota one tank trip route map

This One Tank Trip seen in the Woodall’s 2010 North American Campground Directory.

You’ve got plenty of choices when it comes to where to spend your vacation time, but as long as the route runs through South Dakota, you can be assured of getting an eyeful of nature’s grandeur, as well as experiencing a state steeped in the romantic history of the Old West. Much of South Dakota remains as it was in the days of Lewis and Clark, and is home to some of the most visited monuments in our nation, including America’s Shrine of Democracy, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Mount Rushmore.

Let’s kick this one tank trip off in the Black Hills community of Spearfish. Right off the top, you’ll be awed by Mother Nature’s handiwork when you head over to majestic Spearfish Canyon and see its two waterfalls, Rough Lock and Bridal Veil. If you choose to make your South Dakota camping trip in the summer months, Spearfish hosts the annual Black Hills Passion Play, which pulls in quite a crowd from all around. While you’re in town, check out the High Plains Western Heritage Center, which is dedicated to honoring the pioneers and Native Americans of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. This facility spreads across 20,000 square feet and features exhibits that showcase the cattle, mining and forestry industries, along with several that pay homage to the strong, rugged spirits of cowboys and rodeo riders.

Wild Bill Hickok in Historic Deadwood – South Dakota Tourism One of the more famous – some would say notorious – historic sites in the state is the town of Deadwood. It’s a quick trip east on the US-14A until you come to the southbound US-85, which takes you 9 miles into Deadwood. This is where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane plied their trade and outlaws ran rampant. Things have calmed down quite a bit since those lawless days, but you can still walk the streets where gunfights were a thrice-daily experience, and tour the final stop for outlaws and lawmen alike; the cemetery of Boot Hill.

A 4-mile side trip on the westbound US-14A takes you into the town of Lead, which is more like gold for the vacationer. You can experience the beauty of the Black Hills in this quiet little city; in the summer, it’s a fine place for fishing and hiking, and in the winter the hills are covered with a thick blanket of snow that makes them ideal for skiing or snowboarding.

Back in Deadwood, head south on the US-385 for a little over 20 miles, then take an eastbound bearing on Highway 44 for about 15 miles into Rapid City. Not to be outdone by its sister cities, Rapid City is home to many unique and offbeat attractions of its own. The Journey Museum will be of interest to those who are curious about this area’s natural history; you’ll see many artifacts and fossils stemming from prehistoric days, and then follow the exhibits forward through time to the pioneer and outlaw days. The Reptile Gardens are not for those averse to these scaly critters, but for the rest of you, you’ll get to see these creatures in habitats much like their native haunts. This really is the best way to experience these fascinating creatures without venturing into the jungle.

Sturgis is a short northbound drive up the I-90, roughly 30 miles from Rapid City. This town has a reputation for knowing how to have fun, as evidenced by being the site of the annual Sturgis Rally, which is a multi-day event devoted to the glorification of all things related to motorcycles. The event has been running for nearly 70 years, with races and bike shows, and draws hundreds of thousands of attendees. During the summer, the Fort Meade Cavalry Museum is open to the public, and showcases the brave men who served with distinction at this historic post.

The town of Whitewood awaits you 6 miles north on the I-90, and with a population of less than 1,000 people, if you’re looking to get away from it all and get back to nature, this is the place for great South Dakota camping. Belle Fourche, famed for being the Geographic Center of the Nation, is situated 10 miles to the north of Whitewood, via Highway 34. This is one of those towns that seems lost in a more pleasant, simpler time, when we didn’t have to lock our doors and live behind fences. If you spend any time here on this last one tank trip stop, you’ll find that the people are warm and friendly, and will greet you like an old friend.

When you’re ready, the return trip to Spearfish is a short 10-mile cruise on the southbound US-85, but why not spend some time with the new friends you’ve made in Belle Fourche, the town from another time?

Other Area Sponsors in South Dakota:
South Dakota Dept of Game, Fish & Parks
KOA-Rapid City
Chris’ Camp
Crooked Creek
KOA-Mount Rushmore
Rafter J Bar Ranch Camping Resort

Planning a South Dakota camping trip? Don’t miss these other great routes on one tank of fuel:
2009 South Dakota One Tank Trip
2008 South Dakota One Tank Trip

See a list of Woodall’s Recommended South Dakota RV Campgrounds.

For a complete list of one tank trip camping routes, go to

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