It probably goes without saying that I have traveled a lot. That doesn't mean that I have been everywhere - there are a million places I have yet to experience... and my life goal is to see everything (a girl has to have goals, right?). Traveling the US remains my favorite thing to do. There is SO much here that inspires awe.
If you've been following our Instagram for the last 2 weeks, you've gotten glimpses of the awesome things my family has been up to during our summer vacation. I won't give you the play by play; but, I am absolutely going to tell you about the most memorable experience of this trip, which also ranks in my Top 3 Favorite Travel Experiences!
The Mount Rushmore State
The first week of our trip was spent with family and friends in Northwest Iowa, where I grew up. The second week was the week for exploring South Dakota. I grew up near the South Dakota border and have fond memories of The Badlands, Mount Rushmore, The Black Hills, and more. Since my kids are old enough to now enjoy (sort of) National Parks vacations, I decided this was the year we would get a taste of my childhood favorites!
An Ounce of Planning...
As a travel planner, you'd think I would have these awesome itineraries for family trips. You would be so wrong! My personal style involves a lot of "winging it." I usually have an idea of the things I want to do, book a couple things in advance and leave the rest up to the fates. This has been such a weird travel year with all the COVID stuff and I've had to be extra diligent in planning client trips to be sure I know what's open and not. Turns out, I should have applied this to our own trip; but, yeah, I didn't. My oldest daughter (Layla, 12 yrs old) rides horses and loves being around horses, so we had planned to dip a good bit south from our main route in order to visit Hot Springs, SD and more specifically, the Wild Horse Sanctuary.
Oh! Happy Accident
Layla was anxiously awaiting the morning we would wake up, leave Wall, SD, and head straight to the Horse Sanctuary. We were all excited by the time we were nearing the Hot Springs exit. We had even gotten drive-through lunch in Rapid City to ensure we would have the most amount of time possible at the Sanctuary. We are off the interstate, on the road, finally see the sign, start driving up the long dirt road...and see a CLOSED for the season sign.
Disbelief. This can't be. we continue on the road and about a mile later we see the gate and it's open! Fingers Crossed. Keep driving slowly forward on the dirt road....and then a man rolls up in his truck, we all pull to the side and start having a great conversation. It's in that moment a very happy accident occurred. First, we we told the sanctuary closed to tourists last year (queue disappointment). Second, he was really helpful and told us so many great things about the sanctuary and the area that we would have never learned. Third, we asked about the nearby Cascade Falls and he said it was a cool swimming hole!
We left the horse sanctuary a good bit bummed. After all, we had come to this town specifically for the Horse Sanctuary; but, we decided to make the most of it and had an incredible day journeying through ALL of Wind Cave National Park, to find the wild Bison herd (we did it, by the way). We would have never had the time for this long adventure if we'd spent the day at the Horse Sanctuary. It was super cool; but it's not even the best part.
The Experience of a Lifetime
The kids kept asking about the swimming hole and I was just so tired I really didn't want to go. BUT - after checking into the hotel and getting some food in our bellies, I reluctantly said "ok." The kids REALLY wanted to go, so let's do it! We hopped in the car and went back to the swimming hole. It had been pretty calm at the swimming hole when we passed earlier in the day; but, by 4:30pm(ish) when we got there... it. was. Hopping! The weather was perfect- sunny, hot, clear skies. We chuckled at the warning signs - apparently poison ivy and rattlesnakes have been a big enough problem that they had to put up signs about them.
Swimming With The Locals
There may have been a lot of cars in the parking lot; but it didn't feel crowded at all at the swimming hole. Lots of families swimming with their kids and picnicking on the bank. Probably the most fun was the cliff that everyone was jumping off of into the cool water. we did it over and over and over again. The water had several section of cascades that were fast moving but not so treacherous that you couldn't walk or sit in them. What was so impressive to me was the absolute clarity of the water. I could not touch bottom in the main part of the swimming hole; but, I could see all the way to the bottom. It was free of trash and debris and just an absolutely amazing time.
The kids had a BLAST and we were so refreshed from the cool, natural water. There were a couple sections above each set of cascades that were shaped like bowls and perfect for just sitting in to cool off. The lower one was shaped exactly like a hot tub and even though the water was anything but hot, the kids enjoyed calling it their "hot tub.
I'd say we stayed for about an hour and a half before the sun started to get lower in the sky and it started to cool off. With the craziness of the world right now, it was pure bliss to enjoy some truly old fashioned fun as a family. Endless giggles, moving our bodies, fresh air, and scenery that takes your breath away. Nothing could be more perfect and that makes this one of my Top 3 Favorite Travel Experiences.