Adventure Destination: South Dakota

When adventure travelers think about exotic locations to visit they seldom mention South Dakota. There are plenty of mountain states in the western U.S. that get more attention, thanks in no small part to the higher elevations in the Rockies. But South Dakota can hold its own in terms of rugged backcountry and beat most other locations with the diversity of its terrain.

Make no mistake, the eastern part of South Dakota has little to offer adventure travelers. It is mostly flat, and uninteresting, plains. But travel west, and you’ll come across amazing scenery ranging from the lush and green Black Hills National Forest to the arid and desolate landscapes of the Badlands. In between, you’ll find the iconic Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument, which remains under construction 61 years after work first commenced.

The Black Hills and Badlands offer plenty of activities to keep even the busiest of outdoor enthusiasts occupied. The area recently played host to Primal Quest, a ten-day, 600 mile adventure race, that saw teams trekking, peddling, and paddling their way across the South Dakota backcountry. That means that there is top notch mountain biking, kayaking, and hiking to be had throughout the region, with miles of trails stretching in all directions. Rock climbers will find impressive big walls, while spelunkers and campers will find that their needs are well met too.South Dakota is also home to many diverse species of animals as well. Roaming the region you’ll find plenty of deer, both white tail and mule, elk, coyote, mountain lion, bighorn sheep and more. The state is also home to the elusive, and endangered, black footed ferret as well as the largest remaining herd of buffalo on Earth. For wildlife lovers, South Dakota has plenty to offer as well.

For a better idea of what it’s like in the Badlands, check out the video below.

Five national parks to hit this weekend

Yesterday we mentioned that the National Park Service has waived all entry fees to every national park this weekend, and while that may increase the crowds in places like Yellowstone and Yosemite, there are still plenty of great parks that you can visit that will remain quiet. Here are five suggestions on where to take dad this weekend and still avoid the crowds.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, Badlands National Park offers spectacular scenery and a surprising array of activities to keep you occupied. The windswept landscapes range from towering jagged rock spires and winding canyons to open grasslands and and miles of prairie. The Badlands also contain a huge fossil bed dating back more than 30 million years, giving visitors the opportunity to peek back in time to an era when long extinct animals still roamed the area. Today, the park is home to a large herd of bison, plenty of big horn sheep, and the endangered black footed ferret, amongst other species of wildlife.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
The National Park system is home to one of the most spectacular cave systems found anywhere in the world in the form of Carlsbad Caverns, located in the far southeast section of New Mexico. With its 94 individual caves, carved from the limestone that is prominent in the region, the Carlsbad Caverns are otherworldly in their beauty. The underground labyrinth is filled with narrow, twisting passages as well as large chambers and open passageways. Perhaps the most spectacular is the Big Room, which is 8.2 acres in size, handicap accessible, and well lit with electric lights. The more adventurous will want to sign up for one of the tours that will take them deeper into the Earth, where they’ll make their way with headlamps into seldom visited dark crevasses.Crater Lake, Oregon
Located deep within the Cascade Mountain range, Crater Lake was formed when water from retreating glaciers in the last ice age, filled in the caldera of an extinct volcano. The lake is six miles across and more than 2000 feet in depth, making it the deepest in the U.S. It also happens to sits at the middle of 250 square miles of pristine wilderness that is the perfect outdoor playground. Hikers and backpackers will find plenty to love on the spectacular trails, and SCUBA divers have been known to plunge deep into the lake’s crystal clear blue waters. In the winter, the hiking gives way to skiing and snowshoeing as well.

Congaree, South Carolina
South Carolina is home to the remains of the largest old-growth floodplain forest in North America. Conagree National Park covers more than 22,000 acres and is home to 75 species of ancient trees, earning it a designation as a International Biosphere Reserve. Visitors can stroll beneath one of the world’s highest natural canopies along 20 miles of trail. But to really explore this park you’ll want to break out a canoe or kayak, and paddle deep into the interior. The park offers free guided tours on most weekends, although an advanced reservation is required. Birdwatchers will enjoy Congaree as well, with its plethora of birdlife, and white tailed deer, raccoons, and otters are also frequently spotted.

Great Basin, Nevada
Don’t be fooled by the desert location of Great Basin National Park, it is far from a dry, dead wasteland as many believe. In fact, the park is alive with plants and animals, and is accented by snow capepd Wheeler Peak, which stands over 13,000 feet in height. The best way to explore Great Basin is on foot, and there are plenty of great hiking trails to take you past the parks top attractions, such as the 5000 year old bristlecone pine trees and the six-story tall Lexington Arch Trail. If you do go to Great Basin, be sure to stick around after dark, as the view of the night sky is spectacular, with the Mikly Way on full display.

These are just a few of the many national parks and monuments that will be fee free this weekend. To find others, be sure to head to to checkout the options close to you.

Photo of the Day (4-15-09)

The earth-toned colors and textures first caught my attention in this photo snapped in Panama by captaincartography. They remind me of the Painted Desert in Arizona and the Badlands in South Dakota. Then there are these fabulous boys intent on their dog. Such a simple scene, but captivating.

If you have a shot of a scene that caught your interest in your travels, send it our way at Gadling’s Flickr Photo Pool. It might be picked as a Photo of the Day.

More reasons to head to South Dakota: The Black Hills

Catherine’s already told us about South Dakota having the geographical center of the United States. I thought of this last night when a friend was telling me about her road trip by herself to Montana from Ohio. There are many reasons to head here. My friend mentioned the Black Hills and the Badlands as high points. I’ve been through this part of the U.S. a few times myself and can say, it is truly spectacular and worth a trip or two. Both my friend and I said that this is a part of the U.S. to visit more than once. You can’t possibly take in all that’s fantastic in one sweep.

There’s a new blog to help travelers plan out their trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. It’s easy to remember the name of it. The Black Hills Travel Blog is one of those that shines. Here you’ll find info about the attractions, tips, traveler’s tale and features.

I remember after we left Mt. Rushmore (I recommend it. There’s a reason why it’s a National Park), I thought that the area around it would be a fine place to park for a few days of exploring. Nice to know there’s another resource to help plan a trip. This is a slick, well done Web site with lush photos and videos.

South Dakota in Photos

It’s safe to say I don’t really know diddly-squat about South Dakota and I’m not going to waste my time or your time trying to get your tourist dollars into the marvelous state. I don’t get paid for that. Thankfully someone out there does care enough about the state and all its fascinating attractions to do a photo essay on the land. This month at Go World Travel the online magazine features almost all of South Dakota’s note-worthy sights in a very well-done piece by Sheri L. Thompson. Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, the Badlands, the Mammoth Site, Needles Highway, Black Hills National Forest, Wall Drug, and Four Mile Old West Town are all there.

After exploring the photo essay and text I learned a lot more about the area and knew a lot more than I actually gave myself credit for. I wouldn’t mind making a quick jaunt through the area this fall though it’ll probably be very cold. If South Dakota is on your radar visit this Go World Travel piece and the tourism site to start planning your trip now!