South Dakota or Bust!

Planning a family vacation is rough.  Everyone’s needs and wants are trying to be met, and those needs and wants change daily.  I have been busy planning our South Dakota trip and then actually going on that same trip.  We live approximately 12 1/2 hours from the Black Hills area.

We planned on taking our dog and three children, which causes problems with hotels in two regards.  One, three kids puts you in two rooms or a suite; secondly, a dog significantly limits your places to stay and increases your amount.  Seems like either way they get you.  So, I felt that since we have a camper and we could bring our home along with us, why not?  It would save on a hotel and keep our dog comfortable while we went to places he could not accompany us.  Not to mention having the crock pot cooking our dinners!

After much investigating, here is the price break down.  Hotel for all of us was approximately $125 and up.  The lowest being ok places (smells like smoke and kinda not-so-nice-anymore looks).  I am not one to stay in ok places.  Sorry.  Full hookup at a campground with heated pool and playground with wooded sites for keeping the camper cool started at $41 per night.  Since we would be staying for a week, we also received a discount camping rate. Oh, did I mention that we would sleep in our own bedding and use our own towels and shower?  Some things are truly – priceless.  🙂

Our stay was at Beaver Lake Campground, Custer, SD, in the heart of the Black Hills area for $36.00 per night.  We did have to pay $5 extra a night for our third child, which I do not agree on, but it was still cleaner and more affordable than staying at a hotel.

Ok, so now planning the trip out there.  We all know that the map says 12 1/2 hours but when you add in children (3 girls) and a dog, you can easily add 2 hours to that.  We decided not to push it with kids, a dog and a camper, so we would stay half way in Sioux Falls at a state park.  We didn’t feel sleeping somewhere and leaving early morning warranted $40+ for a camp site.  So we chose pretty and affordable. You can rarely go wrong with a state park ($30 State Park sticker but we would be using that many times over the course of our vacation).  We stayed at Big Sioux Recreation area (awesome clean showers and toilets).  It was on the east side of Sioux Falls and close to Falls Park, which was also on our check list to see.

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If an easy and beautiful walk with some very cool falls or some old architecture is enjoyable to you, then this is your place! Stunning red rocks with multiple waterfalls and a few old buildings to explore.  People and dogs are allowed to climb all over the rocks and boulders along with fishing.  Imagine a pretty town park where you can just hang out and picnic, and this is it.  Very enjoyable, but also something you can accompalish in a couple of hours, if need be.

So we were off in the morning after visiting the park and onward to Black Hills.  It was about another 7 hours with bathroom stops and some small picture taking stops.  I have to say that the Black Hills area is faith inspiring.  Some of the scenery is breathtaking and you just could stare at it all day and still not see everything.  Lots of history to soak up also.

I think our gas with our 2004 Yukon (which gets less gas mileage due to being able to tow more than the newer Yukons) was around $700.00 round trip.  This did not include the sightseeing we did with the truck, but the mileage was better due to not towing the camper.  I priced a rental, but again, we could find a low cost rental for touring but it always included some ridiculous security deposit which was held captive until “up to 7 days after returning the vehicle.”  Sorry, we are a family of five who is trying to save money, not lock it up and not earn interest!

Our return drive included staying at an ok hotel at the last minute because my husband was convinced he could drive the whole trip back in a day.  Um, ok.  We ended up staying in a hotel because it was so late we could not find a campground open, nor did my husband want to unpack the camper that late.  This change of plans at the last minute cost us $125.00 plus tax.

The total for the vacation was $1150.00 for 9 nights and 10 days.  Of course, this did not include our sightseeing because that is pretty individualized but I will cover that later anyway.  We all loved the trip and are talking about where else we can go with our camper.  My husband on the other hand, is curious to see pricing on a house rental.  So if anyone has some awesome rates on renting houses, we would love to hear it!

Camping WI State Parks: Door County

We just brought home our camper from storage so camping trips are fresh on my mind.  I usually start thinking about where we are going in January.  Most people, I think, start the year before, lol. Well, when taking a poll of where the kids might want to go, it seems Door County comes up a lot. Door County is the term we use for the whole area in that county because it is a small peninsula out in Lake Michigan.  It is the typical seaside-type area of fishing, swimming and all things outdoors with 300 miles of shoreline.  It is the closest we have to the ocean around here.

Peninsula State Park Bluff in WI

Peninsula State Park, WI

We have checked into several different camp grounds but we like one the best in Sturgeon Bay.  It has a quaint, out-of-the-way feel to it with a pretty wooded area, which is what we like.  We always go in the summer. This particular campground backs up to the Potawatomi State Park.  Right by the camp site we always book there is a bike trail leading into the state park (in the shade!).   There are tons of trees which only let in a sparkle of sunlight here and there.  Beautiful.  The girls love to go fishing here.  It is their favorite place.  I always wondered what they would do if they actually caught a monster fish?  lol.  Also, a cool thing, is the fact that Bald Eagles have been spotted here more and more.  In fact, right over the little island in the picture, you can usually see them diving for fish.  One female Bald Eagle had a nest right by this little island and while the kids fished, I got a couple of pictures of her.

island right off the boat launch

Island right off the boat launch, Potawatomi State Park

 Anyway, there are 5+ state parks on this peninsula.  Each one is more beautiful than the last and all drive-able in one day, if need be.  The hiking trails are quite astounding too.  We tend to take the medium trails because we bring the kids and dog with too.  They all love the hiking trails.  We are usually pretty tired when we get done, but we like the kids to go to bed a little on the early side while camping.  Wink wink.  These little fishing towns are pretty neat.  They are little artisan-types with Fish Creek being our favorite.  It has a cool little pizza place called the Wild Tomato.  Look at that crazy tomato face.  The owner grows some of his own herbs and veggies for the pizzas!  This is truly great pizza (coming from a Chicago girl).  The wood fire crust is over the top with an ice cold beer. We can’t wait.

Wild Tomato Pizza, Fish Creek

Wild Tomato Wood Fired Pizza

All these little towns have something special about them.  There is also a ton to do on the inside of the peninsula.  They actually have a Hands On Art Studio where you can weld your own metal sculpture or create your own stained glass window.  We are doing this when we go.  I am trying the welding.  I would like to create some garden art.  The biggest thing Door County is known for, is the cherries.  We pick up a few jars on the way out of town to make cherry pie when we get a little home sick for Door County.

Another cool thing is PC Junction in Bailey’s Harbor.  It is a concoction of pizza place, ice cream parlor, train depot, sports bar and outdoor pedal cart trail thingy???  It’s a fun place. We usually grab a beer and the kids get ice cream and pedal their little legs off all around the place while we just sit under the apple trees and relax!  I swear, every time we go here, we have to beg the kids to leave.  There is a large maze cut through these pine trees and everyone can just grab a pedal cart and go zooming through them.  They have a huge pig in the middle of the trees in a pen.  Odd place but very “must see.”

PC Junction, Bailey's Harbor

PC Junction, Bailey’s Harbor

Door County also offers fun for our furry friend, Buddy.  He loves to swim and fetch in the water. We found Whitefish Dunes to offer a great beach.  It is a little hike to get to the water, but then everyone is ready to swim!  It is shallow for quite a ways out, which is nice for a great game of fetch.  The dog is pretty exhausted at the end of this week.  He sleeps for  a good 3 days after coming home from Door County.  The first time we made the trip, we thought he got sick from something he was so wiped out! lol.  Vacations are really great for pets too, if you can swing it.

whitefish Dunes Dog Beach

Whitefish Dunes Dog Beach

Another adventure is lighthouses.  There are 11 lighthouses and some can be toured.  The kids really get into comparing them. One year, we did a lighthouse hop and searched for all of them in one week.  That was pretty crazy but we kind of made a scavenger hunt out of it.  Eagle Bluff Lighthouse had a tour and the lighthouse was set up like it used to look.  Neat.

Cana Island, Door County, WI

Cana Island Lighthouse, 1869

We love the quirky things that just seem to be all over the area.  The people are always friendly in a small fishing-village way.  Quaint with a lot of adventure.  It seems every time we get ready to leave Door County, we find other things we did not know about or experience.  It is best to get out and talk to the locals, because those are the people who will help you experience the best things or secretive places.  I am glad we can do these things with our kids because I know they are memories we will never forget and well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

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