For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to visit South Dakota. That may sound shocking, and may even take a few of you by surprise, but I have always been enamored by the landscapes and history that makes up the Black Hills region of South Dakota. I have been trying to plan a trip here for years, so when the opportunity presented itself from Travel South Dakota, even in the dead of winter, we jumped at the chance. So, earlier this month (mid January) we made our way to Rapid City for what was the beginning of a weekend full of hiking and adventure, and the very best food and breweries that South Dakota has to offer.
We arrived late night to Rapid City and checked into the Hotel Alex Johnson, right in the heart of downtown Rapid City. Before calling it a night we walked a few short blocks to Murphys Pub and Grill where we were chatted up by locals as we got our first taste (literally) of South Dakota by sharing their famous meatloaf. We had been told that Rapid City was a foodie paradise and if you ever happen to wander into Murphys, have the meatloaf.
That night we set our alarms for early in the morning to get in our first steps on the trails here in South Dakota. We made our way to the Badlands that morning to watch the sunrise over the Badlands Overlook, just a short distance from the Northeast Entrance. It was surely cold, but we knew that the early morning alarm clock and below freezing temps would both be worth catching the first light and color of the morning over the pinnacles and plains. Next up we made our way to the Notch Trail and then down a dirt road to Sheep’s Mountain Table before heading back in and through Interior. We couldn’t resist a quick stop for some much needed coffee and the famous donuts from Wall Drug before heading back to Rapid City.
With our early morning start, we were able to enjoy much of the afternoon in downtown Rapid City where we set off on a mini brewery tour through town. Being from Oregon, I consider myself a beer and brewery connoisseur and I couldn’t wait to try some of the recommended and raved about craft breweries here in South Dakota. First stop on this mini tour was Firehouse Brewery, the oldest in all of South Dakota. We had gotten lucky with some nice weather on this trip, so they graciously opened up the patio for us as we tried a flight of beers, one of which is made from a recipe from Teddy Roosevelt himself. Next up was Hay Camp which is fairly new on the scene in SD and I would put this brewery in one of my top all time favorite breweries and beers too. In chatting up the bartender I learned that much of the materials used in the construction and decor came from a local homestead. They’re also a small batch brewery, putting them up there in my ranking due to their sustainability model. They had a sour on tap that I even got to go in one of their 32 oz to order cans. Our last stop was Lost Cabin, a place that everyone seemed to rave about and the Bruce Banner American Pale Ale was the perfect way to end this short brewery tour through SD, knowing that I would be back for more.
One of South Dakota’s best-kept secrets is Terry Peak. Upon making my way to South Dakota I mentioned that we would be skiing which seemed to take people by surprise. I was told, “I hope you brought your XC skis,” to which I replied… “actually, there is a ski resort in town where you can downhill ski.” Terry Peak is a ski resort located in Lead and offers the highest lift service between the Rocky Mountains and the Alps. There are four chairlifts, and you can ski at elevations from 5,900 to 7,000 feet. We just also happened to be so lucky that there were a few inches of fresh powder and even some fresh flakes that were falling on us on our first few runs. I hadn’t strapped on skis in four years and I couldn’t have been happier with the service and overall atmosphere at Terry Peak. It was exciting, also comforting to see all kinds of skiers and snowboarders on the mountain, ranging in all different ages and skill levels. We got in dozens of runs and stayed until the last of the lifts going up before ending the day at Sled Haus for burgers and brews. That evening we stayed at the coolest cabin in the mountains, Sheep Hill Chalet. This is one place we wished we could have spent more time at. After a day of skiing it was the perfect place to unwind with a glass of wine, fireplace and decor that is reminiscent of the history and culture of South Dakota.
The next day we were all set to explore through Custer State Park, and of course I couldn’t resist hiking to South Dakota’s highpoint, Black Elk Peak. There are a few different ways to get to the top of Black Elk Peak, and with the snow we decided to take Trail 9 from Sylvan Lake. Bummer that we didn’t get to take Trail 4 which has different spurs and trails leading to Little Devils Chair and the Cathedral Spires, but that leaves us something to look forward to when we return! The trail was well packed with snow as we made our way up to the peak. From Trail 9, Black Elk Peak is 3.5 miles and about 1,500 feet of elevation gain. We started out in snowshoes but ultimately ditched them for micro spikes even though the trail was well maintained and not too slick. As we made our way up we enjoyed expansive views of the spires within the park. From the top we could see clear views on what was a sunny day as we ran into some locals and talked about how much we were loving our time in South Dakota.
The next day was the grand finale, a Women Who Hike group hike with Merrell in Spearfish Canyon. Before making our way to that hike, we stopped off to check out the frozen waterfalls and caves off the side of the highway, known as Community Caves. It was my first time visiting frozen waterfalls. As we made our way to our meeting spot for our big hike, women were already there waiting for our arrival. When we announced this hike there was a lot of excitement that we were coming here, and that was evident as we pulled into the parking lot, one hour before our start time. One thing that was evident from the start to the end of this trip was how much people love living here, the pride of South Dakota. It may have been cold when we visited but these places and these people we had met throughout out trip made it all seem so warm, and inviting. 45 women made the trip to Spearfish Canyon as we hiked in fresh power and sunshine on the Iron Creek Trail. We each kept at our own pace, splitting off in smaller groups along the way before getting back together again on our way back to the parking lot. These few group photos we took show the joy and togetherness we were able to experience in South Dakota. Before we took left Spearfish, some of our group made one last stop down to Spearfish Falls before saying goodbye to one another and heading back home. This was by far one of my favorite group hikes that I have ever hosted, and we had women join us from all over the state, and also out of state, coming from places like Wyoming, Minnesota, and North Dakota.
All Photos By Elisabeth Brentano
This trip was sponsored by Travel South Dakota