Black Hills, South Dakota Trip

Every fall we take a road trip in our Porsche 911S. We prefer the US as they have many more roads than we do and the quality of their roads are so much better. They even pave their forestry roads! And, they have a website that lists their rated National Scenic Byways. If you are looking for great drives just go to the website and pick one. We have been on many of the Scenic Byways over the years.

 

Porsche 911S at Butte lookout
Butte, MT lookout

I have wanted to drive to and see Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota for quite sometime. This year we finally did it. The drive is 1600 km each way from Fernie, BC. We drove 40 minutes over to Alberta and took the back roads from Crows Nest Pass to the US Interstate 5 at Shelby, Montana crossing at Del Bonita, Alberta. There were no cars in front of us the entire way, so I was able to drive the Porsche as it is meant to be driven.

Map directions to Custer

The border crossing guard sees only a few vehicles a day. He said that it was quite a difference from when he was stationed at the Sumas Crossing in the Lower Mainland, BC and he liked it that way. The crossing is so small that he was sitting outside in a chair and talking to me through the passenger window.

If you have not driven the US I-5 from Great Falls to Butte, Mt it is an incredibly scenic drive and wonderful for a high powered sports car. The speed limit is 85 mph (140 km/hr) and it is easy to go faster, much faster as it is a separated 4-lane highway with light to no traffic that goes up and down through the rock canyons of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

 

Butte Montana

We rented a great apartment with a fabulous view of the valley and the city lights in a restored historic apartment building in Butte, Montana. Butte is home of the Anaconda Copper Mine which at one time was the most valuable company in the world. There are a dozen blocks of historical 5-story brick commercial buildings in the downtown area where we stayed. With over 4000 historic structures, Butte is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States.

 

Apartment exterior, Butte, MT. budget slow travel
interior of apartment in Butte, MT. budget slow travel
Apartment view

The Airbnb host recommended several restaurants. We took her advice and went to Casagranda’s Steakhouse. It was an excellent reference. Wednesday night and there was a two hour waiting list but they were able to sit us at the bar which was quite comfortable for us as we had the two chairs at the end of the bar. 

The 12 oz strip loin steak was grilled to perfection. It was medium rare but hot in the middle which is very hard to do. It was so delicious I wanted more and at $22 with soup, salad, a bun and a side it was very affordable. We like beef but don’t eat it that often, maybe once a week. On this trip we actively searched out the steakhouses because the flavour and prices were unbelievable. We had some fabulous dinners.

 

casagranda, butte, mt
Casagranda Bar

The drive from Butte, MT to Custer, SD is just over 900 km on the fast Interstate 90. We were able to make it there in 6.5 hours, what a treat for a driver enthusiast. An hour out of Custer we dropped down onto a secondary road that took us right into Custer.

We lucked out on accommodations. We did a home exchange with a couple that had a restored hotel on main street that is now a 5-bedroom private residence called the Kleemann House. To say it was fabulous is an understatement. I have never seen such a magnificent sympathetic restoration.

 

Kleemann House

Kleemann House exterior night
Kleemann House lobby
Kleemann House bedroom

The Kleemann House was originally built in 1865 as a hotel. By the 1990s it was condemened by the city. A local couple purchased it and restored it. The story goes that the couple had walked by it for several years and had commented on more than one occasion, that someone should restore the historical building. One Easter when the couple walked by on their way to brunch she commented again. Her husband passed her the keys and said, Happy Easter. He had bought the hotel from the city. Over a period of three years the hotel was completely restored using thirty craftsmen. It is stunning. 

Custer, South Dakota

There are bison on each street corner.
Custer Pie Place exterior Black Hills
The Purple Pie Place
Custer Crazy Horse monument
Crazy Horse Monument is just outside Custer

Custer is a wonderful small town with lots of great restaurants and bars. Next to the Kleeman House is the American Veterns of Foreign Wars (VFW). We like to go to VFW for happy hour to meet local people and the drinks are always the cheapest in town. We met a number of people and got the low down on restaurants in town. We got a couple of suggestions. 

Custer Beacon

Custer Beacon eating
Custer Beacon singing

That night we went to the Custer Beacon, a scratch kitchen, craft brewery, wine bar, with live music and friendly staff and patrons. It must be really successful because it is only open four days a week from 4-10pm. The night we went it was packed but we were able to find a table close to the stage. There was Karoake and the singers were very talented. There was also a 21st birthday party and the organizers invited us to have pulled pork sandwiches and birthday cake. We enjoyed ourselves and ate great food.

Pounding Fathers' Restaurant

Pounding Fathers bartender
Pounding Fathers bar menu

Another night we went to the Pounding Fathers Restaurant. This is Custer’s version of semi-fine dining. The entire restaurant was run by a team of Mexican restaurant workers that come up from Mexico for the May 1 to October 1 season. They are under the management of the lady owner who came by and chatted with us. 

I ordered Chateaubriand and it was finished at the table with a fire show that was quite spectacular. The filet must have been 12oz and it was served on a hot salt platter that kept the whole dinner warm the entire time I was eating. It was reasonably priced at $39 for the amount of food, the quality of food and the show.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park overview

Custer is on the edge of the Custer State Park, the 2nd largest state park in the US. The admission is $20 that is good for 7 days, so do it first on your visit to the Black Hills. 

The week after we were there was the annual Bison roundup. It is a whole festival weekend with all kinds of activities. The herd is reduced to 1000 and the excess bison are auctioned off  to make money for the park operations. 

There is an 18 mile wildlife loop road that meanders through the park through Ponderosa Pine forests and open grass plains with bison crossing the road right in front of you.

Custer State Park safari road Black Hills SD budget slow travel
Custer State Park bison Black Hills SD

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore president carvings Black Hills, SD budget slow travel
Mount Rushmore through trees Black Hills
Budget Slow Travel with Mount Rushmore in the background

Carrying on from there on Iron Mountain Road,  Mount Rushmore is only a 30-minute drive on the wonderful winding road that goes around piggy back bridges and through several tunnels. There are impressive peek-a-boo sights of Mount Rushmore from various points on the road to the monument. 

The monument itself is  very impressive. There are great great viewing areas that hold a lot of people. There is an interpretive center, gift shop, ice cream, and a walk to the base of the mountain. The nightly lighting of the carvings is also quite impressive to see. The admission to Mount Rushmore is free and parking in the parkade is $5 for seniors. 

Scenic Byways

Needles scenic highway Black Hills SD

The Needles, Iron Mountain, Spearfish and the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byways are all driver dream highways in the Black Hills around Mount Rushmore. We spent several days driving them and were lucky that usually there was no one in front of us so we got to enjoy the scenic drives to the maximum.

 

Rock tunnel Black Hills SD
Byway rock tunnel Black Hills SD

Deadwood

North of Mount Rushmore about 45 minutes is Deadwood and Sturgis. Deadwood is a lively tourist town. The main strip is full of shops, restaurants, bars and hotels with gambling. Parking on the street is impossible but there are pay parkades that cost $10 for the day. When we were there, there was lots of parking.

Saloon 10 Wild Bill Hickcock

Saloon 10 Wild Bill sitting at table in Deadwood in the Black Hills SD

In Saloon 10, I was in a re-enactment of the murder of Wild Bill Hickcock. The play is held 3-times a day in the saloon where he was murdered. The actor playing Wild Bill looks like his pictures and he captivates the audience with his dialogue. He then picks four volunteers from the audience to be part of the play. I was the bartender in the re-enactment. It was lots of fun.

Deadwood Museum

Deadwood Museum picture Black Hills SD

Deadwood also has an older but interesting museum that I visited. The admission is by donation and there are three floors of information to look at and read about.