To visitors accustomed to the density of an urban world, the wide open spaces of the Black Hills, Custer State Park and other South Dakota tourist areas can be difficult to grasp. Unless you want to spend much of your time driving an hour or more back to a single hotel at the end of a long day, it makes sense to move hotels nightly as you explore the expansive wonder of Western South Dakota.
Sunshine Inn, Wall, South Dakota
After driving nearly 500 miles along Interstate 90 in one day across the plains of South Dakota, exit 110 was a welcome relief. Off the exit lay the world famous Wall Drug, which might be the world’s largest tourist trap. And just beyond the gigantic Wall Drug sits the unassuming Sunshine Inn.
I admit that when we pulled into the lot of this hotel, I wasn’t thrilled. Memories of childhood vacations filled with musty-smelling hotels with lumpy beds, lukewarm showers and skimpy towels flooded my brain.
How wrong I was.
This hotel is affordable and basic, but the beds are comfy, the water is hot, the towels are surprisingly fluffy and the musty smell is nonexistent. While the four of us–two adults and two full-grown teenagers–could have settled into the one room with two beds and felt only a little cramped, we had two rooms, with a convenient connecting door.
The room includes free wifi and a free breakfast. Well, it wasn’t that much of a breakfast. There was a coffee pot, a bottle of orange juice and some pre-packaged mini donuts. (If you really want a donut for breakfast, I recommend heading next door to Wall Drugs. The homemade donuts there are amazingly yummy.)
MainStay Suites, Rapid City, South Dakota
This hotel, just opened in spring 2013, is new and beautiful. There’s a decent-sized indoor pool, and the full breakfast and wifi are both free and included in the nightly price.
The MainStay Suites is nestled among a host of other chain hotels just off of I-90. It’s a short drive into downtown Rapid City, a charming town with at least two terrific restaurants (we ate at the Firehouse and Botticelli’s and loved them both), bronze statues of the presidents and the awesome Outdoor Campus West.
Rustic Ridge Guest Cabins, Keystone, South Dakota
The name might say rustic, but these cabins don’t. We stayed in Cabin 1, Pine Lodge, which offered a small kitchen, wrap-around porch, two baths, first floor bedroom, second floor loft and living room. It had wifi, but we weren’t able to get it to work.
This charming spot is on Highway 16, which is a surprising busy thoroughfare, even at night. It was partly that we visited at the height of the summer travel season and partly that we arrived the week before the huge motorcycle rally in nearby Sturgis, South Dakota. We were a little disappointed to find that the soundtrack to our rustic experience was throaty Harleys zipping by rather than wild animals braying at night.
Still, if we had been able to stay in one place for more than one night, the Rustic Ridge Cabins would have been our choice. It had the space and amenities we would have wanted to feel like we weren’t stepping on one another.
And the charming innkeeper sells s’mores kits for $6 and firewood for the fire pit for $3. Had we the time, that would have been the rustic experience we sought.
Disclosure: The South Dakota Department of Tourism paid for our lodging at these hotels, but the opinions are all my own.