So, what’s out there anyway?
First, get ready to do a lot of driving. South Dakota, in a lot of ways, is your typical midwestern state. Big. Driving an hour or two to the next thing becomes commonplace. Denver is 6 hours south of Hot Springs, South Dakota. Guess where we flew into?
After Denver International Airport, the next closest is Minneapolis-St. Paul (at 7 hours driving), and then it’s even further. You get used to the long drives pretty quickly, and the scenery in the Black Hills isn’t your typical corn field, corn field, cows, more corn fields.
We spent the whole time in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The area is gorgeous, and it’s easy to fall in love with the rolling hills, covered in a blanket of dark spruce. Though they aren’t technically black, this is where the area got its name. Against the neverending grasslands to the east, and big sky country to the west, South Dakota is right behind Route 66 as far as classic roadtrips.
We stayed in Hot Springs for the duration of the trip, but as you’ll see, we didn’t stay still for very long. Hot Springs is worth a stop, and the town boasts a spruced up main street, with some new restaurants and shops in the past few years. Stop by Big Time Pizza for a delicious (and huge) slice, then wash it down with a cold Baltika. The owners are Russian, and they brought their beer with them!
Save the pizza for afterwards though, otherwise you’ll be too full to walk around. North River Street is arguably “Main Street” in Hot Springs, and it runs right alongside the little Fall River through town. There’s plenty of history in town, and even some great options to stop in for a snack or a little shopping. You’ll need that cold drink or a shop’s air conditioning on those hot summer days. On the opposite side of the river, there’s a little hiking trail, as well as a walkway that follows the water. Stop at Kidney Springs, and have a drink at the water fountain. Supposedly, it’ll heal any ailments you have. Let me know if it works!
Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota
If you have any interest at all in fossils, don’t miss the Mammoth Site! This location was slated for development, when an excavation worker unearthed mammoth fossils in the 1970s. I won’t spoil the whole story, but now the location is a fantastic museum and active archaeological site, and it currently boasts the largest collection of Columbian Mammoth bones in the world!
The whole structure is built around the existing mammoth excavation; as you walk through the building, you can actually watch researchers work, and you’re able to see the fossils just as they were left thousands of years ago. They call this an “in-situ” excavation site, and you’re able to see the fossils exactly as they’ve been unearthed.
If you’re studying anything like this, be sure to look into the Mammoth Site’s programs, as they offer some great options to get in there and do some of the real work. Many of the folks that help dig up the fossils are volunteers and students, and I imagine it’s a great opportunity to get some real experience in the field. Even if you don’t know much about it, there’s something cool about looking down and see mammoth skulls right in front of you!
South Dakota gets hot in the summer, and without a few good places to swim, you’ll have a tough time in the warmer days. While I might miss the ocean when I’m in the middle of the country, the Black Hills have plenty of lakes and creeks to swim in. Right in Hot Springs, there’s Fall River. As it flows down through town, swimming near South River Street isn’t bad, but skip swimming farther upriver. Go a little farther north through town and you’ll see Evan’s Plunge. The Plunge houses a large indoor mineral springs pool. Complete with water slides and a large pool, it’s plenty of fun in the summer, and a great place to cool off. Continue past Evan’s Plunge, follow Cold Brook Ave, and then Evans Street, and you’ll wind up at Cold Brook Lake. Cold Brook is a good spot for swimming, kayaking, fishing, or all of the above. If you’re going to fish, be sure to buy a license, at least for the day ($20 nonresident).
If you’re looking to get outside of town for some swimming, try heading south. Angostura Reservoir has a few places to offload a boat or just go swimming. Get this: Angostura is big enough to mimic the waves of the ocean when it’s windy. Guess I won’t miss the ocean all that much!
A little less well-known is Cascade Falls. Again, drive south of town, take Route 71 until you see a turn off on the right (10 or 11 miles from Hot Springs). Cascade is more of a locals spot, and it’s a good one to check out. The water is cooler, and it’s naturally fed, just a bit farther upstream from the swimming hole. The pool of water at the bottom of the falls is deep enough for some great swimming. Plus, just like any great swimming hole, there’s a spot to cannonball into the water!
For me, Hot Springs brings back some fond memories. Earlier this month was the first time I had been there in 5 years, and I really loved seeing the way things changed and grew. Of course, we really enjoyed spending time with the family too, and I’m excited to finally be writing these posts. I highly recommend visiting the Black Hills, and by the time I’m done with this series, I hope you want to visit too!