Disclosure: I participated in the All American RV Blogger tour. This event was partially sponsored by Access RV, Austin Minnesota Jellystone Camp Resort, Bulu Box, Bus Bank, CVS/pharmacy, Eagle Creek, Insightly, KOA Campgrounds, Mall of America, Murphy USA, South Dakota Tourism and USA 5 Star. This campaign and tour was organized by Me Network. Bloggers on the tour were responsible for all expenses not covered by sponsors.
We woke up to a beautiful overcast morning at the Mt. Rushmore KOA campground. The KOA was providing biscuits for breakfast. After quite a few days of carb-heavy breakfasts, though, we were hungry for a more robust meal. We decided to cook breakfast in the motorhome. My husband whipped up a tasty skillet breakfast with eggs, sausage and hash browns.
After breakfast, I did the dishes and we cleaned up the motorhome and dumped the wastewater tanks.
We noticed that our campground hookups included cable television too. We weren’t getting a very good television signal with the RV’s built-in antenna, so we figured we’d try the cable once we came back from our day.
Everyone boarded a bus from our campground (provided for us by the PR team) to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. Today’s schedule had our group visiting Mt. Rushmore from 10:00am-12:00pm, returning to the campground to make lunch, and then spending 2:00-4:00pm at the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Our kids were very excited about visiting Mt. Rushmore. I hadn’t been here since childhood, and my husband had never visited the memorial either. The memorial’s entryway is lined with flags from the 50 United States. The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are visible above the flag gateway:
Unfortunately, our morning at Mt. Rushmore was a foggy one. Our children were a little disappointed at their views of “Mt. Fogmore”:
What can you do while waiting for the fog to lift? There are plenty of things to see and do at the memorial, including some interesting museum exhibits detailing the construction of the monument.
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson was responsible for introducing ice cream to America? You can purchase ice cream at the memorial made with Jefferson’s original 1780 recipe.
One of the park rangers also told us about the Junior Ranger program available at the memorial too. Children ages 12 and under can pick up a guidebook and complete activities in it to earn a badge pin.
Our boys were excited about this, and completing the book required them to fill in the answers to many questions about the history of the monument, sculptor Gutzon Borglum, and the monument’s construction process. They hunted for answers by reading the museum exhibits and displays, then filling in their guidebooks.
Upon completing the guidebook, a park ranger reviewed it, then swore the boys in as Junior Rangers of Mt. Rushmore! They loved this. They had to repeat an oath promising to protect and honor our national memorial. Then, they each received a badge pin:
We also had the option to present their completed guidebooks in the gift shop and purchase a fabric patch version of this badge for $1.99 for the boys’ scout uniforms, which we did. While we were waiting in line in the gift shop, we also spotted this whimsical book:
“Who Pooped in the Black Hills?” I couldn’t wait to find out.
My husband said, “I see that we’ve raised the bar for books at national parks… forget about those boring, fact-filled books!” I argued that this undoubtedly was a fact-filled book! Just look at it.
Unfortunately, none of the other members of my family seemed nearly as interested in finding out who pooped in the Black Hills as I was, and we left it on the gift shop shelf. As noon approached, we headed outside to see if our view of Mt. Rushmore had improved:
Not so much. At least we could see the faces a bit now! There was a general sense of disappointment among our group, though. We were due to return to our buses at noon.
The buses were going to take us back to our campground (6 miles away) wait while we all made lunch at our campsites, then take us to the Crazy Horse monument (about 9 miles away.) Quite a few of us asked if we could simply stay at Mt. Rushmore through the two-hour lunch time slot, get lunch on our own at one of the food stands there, then head to Crazy Horse. We really wanted to wait and see if the sun would come out and lift the fog at Mt. Rushmore.
We were told that this was not an option, and so we all boarded the buses and headed back to our KOA campground. And, less than five minutes after we pulled away from the memorial, the sun did come out, the fog lifted, and we were all straining out the bus windows for a view of our Presidents. We returned to our campsite and made lunch. Our PR team invited the kids to come to their RV and pick up a surprise that the Mall of America had sent along with them:
Patrick Star plush toys! As you can imagine, the kids in attendance were thrilled with these gifts. As the PR team opened all of the boxes sent from the MOA, they realized that not only did the Mall of America send a Patrick for every child on the tour — they’d also sent a Patrick for every person on the tour.
Well, Mr. Cataldo and I are also big fans of SpongeBob, and we each picked up a Patrick Star too. When all of the adults who wanted a Patrick had one, there were still Patricks left over.
The PR team offered additional Patricks for siblings or family members who didn’t come on the tour. And so, a fifth Patrick Star came home with us for our daughter.
I also went to the KampStore to purchase a coax cable in an attempt to connect the cable tv to our RV. And what else would proud Chicagoans watch over lunch when there’s a Sunday afternoon Blackhawks playoff game on?
After lunch, we enjoyed about an hour of the Hawks game while our sons went to investigate some of the pedal toys at the KOA campground. KOAs are known for their extra amenities, and the Mt. Rushmore KOA has a variety of quad bicycles, recumbent bikes and pedal go-karts to rent.
Rental fees were waived for our blogger group, which meant that our boys could go cruising around the campground’s many trails, paths and bridges as much as they liked.
This was a good thing, as these usually rent for $6 per half-hour and $10 per hour. If you have children around our kids’ ages, I honestly don’t know how you could keep them off these. They’re ridiculously fun. (Yes, I took one of theirs for a spin around the campground too! The seats adjust to fit a child or an adult.)
At 2:00 we boarded the buses again to head to Crazy Horse monument. When we arrived, our PR team realized most people were upset about not having enough time at Mt. Rushmore. They asked how long we collectively wished to spend at the Crazy Horse monument. I was glad that they gave us an opportunity to share our input this time. Everyone in our group agreed that one hour would be enough time, as it has a smaller exhibit area. We were told to return to the buses at 3:00, and we headed out to enjoy the monument and museum.
Crazy Horse Memorial is a monument in progress. It’s dedicated to Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, and unlike Mt. Rushmore, it is privately funded and is not a national memorial. Construction began in 1948, and to date, Crazy Horse’s face and a portion of his arm has been completed. When completed, it may become the world’s largest sculpture. In the above photo, a model of what the sculpture will look like at completion is silhouetted against the mountain.
There is also a museum at the monument where you can learn about Native American culture, the history of the monument and its construction.
For a donation, you may take a souvenir piece of granite that has been blasted off the Crazy Horse monument. This, not surprisingly, was one of our kids’ favorite souvenirs. We returned to the campground shortly after 3:00pm and decided to go exploring. And what better way to see the area than on a quad bike?
The campground has a small Wild-West town themed area with an ice cream parlor, waffle house, pizza place, laundromat and livery stable. Unfortunately, the only thing that was open during our stay was the laundromat, but I think it would be very convenient to have all of these things available to you while staying on property. They also have paddle boat rentals to use in a small pond within the campground, also operating in-season.
In addition to a swimming pool, the campground has a cool waterslide built into the side of a hill. There’s also a gold-panning station (for pyrite) that operates in-season. (Note the large cabins on the top of the hill – these are available for rental too.) While we were out riding, the KOA staff left a complimentary bundle of firewood at our campsite. (A bundle of firewood normally costs $5.80 at this campground.) We decided to continue exploring the property and headed to the mini golf course.
Mini golf was free and cute, and our kids had fun with the various challenges on the course:
My husband remarked, “I’ve never seen a mini golf hazard like this one before.” (If only they had let me get that “Who Pooped in the Black Hills” book! I could have identified what kind of animal liked mini golf a little too much…)
After mini golf, we headed to a tent for dinner provided by the KOA’s on site Ponderosa Restaurant. (I don’t believe there’s any relation to the Ponderosa chain.) We had roast beef, mashed potatoes, corn and cake for dessert, and everything was tasty.
After dinner, we were scheduled to have a campfire and S’mores as a group. However, now that we had our own firewood (and we also had S’mores supplies provided by CVS/pharmacy) we decided to skip the group campfire and go back to Mount Rushmore. We were still feeling the disappointment of not being able to see the monument earlier in the day, and we were camping less than ten minutes away from it. We returned to the camper, disconnected our RV’s hookups and headed over to the memorial again.
As it was off-season and after 7:00pm, the memorial was not collecting parking fees. We parked and headed in for a much better view of the grand Mount Rushmore:
I cannot fully express in words how beautiful Mount Rushmore is in person. It’s breathtaking. I remember seeing it as a child and being in awe of how beautiful it is. My boys, ages 6 and 9, were also completely enamored with the monument. Usually dual bundles of energy who chatter nonstop, both were humbled and silent walking into the memorial and looking at the monument. “That is amazing,” one said. And it truly is.
We timed our visit so that we would be at Mount Rushmore for the sunset. During the tourist season, the grandstand below the monument fills with people waiting for the nightly lighting ceremony, where a presentation with patriotic music and quotes from our presidents is featured before the monument is lit with spotlights. As this was the off-season, there was no presentation, but the monument was still lit up at sunset. I believe that if you have the opportunity to visit Mount Rushmore, you owe it to yourself to view it both in the day and in the night. It’s spectacular at night too:
As darkness fell, we visited the gift shop again. We had decided that we wanted t-shirts and some souvenirs from the memorial. We each chose a shirt, and we picked one up for our daughter too. The boys chose leather necklaces with an arrowhead in the center, and they picked out a geode necklace for their sister too.
The boys also wanted to get a bag of rocks (don’t laugh – you will see these “choose your own stones” bins of tumbled rocks all over the local gift shops!)
After we left Mount Rushmore, we drove up and parked on an overlook where you can view a side profile of George Washington:
George is definitely worth a stop. You get such a neat view of him from the side. The boys thought so too! We stood outside admiring George’s profile for a few minutes, then returned to the campground. We enjoyed our own campfire, complete with S’mores.
After S’mores, we headed to the KOA showerhouse to take showers before bed. I forgot to take a photo of the showerhouse at the last KOA we stayed at, but it was very clean and modern — as this one was too.
If you’re wondering why we didn’t simply take showers in the RV, there’s a reason. Our RV certainly had a roomier shower stall than most motorhome bathrooms that I’ve seen, but the hot water tank is still relatively small. You’re looking at about a 5-8 minute shower at best before your hot water runs out. We all felt like taking long, hot showers, and the showerhouse was just the place for that.
We put the kids to bed, and then I headed to the KOA’s laundromat to do a load of laundry.
Despite the sign, there were dryers that cost .50 for the entire drying cycle. So, $2.50 later, we had a large load of clean laundry. Other bloggers were at the laundromat too, and I smiled when I saw what they were using for laundry baskets. I’d used the same thing — our freebie KOA and Mall of America reusable shopping bags.
Another bonus: While the KOA’s wifi connection was barely there in the campsite area, it was strong and steady in the laundromat. I worked on my blog and wrote deal posts into the night while my laundry agitated and tumbled.
With each day’s trip report, I’m going to provide an exact list of expenses — what it cost us, and what it would cost to do an identical trip without sponsorship. Obviously, there will be areas where you could tweak or adjust expenses to suit your family’s needs and budget, but I’m trying to be as thorough as possible in detailing all of the costs of this trip. For instances in which I do not know the exact costs of a particular item, I’m estimating what the cost would be.
|What it cost our family of four||What it would cost your family of four|
|Mt. Rushmore admission is free. Parking at Mt. Rushmore: $0.00||Mt. Rushmore admission is free. Parking at Mt. Rushmore: $11.00|
|Mt. Rushmore gift shop: Two Junior Ranger fabric patches: $4.20||Mt. Rushmore gift shop: Two Junior Ranger fabric patches: $4.20|
|Five Patrick Star plush toys from the Mall of America: $0.00||Five Patrick Star plush toys from the Mall of America ($24.99 each): $124.95|
|KOA KampStore – 25-foot coax cable: $8.43||KOA KampStore – 25-foot coax cable: $8.43|
|KOA pedal toy rental – $6 per half-hour, $10 per hour: $0.00||KOA pedal toy rental – $6 per half-hour, $10 per hour: $20.00 (two go-karts for one hour)|
|Crazy Horse monument admission: $0.00 Crazy Horse admission prices are: $11.00 per person $28.00 per carload Age 6 and under are free||Crazy Horse monument admission: $28.00 Crazy Horse admission prices are: $11.00 per person $28.00 per carload Age 6 and under are free|
|Crazy Horse souvenir granite rocks: $2.00 (donation)||Crazy Horse souvenir granite rocks: $2.00 (donation)|
|KOA quad bike rental – $6 per half-hour, $10 per hour: $0.00||KOA quad bike rental – $6 per half-hour, $10 per hour: $10.00|
|Dinner provided by KOA’s on-site Ponderosa Restaurant (catered, approx. $10 each): $0.00||Dinner provided by KOA’s on-site Ponderosa Restaurant (catered, approx. $10 each): $40.00|
|KOA firewood bundle: $0.00||KOA firewood bundle: $5.80|
|Mt. Rushmore souvenirs: (Total: $79.05) Mt. Rushmore women’s flag shirt for me: $11.49 Mt. Rushmore boys’ flag shirts for our sons: $8.00 each ($16.00) Mt. Rushmore men’s t-shirt for my husband: $8.50 Mt. Rushmore women’s logo t-shirt for our daughter: $14.99 Geode necklace for our daughter: $6.99 Arrowhead necklaces for our sons: $4.99 each ($9.98) Bag of polished rocks: $6.99||Mt. Rushmore souvenirs: (Total: $79.05) Mt. Rushmore women’s flag shirt for me: $11.49 Mt. Rushmore boys’ flag shirts for our sons: $8.00 each ($16.00) Mt. Rushmore men’s t-shirt for my husband: $8.50 Mt. Rushmore women’s logo t-shirt for our daughter: $14.99 Geode necklace for our daughter: $6.99 Arrowhead necklaces for our sons: $4.99 each ($9.98) Bag of polished rocks: $6.99|
|One night stay at KOA Mt. Rushmore: $0.00||One night stay at KOA Mt. Rushmore: $64.88|
|KOA laundromat (one load wash and dry): $2.50||KOA laundromat (one load wash and dry): $2.50|
|Today’s total: $96.18||Today’s total: $400.81|
|Total to date: $777.33||Total to date: $4959.34|
Disclosure: I participated in the All American RV Blogger tour. This event was partially sponsored by Access RV, Austin Minnesota Jellystone Camp Resort, Bulu Box, Bus Bank, CVS/pharmacy, Eagle Creek, Insightly, KOA campgrounds, Mall of America, Murphy USA, South Dakota Tourism and USA 5 Star. This campaign and tour was organized by Me Network. Bloggers on the tour were responsible for all expenses not covered by sponsors. Hashtags: #EpicRVBloggerTour #drivingBusBank #grouptravel #LovinMurphyUSA #MOARocks #AustinJellystone #EagleCreekAdventure #BuluBox #MiddleburyKOA #CVSOnTheGo #CVSconvenience #travelsd #exploresd #getinsightly #MtRushmoreKOA #KOAadventure #sponsored