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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

Summer of '22 Road Trip to National Parks in South Dakota & North Dakota

Updated: Jun 24

Hiking, Wildlife, Adventures, and Sunsets at Badlands, Wind Cave, and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks & More. Oh, My!

We can't imagine our lives without adventuring in America's beautiful and stunning national parks, We planned our trip in May. We decided to drive to South Dakota instead of flying, We planned our itinerary to our national park no. 25 - Badlands, park no. 26 - Wind Cave, and park no. 27 - Theodore Roosevelt NP in North Dakota.

We drove across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, where gas was $3.99. We drove 12 hours to Joliet, Illinois and stayed overnight at a Motel 6. We left at 5 am the next morning. Not long before we crossed the state line into South Dakota, we got a flat tire on the side of a not-so-busy route 80. This was an adventure on a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon we did not expect. Thank goodness one tire store was open - Square Tire in Sioux City, Iowa An hour and $137 later, we were on our way to the Super 8 by Wyndham in Wall, South Dakota. But first we we made a quick stop at a Walmart in Nebraska, about 10 minutes from the tire store, to buy cage-free chicken, grass-fed beef, and organic dark chocolate.

You might be asking, didn't you eat in restaurants? We didn't eat in restaurants. Because I have eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a rare autoimmune disease of the esophagus, and have a very limited diet that consists of only foods that are free of preservatives, additives, hormones, antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, and insecticides, we ate cage-free boiled eggs, watermelon and pineapple pieces, and shredded cabbage we prepared at home and packed in coolers, and canned sardines in olive oil. We ate in the car and at rest stops, where we switched driving duties every 2 - 3 hours. We drank seltzer, and I drank my medically prescribed Vivonex elemental nutrition.

We arrived at Super 8 by Wyndham in Wall, South Dakota about 10 pm. The next morning we headed out to Badlands National Park, an 11-minute drive from the hotel. The park entrance fee is $30 but if you are 62 and older (which I am), you can purchase a Senior Pass for $20. A Senior Pass is good for a year at any national park. That was the best buy I had made in a long time. We hiked all day, and enjoyed the beautiful sunset, and attended two evening ranger programs. The first program was about ferrets and prairies dogs and the second program was about stars, the galaxy, and the International Space Shuttle, which we actually saw, with our eyes, floating across the beautiful, clear, starlit bright dark night sky.

Before heading to the evening ranger programs, Jon made cage-free chicken and organic beans for dinner in the camp stove we purchased, along with 2 propane canisters we packed in our big Diane Van Furstenberg suitcase. We packed the suitcase with everything we needed. The suitcase was our kitchen. The first night, Jon cooked dinner in the outside eating area of the hotel. The second night, we enjoyed dinner at the Big Foot picnic area in before enjoying another stunning sunset on our last night in Badlands.

We made wonderful memories at Badlands, and a YouTube video. Enjoy.

We headed to Wind Cave National Park, about an hour and 35 minutes from our hotel. Today was our 37th wedding anniversary. As we do upon arrival at every park, we went to the visitor center to get trail maps and my junior ranger book to complete. On this day, we also bought tickets for the 6 pm tour of the natural entrance cave and then we hiked Wind Cave Canyon Trail. Jon made lunch in the picnic area behind the visitor center. And then we went in search of bisons, and came across a stunning herd, adorable pronghorn antelopes, and cute prairie dogs on deserted gravel and dirt roads, and grasslands.

Jon also prepared dinner in the same picnic area to pack to take back to the hotel before we headed to the cave for a cool and very good ranger program on the history and geology of the cave.

We made more wonderful memories at Wind Cave and captured unforgettable sightings of entertaining wildlife roaming free as we stayed in our slow-moving car. Enjoy the video of our day at Wind Cave.

Entrance to Wind Cave NP is free. Compared to other national parks, this one is smaller and attracts a lot of families. and day trippers like us on this day. The next day we took a detour and went to find more adventure and fun. First, we drove to Mt. Rushmore. We paid for parking and I earned my junior ranger patch. Then we went on a drive through the the stunning Black Hills National Forest on our way to Custer State Park and more amazing wildlife. Jon made another delicious dinner at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, where the park entrance fee is $20 and is good for seven days. There is so much to see and do in Custer State Park but we could only enjoy it for a few hours. Another awesome and memorable day. Enjoy the video.

The next day we left Super 8 in Wall, South Dakota and headed to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota, about a 4 and half hour drive. Jon and I shared driving duties as we drove on deserted roads surrounded by flat grasslands, and spacious lands peppered with a lot of bales of hay and majestic mountains. We checked into Microtel Inns & Suites by Wyndham in Dickinson, North Dakota that evening after an afternoon of awesome hiking under the hot sun.

We spent 3 amazing days in Theodore Roosevelt NP. We attended a ranger program about Theodore Roosevelt's cabin. I got sworn in as a junior ranger. We bumped into Miss North Dakota 2022 and Miss Teen North Dakota 2022. We hiked a lot and learned so much. We saw so many bisons, and a herd of beautiful wild horses atop a mountain. Jon made dinner in the picnic areas. And as I did every night while Jon made dinner, I journaled about our awesome days in all of these magnificent and extraordinary national parks and their intoxicating nature and beauty. Enjoy our wonderful memories and educational nature trail videos from our time at Theodore Roosevelt. Never stop learning about nature and the parks.

All of our trips to so many national parks have been wonderful and awe-inspiring. The national parks never disappoint. They are heaven on earth. Our first national park visit was to Grand Canyon in 2010. Our times in the national parks have also provided healing. Nature will do that. In 2018, we hiked in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio three months after Jon was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and a few days before I ran the Burning River 50-mile ultra, which goes through parts of the park.

In 2019, we enjoyed Congaree National Park in South Carolina and Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky before heading to A Race for the Ages (ARFTA), a multi-day ultra in Tennessee. Then in December, we enjoyed Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands national parks in New Mexico, Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, and then Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona before we headed to Glendale, where I ran the Across the Years 48-hr ultra. By then Jon had survived all of his surgeries and radiation but was still getting chemo. Then Covid struck. But we got good news when Jon was declared in remission in May 2020. In 2021, we had more amazing adventures in New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia.

Our time in the parks during Jon's cancer journey inspired me to write an article about the importance of physical activity, hiking, and the healing power of nature and respite in national parks for cancer patients and cancer caregivers. The article is published in Cancer Today.

Three days before we left for South Dakota, we learned Jon's cancer is back. Our time, memories, and adventures in South and North Dakota are especially special. Jon is a cancer patient again, and I'm a cancer caregiver again. It's not our first rodeo. We're moving forward and have plans to head to Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota and Isles Royal National Park in Michigan next summer. We'll drive there. And Jon will cook in our camp stove. And we'll take detours in search of more adventures in healing nature.

By the time we returned back home from our road trip, we had logged close to 5,000 joyful miles. We hope you're inspired to plan your first trip or your next trip to a national park. Thank you for reading our post and watching our videos. Happy Trails!

Our first night sunset at Badlands.
"Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.
Wash your spirit clean." ~ John Muir


I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. Some of our national parks adventures make an appearance in my book. You can order the book exclusively from the Wipf and Stock Publishers website, use code ultrarunning40, and receive a 40% discount. Offer expires 9/3/24. You can also order it on Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble. It's available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and Kindle.

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