As they say, “life’s about the journey not the destination”, right? Well, that is exactly how a spectacular road trip is accomplished also! Road trips, like many things in life, will be what you make them and no two will ever be the same. It goes with that old saying, “To each their own.” People enjoy different types of places and things and have their own preferences on how to get there as well as where to stay along the way. Some fly, others drive, and a few of us ride! As for accommodations out on the road, some look for the nearest Hilton hotel while others find the cheapest motel closest to the interstate, and a few of us just camp out wherever it happens to be convenient.
Myself, I change my road trip style with every mile. It just so happens my better half does too! Somewhere around the 4th of July this year we were having our morning coffee down by the lake and Travis decided he wanted to take a 3 week motorcycle adventure up through Canada into Alaska. We live in Wisconsin USA and this would be around a 6000 mile excursion! I was born ready for damn near anything so it took all of 30 seconds for me to agree with the plan. A pot of coffee later we had dates picked and were looking at the atlas.
Little did we know then what an extraordinary whirlwind of experiences we were signing up for and how much this motorcycle trip would morph into the vacation of a lifetime.
The original idea was to load up the bikes and head north to Alaska. By the time we rolled out of the driveway 5 weeks later we were in a fully loaded van hauling an enclosed trailer and headed west across the US to Idaho and then Montana where we would eventually leave the van behind and pack the bikes for a 2 week tour through the Canadian Rockies, or wherever the road happened to take us.
When crossing the upper half of the US via highways there are 3 main options, I-90, I-80, and I-70. Each are within an hour of one another as far as travel time to your destination if you are leaving from Wisconsin and they are all equally flat and boring for several hundred miles because the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas just don’t have much scenery to offer along the routes. We opted for I-90 through South Dakota because I just love rolling through the Black Hills and it happened to be Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Week!
Interstate 90 is infamous for a few things through South Dakota due to some geological phenomenons, national monuments, and national parks that bring so many tourists through each year. Somewhere in Minnesota you will begin to see the neverending string of billboards for such places as Wall Drug, Murdo Classic Car Museum, The Corn Palace, Wonderland cave, Petrified Forest, Reptile Gardens, Mt Rushmore, 1888 Old West Town, The Badlands, and many other things.
We pulled into a rest area a few hours shy of the South Dakota border and decided our accommodations for the 1st night on the road would be the back of the van and public toilets and sinks. We parked next to the semis and crawled in the back for a nap. After a good 4 or 5 hours of sleep we rolled out of our bed, brushed our teeth, and began rolling down the road again.
Our plan had been to drive to Idaho before any major stops and as typical road trips go that plan changed in the 1st 10 hours. I had been napping a bit as Travis was driving along and he decided that we should stop in Sturgis and camp for a night. I couldn’t have been more thrilled with this plan! Soon we were rolling a 1978 BMW R100/7 out of the trailer and I was riding across the plains of South Dakota being followed by a giant white van. We went several miles and then switched driving positions I hopped in the van Travis through a leg over the bike and we arrived in Sturgis around 3 P.M.
I’ve been a Rally goer since 1997 and always make my home for the week at a place called Hog Heaven. Sturgis, being the largest bike rally in the states, has no lack of camping options and or hotel/house rental options. Most campgrounds offer some type of entertainment throughout the week and showers, food, and other services. Hog Heaven is conveniently located ½ a mile out of town behind the Sturgis/ Jackpine Gypsies raceway. During the rally it is not unusual to come back to camp finding that a Hillclimb or flat track race is going on.
The campground has a bar, Hangover Heaven, and live music each night. There is a huge very clean and warm shower facility where you can get coffee starting at 5 A.M. each morning. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner can be had right on sight at 2 different locations and if you happen to forget any necessities they can be found at the camp convenience store where you can also take your laundry and drop it off to be washed and folded for $10.00. Needless to say it is quite a nice place to call home for a few days each year! Not to mention it is under $200.00 for an entire week!
Now that you know where to stay if you venture to the Sturgis Rally, let’s talk about where to ride! As I mentioned there are endless attractions in the Black Hills, there are also several extremely scenic roads to ride. The top 5 on my must do list are Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway, Vanocker Canyon, Spearfish Canyon, and Highway 385.
Iron Mountain Road is located just south of Keystone and just north of the Mt Rushmore national monument, approximately 45 minutes from Sturgis. This road starts out by taking you up a pigtail curve across giant wooden sided bridges where you are able to look back down at where you just came from. Round and round you go until you come to the top where you ride through several short 1 lane tunnels, a few have a great view of Mt Rushmore perfectly framed out as you pass through. Then just when you think the road can not get any better it splits off into single lane curvy heaven through the forest before reaching a summit with spectacular views of the hilltops and rock peaks, on a clear day you can see for miles from each of the pullouts. Along the entire stretch of road there are hiking trails and it is very common to see buffalo roaming around and crossing the road.
If you make a right when Iron Mountain Road comes to a T, you end up in Custer Park where you pay $10.00 to either drive the Wildlife loop road or take Needles Highway. I highly recommend both but since wildlife isn’t guaranteed to be out and about and curves with scenery never disappoint I’d head for Needles Highway. This 16 mile stretch of road winds up down and around through tunnels and forest until reaching the Eye of the Needle. You find yourself standing in the center of larger than life rock walls pointing high into the sky. The end of the highway brings you to Sylvan lake where there is a park office and gift shop along with a lake to swim in and trailheads to hike to even more fascinating places. During the rally there is a burger and beer stand in the parking lot for you to stop and enjoy since there is nowhere on the entire route for food or drinks.
Spearfish Canyon and Vanocker Canyon both offer a smooth winding beautiful look at some of the black hills finest rivers, waterfalls, and backcountry. Excellent pavement, great scenery, and a few stops for refreshments and entertainment along the way.
Highway 385 is the main throughway to take you all the way from top to bottom in the hills. Sturgis all the way down to Hot Springs is one of the most eventful scenic main highways in the country. You pass through the famous town of Deadwood where Wild Bill and calamity Jane are buried. Then onto the giant reservoir and dam, twisting and turning all along the way! There are roadside bars, restaurants and winerys every few miles and beautiful countryside.
We enjoyed every one of these roads in the 24 hours we were there and put on a touch over 400 miles doing so. The first day we pulled into camp and hit the road to Iron Mountain and Needles along with part of 385.
We got up intending to continue on to Idaho deciding we would ride the canyons next time but the van disagreed. We were about 45 minutes from camp on the interstate and the van overheated. A gallon of water and 5 phone calls later we found a shop that would help us out in Spearfish. Well what a coincidence that just happens to be where the canyon begins!
We took it as a sign, unloaded the bike and took a 6 hour tour of the hills while the radiator hose was being repaired in the van. If you ever have any automotive needs in the black hills I suggest you google up Kimbell’s Automotive. On a Friday morning they were more than willing to take a look at our van and arrange their day to get it fixed up and us back on the road! I called them at 8 A.M. and by 3:30 P.M. we were back on the interstate!
Another thing about a great road trip is the unexpected can turn out to be quite a great surprise in the right situation! Vehicle troubles are never what you want out on the road but ours lead to a wonderful day of riding and adventure! This is only the first 2 days of our 18 day adventure! I’ll be blogging more about it at jessieleewr.com and possibly writing more about it here so hopefully you all stay tuned!!! Thanks for riding along! I’m Jessie Lee and you can follow me on Facebook and Instagram @jessieleewr along with my blog!