Traveling I-90 through South Dakota

I-90 is an interstate highway that is commonly taken as a way to travel across South Dakota by those traveling to and from the Black Hills..  Over the years, there have many tourist attractions or “tourist traps” as some might say, that have popped up along the roadside to keep the drive a bit more exciting.  We traveled this route on our summer vacation to the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota and there were so many options out there we had time to only hit up a few.

We departed for our trip early in the afternoon so that we would arrive to our night destination-Mitchell, SD at a reasonable hour.  We had reservations to stay at the Mitchell KOA that first night.  During our drive we had to dodge a few thunderstorms and instead of stopping in Sioux Falls for dinner that night we rolled right on through to avoid a thunderstorm.  I scrambled to find a place to eat since amenities and accommodations can be sparse along I-90.  As I googled for places along my route a place called Big J’s Roadhouse right outside of Humboldt, SD rated high and wouldn’t cause much of a detour off of our route.  When we pulled in we weren’t sure what exactly this place was.  On google it had 4.8 stars but to be honest we were questioning if it was actually a dining establishment. There were signs for lodging and for fireworks sales in addition to it serving food.   Was this just a bar or an actual dining establishment.  While John filled up with fuel, I unloaded the girls out of their seats and decided to check it out.  As I approached the front door it was clear this would be where we would enjoy dinner that evening.  The inside atmosphere was very pleasant and was filled with what appeared to be locals.  The service was great and our server made some great recommendations for food options.  I was able to enjoy a cold one with my dinner which I enjoyed since the thunderstorms stressed me out just a bit.  I definitely recommend this place if you are traveling through and want to stop at a local food joint.

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The Corn Palace

We spent our first night in Mitchell and you can’t stay in Mitchell without visiting the World’s Only Corn Palace!  Elsie thought it was pretty cool and it is quite a feat to cover a whole building with murals of corn and other crops.  As we walked up, it was evident that changes to the scene were being made.  This scene was on for two years instead of one and from what I read it was deteriorating.  I don’t think Elsie really noticed though.  Elsie enjoyed the video  on the history of the corn palace, with John and I chased Evie around as she is just go, go, go right now.  As for parking there is as large lot close by for RV parking so just follow the signs and they will get you there.

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The Ranch Store

Further down the road we stopped at the The Ranch Store.  This is located just north of the east entrance for Badlands National Park so if you are headed that way you will drive right on past it.  For $1 we purchased a few bags of unsalted peanuts and the girls enjoyed throwing them out to the prairie dogs at this little location.

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Upon arrival we  purchased a few bags of unsalted peanuts for $1 and the girls enjoyed throwing them out to the prairie dogs at this little location.  They really enjoyed watching them eat and going in and out of their burrows.

 

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This stop didn’t take too long and there were quite a few families there to feed the prairie dogs so we made our way back to the road.  This was a great stop though to get out and stretch our legs and burn some energy.

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Wall Drug

Another stop along I-90 is the ever popular Wall Drug, offering free ice water and 5 cent coffee since 1931.  As you are traveling down I-90, signs advertising for Wall Drug are scattered along the countryside so often that if you want you can play a game to see who can find the most Wall Drug signs first.  John was the winner in our car with over 20 and Elsie came in second.

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Wall Drug is located in Wall, SD just north of the west entrance of Badlands National Park.  We visited after leaving the park and arrived just in time for lunch.  We found a table in the cafe and then got in line to order.  The food was yummy and didn’t take too long.  The menu consists mainly of grill items but also a feature is the Hot Roast Beef Dinner.  After lunch, we wandered around and checked out the “backyard” which came with plenty of photo opportunities.

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There was also a cute little splash pad for the kiddos to play around in.  We chose to avoid this area so we didn’t have to deal with changing clothes mid route but if you planned ahead this would be a great way for them to cool off and burn some energy after riding in the car.

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One of the things I looked forward to the most with this stop is to buy my two daughters each a ring-but not just any ring-rings that match mine.  In 2002, I traveled across I-90 to Yellowstone with a group of good friends.  We stopped at Wall Drug and I bought myself a ring.  I have worn that ring every day since.  Fifteen years later, I was able to get my girls the exact same ring! After 15 years, mine is a bit worn compared to theirs but it is fun (and special) for us to all have the same ring.

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One more photo op before we were on our way west again.

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Murdo Drive-In

Another restaurant that was a hit for the family was the Murdo Drive-In.  Located in Murdo, SD right off I-90 is this little drive-in.  We discovered this joint in Roadfood by Jane and Michael Stern (a book we take whenever we travel) and it was spot on for it’s description.  We had planned to hit up this restaurant for ice cream on the way our west but Evie was napping soundly and didn’t want to wake her up so instead we were able to time it right for lunch on our way back home-which was a wonderful decision.

The food here was delicious!  I opted for one of their hand-pressed burgers made fresh from local beef raised right there in Murdo-it is advertised as grass finished beef if that is important to you.  It was one of the best burgers I have ever had!  Also, something to note is that the portions were pretty large.  The girls could have easily shared a grilled cheese and Elsie’s taco she ordered was one of the largest tacos I have seen! The ice cream was yummy too.  It is soft-serve ice cream and you can get mix-ins if you would like. On their website they state that it may take awhile to get your food once you order and that they are not fast, good but not fast however, we didn’t have too much of a wait.  We were able to sit outside, enjoy our food and not worry if our girls were sitting quietly enough or staying in their seats.  It was the perfect stop after being the truck for a few hours.

Other Ideas

These few things I shared are by no means all of the things you can do to stretch your legs or make the drive across I-90 more interesting (actually we thought the views were interesting enough).  There are so many things to do and places to eat along the way.  Here are a few other options that we didn’t make it to.

  • Falls Park in Sioux Falls:  We visited Sioux Falls a few months back so we didn’t make a stop to Falls Park again on this trip.  I recommend stopping here and exploring a bit.  There are pathways around the falls and a little cafe that serves a few items if you want to grab something to eat.
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Picture of the Falls from April 2017
  • Porter Sculpture Park:  We saw this along the road as we were traveling just outside of Sioux Falls.  It was on my list of places to stop but the timing was just a little off.  This park has giant sculptures that you can explore and is great excuse to get out of your vehicle for awhile.  There is a small admission fee.  You can see the giant bull head sculpture as you are driving along.
  • Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center:  This stop is actually located at the Chamberlain Rest Area.  The center features some exhibits that display the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the area.
  • Original 1880 Town:  This stop is 22 miles west of Murdo.  You can stop and explore the old buildings or if you want, grab your camera, rent a costume for $7 and take some pictures all dressed up.  There are also some movie props from the movie “Dances with Wolves”.
  • Prairie Homestead:  This stop is just north of the Northeast Entrance to Badlands National Park and located close to the .  This stop is the site of an original sod home built in 1909.  There are tours here that you can take for a fee.
  • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site:  This stop was one that I wish we would have made time for.  In my planning, I didn’t pick this as a stop because I didn’t think it would appeal to the girls.  I think the tour of the missile silo would be interesting but from what I have heard you have to book well in advance.  There are only six people allowed on each tour and quite a few restrictions and requirements.  Neither of my girls meet the requirements to go on the tour.  John leaves most of the planning up to me and as we were driving by he mentioned that would have been something he would have been interested in visiting.  Had I known this ahead of time I would have made it a priority to stop since he doesn’t speak up about that kind of thing too often.

The stops listed above are just a handful of the roadside attractions that dot the sides of I-90 in South Dakota  We drove 516 miles of I-90 each way this past week and it was fun to stop along the way and see why these places are a piece of roadside Americana.  There was plenty to keep the drive interesting!

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