My daughter Carrie Heeren and her 10-year-old daughter Maci and I decided to take a trip to The Black Hills of South Dakota in September of 2021. It was a pretty special trip to take with the three generations.
I typically ride my buckskin quarter horse gelding, but he had been out this summer due to a bout of laminitis. So for this trip, we used 3 of my daughter’s geldings. They are all three-quarter horses, and they are all performance/running bred, as Carrie and my granddaughter regularly compete in regional barrel shows.
All three horses are also trail-ridden on a regular basis because she feels it's good for them physically and especially good for them mentally to have jobs outside of an arena.
We live near each other and have the opportunity to trail ride together frequently, but this is the first big week-long trip we have taken together.
We chose to go to The Black Hills because I have been to this area several times to ride and camp. I love the area’s beautiful trails and scenery. My daughter Carrie had joined me in South Dakota a couple of times previously, but this was my granddaughter's first time riding out west.
We left northern Illinois around 3 AM and drove straight through. Approximately 12-13 hours. The horses all did fine, but that is the maximum distance I am willing to cover in one day.
We stayed at Broken Arrow Horse Camp. We have stayed here every time we have come to South Dakota and have no desire to try anywhere new. The campground is clean and well-run, owners are always very friendly. They have lots of nice trails right out of camp, or just a short trailer ride away. We also like the campground’s close proximity to Custer and Custer State Park.
My daughter and I both brought our own living quarters trailers. My granddaughter took turns spending nights staying with each of us.
We all enjoyed trailering over to Custer State Park and riding the French Creek trail. We made a 12-13 mile loop, starting out on Rimrock trail and then dropping into the canyon, where we crossed French Creek 32 times. We were told by the French Creek camp host to watch for a mountain lion that had been spotted several times sunning herself on the canyon rim, but we didn't catch a glimpse of her.
We took the Centennial trail from the Iron Creek trailhead to Mt Rushmore. When we arrived, we tied up the horses, had lunch at the picnic tables, and then walked across the road to see the monument. Maci enjoyed checking out the monument up close and having an ice cream cone before we headed back on the trail. We also trailered one day to ride the Saddle Pass trail in the Badlands; I was surprised to see how much erosion had changed the trail from the previous time we had visited.
My granddaughter enjoyed shopping in Custer and Hill City. Back home, she has a collection of both rocks and dream catchers, two things you can find in almost every souvenir shop in the Black Hills. She came home with lots of goodies. We drove the Custer State Park wildlife loop a couple of times, where we saw buffalo and antelope and a lot of deer. There was a souvenir shop near the Badlands that sold peanuts for the Prairie dogs. Maci got a big kick out of feeding them to prairie dogs that live in a large town adjacent to the store. We also made a stop at the Purple Pie Place in Custer. The bonus part about the area is there are still plenty of different attractions left to check out on our next trip.
My daughter volunteered to do most of the cooking, and I happily allowed her to do that. She's an excellent cook; the pork chops and beef filets she prepared on her portable wood pellet grill were amazing.
My daughter and I both enjoy taking photos. My daughter Carrie turned her love of photography into her own photography business. https://www.carrieheerenphotography.com/. I'm just a self-proclaimed photo geek and enjoy putzing around with my camera.
There is very little light pollution in the Black Hills area, and the night sky looks amazing compared to what we have back home. I'd actually planned the trip dates around the new moon, hoping to get in a milky way shot. With a little pre-planning, scoping out the area ahead of time, and luck (because the wildfire smoke cleared), I was able to get one.
We also found the South Dakota scenery the perfect setting for family photos and made several stops along the trail to take a few.
I feel so fortunate to be able to share what I love with my horse-crazy daughter and granddaughter. We all enjoyed the trip and plan to make it an annual event!