I’ll never forget the day I got asked to take on my first official travel campaign. April 11th, 2017 - 3:53 PM. I’m sitting at my desk scheduling social posts for the next week and my phone lights up. “Partnership Opportunity” Anytime those words pop up on my screen, I drop everything I’m doing and open it right away. I unlock my phone and start reading:
I can remember the moment vividly. It’s been a dream of mine to get hired to travel the world to snap photos and blog. My face was beaming and I could feel tears building up in my eyes. I was finally going to do it!
After reading the email about 800 times, I sat there, thought about it for a second and realized I didn’t know a single thing about where I was going. I reopened my laptop and fired up my first (very) important question.
“Ohhh THAT’S where Mount Rushmore is!”
I also learned that I’d get to explore the Badlands National Park, search for wild bison in local state parks and climb to the highest peak in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains with the help of South Dakota’s Good Times Guide.
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL.
The Good Times Guide allows travelers to receive a custom itinerary to their interests. Since I'm into hikes, wildlife, adventure and scenic drives I got the best of all worlds on the Happy Trails Guide.
The trip started with a flight from Vancouver straight into hikes as soon as I landed in Rapid City, SD. This short and sweet hike got us to a lookout point overseeing the Spearfish Canyon as the sun started to sink into shades of orange behind the hills.
After soaking in my first views of the trip, we raced light back down the trail, headed back to the hotel and ended our day in one of the best possible ways.
We woke up with an adventure on our hands. Our weather forecast had suddenly changed and caused us to shift around our plans so we could chase after the sunny rays (and happier hikes).
After packing up the car, we made a coffee stop and headed for the hills towards Black Elk Peak. Also formerly known as Harney Peak, this hike takes you to the highest natural point in South Dakota. We hiked the summit from the trailhead at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park catching all four seasons along the way.
We took the long way out of the park and drove the Wildlife Loop. The loop is 18 miles of paved road through green rolling hills stretching across endless horizons. The best part - it's where I saw my first wild beast (aka Bison, but those things are huge, ok?). We continued driving through winding roads through the park and into town right up to our second adventure for the day: Hollingsworth Horses.
This was one of my favourite parts of the trip. We met our horses, made friends and climbed onto their backs before heading out to run through open forest fields and laughed hysterically trying to get the horses to walk through creeks and rivers. My horse was as sassy as me.
The second adventure brought on a lot of hanger and we finished the day off with a bison burger - because when in rome, right?
We were fuelled up, ready to go, and made our way towards the Badlands before calling it a night.
DAY 3. EARLY.
We didn't check into our cabin until 10:30 PM the night before. So when my alarm went off 4 hours later at 2:30 am, I wasn't the happiest of campers. Especially when I found out that my tripod had broken and I was up to shoot the milky way...
These are the mornings that you question everything and just rather stay in bed. But these mornings always the ones that leave you with the heartfelt memories. You can catch the full details of that morning here, but for now I'll just say that it was one of the best mornings of my life.
Fast forward to 6 AM, we head back to the cabin, sleep until 11, experience Wall Drug (omg it's the best), hike and frolick through the rest of the badlands, find some sheep, go to a wine tastings and head back to Sylvan Lake Lodge to wrap up the last night.
This was my favourite day of the trip. Hands down.
DAY 4. ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END.
We were exhausted, but on such an ambitious high by this morning. Our alarms went off at 3:45 AM in hopes of catching one last sunrise. We caught a snowstorm, and lot of laughs instead. We took the long way to the airport and I soaked in the views one last time.
As I sat on the plane starting my journey back to Vancouver, I couldn't help but have a huge smile on my face. Everything on this trip happened just how it was supposed to happen. I was so lucky to travel with Steph Palmer, the social media manager from the tourism board. She knew all of the places to go and I got to experience everything I possibly could.
This was the trip that reminded me why I do what I do. I want to inspire people to move. I want to post a picture and have people say "I NEED TO GO HERE", no matter where it is in the world. I want to spark excitement. I want to spark some life.
South Dakota wasn't on my radar or bucket list - but it's definitely a spot that you should add to yours. From the rolling hills to some of the biggest caves in the US, all the way to the sky-scraping Badlands sitting under the darkest skies and the brightest stars - you won't be disappointed. I promise.