Review — Mt. Rushmore/Palmer Gulch KOA
What’s Your Camping Style?
A bit of everything for almost everyone.
JUNE 21-23, 2015 — After our brush with a wild South Dakota storm in the Badlands, we were ready to head for the hills — the Black Hills, that is. Our destination: the Palmer Gulch/Mt. Rushmore KOA. Our mission: dust off from a week of mostly roughin’ it and enjoy a campground with a few more amenities than we had experienced so far.
Our 9-year-old daughter, Laney, was particularly excited about the swimming pools, water slide, and bouncy house mentioned on the website, and I was looking forward to a couple days to catch up on my writing and making some business connections. We arrived on a Sunday to a nearly full campground with a corral out front for trail rides.
Palmer Gulch has more options than just about any campground we’ve seen. Not only do they have a range of campsites from 40′ paved pull-throughs with full hook up to simple tent sites nestled into the pines, but they also have camping cabins, deluxe cabins, and the Mount Rushmore Lodge. That’s the gamit from white-linen room-service to car camping — all within one resort.
Although our daughter was up for anything, this was a bit of a stretch of what camping means to my wife and me, as we were still closer to backpacking than RVing. Palmer Gulch KOA is a big place with close to 500 sites, and it was packed at the end of the weekend we arrived. Be sure to bring bikes for the kids, because this is a great place to tool around on your bike.
Carol wasn’t too sure about any of this, and had to go for a walk to “cool off” when we were escorted to our first campsite that was half puddles on a stretch of camper-to-camper sites that were almost as muddy. The Black Hills had been hit by days of storms, so there wasn’t much the hosts could do about the water. We had had our reservation for months and I thought they might have a nice spot for us, but not at first. Fortunately, we were able to flag down one of the campground hosts who found us a nice, dry, quiet site up in the pines in the southwest corner of the resort (Site 590).
The Disney-like atmosphere down in the lower part of the resort was something to behold. Apparently, heaven for many big-time RVers is to sit around the campfire shoehorned next to your neighbor’s 5th wheel and watch TV on the big screen that’s built into the side of your rig. I have yet to try this type of “camping,” so I’ll refrain from commenting. Who knows, our fellow KOA campers may be on to something.
For my family, the water slide, pools, and facilities turned out to be just what we needed since I ended up spending a day in Rapid City getting a stupid sensor replaced on my Chevy Avalanche — putting an end to ceaseless “self-destruct” flashing lights and beeping alarms coming from our dashboard. And the following day, we were only about 10 minutes away from Mt. Rushmore, so the location was good.
As for the free wi-fi, this was a bit of bust for me. Anytime you have hundreds of campers trying to get to the Internet through one wireless system, you are going to be disappointed. I managed to send a few emails and upload some pictures at a snail’s pace, but all around me guests were trying to get online without much luck, and the cell phone signal was weak, as well.
Our policy is that we just don’t write a review if we don’t like a place that we visit, and this review is no exception. We appreciate what Palmer Gulch KOA is all about, and Palmer Gulch helped us define our camping style. It had enough variety to meet our needs at the time, but it’s not exactly how we roll as a family. If you’re into RVing in style and want a place with full hook-ups, concrete pad, restaurant, laundry, pools, and trail rides, then this is the place for you. If you are more into the beauty and nature of the Black Hills, then we would recommend Horse Thief Lake Campground in the National Forest just up the road to the east. This place looked perfect for us, even without the bouncy house or hook ups.