Prior to any of our travels, the first thing  I love to do is research family friendly adventures.  These unique places or experiences are part of the reason we explore, to see areas of the world different than our own.  So in finding the Chuckwagon at Palmer Gulch, I was excited to try an old west activity fitting for the South Dakota area.

Head ’em Up, Move ’em Out: Leaving for the Chuckwagon

We met on the patio area behind the stables at Palmer Gulch at the Mount Rushmore KOA. Check-in occurred approximately half an hour before the wagons were scheduled to leave. Shortly before 5:00 the horse-drawn covered wagons lined up and the staff called families to load into each wagon.  Once everyone was situated, the wagons departed for our adventure.  

An alternative is to ride out to the chuckwagon on horseback.  That option leaves around half an hour before the covered wagons. Then, at end of the dinner, horseback riders return to the stables by wagon ride.  The cost for the horseback option is higher than the covered wagon. We debated which experience we would enjoy more. I have wanted to ride in a covered wagon ever since reading Little House on the Prairie as a child, but Emilie and I also love horseback riding. We ultimately decided with the money saved on the Chuckwagon experience we could enjoy horseback riding on a different day.  The amount spent ended up about the same, but allowed for two amazing experiences, instead of just one. 

The ride out to the meadow was enjoyable. Each wagon can hold around 25 people. They have two benches along the sides so that everyone gets to enjoy the view.  The trip out was around half an hour.  

Arriving at the Meadow

After our scenic trek, we arrived in an open field with the most beautiful view. A picnic shelter covered most of the tables, but a few were placed out in the open air as well. We were given time to admire the scenery and find a table. There were enough spots for each group to have their own table, which was relaxing.

While we waited for dinner to finish cooking, local cowboys played guitar and bass, while singing old western songs.  They taught little ones to yodel and told jokes to keep us all entertained.

Come and Get It: The Chuckwagon Dinner is Served

Just like out of a western film, the cook signaled dinner with the ringing of an old fashioned triangle bell. Ranchers served local sirloin steak cooked to order (or hotdogs if preferred), seasoned potatoes, baked beans, and warm peach cobbler for dessert.  Beverages available were water, iced tea, and lemonade during dinner. They also offered cowboy coffee (coffee made by boiling grounds and water over the campfire) with dessert. Cowboy coffee became a favorite of ours on the breakfast cruise at Elk Island and I was so excited to see it offered at the chuckwagon. 

I loved the seasoned potatoes, but the majority of the crowd voted the baked beans as the favorite.  At the end of the meal, the cook kindly divulged the recipes for the beans and potatoes. As part of that he also shared how to care for cast iron (as that’s a key component). 

Palmer Gulch also offers a breakfast version of this ride. The meal instead comes with a bacon potato breakfast hash, rolled oatmeal, and cinnamon apples.  Guests do not have to be staying on the KOA property to participate in the chuckwagon experience.

Part of what made this experience so wonderful were the people running it.  The cooks and entertainment are all local ranchers and it’s apparent they enjoy sharing the western culture with guests.  Everyone we met was warm and friendly, even stopping to say a heartfelt goodbye to each wagon before we left.  It made us feel like we were part of a special cowboy experience and was definitely worth the cost.


The Stables at Palmer Gulch Mount Rushmore KOA
12620 HWY 244
Hill City, SD 57745
Phone: (605) 574-3412
Website: Chuckwagon at Palmer Gulch