When my family planned a summer trip to South Dakota and Wyoming, I did not expect to bring a lot home to satisfy my local, artisan collecting needs. I admit, after two summer vacations in Europe, I was feeling a bit smug and jaded. However, as a dedicated travel shopper, I was determined to snag some treasures that would serve as beautiful mementos of our trip. I was surprised not only by the great shopping, but also by how much I loved this area. The South Dakota prairie, the Black Hills, the Badlands, the open spaces of Wyoming, the stunning and overwhelming beauty of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and the charm of Jackson Hole made this one of the most visually memorable trips we’ve ever taken. And I happily filled my suitcase with lovely treasures from the area.
Rapid City has a lovely downtown area, with bronze, life-size statues of presidents on the corners. There are several galleries in this main area, but the place to not miss is Prairie Edge Trading Company. This huge store showcases beautiful (and often pricey) native American art and crafts. You can invest in some high quality native arts here if
you have the bank account for it. If your budget is limited, there are still purchases to be made. I found a bookmark that is like a mini-Navajo rug. There are also t-shirts
and less pricey souvenirs, jewelry and home goods.
The main tourist towns in the Black Hills are Keystone and Hill City. If you’re looking for t-shirts, head to Keystone. That’s about all you will find there. It’s a fun town to walk through and feels very old West, but it’s a cheap souvenir row. Hill City, on the other hand, will keep you busy for an afternoon. Main Street is where the shopping is located. Sandy Swallow gallery was my favorite shop. I was surprised at how much time we spent in this tiny little town. There are numerous affordable galleries that sell a wide range of paintings, prints, pottery, jewelry, and decorative items.
We brought home an original painting of the Badlands, a basket made of aspen and antlers (this was priced very nicely in comparison to similar items I saw during the trip), and some pottery made with horsehair. There is one shop on the strip selling Black Hills gold, but I recommend you hold off on buying it (see next paragraph). There is a native crafts gallery here (Cedarfeathers), but I was unimpressed with its offerings. It’s worth noting
that the only public restroom in town is in the real estate office.
I generally stay away from gift shops at attractions, unless I’m looking for a magnet for my collection (I buy
one everywhere I go), but on this trip I was surprised by the excellent quality of attached gift shops in the area. We went to Reptile Gardens, between Rapid City and Mount Rushmore and I picked up a piece of Sioux pottery in their shop (they had a nice selection here, but I also saw the same items in most of the gift shops in the area). Also nearby is Christmas Village, where we bought a few ornaments. This isn’t the kind of Christmas store I dream of (lots of beautiful glass ornaments or unique handcrafted
items), but it’s worth a stop since they just have so many things. The Crazy Horse Monument has a huge and very well done museum of Native American art, crafts, and household items and it also has a large gift shop of native-made items with lots of jewelry and pottery. I bought native-made sheep (for my sheep collection) here. The Mount Rushmore gift shop is hands down the best place to buy Black Hills gold in the area (I was surprised by this!). They have a large selection and sell a lot of
Landstrom’s which is the most recognized name. My daughter and I each bought some pieces here. There’s not much else worth buying in that shop other than t-shirts though. Another surprisingly great gift shop is the Custer State Park Game Lodge gift shop. We had dinner here (wonderful) and spent some time in this tiny little shop. I bought a very unique necklace that has no clasp and hooks together as part of the design of the necklace in front. My daughter found a candle and t-shirt here.
If you’re going to the Badlands, you’ll want to go to Wall Drug, which is right outside the park. This crazy attraction began as
a drugstore that advertised across the state on highway signs that it had free ice water. It exploded in growth and is now a complex of shops, a restaurant, and even an outdoor play
area. There are a few other shops in Wall, but nothing I liked. Wall Drug itself is the very definition of a tourist trap, but it’s one of those places you just have to go so you can say you’ve been there. Most of its wares are t-shirts and cheap souvenirs, but there is one wonderful little arts and crafts shop inside Wall Drug where I bought a stunning bowl made with copper and ogled some beautiful baskets and pottery. Unfortunately, there is not a lot to be bought at the Badlands itself. There is a small gift shop, but it was nothing great. I did make one purchase here which I am patting myself on the back about. At least once a day during our trip I saw little silver boxes with turquoise stones set in their lids. I passed them up several times because they are made in
Mexico and didn’t feel like an authentic souvenir. I just loved them though, so I gave in and bought one here. I ended up getting the best price (I checked the price every time I saw them after this!)
My biggest disappointment in South Dakota was De Smet, where we visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder historical sites (the surveyor’s house, the schoolhouse, and the Ingalls home). There is a tiny gift shop at the main site which mainly sells books and some doodads for kids. At the very least I was hoping for a bookmark and a cheap magnet for my collection but they did not sell these.
Cody is one of the gateways to Yellowstone and we stopped here for a night. The shopping area of the town is rather small and centers around the historic Irma Hotel (built by Buffalo Bill Cody and named after his daughter). The hotel itself has a cramped gift shop that has a lot of clothing, but there are some nice shops surrounding the hotel on the main street. I didn’t buy anything here, but enjoyed browsing. A bit further away there is a very eclectic shop next to the Holiday Inn that is worth a peek. I promptly zoomed in on a native-made vase I loved that was only priced at $999. Needless to say, that didn’t come home with us. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a must-see when in town and of course if you’re like me, you’ll go into the gift shop:) I only bought a magnet, but there were a lot of interesting things here – one thing that has gone into the museum of my mind (where I catalog all the things I should have bought but didn’t) were some really kitschy drinking glasses that had a vintage pattern on them showcasing Yellowstone. They were just the cutest.
West Yellowstone, Montana is another gateway to Yellowstone (and one that is much closer than Cody so I recommend it as your jumping off point). There are basically two
streets of shops, laid out in an L (Yellowstone and Canyon). There was a lot of shopping to be done here, but fortunately I was up to the challenge. We bought a lot of t-shirts and some of the shops skewed toward the younger generation, making
my 20-something daughter right at home with some really stylish options. There are lots of huckleberry items to be found here – jam, candy, candles, syrup – so grab some to bring home (we buy jellies on almost every trip and this is probably the best one I’ve ever bought). One shop (on Canyon) sells tons of native-made jewelry and is definitely worth a stop. A small Christmas shop attached to a candy store is worth a look (also on Canyon). There wasn’t a single shop in town that sold affordable prints of paintings, which is something I’m always after. We went to the Wolf and Grizzly Center in town and they had a robust gift shop as well, which is worth a look.
If you can tear yourself away from the natural beauty of Yellowstone (which is harder to do than you might think), there is some shopping to be done. I hit every gift shop in the park (I am nothing if not thorough). The first thing to know is that there are two types of shops. General Stores are located at each visitor center and hotel. These carry essentially the same merchandise in every single one and are focused on t-shirts and inexpensive souvenirs and also have a small grocery department. It’s definitely worth going in at least one of these, particularly if you want t-shirts. I did find a painted tile with an image of Old Faithful (for $8 and now that we’ve framed it, it looks like a very expensive piece of art) in the General store at the Old Faithful Inn, but this was the only thing I stumbled on in all of them that was unique and interesting. Each hotel also has an individual gift
shop that is smaller and more intimate. These are nicer for shopping and at the shop in Mammoth Springs I bought a pottery vase with an image of Yellowstone, painted by the artist in residence (if you visit a national park, Google the name of the park and “artist in residence” and you will find information about artists who are working and selling their art in the park). At another location I found a native-made sheep for my collection and an interesting wooden tree (made in Wisconsin, but I had to have it). Some of the hotels have photography for sale in their lobbies, but I’m usually interested in watercolor paintings, not photography.
Admission to Grand Teton is included in your Yellowstone fee, so don’t miss it. This park was more stunning than I imagined and we thoroughly enjoyed it. There are gift shops at all the lodges here and they tend to be small, but are not to be missed. My favorite find was a bookmark made with pressed flowers of the park. I also picked up a tile with an image of aspen trees on it and family members found t-shirts. I brought home some notecards with beautiful
watercolor paintings of the mountains. The Jenny Lake Lodge shop was the best shop we visited in the park.
I looked forward to getting to Jackson (sometimes called Jackson Hole) throughout our entire trip, certain that it held potential for great shopping. Jackson wasn’t what I was expecting. The town itself reminded me of Santa Fe, fairly small and set up around a town square. And like Santa Fe, there wasn’t much to buy. Yes, there are galleries, but they sell $8000 original paintings. Not a single one sold prints at any price point. I was so frustrated to be in an area of
such natural beauty without any depictions of it to bring home. There are some funky shops in town that my daughter loved and she bought some inexpensive jewelry,
including a really cute silver elk antler necklace. A unique item to look for in this area is elk ivory – jewelry made from antlers the elk shed. We couldn’t find any we loved, but it would be a unique and fairly inexpensive
souvenir. I did find a tiny little native crafts shop in the basement of a building that sold antique baskets where I snagged a porcupine quill basket. I bought a very interesting and inexpensive vase at a candy shop. I was mostly
disappointed with the shopping until we saw a sign for an art show in Miller Park (it is held on two different weekends in July and August, so
check for it if you are in the area). I brought home wonderful treasures from this art show, including my much sought after and elusive watercolor (I never did find one of Yellowstone, but was able to buy one of the Grand Tetons), a vase, a glass platter (very inexpensive and yet beautiful), a glass tree, and a
necklace. My daughter bought a great necklace made out of old watch parts which is just gorgeous. This art show satisfied all of my shopping needs and I went home with suitcases brimming with mementos!
When my family planned a summer trip to South Dakota and Wyoming, I did not expect to bring a lot home to satisfy my local, artisan collecting needs. I admit, after two summer vacations in Europe, I was feeling a bit smug and jaded. However, as a dedicated travel shopper, I was determined to snag … Read more