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Our Family Vacation To South Dakota

We weren’t sure what to expect in a city surrounded by places like “the Badlands” and “Deadwood” but Rapid City is a place everyone needs to put on their bucket list! We spent an entire week there and still didn’t see everything we wanted to! I thought I’d highlight some of our favorite places to take the kids.

Stop # 1 South Dakota Air and Space Museum (FREE)

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We started our trip with the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. It is free to all ages, and offers a wide array of airplanes outside. Inside there are a couple hands-on exhibits, including a cockpit to sit in! The three boys enjoyed spinning some of the wheels (and threw fits when we wouldn’t let them spin the ones that were covered in pigeon droppings) and Raelyn enjoyed watching the birds hop and fly around.

Stop 2: Mount Rushmore ($10 Parking Fee)

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Mount Rushmore is obviously a must see if you’re in South Dakota. Don’t simply stop by, take a picture and leave! The boardwalk up to the mountain is easy and amazing. We were able to take the stroller on most of it, and the kids easily did walk. Along the path, you are able to find out more about each president and why they were significant enough to put on the mountain. The Sculptor’s Studio is also AMAZING! It’s so neat to learn exactly how they made such a massive sculpture and see the tools they used. We also had the opportunity to listen to a Native American give a speech about their history with the mountain. It was interesting to hear it from a different perspective.

Stop 3: Dinosaur Park (FREE)

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This was definitely the highlight of the day for the kids! Giant dinosaur statues that they can climb all over. We found out a few days later that the original five dinosaurs were chosen because they had found fossils of them in the area, and then more dinosaurs were added as it gain popularity. It was a last-minute decision to go up there, and we were just following random signs. It ended up being a beautiful drive up a ridge that basically divides Rapid City in half!

Stop 4: Minuteman Missile Visitors Center and Delta-09 Missile (FREE)

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Our first stop was the Delta-09 missile. The launch facility consists of a silo 12 feet in diameter and 80 feet deep made of reinforced concrete with a steel-plate liner. The door to the silo has been welded and fitted with a glass roof, and an unarmed missile placed inside. I wasn’t even able to see to the bottom of the missile, it was huge!

We headed to the Minuteman Missile Visitors Center next to learn more about the missile we had just visited. Watching the movie and going through the museum, I didn’t realize how many close calls there have been for us going to nuclear war on accident!

Stop 5: Feed the Prairie Dogs at the Badlands Ranch Store ($2 a bag)

After the missiles, we headed into the Badlands. On the way, we stopped by The Badlands Ranch Store that sells peanuts, and we fed the prairie dogs! Tyler was the only one who actually got a prairie dog to eat out of his hand, but all the kids loved being up close to the prairie dogs! 

Stop 6: The Badlands (Free with National Parks Pass, or $20 per vehicle)

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The name of the Badlands is so deceiving, it’s an amazing stop! The kind of beauty that can only be created by nature and definitely worth seeing. Most of the hikes are short, accessible, and end with breathtaking views. Be sure to stop at all of these: Door Trail, Window Trail, and Fossil Exhibit Trail. If you don’t have to bring a stroller with you, the Cliff Shelf Trail is beautiful! It’s only half a mile but does have some stairs.

If you’re the adventurous type, the Notch Trail is fun! It is only a mile and a half, but it has a ladder going up to the ledge. I was so thankful for all the extra adults here! The boys each had an adult to go up the ladder behind them and make sure they didn’t fall down. (Not that they needed it, they did awesome!)

Stop 7: Custer State Park ($20 per vehicle for a week-long pass)

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Custer State Park is probably a half day adventure. If you stop by the visitor’s center, they can tell you where the herd of bison is so that you don’t miss them. There is also a very nice theater, and several hands-on exhibits for kids.

You will want to drive the wildlife loop where you see herds of bison and some wild burros (donkeys). It was so fun to see all the animals, and feed the wild burros. They say you’re not technically supposed to feed them, but if you do, then please stick to carrots or apples.

Stop 8: Wind Cave ($12 for adults, $6 kids 6-16)

Wind Cave is a maze of passages underneath the grasslands! It is home to a formation called boxwork, which is a unique formation rarely found elsewhere. We went on the Fairgrounds Cave Tour because we felt that it was the most bang for your buck, but there are a few different tours for ability levels. The tour was 1.5 hours, 2/3 of a mile, and 450 total stairs. It was beautiful!

I would highly recommend going and seeing the natural entrance to Wind Cave. It was basically like a natural air conditioner that felt great after our tour! Oh, and be sure to plan ahead and bring jackets! The cave is noticeably cooler than the surface.

Stop 9: Reptile Gardens ($18 for adults, and $12 kids 5-12)

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Reptile Gardens definitely wasn’t our cheapest stop, but when we compared the price to the cost of a zoo, we decided to go for it. We weren’t disappointed! Make sure you see all of the shows (alligator, bird, and snake), especially the alligator show! They are informative, and fun to see. After each show there is a chance for some interaction: petting a baby alligator, petting a giant snake, and giving donations to a bird. There is a little prairie dog section, where you can peek your head up into a glass dome, and see them up and personal, they are so cute! The glass dome in the center is full of different snakes, lizards, a few birds, and turtles. Out around back was the star attraction for the kids. Giant Tortoises! You can go in and watch them eat, and pet them. The kids were in heaven (and even I thought it was so fun to scratch under their chin). 

Stop 10: City View Trolley ($2 Adults, $1 Kids 12 and under)

This was such a cute last-minute stop! The trolley gives you a narrated tour of Rapid city and many of the point-of-interests throughout town. The sound system is really good, so you can actually understand everything begin said!  It was really fun and it was cool to see some of the local sites and hear a bit of the history. We pretty much just rode the tour straight through, but you can get on and off at any of the 15 stops along the route.

Stop 11: Jewel Cave ($12 Adults, $8 Kids 6-16)

I am going to preface this post with saying that ages three to six are not recommended for the scenic tour. We took our four-year olds, but they go on four-mile hikes and run 5K’s so we knew their endurance level was high enough. There are 723 stairs across 1/2 mile and the tour lasts an hour and 20 minutes. Parents are NOT ALLOWED to pick up their kids, although toddlers and infants can be worn in a front carrier. Again, plan ahead and bring jackets because the cave is 49 degrees.

The entire cave is a wonder to behold, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who visits! Jewel Cave is very popular, and tours sell out quickly, so I would recommend going in the morning to get your tickets. While you wait for your tour, there is a great visitors center, picnic tables, and some surface hikes you can go on.

If you want to go, but your kids aren’t able to go in the cave, the discovery talk is another option. It’s four dollars for adults, and free for children 16 and under. It’s a 20-minute introduction to Jewel Cave in one large cave room that is wheelchair accessible.

Stop 12: Needles Highway, Cathedral Spires, and Iron Mountain Road (part of Custer State Park $20 week pass)

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Needles highway is a scenic byway that includes 14 miles of sharp turns, low tunnels, and granite spires. It’s so fun to drive! Along the drive, there is a pullout to hike to the Cathedral Spires. They are amazing granite spires that seem to shoot up out of nowhere! It is a two-mile hike if you do the whole thing, but even half a mile gives you an amazing view of the spires! After cruising Needles Highway, we drove Iron Mountain Road which is partially located in Custer State Park. This road was designed by an artist and has a few tunnels that actually frame in Mount Rushmore!

Stop 13: Storybook Island (FREE)

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Storybook Island was such a cute park! All the attractions are based on storybook characters and stories. It is huge! The kids loved playing on all the toys, and we stayed until they closed, but would’ve stayed longer if we could.

Bonus Stop: Devils Tower (Free with National Park Pass or $20 per vehicle)

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While it isn’t technically in South Dakota, Devils Tower is worth the drive to go see! It is a butte that formed from a volcano millions of years ago. It rises higher than one would imagine, and it is so unique and beautiful! I would definitely recommend taking the small trail that goes around the tower. It really does look different from every angle! 

Meet the Author

Liz Beatty

Liz Beatty is a mom of four small children who enjoys sharing their adventures as family. They enjoy being outdoors and discovering new places. Liz hopes that by sharing their travels and tips that other families might have a more enjoyable, well-informed, and stress free vacation. When they aren't traveling, the family enjoys going on nightly walks, doing crafts, homeschooling, and just enjoying life. Join their family in trying new things and going new places!

latest blog posts

Liz Beatty
Guest Blogger

Liz Beatty is a mom of four small children who enjoys sharing their adventures as family. They enjoy being outdoors and discovering new places. Liz hopes that by sharing their travels and tips that other families might have a more enjoyable, well-informed, and stress free vacation. When they aren't traveling, the family enjoys going on nightly walks, doing crafts, homeschooling, and just enjoying life. Join their family in trying new things and going new places!

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