Families looking for outdoor excitement and adventure should plan a trip to Rapid City, S.D. The second-largest city in the state, it offers big city fun with a small town vibe. Families can look forward to an endless supply of entertaining options from the city and its surrounding areas.
Downtown Rapid City is a fun and historic place to explore. Known for its bronze statues of 42 former U.S. presidents, visitors can explore the area easily on foot to enjoy these life-sized representations while shopping or take the City View Trolley for a narrated tour of the local history and attractions. Main Street Square is a fun place for the whole family to hang out after visiting the resident presidents. Surrounded by fun shops, art galleries and eateries, the square has an interactive fountain in the summer and an ice-skating rink in the winter, making it an ideal place for the whole family to relax and have fun.
Located in the southwestern corner of the state, Rapid City is a perfect jumping-off point for seeing all South Dakota has to offer. A short, 30-minute drive from the city takes you to one of America’s greatest attractions, Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. Located in Black Hills National Forest, Mt. Rushmore is a must-see for families visiting the city. The viewing platform is easily accessible for those with disabilities; for the hikers in the family, a mildly strenuous nature hike around the monument can take you up close and personal with America’s founding fathers.
The monument is open year-round, weather permitting, but the optimal season is spring and fall when the weather is at its most comfortable. Admission is free but expect to pay for parking. A night visit is a must as the monument is lit up in all its glory every evening. Helicopter tours of the site are available and offer one-of-a-kind views of the massive sculpture and the surrounding forest. Tours are also available for other sites as well, including the Badlands and the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a Mt. Rushmore-style sculpture dedicated to the legendary leader of the Lakota tribe. A short drive from Mt. Rushmore, this monument has been a work-in-progress since the 1960s. Visitors can tour the Native American cultural center, the sculptor’s studio and workshop, as well as purchase unique, handcrafted items in the gift shop. Nightly laser shows are offered during the summer months, offering a unique viewing experience like no other.
Custer State Park, just south of Mt. Rushmore, is unquestionably one of the most beautiful parts of America. With incredible landscapes, the park is home to an impressive array of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, wild burros, antelope and its very own herd of bison, just to name a few.
The park offers tent and RV camping, along with plenty of lodges and log cabins to choose from, if you want to do a little (or a lot) of roughing it! There is horseback riding, hiking, fishing and even a buffalo jeep safari tour for those who want to get an up-close look at the park and its animals. But not too close, buffalos are extremely dangerous and should be appreciated from a safe distance! Boats, canoes, kayaks and paddle-boards can all be rented from Sylvan Lake Lodge and Legion Lake Lodge. There is even a junior naturalist program so kids can learn hands-on about the park and its ecology.
Bear Country U.S.A , located on the outskirts of Rapid City, is a drive-thru wildlife park that allows guests to view black bears, wolves, reindeer, buffalo and more from the comfort of your own vehicle. Open April–November, adult tickets are $17, kids 5 to 12 are $11 and children under 4 are free.
The Reptile Gardens is another fun family stop. Open from March–November, it is home to one of the largest reptile collections in the world. Visitors can see snakes, salamanders, frogs, giant tortoises, beautiful birds and a stunning collection of exotic flowers, all in a safe and fun environment. Daily shows are performed with alligators, crocodiles, snakes and birds, and kids love the outdoor Methuselah’s playground, named after a former park resident, a 600-pound Galapagos tortoise. Maniac, the resident, 15-foot crocodile, gives families a memory that will last a lifetime.
South Dakota is also home to the incomparable Badlands National Park. Just over an hour drive from Rapid City, this park is a wonder of nature that provides photo opportunities galore. The scenic loop drive through the park offers visitors impressive vista views, one-of-a-kind rock formations, wildlife viewing and hiking opportunities. The park is also home to Roberts Prairie Dog Town, an open plain the little guys populate in the thousands. Located down a gravel (but easily traversed) road off the main loop, this fun stop lets park guests get up close and personal with some of the cutest little critters on the planet.
Near the north entrance to the park is a piece of traditional road-side Americana, Wall Drug. Although it is nothing more than a tourist trap at heart, it is a necessary stop for anyone visiting the state. Operating as something of a rest stop for weary travelers since 1931, Wall Drug is famous for its free ice water and 5 cent cup of coffee. Kids love Wall Drug thanks to its numerous oddities, such as an enormous jackalope, gold-panning opportunities and an old-fashioned shooting gallery arcade. It’s great place to stop and rest, eat a buffalo burger and stock up on some South Dakota souvenirs.
Back in Rapid City after a long day exploring the wonders of the state, families can relax and rest in one of the city’s numerous hotels before hitting the road again to make more memories in beautiful South Dakota.
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