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Top 13 Things to do in Black Hills with Kids

Things to do in South Dakota with kids, Mount Rushmore, Black Hills with kids,
The most visited national monument outside of New York City or Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

The Black Hills of South Dakota packs in the family fun with family-sized adventure with national parks, premier wildlife viewing and Western history. With five National Park sites all about an hour from each other, each is a top destination in the Black Hills. Travelers should watch for wildlife and opportunities to get out and explore. Here are the top things to do in the Black Hills with Kids.

Top Things to Do in the Black Hills with Kids

  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Badlands National Park
  • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
  • Custer State Park
  • Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway
  • Iron Mountain Road
  • Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Helicopter Tour with Black Hills Aerial Adventures
  • Rapid City’s Reptile Gardens 
  • Rapid City Art Alley
  • The Presidential Statues of Rapid City 

Why Visit the Black Hills in South Dakota 

I’ve visited South Dakota’s Black Hills several times. It is still one of the best family travel destinations for summer travel. I found lots of outdoor recreation opportunities. This area offers lots of lodging and camping options as well.

With five national park sites within an hour’s drive, plus a state park that feels like a national park, there is plenty to do for a week. The driving is scenic, and I never encountered traffic snarls. The summertime weather is pleasant, with lots of summer days.

Mount Rushmore for kids, South Dakota for families, Black Hills for families,
A different vantage point of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

This American iconic that draws millions of visitors to the Black Hills annually. It all started in 1927 and took 14 years and $1 million to carve George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln into the mountainside.

It is located at 13000 SD-244, Keystone. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is open daily from 5 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. from mid-March to end of September.  It closes at 9:00 p.m. the rest of the year. The nightly lighting ceremony begins at 9 p.m. during the summer. It is free to enter. The garage parking fee is $10 for most vehicles (including RVs.)

Top Things to Do at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, Badlands for kids,
Wind Cave’s original entrance looks like an animal’s home instead of one of the world’s longest caves. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Wind Cave National Park

One of the largest caves in the world and it’s estimated that only 5 percent has been discovered. Not only does the park have caves, I found a bison herd and a prairie dog town.

Located 10 miles north of Hot Springs, South Dakota, along U.S. Highway 385 N. It’s free to enter, though cave tours require advance tickets. The park is open every day, all day. Tickets can be reserved online in advance.  

Jewel Cave National Monument

Named after the glittering calcite that adorns the walls of the caves, offers underground exploration. As the third longest cave in the world, the main tour features 732 steps along metal scaffolding and kids under six are discouraged.

Jewel Cave National Monument is located 53 miles southwest of Rapid City, South Dakota. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Memorial Day until Labor Day, with reduced hours during the rest of the year. The park is free to enter, and admission is only charged for cave tours. Tickets are available in advance for cave tours via Recreation.gov.

Top Things to Do at Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument
Badlands National Park, Black Hills with kids, South Dakota,
Badlands National Park offers rainbow rock formations in the southwest corner of South Dakota. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Badlands National Park

Bordering the Buffalo Gap National Grassland so it offers habitats for several animal species, like buffalo, fox, bighorn sheep and the black-footed ferret. The sandstone spires and valleys glow in the setting sun with subtle hues.

Badlands National Park is located 75 miles east of Rapid City. It features two units, the North Unit and the Stronghold Unit. Badlands National Park is open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. Admission is $30 per vehicle for a 7-day pass, or you can use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80).

Top Things to do in Badlands National Park
Explore the defense systems of the Cold War at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
The Delta-Nine Launch Facility or missile silo limited time a look at a deactivated Minuteman missile.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Offering a window into the Cold War when Ellsworth Air Force Base’s mission included maintaining and launching Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Visitors can enter the underground Delta One Control facility for a simulated missile launch and drive to the Delta Nine Launch facility to see a deactivated missile all hidden in plain sight along Interstate 90.

The main visitor center is located at 24545 Cottonwood Rd, Philip. There are three separate facilities for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Minuteman Missile National Historical Site is open Wednesday to Sunday from from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The visitor center is free along with the Delta Nine Launch Facility. Tickets must be reserved in advance (and up to six months in advance) for the Delta-One underground tour. Adult admission is $12 and kids 6 to 16 are $8.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
South Dakota's Black Hills, Black Hills for kids, Custer State Park
Custer State Park in South Dakota offers world-class outdoor recreation. Photo Credit: South Dakota Tourism

Custer State Park 

Custer State Park features abundant wildlife, scenic drives and cabins from the quaint to the luxurious. Custer’s Wildlife Loop Scenic Drive is one of the best places to see bison in the country.

George S. Mickelson Trail offers hikers, runners, cyclists and horseback riders 109 miles of scenic travel along an abandoned railroad line. It spans the Black Hills from Deadwood to Edgemont, with side trails into places like Custer State Park.

Other top places to see are Sylvan Lake and Needles Eye Tunnel. For hikers, the Cathedral Spires Hiking Trail is a popular 1.6-mile in-and-back trail with a 488-foot elevation gain.

Located 6 miles east of Custer, it is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To enter, purchase a 7-day vehicle pass for $20.  Stop by Custer Visitor Center for more information, open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for Memorial Day to Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in September and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the rest of the year. Closed Thanksgiving Day and December 25.

Top Things to Do Custer State Park 

Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway

While in the Black Hills of South Dakota, use the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway to get around. This scenic loop includes South Dakota Highway SD 244, SD 87, and SD 89, along with U.S. Route 16A.

Travelers can use it to see top destinations like Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park Visitor Center, Cathedral Spires Trailhead, Needles Eye Tunnel, Sylvan Lake and Crazy Horse Memorial. It was named after the South Dakota governor who spearheaded the Iron Mountain Road project and was a major supporter of Mount Rushmore.

Iron Mountain Road

This 17-mile road includes 314 curves, 3 tunnels, 3 spiraling piggytails and 14 switchbacks to afford some of the best views in the Black Hills. Also known as U.S. 16A, it connects Mount Rushmore with Custer State Park. Travelers can stop by its visitor center (open from mid-May to Labor Day) at 24631 Iron Mountain Rd. in Keystone.

Black Hills for Kids, Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota for families,
Perched high above the visitors center, Crazy Horse Memorial is up close. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest ongoing mountain carving. Started in 1948, the Oglala Lakota warrior’s face is completed and work continues on the outstretched hand. Crazy Horse Memorial features a nightly laser light show.

Crazy Horse Memorial is located 6 miles north of Custer, South Dakota, and is open daily. Admission is $30 per vehicle or $12 per person. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, Crazy Horse Memorial opens at 8 a.m. until 30 minutes after the nightly laser show.

Black Hills Aerial Adventures

Black Hills Aerial Adventures offers helicopter tours as an adventurous way to explore the Black Hills. In a matter of minutes, passengers will get a bird’s eye view of Crazy Horse Memorial, Harney Peak, Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park. The ride can be a bit bumpy over the peaks on a windy day, so I would recommend this for families with tweens and teens.

The flights, which operate from three different locations in the Black Hills and Badlands, start at $59 and are available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Why You Need to Visit Wall Drug Store
Rapid City, South Dakota for families, Black Hills for kids,
The downtown area of Rapid City features bronze sculptures of past U.S. Presidents. credit: Catherine Parker

Top Things to Do Rapid City

Rapid City, South Dakota, offers more than the Black Hills and Badlands regional airport, I enjoyed a day of ghost hunting, boutique shopping and restaurant hopping.

Reptile Gardens 

Reptile Gardens offers the world’s largest reptile zoo, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. With a botanical garden, a prairie dog town, a gator show and a snake show, Reptile Gardens tops the list with kids.

Located 8955 S. Highway 16, Rapid City. Open year-round with seasonal hours, summer hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Adult admission is $25, youth (11 to 15) are $21, kids 4 to 10 are $18 and free for kids 3 and under. Senior and military discounts are available.

Black Hills for kids, Rapid City, South Dakota for Families,
A public art display, Art Alley, features the work of graffiti artists worldwide. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Rapid City Art Alley

Walk down Art Alley located between 6th and 7th streets to see a public arts project with notable graffiti art. Free.

The Presidential Statues of Rapid City 

If the kids want to shake hands with all the former U.S. Presidents, stroll along 4th through 9th streets along Main St. and St. Joseph St. The City of Presidents features life-sized bronze statues on all the street corners to enjoy. Free.

Journey Museum and Learning Center

The Journey Museum and Learning Center walks visitors through time of the Black Hills and Badlands region of South Dakota. Since the Journey Museum encourages exploration and discovery, it’s a must for kids. Find a paleontology tent, the teepee and pioneer exhibits that walk through the history of Badlands and Black Hills.

Located at 222 New York Street. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the summer. Adult admission is $14, $9 for students ages 6 to 17 and free for kids 5 and under.

Planning Guide to Devils Tower National Monument

Where to Eat in Rapid City

The downtown area offers varied dining options within walking distance.

Tally’s Silver Spoon serves an eclectic menu. It is located at 530 6th St., open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and within walking distance of the Hotel Alex Johnson.

Firehouse Brewing Company serves up American classics and beer in a restored firehouse. Located at 610 Main St. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday).

Where to Stay in the Black Hills 

I stayed in a room in the historic yet haunted Hotel Alex Johnson on my last visit, located at 523 6th Street.

The bellhops will take guests floor by floor, telling their tales of ghostly figures and smashing glasses. The Hotel Alex Johnson is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton and offers 143 guest rooms in the 1928 property. Be sure and check out the sky bar, Vertex, for amazing views from an art deco bar featuring a rooftop deck with a fire pit.

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The Black Hills in South Dakota offers a week of activities like National Park sites, cultural sites and State Park along with tours and more. Use this guide for your next getaway in South Dakota. What to do in Black Hills of South Dakota | Where to go the Black Hills of South Dakota #NationalParks #SouthDakota
credit: Catherine Parker

 

 

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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