Midwest Road Trips

Launch a Missile with the Kids in South Dakota

Explore the Minuteman Missile Site for Cold War History in South Dakota
At the Delta-Nine Launch Facility, find a deactivated missile within sight of Interstate 90 in South Dakota. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Learn about the U.S. Cold War with USSR in a former missile launch facility, minutes east of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. See a deactivated Minuteman Missile still housed in its silo along the option to visit an unground missile launch center. Located in plain sight along Interstate 90, this unique national park site is easy to visit in a few hours before driving into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Read on for what to do a Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

At a Glance 

Year Established: 1999
Located: Wall, South Dakota
Size: 3 Sites along Interstate 90
Top Feature: Underground Tour of Delta-01 Launch Control Center

Minuteman Missile NHS Visitor Center

Head to the Minuteman Missile Visitor Center first, especially if you are traveling with kids. The visitor center offers a 30-minute film that covers the Cold War along with interpretive displays and a bookstore.

In the film, why the missiles were necessary and about the history of the Minuteman Missiles. Learn about the Cold War and the strategies the U.S. used, including duck-and-cover drill for schools. 

The interpretive areas at the Visitor Center cover the defense of the U.S. at the time by land, sea and air. Great Plains or Ground Zero display offers an overview of the historic site. 

The Nation’s Nuclear Defense display covers the details of the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. See the locations of the 150 Minuteman Missiles along with the 15 launch centers across 13,500 square miles of South Dakota. 

The When the Homefront becomes the Front Line display guides visitors through Cold War themes like bomb shelter basements. Also find a replica of the original door to the underground launch control center at Delta-01. 

Listen to actual missileers and learn how the missile fields were made. 

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Explore the defense systems of the Cold War at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
The Delta-Nine missile silo offers a look at a deactivated Minuteman missile. Credit: Catherine Parker

Self Guided Tours at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Two additional sites are included in the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site: Delta-09 and Delta-01.

The Delta-09 is the missile silo with the deactivated missile. The silo is 12-feet in diameter and 80-feet deep with a glass viewing cover. 

As a part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the glass cover is in place for the Russian government to see the deactivated missile. Originally metal doors protected the missile. All of the Delta facilities are still protected by razor wire. 

Listen to the self-guided audio tour while at the Delta-09 silo to learn more about the 1.2 megaton nuclear warhead. 

The Delta-01 is the underground launch control center with a government-issue building above ground with a kitchen, sleeping quarters and offices. Unless you have a tour ticket, you can’t gain access, though find interpretive signs outside the fence along with an audio tour.

Explore the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
Hidden in plain sight, the Delta-One Launch Control Facility sits on top of a underground bunker where missileers stood on constant ready. Credit: Catherine Parker

Guided Tours at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

If you have more time, reserve a ticket to the Delta-One Launch Control Center lead by a Park Ranger.

Delta-One Launch Control Facility Tour

As a former flight crew member, this tour tops my list of interesting National Park Sites I’ve visited over the years. Under-the-radar for most, my family secured tickets for a look into a classified world from 30 years ago.

The motto—in plain sight, the former military buildings are visible from Interstate 90. After parking in a gravel parking lot, my family, including three kids, waited for the special missileer ranger to arrive. After unlocking the gate on the razor-wired fence, we walk to the unassuming building. 

In the upper portion of the facility, find a kitchen, living area, sleeping quarters and the security area. In addition, this area provided back-up generators and environmental systems for the underground facility. 

Explore the underground facility at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
Hard to believe but launched Minuteman missile could reach their target across the world in 30 minutes. Credit: Catherine Parker

In all eight Air Force personnel, based out of nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, worked on the topside of the Delta-One facility. A cook, a facility manager and six security personnel worked three days on and three days off, keeping the Delta-One facility secure for the two missileers located underground.

After boarding a small elevator, we descended 31-feet underground before unloading in view of the 8-ton blast door. Behind the door, that can only be opened from inside the doors, we entered a small self-contained living space. 

For 24-hours shifts, two missileers watched and waited for a launch command that would never come. In addition to standing on the ready, missileers oversaw the maintenance of the launch facilities and authenticated messages.

During our tour, our special missileer ranger walked us through a mock launch that had this kid of the Cold War ready to duck-and-cover under a near by bench. The tour was gripping and offered a declassified view of post-WWII history. 

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Exploring the Delta-One facility at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
During the tour we walk through an eight-ton blast door that can only be opened from the inside to the underground bunker. Credit: Catherine Parker

Why tour a Missile Site

Under the swaying grass of the South Dakota plains and hidden in plain sight, missiles stood ready and on constant alert for 30 years. Used as a deterrent in the Cold War against Soviet Union, the missileers lived 30 feet underground maintaining and potentially launching missiles that could destroy civilization on another continent. 

As a part of history, the Minuteman Missile program still prevails in the U.S. Now the Minuteman IIIs are located near Malmstrom AFB in Montana, Minot AFB in North Dakota and FE Warren AFB in Wyoming.

After an arms reduction in the 1990s, the National Park Service opened a site dedicated to the Cold War. The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is a decommissioned missile field next to Badlands National Park that represents similar sites across South Dakota. This unit was chosen because it was accessible to Interstate 90 and located close to the national park sites of the Black Hills.

History of the Minuteman Missile

During the late 1950s, the Minuteman I missile was developed as an Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It was an improvement in technology from the previous ICBM’s, the Titan Missile. 

The Titan Missile were the first-generation ICBM’s and required a lengthy and potentially dangerous launch with a larger underground silo. The Minuteman missiles offered solid-state fuel, a more stable option, and smaller, more efficient underground silos. 

Over the years, the Minuteman I missiles were replaced with Minuteman II until their retirement after the START—Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991. 

Explore the Minuteman Missile Site to learn about the Cold War.
We waited outside the fence for the park ranger giving the tour at the Delta-One facility.

Kids at Minuteman Missile Site

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Joshua Tree National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet. 

The Minuteman Missile Site offers three different programs for kids, depending on age, and a tour of the underground facility is not necessary. The booklet can be downloaded and mailed back to the visitor center for a ranger to look over and send the earned badges back to your kids too. 

The underground tour is an effective history lesson though the subject matter might be frightening for some kids. At the time of the tour, my son was barely old enough to attend.

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exploring the underground Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota
We enter the underground bunker through the 8-ton blast door.

If You have 1 to 2 Hours

Start at the Visitor Center to learn about the Cold War and the Minuteman Missile program. Then drive to the Delta-Nine Launch Facility, or missile silo, to see a deactivated missile all hidden in plain sight along Interstate 90.

The Delta-One Launch Control Facility is an industrial-looking complex that’s locked at all times. You can’t gain access unless you have a ticket for the underground tour.

Where to Eat near the Minuteman Missile Site

The minuteman Missile Site is a day-use park. Wall, South Dakota offers the closest restaurants. 

A stop at Wall Drug Store is a must. It’s one of the top tourist destinations in South Dakota. Really, it’s a unique roadside attraction with lots of shopping, dining and even some quirky attractions out back.

Located 21 miles west of the Minuteman Missile Site at 510 Main Street. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Where to Stay near the Minuteman Missile Site

If you are staying in the Black Hills of South Dakota for a few days, consider visiting Badlands National Park, located just west of Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Badlands National Park offers cabins outfitted with air-conditioning and mini fridges along with a porch. Find a restaurant at the reception building. 

Located at the eastern entrance of Badlands National Park, just five miles south of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. 

South Dakota Air and Space Museum

If you have additional time and interest, the South Dakota Air and Space Museum offers an outdoor airpark with 30 vintage aircraft. Inside find more aircraft and interpretive displays on South Dakota’s contribution to aviation. 

Located just outside of Ellsworth Air Force Base gates at 2890 Rushmore Dr. Open at 9 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. The outdoor park is free.

Note: Indoor museum is closed until further notice. 

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Where’s the Minuteman Missile Site

Find three separate facilities for the the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. 

The visitor center is located at 24545 Cottonwood Road, Phillips, South Dakota, at exit 131 off Interstate 90. To tour the Delta-Nine Launch Facility or Missile Silo, exit 116 off of Interstate 90. For tour ticket holders, the Delta-One Launch Control Facility is off Interstate 90, exit 127.

Getting Around 

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.

More Information


Know Before You Go

  • Kids under 6 and under 40″ tall are prohibited on the Delta-One underground facility tour.
  • Only 6 people allowed on a Delta-One tour due to the limited space.
  • Delta-One visitors must be willing to climb two 15-foot ladders unassisted in case of emergency.
Nonprofits that support the U.S. National Parks
Disclosure

This post contains affiliate links. Some sites were visited during a South Dakota press trip.

Learn about the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union 30 feet underground in an abandoned Minuteman Missile launch facility in South Dakota. Get all the tour details for this National Park Service Site in this guide. What to do in South Dakota | Decommissioned Missiles Sites | Military Tours #NationalParks #SouthDakota
credit: NPS

Learn about the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union 30 feet underground in an abandoned Minuteman Missile launch facility in South Dakota. Get all the tour details for this National Park Service Site in this guide. What to do in South Dakota | Decommissioned Missiles Sites | Military Tours #NationalParks #SouthDakota

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