Why tour a Missile Site
Under the swaying grass of the South Dakota plains, 1,000 missiles stood on constant alert for 30 years. Used as a deterrent in the Cold War against Russia, a pair of missileers living 30 feet underground were a command away from launching a missile that could destroy civilization on another continent.
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.
History of the Minuteman Missile
During the late 1950s, the Minuteman I missile was developed as an Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It provided an improvement in technology from the previous generation of ICBM’s, the Titan Missile.
The Titan Missile, the first-generation ICBM’s, required a lengthy and potentially dangerous launch sequence with larger underground silos. The Minuteman missiles offered solid-state fuel, a more stable option, and smaller, more efficient underground silos.
Over the years, the Minuteman II missiles replaced the Minuteman I until their retirement after the START—Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991. And today, Minuteman III missiles still stand guard against nuclear attack.
What to do in 2 hours
The Black Hills of South Dakota offers plenty of family adventure so if you are short on time. I suggest starting at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site 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. And doesn’t offer much above ground unless you have a ticket to the underground tour so skip it if limited on time.
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. An under-the-radar tour, my family secured tickets to look into a classified world from 30 years ago.
After driving and 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 walked to the unassuming building in plain sight of Interstate 90.
The upper portion of the facility houses a kitchen area, living area and security area. This area provided back-up generators and environmental systems for the underground facility.
In all, eight Air Force personnel, based out of the 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.
In a small elevator, we descended 31-feet before unloading in view of the 8-ton blast door. Behind the door, that can only be opened from inside, we entered a small self-contained living space.
For 24-hours shifts, two missileers watched and waited for a launch command that never came. In addition to standing on the ready, missileers oversaw the maintenance of the launch facility 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. The tour was gripping and eery in a way that only history can haunt your idle thoughts.
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 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.
Lodging and Food Service
The Minuteman Missile Site is a day-use park. Wall, South Dakota offers the closest restaurants and lodging. Stop off at Wall Drug Store for a café and unique roadside attraction, 21 miles west. Badlands National Park offers cabins within the park and the eastern entrance is 5 miles south of the Minuteman Missile site.
Where’s the Minuteman Missile Site
I found three separate facilities for the the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Start at the Visitor Center located at 24545 Cottonwood Road, Phillips, South Dakota, at exit 131 off Interstate 90. To tour the Delta-Nine Launch Facility or Missile Silo, use exit 116 off of Interstate 90. For tour ticket holders, the Delta-One Launch Control Facility is off Interstate 90 at exit 127.
Minuteman Missile National Historical Site opens from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1. The visitor center is free along with the Delta Nine Launch Facility.
Reserve tickets in advance for the Delta-One underground tour. Adult admission is $6 and kids 6 to 16 are $4 with two tours daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. with more scheduled during the summer.
More Family Fun in South Dakota
The Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota offer a week of family fun. Add any or all of the following to our itinerary.
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.
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