Hi, it’s Allison from Tips for Family Trips with a fun summer road trip idea for families. We’ve been to Orlando, San Diego, Disneyland, the Oregon Coast and other fun destinations in recent years, but the trip that my children still rave about is our Black Hills vacation in South Dakota. It’s the road trip that rivals Disney World.
The Black Hills offers an unbeatable combination of fun family activities and natural beauty that are equally enjoyable for kids and adults. Here are my Top 10 family attractions in the Black Hills.
I’d probably seen Mount Rushmore National Memorial a hundred times in photos and movies, so I didn’t expect to be as impressed as I was when I finally saw it in person. Feelings of awe and patriotism made me want to break into a chorus of “God Bless America.” My children earned the first of four Junior Ranger badges from this trip at Mount Rushmore. www.nps.gov/moru
If you like Mount Rushmore, you may also want to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial nearby. It’s a massive work-in-progress that honors another American legend. www.crazyhorsememorial.org
Wind Cave and Jewel Cave
Cave lovers will want to take cave tours at both Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument. Both caves sprawl for miles beneath the Black Hills, but have different features. Wind Cave is one of the best places anywhere to see a formation called boxwork. It is also a good place for spotting wildlife above ground. Jewel Cave has large, open caverns and its walls sparkle. The caves are 50 degrees F. year-round, so don’t forget your jackets. Wind Cave: www.nps.gov/wica, Jewel Cave: www.nps.gov/jeca
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is located only about an hour east of the Black Hills, but the scenery could not be more different. Here, dry and barren hills that look like they were painted with watercolors rise out of the prairie. This national park protects endangered wildlife, as well as the fossils of saber-toothed cats and other prehistoric life. Be sure to stop at Wall Drug in nearby Wall, South Dakota. It’s the largest, craziest gift shop that you will ever see. Badlands: www.nps.gov/badl, Wall Drug: www.walldrug.com
Custer State Park
Custer State Park is a top-notch attraction for families who love the outdoors. Keep your eyes peeled for bison, antelope, mountain goats, big horn sheep, deer, elk, prairie dogs and wild turkeys on the Wildlife Loop. It will be hard to miss the famous Begging Burros. Enjoy the scenic drives. Go hiking or fishing. You could easily spend one full day of your trip or more at Custer State Park. www.gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer
The Reptile Garden is a small zoo dedicated almost entirely to reptiles. This is the attraction my then 4-year-old son loved best, and he still gets a dreamy look on his face when he talks about spotting a basilisk lizard and seeing a real komodo dragon. Ask for a Vacation Pass when you pay. This will allow your family to return to the Reptile Gardens at no charge anytime during the same vacation. www.reptilegardens.com
This imaginative public park in Rapid City was my daughter’s favorite attraction. And, it costs nothing! Nearly every toy at Storybook Island honors a classic children’s book or nursery rhyme. Our family recognized characters and scenes from Humpty Dumpty, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Wizard of Oz, The Cat in the Hat, Winnie the Pooh, Bambi, Peter Pan, and more. www.storybookisland.org
Bear Country U.S.A.
There are plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife in the Black Hills, but if you want a guaranteed slam dunk, plan a stop at Bear Country U.S.A. See and photograph black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, reindeer, bison, mountain lions, and a number of smaller animals. After you drive the wildlife loop, park and spend as much time as you like in Babyland, where playful bear cubs are sure to delight and entertain the whole family. www.bearcountryusa.com
The Mammoth Site is a pre-historic sinkhole where 60 mammoth skeletons have been discovered in Hot Springs, South Dakota. A museum has been built over this active paleontology site, and the number of fossils visitors can see in such a small space is impressive. If you have any dinosaur lovers in the family, don’t miss the Mammoth Site. www.mammothsite.com
Fans of the Old West will want to at least make a pass through the city of Deadwood. Deadwood is still a gambling town – full of quaint-looking casinos designed to attract adult tourists. However, families can still find a number of historical sites, museums, shops and other family activities here. We stopped at Mount Moriah, the cemetery where Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane are buried. It has a beautiful view of Deadwood and the surrounding area. www.deadwood.com
Rapid City is the largest city in the area, and it makes a good base for this trip. Rapid City has lots of familiar and moderately priced hotels, restaurants and other amenities. The huge Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is held the first week of August each year in the Black Hills. Avoid that week unless you are going for the event.
Want more information on the Black Hills? Visit my blog at www.TipsforFamilyTrips.com for more details on many of these destinations.