If you’re thinking of planning a family road trip to the Black Hills out in western South Dakota, there are a ton of family-friendly attractions and amazingly fun activities to do with your children while you’re exploring the western part of our beautiful state!
Here are 15 fun things to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota with your kids!
1) Mount Rushmore
The crown jewel of attractions in all of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore gives you a chance to get up close and personal with some of the greatest presidents in US history.
Or, as my younger daughter called them when she was three, “the four faces”! ;)
Mount Rushmore has a nice little restaurant and also the Avenue of Flags which the kids love because they can spend time identifying all the state flags! There is an amphitheater area as you approach the front of the Avenue of Flags, where you can stay for programs throughout the year.
You can also hike around Mount Rushmore on a cool trail that brings you around the back of this amazing stone masterpiece.
Kids can also join the Junior Ranger program! Find out more on the Mount Rushmore website.
Don’t forget to sign up for the Every Kid Outdoors program, which provides a free national park pass to all fourth graders and their families to use for a calendar year. We’ve used this twice now to explore a couple of national parks and are looking forward to doing it next year when our third child is in fourth grade!
2) Custer State Park Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour (and Wildlife Loop)
The Custer buffalo safari tour takes you off-road through the park in an open-air jeep to see pronghorns, elk, and buffalo with a guide who shares historical and educational facts about the park and wildlife. The ride takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. Find more information HERE.
You can also just tour the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop on your own!
We did this in May 2020 with our kids and some family friends. We just grabbed a map, drove the loop, and stopped at the various outlook points to view the animals from a distance.
Below, our daughter enjoying the buffalo, elk, and other animals on the Custer Wildlife Loop!
We also stopped to pet and feed the donkeys! There is a great climbing area across the road from where the donkeys live which our children enjoyed as well! (But by far their favorite part was finding a dead rattlesnake in the road–ha!)
It was a windy day in western South Dakota! Haha!
Even the dads enjoyed a hike up the hills!
3) Sylvan Lake
(Image courtesy of Custer State Park website)
Sylvan Lake is a beautiful lake along Needles Highway in the Black Hills. It’s best to visit in the summer as the water stays cold for a long time, but lots of people have fun canoeing, swimming, and wading in the lake as well as hiking the nearby areas, including Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak).
During the winter, Needles Highway is closed in some parts (which we found out by accident!) but you can usually make your way as far as Sylvan Lake even in January and February if you just want to get a look at it.
Our kids had a great time exploring the trails and landscape. You can hike up Black Elk Peak too–but it is a LONG trek so make sure you’re ready for such a challenge! We have not done this yet but our friends did and it took them several hours to get up to the peak and then back down to the Sylvan Lake trail start.
4) Rush Mountain Adventure Park
We’ve never visited this adventure park before but plan to on our next trip! Some of the family-friendly activities you can take part in are a tour of Rushmore Cave, and riding the Rushmore Mountain Coaster, the Soaring Eagle Zipride, and the Gunslinger 7-D Ride. You can explore the Wingwalker Challenge Course, which is great for older kids and they even have a smaller challenge course for your little ones! This adventure park is near Mount Rushmore so it would make a great addition to whatever day you tour that historical landmark.
5) Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City
The Museum at the Black Hills Institute is a unique and interesting natural history museum. It’s located in Hill City, which is a short drive from Rapid City and near a lot of other attractions, so it’s a great idea to make this a part of a day where you’re doing other things in the area.
Your kids will find something unique in this treasure trove of amazing dinosaurs, fossils, minerals, and collectibles from all over the world. Find hours and more information at their website!
6) Bear Country
Bear Country near Rapid City is a drive-thru wildlife park dedicated to providing visitors with an enjoyable, educational, and unique North American wildlife experience in a beautiful and natural environment.
They don’t just have bears! You can also see Arctic Wolves, Bighorn Sheep, Lynx, and more. Sometimes you can see the baby bears too–so cute! Visit the Bear Country South Dakota website for more information.
7) WaTiki Waterpark
WaTiki is an indoor waterpark that is attached to four different hotels along I-90 in Rapid City. It’s a great waterpark and we’ve gone there a few different times. You can get deals on wristbands throughout the year.
We’ve also stayed at the Residence Inn hotel, which is one of the attached hotels. They have two-room suites (two queens in a closed-off room and a pull-out couch in the living area) with kitchenettes, which have plenty of room for our family of six. Visit the WaTiki website to find current hours and deals.
8) Reptile Gardens
This tourist attraction is more than just lizards! Tour the Spring Creek Gulch, watch a snake show and take some time walking through the Sky Dome. Your kids can see all sorts of animals, from a bald eagle to prairie dogs to a crocodile. You can even pet a Giant Tortoise! ;)
9) Cave Tours
There are a variety of cave tours that you can take in the Black Hills, including Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument and Rushmore Cave. These is typically an affordable activity that you can do while in the Hills!
One recommendation I would make if you have young kids is to check into the details of the various cave tours as well as search online reviews for each one. Some of the tours are through very narrow and dark areas which may not be appealing to small children :)
If you’re wanting to venture a little further from the Rapid City area, check out the Broken Boot Gold Mine in Deadwood, SD!
10) 1880 Train
The 1880 Train is a two-hour, narrated 20-mile round trip between Hill City and Keystone, SD (near Mt. Rushmore). This train ride is a bit expensive for adults (though children under age two are FREE) but you can sometimes find 1880 Train Ride coupons HERE.
11) Crazy Horse Memorial
The mission of the Crazy Horse Memorial is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians. You can visit the memorial carving (still in progress!) and enjoy viewing beautiful art and artifacts in the Native American Educational and Cultural Center. Best for those with older kids, but some younger children may like it as well. Crazy Horse isn’t too far from Mount Rushmore so it’s a good idea to do both on the same day.
12) Black Elk Peak
At 7,242 feet, Black Elk Peak is South Dakota’s highest point. It provides amazing views once you reach the top! It’s a tough hike, so just remember to be prepared! Some close friends of ours hiked this peak with their kids who are 14, 12 and 10.
You start hiking Black Elk Peak from the Sylvan Lake area, so it’s a great way to see two beautiful destinations at once! Learn more HERE about how to access Black Elk Peak.
13) Badlands National Park
There are 244,000 acres in the Badlands National Park so if you like to be alone, it won’t be hard! ;) You can make several different loops in your vehicle throughout the park and get out at various overlook points. You can do some light climbing or more extensive hiking if that’s what you enjoy.
My kids liked being able to get out and explore a bit and then hop back into the suburban for more driving. We saw plenty of wildlife when we went in late May of 2020.
The amount of time needed to see Badlands National Park depends on what you want to do. To fully experience most of what the Badlands has to offer, it will probably take you two days of adventuring. To drive through the park and stop at a few overlooks takes about two hours.
There are also campground in the Badlands National Park and a couple of visitors centers to stop by. You can find more information here.
While you’re exploring the Badlands, don’t forget to visit Wall Drug!
14) Chapel in the Hills
Located on the western edge of Rapid City, SD, the Chapel in the Hills is a unique retreat area that is open to visitors. The chapel is a reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway. The chapel was built in 1969 as the home for the Lutheran Vespers radio ministry. Now it is a visitor destination and a great way to introduce your kids to some of the religious and cultural history of this part of the country. The site also has a nice wooded walking trail, a museum and a cool grass-roofed house that was built in Norway. You can also attend a service there! Find out more on the Chapel in the Hills website.
15) Storybook Island
Storybook Island is an 8 1/2 acre children’s park with over 100 storybook and fairytale sets that kids love to explore! Kids can see a live theatre production, explore the park and all the storybook characters and take a ride on the train and carousel. Admission is free, there is a small charge for the train and carousel. Great for little ones!
This attraction is open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day and then closes for the season.
Check their website for special events that may be going on when you visit!
Honorable Mention: Paleo Adventures
On the Dino Dig Adventure Tours, you could spend an entire day at Paleo Adventures!
Kids must be 10 years or older to attend a Dino Dig. Their website says, “Days are long, and it is hard work.” So in my opinion, the dig would be best for teens and adults. Younger kids may enjoy the educational programs. Paleo Adventures is located one hour east of Devil’s Tower, one hour west of Mt. Rushmore and 30 minutes north of Deadwood. Check out their FAQs for more details on signing up for a dig.
Photo below courtesy of Paleo Adventures Facebook page.
I hope you have an amazing time visiting the Black Hills with your children!