Family Fun in the Black Hills
Traveling with children can add a lot of fun to a vacation in the Black Hills. With energy to burn, kids encourage us all to take a few more hikes, play mini golf, power a paddleboat, or slide down a mountain side. The Black Hills are extremely family friendly and offer lots of attractions that are fun for both the kids and the adults, including Bear Country U.S.A., Reptile Gardens, Evans Plunge, Wall Drug, and the Mammoth Site.
Leave Rapid City heading south on U.S. 16, also known as Mount Rushmore Road. This is road trip heaven for families with children. Stop first at Bear Country U.S.A. Do the driving tour and be sure to visit Babyland.
Continue on to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, check out the Sculptor’s Studio and enjoy the ranger talk there, and then hike the Presidential Trail to the base of the mountain.
Head to Keystone for some creamy gourmet saltwater taffy from the Rushmore Mountain Taffy Shop, and play a round at the Holy Terror Mini Golf course. Stay at the Powder House Lodge or other lodging in the Keystone area.
Head out to Rushmore Cave for an early-morning cave tour. Head back to Keystone after the tour and take a ride on the Rushmore Tramway for an aerial view of Keystone and Mount Rushmore and zoom down the President’s Slide.
Finish the day with a round-trip ticket on the 1880 Train. Watch the evening lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore. This will be night two in the Keystone area.
Pack your bags and head out of town. Drive south on U.S. 16A, also known as Iron Mountain Road, a twisting, turning, tunnel-filled scenic drive that heads toward Custer State Park. (Stay on 16A, do not head toward Mount Rushmore on Highway 244.)
Keep an eye out for County Road 753 (Black Hills Playhouse Rd.). This road will enter Custer State Park and join up with Highway 87, which is Needles Highway. These are two of the most scenic byways in the state.
Take Highway 87 until it joins U.S. 385 and head south to Crazy Horse Memorial. Spend the night at the Bavarian Inn, just north of Custer, where a great dinner awaits and a pool is available for the kids.
Get an early breakfast at the Cattlemen’s and head into Custer State Park via Mount Rushmore Road. Aim for the Wildlife Loop just east of the Game Lodge, as traveling this road is most rewarding early in the day. Then drive south on Highway 87, and head into Hot Springs on U.S. 385 south, where 87 ends.
Visit the Mammoth Site as a family, then drop the kids off at Evans Plunge and enjoy some free time. Head down River Street to the Blue Bison, The Wild Burro Bookstore, and the Shaman Gallery. Pick up the kids and head north on U.S. 385 to return to Custer.
Pack your bags with the plan of returning to Rapid City by evening. Today is for activities that you might have missed in Custer or Hill City. Jewel Cave National Monument is a good choice, as is The Museum at Black Hills Institute in Hill City. Hill City also has many fine art galleries.
Follow the signs to Rapid City carefully here, as the road gets a little confusing at the junction of U.S. 385 and 16. Once on U.S. 16, stop at the Cosmos Mystery Area, a quick but fun roadside attraction that kids of all ages enjoy. Also spend some time at the fabulous Reptile Gardens before returning to Rapid. Spend the night at the Big Sky Lodge in Rapid.
It’s time to visit an entirely different ecological niche. Travel east on Highway 44 from Rapid City until you come to the southern entrance of Badlands National Park. Stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get oriented and to check the daily activities. Note times and locations for ranger-guided tours and the Junior Ranger program.
Hike the Door Trail and the Window Trail and then head north on the Badlands Loop Road. Try to time it so that you can participate in a ranger-guided tour at the Fossil Exhibit Trail. Head out of the park into the town of Wall and visit Wall Drug—a must for the kids. Take pictures of them as one of the Mount Rushmore heads or saddled on top of a jackalope. Head back to Rapid City on I-90.
Take it relatively easy today. Choose from the Journey Museum; Storybook Island, a free and charming attraction in Rapid City beloved by young children; and Dinosaur Park, with gigantic dinosaurs overlooking the city.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition