We’re South Dakotans born and raised and even we haven’t seen or experienced everything our beautiful state has to offer; but we’re working on it! For now, we’d like to share some of our adventures from our Black Hills vacation.
Situated in the western half of the state, lies some of the most beautiful country in the Midwest, the Black Hills and of course the Badlands. The two display vastly different terrains and a distinct beauty of their own.
When people hear South Dakota, they automatically think Mt Rushmore. Now don’t get me wrong, Mt Rushmore is a very important landmark and brings thousands of visitors to our state every year, but South Dakota has so much more to offer that many people don’t realize. We’re a very family friendly state. There are so many things for kids to do here, that they won’t know where to start first but they’ll definitely want to see them all!
The first stop on our South Dakota adventure was the Badlands National Park. The Lakota name for the Badlands is “Mako Sica” which translates to “land bad”. Badlands National Park displays 244,000 acres of dramatically eroding landscape, which means that if you visited the park every year you’d never see the same park. The Badlands exist because 75 million years ago the Great Plains were covered by a shallow sea. The park offers a number of hiking trails and allows primitive camping as well, as long as you sign in on your trails. The beauty of the land formations may take center stage of this gorgeous area, but there’s also plenty of wildlife and fossil beds as well.
Shortly after leaving the Badlands, we arrived in Keystone, SD where we had arranged our hotel stay. From the city of Keystone, Mt Rushmore is just a quick drive up the hill. Mt. Rushmore, the most recognizable icon representing South Dakota displays the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln; four men whose leadership left an incredible impact on America as we know it. The mountain was carved by a sculptor known as Gutzon Borglum, who passed away a few months before its completion leaving his son to complete the project. An avenue of flags lines the pathway to the viewing balcony for Mt. Rushmore. The Presidential trail offers different views of the faces and is an easy trail to navigate. It also allows you to view local wildlife around the park. We didn’t stay for it, but in the evenings there’s a nightly lighting ceremony.
There’s so many great places to visit and activities for kids in the Black Hills that we can’t possibly talk about all of them in one post so we’re just going to highlight our favorites.
The Cosmos: the Cosmos was so much fun. It’s weird and it messes with your mind and it’s completely awesome! Balls roll uphill and standing straight is a 45 degree angle. As the story goes, the Cosmos was discovered in 1952 by two college boys looking for a place to build a cabin. When they came upon this area, the “laws of logic and physics seemed to be turned upside down”. The tour takes about 30 minutes and is very inexpensive. Anyone 12 years and older is $11 per person, $6 for kids 5 years to 11 years and 4 years and under are free.
Reptile Gardens: Reptile Gardens holds the Guinness Book of World Records for world’s largest reptile zoo. The giant tortoises were probably our favorite part! They offer a few different shows throughout the day, one being the alligator show where at the end our son was able to pet a baby alligator! They also have a collection of birds and a Prairie Dog town.
Big Thunder Gold Mine: At Big Thunder in Keystone, you’ll take a tour through an actual gold mine. You learn about how the mine was created, what tools were used, and the history of its original owners. After the tour, we had the opportunity to visit their museum which boasts the largest collection of Black Hills gold mining equipment. If you’re feeling super adventurous, you can also try your hand at gold panning. You get to keep what you find and they guarantee you’ll find something!
Rushmore Cave: Rushmore Cave is absolutely stunning! A couple of stalactites and stalagmites were photographed by National Geographic. There’s even an area where you can spot a pigs nose! The tour lasts about an hour and costs between $10-$16 dollars per person. It’s really incredible and should be on your South Dakota vacation list. After our cave tour, we headed over to the Gunslinger 7D Interactive Ride, which was our son’s favorite part. You get to choose from different scenarios and fight aliens or even zombies. Your seat moves and vibrates while you’re trying to fight off the enemies
Sylvan Lake: Another picturesque place you need to visit is Sylvan Lake located in Custer State Park. If the drive leading to Sylvan Lake wasn’t beautiful enough, when you finally reach the lake you find yourself inside a postcard of some far away land. There’s plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, swimming and small watercraft such as paddle boats and kayaks.
1880 Train: I loved trains when I was a kid. I remember getting an electric train for Christmas when I was around 8 years old. Getting to ride the 1880 train was a real treat, it’s a working steam engine! The train runs between Keystone and Hill City, so you get on in either city. We got on the train at Keystone. The trip takes about an hour one way. Along the way, we had the opportunity to see the remnants of old mines, some wildlife and the National Forest.
Wall Drug: On our way back home, we decided to stop for the “free ice water” at Wall Drug. It’s a very touristy stop, but it has an interesting history (which you can read about here) and kids love it. There’s numerous fun photo ops in their backyard, quirky displays and some of the most delicious fudge I’ve ever eaten! It was a great end to our short little trip. We hope, you’ll come visit our great state this coming summer. You won’t be disappointed!