Attractions for Your South Dakota Family Vacation
When thinking about taking a family vacation, South Dakota usually is not the first place that comes to mind. Normally, it is some place like Florida, Disney World, a cruise, or any number of other places. I thought the same way until my family and I decided to stop by Mount Rushmore on the way back from our vacation in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. We spent a night and part of a day in the Rapid City, SD area. I had always heard that the area around the Black Hills in South Dakota was a great place to visit, but I was surprised at how many different things there are to do there for families.
Family Attractions: National Parks in South Dakota
Interior, SD: Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is located about an hour southeast of Rapid City, South Dakota. The Badlands are a series of beautiful, colorful, and unique geologic formations. The park also is famous for the large amount of fossils that were found there. It is a very rugged and remote area. There is very little or no cell phone reception in most areas of the park. The best ways to see the Badlands are either to drive through the park in your vehicle or by getting out and hiking. Bison, deer, antelope, and big horn sheep are some of animals that call the park home.
Custer: Black Hills National Forest
The Black Hills National Forest covers an area that is 125 miles long and 65 miles wide. The black hills get their name because of the dense, thick pine and spruce forests that cover the hills, giving them an appearance of being black. The park boasts rugged rock formations, canyons, forestland, lakes, and streams. The highest peak in the park stands at over 7,200 feet. This area is a wonderful place for families that enjoy the outdoors. It is a great place for hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, and to just simply enjoy nature. When we drove through here during our visit, a layer of fog settled over the hills. It reminded me of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, very beautiful.
Hot Springs: Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park looks like much of the land around it, grassland, and rolling hills. However, underneath all of that, is one of the longest caves in the world. Wind Cave was named for the strong winds at the entrance to the cave. It became the eighth National Park in 1903. It is a good idea to arrive early if you plan to take one of the tours because it is first come, first served.
Family Attractions: National Monuments in South Dakota
Keystone: Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is one of the most popular attractions in South Dakota. It is the most famous mountain carving in the world. The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln tower 500 feet above the viewing area. It is a beautiful site. When we visited there, we spent about two hours there taking pictures and just enjoying the view. The whole area around Mount Rushmore is beautiful. One of the things that I regret is that we did not go at night to see it lit up.
Custer: Jewel Cave National Monument
Jewel Cave is the second longest cave in the world with over 150 miles of mapped passages. The cave is covered in spar crystals. This is a great place to visit on a hot day, because the cave is much cooler than the outside air. The National Park service recommends that you make a reservation if you plan to visit in the summer months. You have your choice between three different tours: Scenic tour, historic tour, and the spelunking tour. The scenic tour is loops around the central cave area that is well lit. The historic tour is a candlelit and explores the part of the cave that was discovered first. The spelunking tour takes you through areas of the cave that have not been developed.
Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial is still under construction, but it is still worth a visit. Crazy Horse is a mountain carving that is slowly being carved, as the funds are available, to honor American Indians. Crazy Horse is 100 percent privately funded. When finished, it will stand 563 feet high and 641 long. This is a great place to visit at night as they have a laser-light show. We tried to go to it, but the fog bank made the show impossible to see. Since we arrived late in the day, we were given complementary tickets to come back the next day, which we did.
Family Attractions: National Historic Sites in South Dakota
Phillip: Minute Man Missile National Historic Site
The Minute Man Missile National Historic Site stands as a reminder of the Cold War. These nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles acted as a strong deterrent to the former Soviet Union and other enemies of the United States as their destructive power was well known. Thankfully, these missiles never had to be launched. They were buried all over the Midwest in secret underground facilities. This historic site includes a launch control facility and a missile launch facility. This is a great place to take kids to teach them about the Cold War and how peace can be obtained through strength. If you plan to visit, arrive early as tours are first come, first served.
Family Attractions: Fun Places to Visit in South Dakota
Mitchell: Corn Palace
The Corn Palace is a great place for families to visit because it is so unique. It is the world’s largest bird feeder as the exterior walls are covered in corn. As the birds eat the corn off the walls, more corn is added to the walls. It was established way back in 1892. It is a great place to spend a few minutes taking pictures or by visiting the gift shop. The Corn Palace is free to visit, but an events hosted there require tickets.
Wall: Wall Drug Store
I know what you are thinking, a drug store? Really? Wall Drug is a very unique place to say the least. It is located in the middle of nowhere in western South Dakota. If you ever drive Interstate 90 through South Dakota, you will learn about Wall Drug. They have many, many signs posted along the roadway. I do mean many. Wall Drug began as a drug store has grown into a series of stores, restaurants, and fun zone. You can easily spend half a day there or more. In the summer months, kids will love the Back Yard area that has a train station, Tee Pee, and the arcade. It is kind of like a tourist trap, but the prices were actually relatively cheap. We spent about three hours there and were not able to see everything. The next time that we head out to that area, I would love to spend a whole day there and have more time to enjoy it.
Have you ever been to South Dakota?
South Dakota is a great place for a family vacation. There is such a wide variety of things to do that everyone in the family will enjoy. We want to go back and spend a whole week there.