Reptile Gardens

Experience alligators & crocodiles up close at Reptile Gardens. Photo credit: Jacquie Fisher/Nature TravelingMom

Located in Rapid City, South Dakota, Reptile Gardens might seem like an out-of-place attraction.  During our visit to Custer Park and Mount Rushmore, we heard so many people rave about the attraction that we decided to spend an afternoon visiting.

I’ll be the first to tell you, I am NOT a snake lover (my husband and kids will back me up on this fact) so I was a little uneasy about how much I would enjoy the exhibits.  I was pleasantly surprised at the variety they offered – quite a bit more than just snakes (whew!).

Tip: When you purchase your admission, make sure to ask or a Vacation Pass.  This will allow you to return to Reptile Gardens for FREE during your stay in the area.  I love that they offer this perk — it’s so nice to have the option to return if you’d like to later in the week.


My first recommendation is to check the show schedule for the day.  There are three not to be missed shows that are offered on a rotating basis.  Each of the shows runs approximately 25 minutes.

Alligators in South Dakota

One of the reasons I say this is an “out-of-place” attraction is that you just don’t expect to see alligators and other large reptiles in the mountains of South Dakota – but I also think that’s what makes it so popular.

Reptile Gardens

Be sure to see the Gator Show at Reptile Gardens. Photo credit: Jacquie Fisher/Nature TravelingMom

We enjoyed the alligator show the most (which also includes a few crocodiles).  First, a trainer is in the fenced area with more than 20 gators!  Right off the bat, we knew this would be something to watch.  As if being next to all these snapping reptiles wasn’t enough, the keeper also feeds them and moves them around the pen by hand!  My 16 year old immediately asked if there were any job openings for the summer.

You’ll learn quite a bit about the difference between alligators and crocodiles along with seeing them in action as they move about the enclosure.

One of the highlights is the meet and greet with a baby alligator at the end of the show.  It was the first time any of us touched an alligator – really something to brag about to your friends!

Snakes Galore in South Dakota

My husband and kids are big snake lovers — in fact, my husband had them as pets when he was younger.  So I reluctantly tagged along to see the snake show.  I’m pleased to say there is a wonderful glass wall surrounding the stage so if you’re squeamish like me this will give you a little comfort.

The keepers are very knowledgeable and humorous.  You’ll learn about each type of snake, including its features and habitat.  Visitors also learn how to identify a variety of snakes and what safety precautions to take if you should ever come upon one in the wild.  And at the end of the show, the kids will be able to ‘pet’ a snake.

Beautiful Birds in South Dakota

A little out of place, Reptile Gardens is also home to a large number of birds.  The show includes some beautiful raptors and exotic birds with some very corny jokes.  Although the show itself wasn’t that impressive, my 10 year old was thrilled when she was chosen to be one of the ‘handlers’ for the pigeons.

More Animal Exhibits & Family Fun

The shows are only part of the attraction.  Be sure to visit the Glass Dome where you will be introduced to many more reptiles and animals.  The bottom floor of the dome includes a mini tropical exhibit with free-roaming animals (and snakes!) along with keepers who will answer questions and keep the animals safe from curious humans.

Reptile Gardens

Tour the beautiful indoor gardens & exhibits in the glass dome at Reptile Gardens. Photo Credit: Jacquie Fisher/Nature TravelingMom

The upper level of the dome includes a collection of snakes and eclectic displays.  We were enthralled with the fun house mirrors and hen who could answer questions.  You’ll also see more reptiles, insects and other animal exhibits around the dome.  One must see is Maniac, a huge alligator who is more than 15 feet long and weighs more than 1200 pounds!

The park offers some very unique photos opps so be sure to have your camera ready.  The kids can crawl into the gopher exhibit, get caught in the coils of a snake or be stretched out in the fun house mirrors.  Kids will also enjoy the two play areas and other animal exhibits such as the prairie dogs and giant tortoises.

Reptile Gardens is open seasonally from April – November.  Most of the attraction is located outdoors so be sure to bring a jacket, hat and sunscreen.  They offer a variety of snacks and have an extensive gift shop.  Be sure to visit the art gallery located behind the gift shop also as they offer handmade pieces from tribes around the world.  TravelingMom also has some great recommendations for lodging in the area.