Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Rapid City Family-Friendly Bucket List Stops
- Dinosaur Park: Larger than Life Pit Stop
- Storybook Island: Imaginative Outdoor Play
- Discover Black Hills Native American Culture at Crazy Horse Memorial
- Take the Plunge at Hot Springs
- Step Back into the "Old West" at Deadwood
- Chug Along to Keystone and Hill City
- Explore the George S. Mickelson Trail
- Wind Cave National Park
- Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive
- Badlands National Park is Not Bad at All
When visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota, make Rapid City your home base. Why? There’s a ton of fun family-friendly things to do in Rapid City. Some of the roadside attractions are kitschy, yet delightful. Plus there are new downtown destinations you’ll want to explore. Here are all the fun things to do with kids in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Rapid City Family-Friendly Bucket List Stops
Some places are must-sees when building your Rapid City itinerary. It’s a place you’ll ALWAYS wish you had more time to explore. Many families make several trips over a lifetime because it’s fun to recreate a road trip with your kids or grandkids. The attractions in and around Rapid City have been charming families for decades. Here are my favorites, plus tips I’ve learned from many South Dakota road trips.
World’s Largest Collection of Reptiles
Reptile Gardens is famous for the snakes and gators and tortoises who live beyond the beige brick walls welcoming visitors to see just what’s within the giant dome behind the fortress-like exterior. This is a spot I recall visiting as a child and I share that memory with many of my contemporaries in the Midwest. The beloved giant tortoises are still lumbering around a small wooden-fenced area next to a very fun playground. They patiently endure petting and selfies day in and out and seem to pay tourists no attention.
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TravelingMom Tip: Watch your toes — when they are ready to park the mobile home they carry with them, it can weigh heavily on unsuspecting admirers!
Upon my most recent visit, it was very clear there had been some changes at Reptile Gardens — the Gator and Bird Shows were reworked to become interactive animal stations with a fee associated — you can pay to feed the gators chicken, for instance. The ever popular Snake Show, however, is still running with a full crowd on repeat, so as soon as you arrive at the park, plan your visit around attending one of the shows on the daily schedule.
Best Time for Reptile Gardens
Our favorite time to go is in the morning. It’s not as blazing hot (we like to plan the afternoon for the downtown Mainstreet Square fountains) and then we can spend as much time exploring and reading about reptiles as we like. As much as the shows are entertaining, the little critters in the tanks and terrariums are the real stars of the park. There is an unfathomable amount of information to take in on all the placards. By speaking with the folks who have the pleasure of working in the exhibits, you’ll learn even more. So take the time to be inquisitive.
Dinosaur Park: Larger than Life Pit Stop
Dinosaur Park is a free spot in Rapid City which is really an odd but lovely stop to make, especially with kids who have been cooped up in a car.
You can see the big longneck from different spots around the city, as the park is perched upon a large hill and overlooks all of Rapid City with whimsy. Kids love to climb up on the structures for photos (and just for fun.)
TravelingMom Tip: The site has a large parking lot, gift shop and restrooms on an accessible level when you drive up. However, the dinosaurs are cement statues tucked along the hillside and require navigating cement steps to get near them. They are large steps and the dinosaur trail is not accessible to wheelchairs, strollers or bicycles. And, most recently, the road leading through a very residential area to get to the Dinosaur Park was extremely rough, so take your time, drive like you’re exploring a neighborhood with courtesy and care, and you will make it to the parking lot and enjoy the prehistoric trek without problems.
Storybook Island: Imaginative Outdoor Play
Storybook Island is an 8.5 acre free play space in Rapid City — and just minutes from downtown and Dino Park. It’s delightful, even for bigger kids and grown ups. If you enjoy a Disney soundtrack, this will be right up your alley! Something new from this visit we found was the Bibbity Bobbity Bounce House — tickets are $2 per child per time in the bounce house. It’s within a building and is a nice little respite from the sun on a hot day. You can also purchase train and carousel tickets for a few dollars each ride. The rest of the many structures and play areas and paths and treehouses in the park are all free. Currently, they are open 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the summer months.
TravelingMom Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we're traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial – Great Faces, Great Places
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a place in the world you should really make a point to stop and witness in person. We’ve driven by so many times and thought “surely it’s the same from the highway as it is up at the memorial site?” I didn’t want to bother with the parking garage and really didn’t think there would be anything “hidden” or unexpected to seek out by properly attending the site.
But we finally pulled in and parked. We climbed the white steps and entered the Avenue of Flags.
The lesson learned though, is that it IS the same mountain and the same presidents looking out on the landscape, BUT, the experience is vastly different to actually BE there, than to just snap a well-framed photo from a pigtail bridge tunnel in the Black Hills with the memorial in the background. It is worth the stop and the measly $10.00 parking fee.
How Crowded Does it Get?
It’s also just as busy as we’d imagined, even post-rainstorm in the humid and damp aftermath of a downpour. However, there was more to keep curious kids interested than I’d anticipated. It’s worth the stop to have a full experience at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. If you want to see another side of the mountain, we also had great experience flying the Black Hills with a local helicopter tour company.
TravelingMom Tip: We discovered an amazing ice cream shop nestled amongst the gift shops, so add that to your pro tips — always stop for ice cream!
Where to Stay in Rapid City
This city has no shortage of options, downtown and in the Greater Rapid City reaches, but, when we’re in town, we’re always drawn to the water. As in waterpark.
WaTiki Indoor Waterpark and Hotel Complex
WaTiki indoor waterpark is a great complex of several chain hotels and many swirling, snaking water slides. This is the only place we stay when we travel with the kids to Rapid City. In fact, a few friends local to the area even make a point to book an overnight at the Fairfield Inn & Suites to enjoy the toilet bowl slide and the arcade attached to the super family-friendly waterpark in town.
The on-site hotel complex associated with WaTiki includes Residence Inn by Marriott, Home 2 Suites by Hilton, LaQuinta by Wyndham, Courtyard by Marriott and the Fairfield by Marriott. We stayed at the Fairfield and we were mere feet from the entrance to the waterpark. This came in really handy when we forgot our goggles in the room. We were supremely happy with the amenities of Sliders restaurant attached to the waterpark and our cozy accommodations. Convenience reigns supreme when kids are in tow.
Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Rapid City
Tally’s Silver Spoon
Tally’s Silver Spoon is conveniently located just a block away from the vibrant Mainstreet Square fountains and splash pad. Start the morning with a hearty breakfast (delicious options for the grown ups AND plate-sized chocolate chip pancakes for the kids!) The restaurant is popular, with good reason, the food is amazing, so go early or make a reservation.
A fun option at Tally’s is an “Indecision Menu” experience. It’s putting all your faith and your appetites in the chef’s hands, but I am betting this adventurous option in downtown Rapid City would be fun and satisfying!
Black Hills Bagels
Black Hills Bagels is another great and fast option for fueling up the troops for your adventures. The bagel sandwiches are tasty and smoothies are a big hit with my littles.
BBQ and Brews in Downtown
Firehouse Brewing Company is a BBQ and brewery with really fun outdoor patio seating in the downtown Rapid City neighborhood. The food and beer are fantastic. The restaurant is very family-friendly offering crayons, plastic fire chief hats and kids’ menu items as well as live music at times. There is a gift shop attached to the main entry of the restaurant.
Fruity Pick Me Ups
Lastly, there are two Tropical Smoothie Cafe options in Rapid City and we frequented them often in the summer heat. It’s a chain restaurant and is not terribly unique, but the cool-down in the afternoons helps keep everyone a little happier and the service is swift.
Downtown Rapid City
Mainstreet Square Free Family Fun
Mainstreet Square is the heart of downtown Rapid City and is actually a private non-profit. This open, welcoming space provides both cultural and recreational opportunities for all. Fountains there welcome the hot and weary to dip their toes or charge all-in through the spouts in the summertime from mid-morning well into the evening, except Mondays. (Make sure to check the schedule though, just to be sure before you announce it to the troops!) The fountains and surrounding park area have always been clean and well-kept when we’ve enjoyed the venue. It’s a wonderful gathering place for families.
City of Presidents Historical District Walking Tour
Downtown Rapid City features the “City of Presidents“. Two major streets, Main Street and St. Joseph Street, along with their intersecting side streets, have life-size statues of past presidents adorning the corners. The City of Presidents is part of the Rapid City Historic District Tour. You can get a map at the visitor information center or download one at the Visit Rapid City website. This is a great way to spend a very relaxing afternoon wandering the streets with an orderly, structured purpose.
Get Lost in Art Alley
Art Alley is an iconic spot (and another fun free opportunity in Rapid City) where you can get lost in street art. It’s not a museum or gallery, life is quite literally happening in and around this functional thoroughfare and it changes all the time. Art Alley came to existence in 2003 and is located between the streets of 6th and 7th and Main and Saint Joseph Streets in downtown Rapid City. If you’re an artist or just want to get creative on holiday, you can obtain a free permit and contribute to the beauty! Read about a multi-generational adventure in downtown Rapid City another TMOM experienced with kids and grandparents in tow for another fun perspective.
More Rapid City Family Adventures
Wild Times at Bear Country USA
Bear Country USA is a wildlife park which offers a drive-through tour to see bigger mammals and a walking tour section, similar to many North American zoological attractions. There are often baby bear cubs which are adorable to watch play and scamper. It’s neat to experience if you have the time.
E-I-E-I-Oh for Fun!
Old MacDonald’s Farm is a petting zoo just on the outskirts of town. If you have animal lovers and a little extra time, it’s a treat! Pig races, pony rides and friendly goats make this a fun place to visit.
Bottle feeding a calf was perhaps one of the most adorable yet disgusting experiences my children have been a party to in a zoo-like situation. There is a lot of open grassy space and a playground, so it’s another fantastic spot to while away an afternoon in the sun.
But Wait, there’s More…
We have not yet been to The Journey Museum or the South Dakota Air and Space Museum in nearby Boxelder, but they are places we’ve added to our list for the next time we venture out to Rapid City and the surrounding area.
Day Trips from Rapid City
If you’re up for a short road trip — and if you are in Rapid City already — you should definitely slate a day for the unmatched Custer State Park. In fact, the famous little park has been repeatedly given accolades for being excellent in nature to rival many of the popular national parks in our country. This is not a negotiable stop — it’s a must-do when you’re in Rapid City for a getaway.
Discover Black Hills Native American Culture at Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial is visible from the highway, just as Mt. Rushmore is to those driving by. Like the National Memorial site, Crazy Horse Memorial has a lot to do beyond gazing at the world’s largest mountain carving on the horizon. This is a privately-held entity and does require an admission fee.
Take the Plunge at Hot Springs
Check out Hot Springs, about an hour from Rapid City. Evan’s Plunge public pool features the natural mineral hot springs the town was named for. This is also the location of The Mammoth Site and is very neat for the little paleontological enthusiasts in your vehicle.
Step Back into the “Old West” at Deadwood
Deadwood is your chance to experience the “Old West” feel persisting in South Dakota. “Wild Bill” Hickok was a well-known gambler and gunslinger, a main player in many shootouts before going to Deadwood. During the summer, reenactments and live historical-based entertainment on the cobblestone streets of Deadwood make the city come alive for visitors with tours, shoot-outs and shows.
Chug Along to Keystone and Hill City
Keystone is a neat little town in the Black Hills, if a wee bit congested (like most of the small towns which get inundated with tourist traffic in the summertime). But it has a lot of shops and attractions, similar to the nearby Black Hills community of Hill City.
Connecting the two towns, the 1880 Train is perhaps the most iconic site and sound, stretching out on the Burlington Northern Railroad. Visitors can take a ride back in time several times a day between Hill City and Keystone during the summer season. You can be sure you’ll find plenty of places along the way for the kids to “mine” for gemstones. And there is an amusement park near Keystone which is a tad expensive, but a real thrill.
Explore the George S. Mickelson Trail
The George S. Mickelson Trail is popular with hikers and horseback riders alike. It’s a 108-mile rail trail in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, extending from just southwest of Hot Springs at Edgemont to Deadwood.
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park has a bounty of things to share with visitors, both terrestrially and below the surface. As with all National Parks, you’ll need to pay for admission to enter the cave and tour the grounds.
Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive
Spearfish is at the northernmost stretch of Black Hills Country. It has a gorgeous canyon which you can take a scenic drive through, if you don’t mind taking the slower moving route toward Rapid City (I-90 is definitely faster, though less scenic by far.).
Badlands National Park is Not Bad at All
Lastly, Badlands National Park is a wonderful little side trip, only about an hour east of Rapid City and near the infamous Wall Drug. You should try to get to those sites as well, if you can pack all of this fun into your trip itinerary. Otherwise, there’s always the next time you visit the family-friendly Rapid City area of South Dakota.