If you’ve decided to take an iconic family vacation to the Black Hills region of South Dakota, you will not be short on things to do once there! This list will highlight the Top 15 Best Things to do in the Black Hills with kids.
A great combination of both free and paid attractions, this list will answer all of your questions on how to keep everyone entertained for a perfect family vacation in the Black Hills with kids.
Hold on tight! Our ultimate list of the best and most memorable things to do on your Black Hills vacation will leave you feeling both inspired excited and inspired!
Things to do in the Black Hills With Kids
The Black Hills are a small mountain range in western South Dakota that extends into Wyoming.
As one of the most visited corners of the Midwest, The Black Hills attracts travelers from all over the world. G
This is a region that is so spread out, yet jam-packed of exciting family travel opportunities.
Whether it be major attractions, caves, forest trails, byways, quirky little towns or historical sites, visitors must choose between hundreds (yes, hundreds) of attractions.
Let’s take a look at 15 fun things to do in the Black Hills with kids.
Additional planning tip: Getting to and around this area does require a lot of time spent in the car so be sure to find out how to master a family road trip beforehand.
#1 Mount Rushmore National Memorial
The best thing to do in the Black Hills with kids is to visit the iconic M
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the biggest draw to the Black Hills and is the one attraction you must see when traveling here. After all, Mount Rushmore is often listed as one of the best things to see and do in the U.S. overall!
Featuring the faces of 4 great U.S. Presidents carved 60 feet high out of a granite mountainside, Mount Rushmore is truly a sight like no other.
After admiring the enormous faces, there are numerous other ways to experience this site and immerse yourself in its surroundings.
Visitors can watch a 14-minute film depicting the history and carving of Mount Rushmore or walk the Presidential Trail to get up close to the
Children ages 3 and up can complete the Junior Ranger Program. (Booklets are available at the information desks.)
There is no entrance fee for Mount Rushmore Memorial, however, a $10 per vehicle fee is required to park.
Click here to read my Ultimate Guide on Visiting Mount Rushmore (& Things to do Nearby).
This post will fill you in on absolutely everything you need to know when visiting this National monument.
- Plan to spend 1-2 hours here.
#2 Custer State Park
Another must-do when visiting the Black Hills with kids is to spend time enjoying Custer State Park.
Custer State Park is one of the few truly wild places that remain in this country. A visit here is sure to create lasting family memories.
Home to a famous herd of 1,400 free-roaming bison, the park is also known for its awe-inspiring scenery, hiking trails, scenic drives, and abundant wildlife.
No trip to the Black Hills is complete without a visit to Custer State Park. We loved every minute here!
Read the most thorough guide on exactly what to see, where to go, and what to do in Custer State Park that includes swimming in and hiking around the beautiful Lake Sylvan! (A Black Hills ‘must-do’!)
- Plan to spend 2 hours here.
Additional planning tip: For anyone who loves hiking, we highly suggest hiking the Sunday Gulch trailhead that is a 4-mile moderate hike.
The key is to take off from Sylvan Lake and hike the trail counterclockwise. That will ensure that you were going down at the hardest parts.
Make sure you read 18 Tips for Hiking With Kids before you go. These essential tips will help ensure that the whole family has a good time!
#3 Black Hills with Kids: Needles Highway
The 14 mile Needles Highway within Custer State Park is an absolutely spectacular drive through pine forests and rugged mountains and is a highlight when traveling to the Black Hills with kids.
The road’s name comes from the needle-like granite formations from which the highway was carved out of.
Due to its high elevation, hairpin turns, and narrow passageways, this drive can be a bit stomach-churning. Its beauty is so captivating, however, that even the faint of heart are sure to appreciate it.
When making travel plans, be sure to allow ample time to travel at a safe speed – generally 25 MPH or slower.
- Plan to spend 45-60 minutes on Needles Highway.
#4 Wildlife Loop Road
Another amazing addition to your Black Hills vacation within Custer State Park is spending time on Wildlife Loop Road.
The 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road takes visitors through open grasslands, red-walled canyons, and pine-covered hills to experience mother nature at her finest.
Depending on the day you might see buffalo, bighorn sheep, elk, whitetail deer, burros, prairie dogs, eagles, and hawks.
At the Loop Road’s southeastern tip, wild burros frequently approach car windows to ‘beg’ for treats.
Occasionally, travelers will experience ‘wildlife jams’ as some of the parks 1,400 roaming buffalo clog up the roadway.
- Plan to spend 45 minutes on the Wildlife Loop.
#5 Black Hills with Kids: Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park consists of a big area of colorful sharply eroded buttes and pinnacles, along with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.
The rugged beauty of the Badlands draws visitors from around the world to view its dramatic layered rock formations and steep canyons. Its incredibly unique landscapes and plentiful opportunities for exploration will make this a highlight on your family vacation.
From camping and hiking to auto-touring and road-side observation areas, visitors to Badlands National Park are guaranteed countless outdoor adventures.
- Plan to spend 1.5-2.5 hours here but some choose to spend an entire day.
#6 Cosmos Mystery Area
Located 15 minutes from Mount Rushmore is Cosmos Mystery Area.
Known as ‘the strangest location in the Black Hills’ the Cosmos is a physically unforgettable family experience. Upon leaving the Black Hills with kids, you will find that this is a site that you will continue to reminisce about once home.
It’s hard to describe the oddities that take place here. Water defies gravity, balls tossed into the air veer off course, and people shrink or grow depending on where they stand.
An optical illusion or not, Cosmos Mystery Area is thrilling (and memorable) for both kids and adults!
- Guided tours last approximately 1 hour.
#7 Jewel or Wind Cave
For those that are not claustrophobic like me, a trip to the Black Hills area would not be complete without a famous cave tour.
South Dakota happens to be home to some of the longest caves in the world. Likewise, the Black Hills feature two caves that are also National Parks.
Equally beautiful, however, each providing a unique experience, consider a visit to either Jewel Cave National Monument or Wind Cave National Park. Both within 25 minutes of Custer State Park, but in opposite directions, determine which one best fits into your touring plan.
#8 Mammoth Site Museum
More than 26,000 years ago, dozens of woolly mammoths and other animals were trapped and died in a pond, which is now Hot Springs, SD. The site was discovered during excavation for
Mammoth Site Museum is fascinating and definitely worth seeing. There are hands-on dig experiences for children and knowledgeable guides that provide a fun and educational experience for the entire family.
General admission for Mammoth Site Museum is around $10 for adults, $7 for kids ages 4-12, and children 3 and under are free.
- Plan to spend 1.5 hours here.
#9 Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
Spearfish Canyon is a deep, but narrow gorge carved by the Spearfish River.
The 21-mile long Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway winds its way through a 1000-ft deep canyon. This allows visitors a pristine view of multiple natural wonders.
Rock climbing, biking, hiking, and fishing are just a few of the activities that can be done throughout Spearfish Canyon that your kids will love. Our favorites were the up-close-and-personal encounters with the multiple waterfalls in the area.
Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls, and Spearfish Falls are all well worth the short walks to get to.
- Time spent in this area will depend on how many stops you make.
#10 Black Hills with Kids: Bear Country U.S.A.
Bear Country U.S.A. is a drive-thru wildlife park that is ranked #8 of things to do in the Black Hills.
Black bears, reindeer, elk, buffalo, and mountain lions can be viewed roaming in their natural environment from the comfort of your car.
We had gone to a similar attraction before, so Bear Country U.S.A. was not one of our stops, but it is considered to be a slam dunk family experience.
Reviews mention getting there right away in the morning as that is when the animals are most active.
Admission is paid per person, or a maximum vehicle rate of $65.00. Get directions and other visitor information here.
- Plan to spend 2-3 hours here.
#11 Reptile Gardens
If you would like to consider a different type of animal experience, it’s worth looking into visiting Reptile Gardens. This Black Hills attraction is the world’s largest reptile zoo and is home to some of the world’s most venomous snakes.
Deemed both fun and educational, Reptile Gardens is located only 8 miles from its counterpart, Bear Country U.S.A.
Admission is steep at $18.00 for adults, $12.00 for children ages 5-12, children ages 4 and under are free.
- Plan to spend 2-3 hours here.
#12 South Dakota Air and Space Museum
A free attraction on the outskirts of Rapid City, SD, The South Dakota Air and Space Museum provides a fun way for kids to learn and interact with U.S. Air Force paraphernalia.
Our kids loved the outdoor airpark filled with WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and present-day aircraft. Similarly, four indoor hangars showcased additional military history and technology displays, as well as included a great gift shop.
Bus tours of the local Ellsworth Air Force Base are available for a small additional cost during limited months.
- Plan to spend 45 minutes here.
#13 Black Hills With Kids: Dinosaur Park
One of the Black Hills’ first tourist attractions, this free family attraction has been open since 1936.
Dinosaur Park is home to giant concrete statues of dinosaurs and is located high up on a ridge overlooking the Black Hills.
Somewhat of a quirky roadside attraction, one can’t help but appreciate its historical age and spectacular 100-mile views.
Be mindful that there are quite a few uphill steps required from the parking lot to the dinosaur viewing area.
- Plan to spend 30 minutes here.
#14 Storybook Island
The third free attraction featured in this list is family favorite, Storybook Island.
Storybook Island is a beautiful children’s park that has whimsical play areas based on storybook characters.
There is not much that is off-limits at this giant play space as children are encouraged to play and climb on all of the character replicas.
You do not need to pay to enter the park, however, there is a carousel, train ride, and bounce house with tickets for purchase.
Its operation is seasonal, so be sure to check the calendar before visiting.
- Plan to spend 1-2 hours here.
Additional planning tip: Another favorite Black Hills attraction that appeals to families with children is the 1880 Train!
This two-hour narrated 20-mile round trip between Hill City and Keystone takes place on a 100-year-old steam engine.
#15 DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery
DC Booth is one of the oldest operating hatcheries in the country dedicated to fish culture and resource management.
Due to its uniqueness and the guaranteed experience of seeing tons of fish and other wildlife, DC Booth Fish Hatchery makes the Top 15 list of things to do in the Black Hills with kids.
The hatchery covers ten park-like acres with paved walkways and lovely landscaping featuring flower gardens and sculptures. The grounds are well-maintained and very clean.
Attractions include ponds and “raceways” full of trout, a museum dedicated to fish culture, the historic home of the Booth family built-in 1905, a boat and a railroad car that were used to transport fish, a cute gift shop, two hiking trails, and an underwater fish-viewing area.
Admission to the hatchery grounds is free though they have quarter machines outside to buy food to feed the fish. You can also buy bags of fish food in the gift shop for $1 or $2.
- Plan to spend 1 hour here.
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