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The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills: 4 Day Itinerary

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February 23, 2019

Looking for a Black Hills itinerary that includes all of the best things to see and do in this classic American vacation destination? Wondering where to stay and how to order visiting the many things to do in the Black Hills?

This article features the best things to do in the Black Hills as well as details our epic 4-day Black Hills itinerary while there.

From how to get around and how long to spend at each attraction, the best things to do in the Black Hills with family can be found right here!

Things to do in the Black Hills

The Black Hills are a small mountain range in western South Dakota that extends into Wyoming. This is a travel region that is so spread out as is jam-packed of exciting family travel opportunities.

It is a popular road-trip tourist destination for those of us that live in the Midwest. In addition, the Black Hills tops the list of most United States family bucket lists for its classic and outdoorsy appeal.

Whether you’re visiting a historic monument, exploring Custer State Park, or spending 1 day in the Badlands, a visit to the Black Hills is iconic, memorable, scenic, and exciting!

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Black Hills road trip 2014

Ideal Ages for a Family Vacation to the Black Hills

The Black Hills has served as an unforgettable vacation destination for generations of families. The atmosphere and attractions truly appeal to all different ages.

We visited the Black Hills area when our boys were 8, 6, and 4 years-old. I wouldn’t have gone with the kids being any younger, and we will perhaps go again once they get older.

Several of the attractions in the Black Hills, such as Storybook Island and Dinosaur Park, are definitely suited for younger children.

However, the monuments, parks, and awe-inspiring landscapes will definitely make more of an impression on elementary-aged children on up to older adults.

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Custer State Park

Things to Do in the Black Hills: Day 1

Rapid City, SD

U.S. Interstate 90 is the main route for ground travel into the Black Hills region.

Opting to take this route, we left our hometown in Minnesota at dusk to begin our 8hour road trip to Rapid City, SD.

The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan: image of Corn Palace

Mitchell Corn Palace

A right-of-passage when road-tripping to the Black Hills, we powered 300 miles to Mitchell, SD to visit the “World’s Only Corn Palace”.

Constructed in 1892, the Mitchell Corn Palace was built as a way to promote local agriculture.

It’s crop-art decorated expo hall and uniquely designed corn murals attract more than a half-million visitors a year.

Luckily the Corn Palace is free to visit, as there is nothing overly exciting or intriguing about visiting other than to simply say that you have done it.

Tour the local shops, grab lunch and get back on the road.

Time spent at Mitchell Corn Palace: 30 minutes

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South Dakota Air and Space Museum

Another free attraction, we found The South Dakota Air and Space Museum to be a real treat to visit as we continued our travels into Rapid City.

Our kids loved the outdoor airpark filled with WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and present-day aircraft.

Similarly, four indoor hangars showcase additional military history and technology displays, as well as include a great gift shop.

Bus tours of the local Ellsworth Air Force Base are available for little cost during limited months.

Time spent at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum: 45 minutes

The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan: image of dinosaur park

Dinosaur Park

As 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.

Time spent at Dinosaur Park: 30 minutes

The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan: image of Storybook Island

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.

Another free attraction in Rapid City, there is, however, a carousel, train ride, and bounce house with tickets for purchase.

Storybook Island is open Memorial Day to Labor Day, daily, from 9 AM – 7 PM, weather permitting.

Time spent at Storybook Island: 1 hour and 30 minutes

This 4-day Black Hills itinerary includes the best things to do Black Hills for families with children!  Don't miss any of the iconic sights and attractions that makes this one of the most popular U.S. bucket list destination!  We ordered the sights and attractions perfectly!  #blackhillsitinerary #bestthingstodointheblackhills #thingstodointheBlackHills #southdakotawithkids #blackhillsfamilyvacation #4dayblackhillsitinerary
Badlands National Park

Alternate Option: Day 1

The other option for the afternoon of Day 1 is taking a one-hour drive to East to 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 an additional highlight on your family vacation to consider.

Things to Do in the Black Hills: Day 2

Southern Black Hills

Mount Rushmore is the main draw to this area, so it is only fitting to include a visit to Mount Rushmore early in your Black Hills itinerary.

Likewise, if the weather becomes an issue, you’ll have the flexibility to visit on a different day.

Highway 16, the road to Mount Rushmore, is lined with several of the best Black Hills attractions for kids.

You will probably need to pick-and-choose what you want to stop and experience because this is where the admission costs will definitely start to add up.

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Bear Country U.S.A.

Head down Highway 16 W from Rapid City and in 9 miles you will come across signs for Bear Country U.S.A.

Bear Country is a drive-thru wildlife park that is ranked #8 in terms of things to do in the Black Hills.

Black bears, reindeer, elk, buffalo, and mountain lions can be viewed roaming free 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.

Time spent at Bear Country U.S.A.: 2 – 3 hours

(Or) 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 ranked the #4th recommended thing to do in the Black Hills and 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.

Time spent at Reptile Gardens: 2-3 hours

The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan: image of Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

14 miles further down the highway is the majestic Mount Rushmore. This is the one attraction you must see in the Black Hills.

Mount Rushmore features the faces of 4 great U.S. Presidents carved 60 feet high out of the granite mountainside.

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 mountain sculpture.

Children ages 3 and up can complete the Junior Ranger Program. (Booklets are available at the information desk.)

There is no entrance fee for Mount Rushmore Memorial, however, an $11 per vehicle fee is required to park.

Read my post on the Ultimate Guide to Visiting Mount Rushmore to learn exactly what to expect when visiting the memorial!

Time spent at Mount Rushmore: 1 – 2 hours

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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.

This was a highlight of our Black Hills itinerary and a place that we recommend here at Travel With A Plan. Read all about its oddities and entrance fees here.

Time spent at Cosmos Mystery Area: 1 – 2 hours

The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan
We love ourselves some mini golf!

Pirate Cove Adventure Golf

We capped off our day back in Rapid City with a round of mini-golf at Pirate Cove Adventure Golf.

I always like to include one stop at a mini-golf location in all of the ‘tourist-y’ cities that we visit. Pirate Cove was a great choice!

Customize Day 2

If any of these locations do not appeal to you, other places on this route that you could opt for include: Old MacDonald’s Farm, Rushmore Tramway Adventures, National Presidential Wax Museum, and the 1880 Train, among others.

Things to Do in the Black Hills: Day 3

Custer State Park

Custer State Park is one of the few truly wild places that remain in this country.

Home to a famous herd of 1400 free-roaming bison, the park is also known for its awe-inspiring scenery, scenic drives, and prairie dog towns.

No trip to the Black Hills is complete without a visit to Custer State Park.

We loved every minute here – and so will you! With so much to see and do once there, you’ll definitely want to read this ultimate guide to Custer State Park!

Time spent at Custer State Park: 2 hours (There is enough to do here for 1 full-day, however.)

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Needles Highway

The 14 mile Needles Highway within Custer State Park is an absolutely spectacular drive through pine forests and rugged mountains.

The road’s name comes from the needle-like granite formations in 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.

Time spent driving Needles Highway: 45 – 60 minutes

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Wild bison

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.

Time spent driving Wildlife Look Road: 45 minutes

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving and has been under construction since 1948.

Considered the Eighth Wonder of the World in progress, Crazy Horse attracts 1 to 1.5 million visitors a year who seek to watch history being made.

People either choose to see Crazy Horse Memorial in conjunction with Mount Rushmore, or Custer State Park.

For this 4-day Black Hills itinerary, Crazy Horse Memorial is best visited after or during your visit to Custer State Park.

Time spent at Crazy Horse Memorial: 1-2 hours

The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan
Wind Cave

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.

Fellow family travel blogger Allison from Tips for Family Trips provides the following comparison to help you choose.

Both within 25 minutes of Custer State Park, but in opposite directions, map our their locations to determine the most efficient travel plan.

Keep in mind that Jewel Cave is located closer to Crazy Horse Memorial.

On the other hand, Wind Cave is a short 15 minutes from Mammoth Site Museum.

Time spent: 2 hours per cave

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 a housing development and is now preserved as an active dig site and public museum.

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.

Time spent at Mammoth Site Museum: 1 – 2 hours

Things to Do in the Black Hills: Day 4

Northern Black Hills

The last region to hit in this Black Hills itinerary is the region locals call the Northern Black Hills.

Here you’ll find many family-friendly things to do in the towns of Spearfish, Sturgis, Deadwood, and others.

The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan
DC Booth Fish Hatchery

Spearfish-DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery

We started off Day 4 by touring the beautiful grounds of the 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.

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 if 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.

Time spent at DC Booth Fish Hatchery: 1 hour and 30 minutes

The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan

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 the 1000-ft deep canyon and 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. 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.

The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan
Spearfish Canyon

If you really want to discover the canyon off-of-the-beaten path, rent a bicycle or ATV at Spearfish Canyon Lodge.

Time spent: Several hours depending on how many stops you make.

Deadwood

Besides casinos and gambling, there is a lot of family-friendly history to be experienced in the town of Deadwood.

Check-in with my friends at Trip Advisor to choose the activities that your family will enjoy!

Customize Day 4

To further customize your tour of the Northern Hills region, you can consider alternate stops at Devils Tower National Monument, the Black Hills Mining Museum in the town of Lead, or Bear Butte State Park in Sturgis.

Black Hills Itinerary Accommodations

Popular cities to lodge in during your Black Hills itinerary include Keystone, Hill City, and Custer, South Dakota.

We chose to stay in Rapid City, South Dakota. Rapid City has a central location, city-like conveniences (fast food, convenience stores, etc.), and an ample amount of lodging options.

Here, there is also a wide range of accommodation choices including family-friendly hotels, cabins, camping at campgrounds, or staying in vacation rentals.

Check here for the best deals on Rapid City hotels.

Booking.com

Additional planning tip: I recommend leaving your hotel by 8:00 or 9:00 AM every day and packing a picnic lunch on most days.

Similarly, be sure to pack a cooler with water and snacks to keep everyone content along the way.

Any Black Hills itinerary requires spending a lot of time spent in the car getting from place to place, so it is worth consulting our essential road trip tips beforehand.

Would you add any other ‘must-dos’ to this Black Hills itinerary? Please comment below; we’d all love to hear from you! -Jen

*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*

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This 4-day Black Hills itinerary includes the best things to do Black Hills for families with children!  Don't miss any of the iconic sights and attractions that makes this one of the most popular U.S. bucket list destination!  We ordered the sights and attractions perfectly!  #blackhillsitinerary #bestthingstodointheblackhills #thingstodointheBlackHills #southdakotawithkids #blackhillsfamilyvacation #4dayblackhillsitinerary
This 4-day Black Hills itinerary includes the best things to do Black Hills for families with children!  Don't miss any of the iconic sights and attractions that makes this one of the most popular U.S. bucket list destination!  We ordered the sights and attractions perfectly!  #blackhillsitinerary #bestthingstodointheblackhills #thingstodointheBlackHills #southdakotawithkids #blackhillsfamilyvacation #4dayblackhillsitinerary
The Best Things to Do in the Black Hills with your Family featured by top US family travel blog, Travel with a Plan
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    Hi, I’m Jen!  Welcome to Travel With A Plan!

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