Mount Rushmore is a must for families touring South Dakota. // © 2015 South Dakota Department of Tourism
Feature image (above): Jeep tours in Custer State Park give guests an up-close look at local wildlife. // © 2015 South Dakota Department of Tourism
Looking for another great family travel option? Big Sky, Montana
, is a mountain community with kid-friendly attractions, amenities and events.
Mount Rushmore is certainly a must-see when visiting South Dakota’s Black Hills region, but the area offers plenty more awe-inspiring views for families. Black Hills has everything from incredible parks — such as Custer State Park and Badlands National Park, which boasts a junior paleontologist program — to Ghost Canyon Ranch, a dude ranch that opened to overnight guests in April.
Begin your adventure in Rapid City, which sees daily arrivals from a number of major cities, including Denver, Dallas and Chicago. Make your way to Mount Rushmore (just 40 minutes from the airport) for a walk along the Presidential Trail to get up close and personal with four of the most famous faces before a talk at the Sculptor’s Studio to learn the techniques used to carve this mountain sculpture.
Once you’ve been sufficiently wonderstruck by Mount Rushmore, check out these four must-do family activities in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Get a Famous 5-Cent Cup of Coffee
There’s really nothing like Wall Drug, a hybrid drugstore and gift shop with restaurants and various other stores. Go for the 5-cent cup of coffee and the ever-popular maple-frosted donuts at the drugstore cafe. Kids will love posing atop a jackalope, splashing around in the outdoor fountains and waiting for the life-size Tyrannosaurus rex to let out a mighty roar.
You’ll find plenty of souvenirs and spots for photo ops, as well as a chapel and a western art gallery. Consider staying in a log cabin at nearby Frontier Cabins Motel. They may look rustic, but each of the 33 cabins has a coffeemaker and a flat-screen television. Kids will love the teepees and playground; you’ll love the fantastic sunsets.
Go on a Buffalo Safari
You can’t go wrong with a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour from Custer State Park Resorts, a collection of historic lodges and cabins in Custer State Park. Plan to spend two hours traveling the park in an open-air jeep in search of elk, antelope, big-horn sheep and, of course, buffalo. Expert guides point out wildlife and offer plenty of opportunities to snap up-close photos.
Buffalo safari jeep tours are $48 for adults and $43 for children under 12. Pick up a tour at Custer’s State Game Lodge, which served as the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927. In the summer, the lodge also hosts old-fashioned chuck-wagon cookouts and wagon rides.
Meet and Greet Our Nation’s Past Presidents
In Rapid City, explore the City of Presidents, a series of life-size bronze statues of past U.S. presidents along the area’s streets and sidewalks. Enjoy a self-guided tour of Rapid City to learn more about the City of Presidents, as well as popular attractions, such as Dinosaur Park.
City View Trolley also offers one-hour narrated tours of Rapid City from the comfort of an open-air trolley. This hop-on, hop-off trolley tour makes 15 stops around the city. Even better, the fare is just $2 for adults and $1 for children. The trolley runs Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ride a Steam Train through the Black Hills
Pick up the 1880 Train in Keystone or Hill City for a relaxing ride on a historic steam train through the Black Hills. The 20-mile roundtrip, open-air train ride lasts just over two hours. Along the way, listen to the conductor explain the meaning behind different train whistles.
As the steam train chugs through the Black Hills, take in the views of Harney Peak, as well as old mining camps. The train stops for 40 minutes at the train depot so guests can explore the historical mining towns.. Roundtrip fares are $28 for adults and $12 for children; trains depart several times daily.