Kid-tested four day black hills itinerary
Coming from Rapid City, the best way to get to Mount Rushmore is along Mt Rushmore Road/Highway 16. Also known as “The Road to Rushmore” – this route is lined with Black Hills attractions. Fort Hays, Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA and Cosmos are all right along the road.
At the base of Mt Rushmore is Keystone where you’ll find even more things to do! The 1880 Train has a depot right on main street Keystone (as well as one in Hill City). Hop aboard a steam-engine driven train here to Hill City. One-way and round-trip tickets are available.
In “Old Keystone”. Up the hill is the old schoolhouse, now home to the Keystone Historical Museum, it is a step back in time. Your kids will be amazed at how children experienced “school days” in the past – No iPads or tablets here! Admittance is free. Heading down the road is Rush Mountain Adventure Park – Home of Rushmore Cave and so much more! Here is the only “mountain coaster” in all of the Black Hills region. It’s a thrilling time “coasting” down the mountain being driven only by gravity. You can easily spend a half a day exploring the cave, the Wingwalker Challenge Course & Sky Tykes, a zip- line and multi-sensory Gunslinger 7-D ride.
Back into Keystone is the National Presidential Wax Museum, Holy Terror Mini Golf and across the street is Rushmore Tramway Adventure park where you all can slide, climb, zip and jump through the trees and over the granite rocks. Surely a day full of adventure!
No way can you get all of this done in a day – so we suggest picking a few things on your first day and then head up to Mt Rushmore to see the faces (as we locals call them). You’ll have time on another day to explore more attractions. At Mt Rushmore, check out the Self-Guided Tour. This interactive and multi-media hand-held device will give you an in-depth history of the monument. And it includes a fun Junior Ranger activity for your children! Walk the Presidential Trail and tour the Sculptors Studio.
Just 12 miles from Mt Rushmore is Hill City, known as “The Heart of the Hills.” Hill City offers more attractions like Museum at Black Hills Institute where you’ll see dinosaur and fossil collections. You can’t miss the giant chair or Ninja Turtles at Dahl’s Chainsaw Art on the corner, next to Teddy Bear Town.
Head south out of Hill City to Crazy Horse Memorial on Hwy 385 and visit the world’s largest mountain carving. Be sure to let the kids know they are witnessing a monument under construction and one that’s considered the Eighth Wonder of the world! Continue to Custer State Park via Hwy 87, also known as Needles Highway. Pick up the park newspaper at the gate to help guide the way. The Needles Hwy and Iron Mountain Road are a drivers delight! The route threads its way around pigtail bridges and through one-lane- rock walled tunnels. Continue into the park – considered one of the world’s best animal destinations. Seek out the park’s herd of more than 1400 buffalo, find the “begging burros” on the Wildlife Loop. Or for a closer look, jump on a Buffalo Jeep Safari tour, which can be found near the State Game Lodge. Hike, ride a horse, rock climb, fish, paddle board – it’s all here. Return via Iron Mountain Road to Keystone. You’ll want to come back.
Head south on Hwy 79 to Hot Springs best known for the Mammoth Site, where 61 mammoths have been discovered in an active paleo dig. Keep your kids fascinated and sign them up for the Jr. Paleo program and learn excavation techniques. This dig site offers families a chance to observe first – hand a real paleontological excavation. Also, in Hot Springs is the historic Evans Plunge where visitors rejuvenate and relax in 87-degree water. Try the waterslides, swing rings, kiddie pool and steam room.
You have two options to visit national caves! Take Highway 385 out of Hot Springs and continue via Highway 87 to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave National Park includes 30,000 acres above ground where antelope, buffalo, elk, prairie dogs roam and where you can enjoy 30 miles of hiking trails. Deep beneath this vast expanse of prairie is the seventh longest cave in the world and one of the most complex cave systems.
Just west of Custer is Jewel Cave National Monument, the third longest cave in the world with 202 miles of mapped passageways, illuminate caverns and ceilings dripping with stalactites. Cave tours are a definite Black Hills experience that can blow minds of any age.
Rapid City is known as the City of Presidents for the statues located downtown and the thriving rejuvenation of that area, now referred to as MainStreet Square. You drove past a few must see attractions on your first day so let’s go! Reptile Gardens with its collection of reptiles, tropical fauna, and animal shows is a must. Adding to the fun with Bear Country USA and Old Macdonald’s Farm are nearby. Load up on a cheap cowboy breakfast at Fort Hays Chuckwagon on the way.
In Rapid City, we also suggest some time at Storybook Island, a free attraction that’s a fave of locals, and Main Street Square where the kids can cool off in the fountain.
West on Hwy 44 explore Black Hills Caverns, one of the many, awe-inspiring cave systems in the Black Hills. Let the kids pan for gold.
For a foot stompin’ evening, take the family to Fort Hays Chuckwagon supper for an old-time meal and entertainment. There’s enough time after dinner to race back to Mt Rushmore to see the lighting ceremony at dusk.
Head to the Northern Black Hills region to the towns of Historic Deadwood and Lead, Sturgis and Spearfish. Again, you can’t do it all, but this gives you an idea of all the fun things to do in this part of the hills
In Deadwood, catch an award-winning Old West “shootout” and reenactments on historic Main Street, then follow the crowd up the street to watch the Trial of Jack McCall. You can even hitch a ride on the historic, horse-drawn Deadwood Stagecoach and stop by Old Time Photos for a family picture. Go to Mt. Moriah Cemetery where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried and wander through the Adams Museum, where you’ll learn all about the history of Deadwood. You’ll find hands-on exhibits for the kids. If you like guided tours, several tour busses offer one- hour history tours of the town and the Broken Boot Gold Mine offers tours of an authentic gold mine. Your entire crew will enjoy the Days of 76 Museum, a tribute to Deadwood’s cowboy heritage.
Three miles from Deadwood is the town of Lead (pronounced; Leed). At the bottom of Main Street, you will find the Sanford Homestake Visitor Center, a one-of-a-kind view of a mile-wide open cut gold mine and a great gift shop with many unique items. Learn about the science of yesterday – and today!
Travel on to Spearfish Canyon, with its waterfalls and hikes, and where locals often make a fun day of exploring. Roughlock Falls is a beautiful stop and one of the easiest hikes in the Hills. Rent a bike or an ATV at Spearfish Canyon Lodge and explore the backcountry.
In nearby Spearfish, feed the fish at DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery, located along Spearfish Creek and next door to Spearfish City Park. Both places are full of natural beauty and offer plenty of space for youngers to run off energy.
Less than an hour from Spearfish to the west, is Devils Tower National Monument, the nation’s first national monument. You’ll cross the South Dakota/Wyoming state line so the kids can add another state to their list.
Obviously, this five-day itinerary could be stretched into seven. Come back for another adventure.