South Dakota is a north Midwestern state known for its endless prairies, rolling meadows, and blue skies. One of the state’s greatest attractions is Black Hills National Forest, which is home to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial. The Black Hills has state parks, freshwater lakes, innumerable campsites, trail rides, hiking trails, and rock climbing opportunities.
History and science merge in South Dakota to reveal fossils and bones from the Prehistoric Era and Ice Age, as well as artifacts of Native American history. Visitors will enjoy learning about early pioneer days and the tribes of the northern Great Plains. Here are the top 25 things to do with kids in South Dakota.
1. 1880 Train
Nestled in the heart of the Black Hills, the Black Hills Central Railroad runs a single train named the “1880 Train”. Train rides depart from both Hill City and Keystone in South Dakota. Passengers take in the beautiful natural scenery of the hills while delighting in food, beer, and wine.
Specialty train rides offer live entertainment for the whole family. During the “Old West Shootout” train show, a couple of thieves board the 1880 and later get into a mix-up with some cowboys and a sheriff. On the “Holiday Express” train ride, passengers marvel in the magic of Christmas, as they steam ahead to the North Pole. Santa visits each child onboard. Passengers enjoy warm cups of cocoa, cookies, stories, and gifts.
222 Railroad Avenue, Hill City, SD, Phone: 605-574-2222, Map
2. Akta Lakota Museum
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Originally opened in 1991, the Atka Lakota Museum and cultural center is located within the old St. Joseph’s Indian School, in the town of Chamberlain. “Akta Lakota,” means “to honor the people”. The museum’s mission is to share the stories and life of the Lakota culture, and to pay tribute to the history of the Sioux nation. Exhibits are grand in scale, rich in content, and showcase an exceptional collection of meaningful artifacts.
Teacher resources and materials are available to educators who wish to organize a field trip to the center. Various styles of contemporary art created by Sioux artists are on display within the museum and may be purchased. A gift shop is on-site. Guests enjoy free admission.
Akta Lakota Museum, 1301 North Main Street, Chamberlain, SD, Phone: 800-798-3452
3. Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park sprawls across 244,000 acres of gorgeously rugged, grass prairie. Bison, bighorn sheep, black-footed ferrets, and prairie dogs can still be found roaming the grassland today. Considered one of the richest fossil beds in the world, remnants of ancient mammals such as saber-toothed cats, rhinos, and wild horses have been found here.
There are a variety of ways to experience the Badlands. Visitors can drive the Highway 240 Loop, hike one of the park’s 8 trails, camp, and even explore the backcountry. Families may want to make a pit-stop at the visitor’s center to learn more about the park, and to grab an Adventure Activity Book. Kids will also love a visit to the site’s paleontology lab.
Badlands National Park, 25216 Ben Reifel Road, Interior, Phone: 605-433-5361
4. Black Hills Caverns
Black Hills Caverns has been guiding cave tours since 1939. Guests journey into a subterranean world of mystery, as they learn about the cave’s unique geological structures and ecosystem. Two tours of varying difficulty ensure fun for every age. The Adventure Tour travels along three levels of caverns, over a three-quarter-mile trek.
The Crystal Tour is better suited for young children and older adults, as it’s less strenuous of a walk. During both tours, visitors learn about local history, geology, and cave folklore as they observe awe-inspiring, natural formations. Kids will love gemstone panning, and toddlers will delight in digging for crystals. Treasures found are treasures kept. There is a gift shop on-site.
Black Hills Caverns, 2600 Cavern Road (1,068.17 mi), Rapid City, SD, Phone: 605-343-0542
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5. Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary
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Established in 1988 by Oregonian rancher, Dayton O. Hyde, the horse sanctuary sprawls over 11,000 acres of private land in the southern Black Hills. This sacred stretch of land has been preserved in honor of its Native American and early pioneer history, and conservation efforts have ensured the flourishment of native plants and wildlife.
Herds of wild and rescued horses share the land with cougars, coyotes, elk, deer, turkeys, falcons, and eagles. Large expanses of open prairie, rocky canyons, and pine forests paint themselves against a clear blue sky. Visitors to the sanctuary will witness Choctaw Indian, American, and Spanish Mustangs running free across hidden meadows. Tours are taken by SUV. Guests may book overnight excursions and weekend getaways.
Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, 12165 Highland Road, Hot Springs, SD, Phone: 605-745-5955
6. Bramble Park Zoo
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Located in Watertown, the Bramble Park Zoo, is home to an extensive list of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and arthropods. Over 800 animals represent 120 different species from around the world. Visitors can expect to see wolves, bears, tigers, kangaroos, macaws, boas, salamanders, otters, freshwater and saltwater fish, hissing cockroaches, and tarantulas.
Kids’ programs such as such as Bear Necessities, Turtle Power, and Leader of the Pack offer children entertaining ways to learn about animals and ecosystems. Curriculums are designed to foster hands-on learning and include games, art, and animal interaction. The zoo hosts field trips. Outreach programs travel to local schools.
Bramble Park Zoo, 800 10th Street Northwest, Watertown, SD, Phone: 605-882-6269
7. Broken Boot Gold Mine
In 1878, Olaf Seim and his partner James Nelson were lured to the Black Hills by the call of the gold rush. The pair dug a deadbeat mine just outside of Deadwood Gulch, a town bustling with hopeful miners, merchants, muleskinners, and madams. Today, tours of the underground mine follow paths once used to steer ore cars deep into century-old shafts.
Expert guides lead visitors on a memorable excursion, filled with history and fable. Guests can almost hear the sounds of dynamite exploding and pickaxes wailing against rock, as they traverse the sunless depths of the mine. Gold panning lessons are offered, and its “finders’ keepers” for those who get lucky.
Broken Boot Gold Mine, 1200 Pioneer Way, Deadwood, SD, Phone: 605-578-9997
8. Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial features a monument blasted and carved into a monstrous rock formation. The project was initiated by woodworker and sculpture, Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked on behalf of Lakota chiefs to design the monument which bears the likeness of Crazy Horse, a Native American war hero.
The on-site Indian Museum of North America is housed within a large pine compound, which was also built by Ziokowski and his family. An immense collection of artifacts and art represent the unique cultures and histories of more than 300 Native Nations. Native American artists take up residency at the complex during summer months to create and share their gifts. Visitors share in hands-on activities, storytelling, flute playing, song, and dance.
Crazy Horse Memorial, 12151 Avenue of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, SD, Phone: 605-673-4681
9. Custer State Park
Custer State Park stretches itself across 71,000 acres in the Black Hills. Granite peaks, tall pines, rolling meadows, and crystal mountain waters are home to an abundance of wildlife. There is enough adventure within this park to entertain families for a lifetime. Scenic trails offer opportunities to hike, bike, and bird watch.
A horse trail is available to those who ride. Visitors enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking, and boating on Center Lake. Thrill seekers will appreciate local rock climbing routes. There are a variety of campground options and an extravagant host of amenities. Cabins, electric campsites, Wi-Fi, flush toilets, showers, activity rentals, guided tours, and a resort lodge are available within the park.
Custer State Park, 523 East Capitol Ave, Pierre, SD, Phone: 605-223-7660
10. Dacotah Prairie Museum
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Established in 1969, The Dacotah Museum features a number of different galleries which host a variety of permanent exhibits, as well as several on rotation. Various exhibits featuring culture, art, photography, history, natural science and engineering are represented among its offerings.
A gallery dedicated to children presents kid-friendly exhibits that change seasonally. The museum also offers day camps during the summer. During History Camp, children get to experience life as an early pioneer. The Victorian Girls day camp teaches today’s girls about the demands of the pioneer era. In this camp, kids learn how to host tea parties, display proper etiquette, and write using cursive. An art camp is also offered. There is a gift shop on-site.
Dacotah Prairie Museum, 21 South Main Street, Aberdeen, SD, Phone: 605-626-7117
11. Fort Sisseton Historic State Park
Named after the Sisseton Indian Tribe, this state park blends history and natural beauty to create a unique outdoor experience. Located within the park, the historic Fort Wadsworth was once a frontier army outpost, built in 1864.
A walking tour of the grounds reveals stone barracks, officers' quarters, a guard house, and a powder magazine. Families may choose to pitch tent or park an RV at one of the campgrounds, or reserve one of the cabins. Activities include hiking the trails, bird watching, and picnicking under the shelters. A variety of watersports can be had on Kettle Lake, such as boating, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. The park has flush toilets, showers, eclectic campsites, and a visitor’s center.
Fort Sisseton Historic State Park, 11907 434th Avenue, Lake City, SD, Phone: 605-448-5474
12. Four Mile Old West Town
Tucked away between Custer and Jewel cave, the self-proclaimed “Friendliest Little Ghost Town in Dakota Territory” gives visitors a peek into the past. The family-owned-and-operated ghost town is known for its enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff.
Guests may wander freely through the old town’s abandoned buildings, or choose a guided tour to learn more about the history of the area. Among the ghost town’s buildings are a general store, chapel, small barn, shed, saloon, various merchant outposts, and more. The general store serves as the venue’s gift shop.
Four Mile Old West Town, 11921 West Hwy 16, Custer, SD, Phone: 605-673-3905
13. Grand River Museum
The Grand River Museum offers a unique blend of prehistoric history, as well as Native American and early pioneer history. Among its extraordinary attractions are two large iron sculptures, the first of which is a cowboy riding a triceratops. The second sculpture depicts the legend of Hugh Glass, who fought off a grizzly with only his knife. Inside, exhibits feature photographs, artifacts, and information about the Lakota tribe. Displays teaching about the Bismarck Deadwood Trail can also be found. Area locals and cowboys have donated heirlooms and treasures to the museum’s collection. Visitors are welcome to touch the museum’s display of fossils, which include a prehistoric pachycephalosaurus skull and buffalo skulls. Activities include adventure safaris, camps, and scavenger hunts.
Grand River Museum, 114 10th Street West Lemmon, SD, Phone: 605-374-7574
More ideas: Children's Museum of South Dakota
14. High Plains Western Heritage Center
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Founded in 1970, Western Heritage Center is dedicated to preserving the rich history of the high plains. The center boasts over 20,000 square feet of space used to present exhibits focused on Native American culture and history, pioneer and ranch life, western rodeo, mining, and early transportation.
Twelve separate halls showcase an immense collection of artifacts including tools, bows and arrows, hides, leather and beadwork, pioneer clothing, furs, saddles, rifles, stagecoaches, and covered wagons. Guests may book group tours. Visitors to the museum will want to attend the Cowboy Supper and Comedy Music Show where they get to eat an authentic cowboy-style supper, while laughing along to stories and songs of the Old West.
High Plains Western Heritage Center, 825 Heritage Drive, Spearfish, SD, Phone: 605-642-9378
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15. Historic Adams House
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Built in 1892, The Historic Adam’s House features Queen Anne-style architectural design. The interior boasts impeccable craftsmanship and woodwork. Intimate parlors, fireplaces, polished wood flooring and trim, and stained glass add to the charm. W.E. Adams was a prominent businessman, mayor, and member of Deadwood’s chamber of commerce.
After the deaths of his first wife and two daughters, he financed the construction of the Adam’s Museum in their honor. After his death in 1934, a dedication to Adams’ legacy regarded him as “philanthropist and a friend to all mankind”. It is said that after his death, his widow left sheet music on the piano, medicines in the cabinet, and even cookies in the jar. Tours of the home are self-guided.
Historic Adams House, 150 Sherman Street, Deadwood, SD, Phone: 605-722-4800
16. Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village
Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is a fully operational archaeological dig site in South Dakota. Excavations are carried out in the Thomsen Center Archeodome, by a rotating roster of university students. Most exhibits are visible within the excavation site.
The village hosts tours and field trips. Teachers are provided with educational packets that contain age-appropriate activities. In Kids Dig, children get to excavate and uncover plastic arrowheads, which they exchange later for real arrowheads at the gift shop. Families will enjoy some friendly competition as they learn how to throw a spear. Special events feature storytellers, sky-tellers, artists, and more. During winter months, the village hosts “Lakota Games on Ice”, where the community participates in ancestral winter games.
Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, 3200 Indian Village Road, Mitchell, SD, Phone: 605-996-5473
17. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
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A world famous attraction, the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln tower over the Black Hills, blasted and carved into being by Gutzon Borglum and his crew over the course of 14 years. Visitors may walk the Avenue of Flags, or choose the Presidential Trail, which offers a closer look at the mountain sculpture. Audio tours make it easy to listen and learn while taking in the magnificent sight.
The memorial’s Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Heritage Village presents exhibits on native culture and history. Kids have access to a variety of learning materials and may also choose to complete the Junior Ranger program. A café, ice cream parlor, and gift shop are on-site.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, 13000 Highway 244 , Building 31, Suite 1, Keystone, SD, Phone: 605-574-2523
18. Reptile Gardens
Reptile Gardens is a free-flowing animal park surrounded by exquisite botanical gardens that feature lush flowers and foliage from around the world. Each exhibit is nestled among fragrant blooms, bright pops of color, koi ponds, and waterfalls. There are a number of attractions to choose from.
Guests may pan for gold at Rattlesnake Gulch, gawk at the garden’s 1,250 pound crocodile, interact with giant tortoises, and visit Prairie Dog Town. The Sky Dome features exotic botanicals, sculptures, lizards, and snakes. Live animal shows are scheduled throughout the day. A café and three gift shops are on the property.
Reptile Gardens, 8955 S Highway 16, Rapid City, SD, Phone: 800-335-0275
19. Rushmore Cave at Rush Mountain Adventure Park
Rush Mountain Adventure Park is jam-packed with exciting thrills for the whole family. Park attractions include the Soaring Eagle Zipline Ride, Rushmore Mountain Coaster, and Gunslinger 7-D Interactive simulator experience. Kids will love harnessing up to challenge the Wingwalker obstacle course, which tests balance, agility, flexibility, strength, and courage.
A toddler-friendly version named the Sky Tykes Challenge Course, is available for younger kiddos. Families who really like to push the envelope can go spelunking on the Xpedition Adventure Tour. The Scenic Cave Tour, which walks guests through gorgeous Rushmore Cave, stalactite-filled caverns, gives visitors a chance to dial back the excitement. In the gemstone mining attraction, kids get to keep what they find. The park accommodates group tours and birthdays.
Rushmore Cave at Rush Mountain Adventure Park, 13622 Hwy 40, Keystone, SD, Phone: 605-255-4384
20. SD Discovery Center
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The Discovery Museum is overflowing with interactive learning opportunities and fun activities for kids. Its central exhibit has over 60 play-and-learn stations including a climbable tree house, fossil dig, and an optical illusion light installation. The museum presents exhibits on rotation, as well. For example, in the NASA exhibit, kids get to design, build, and test a spacecraft.
Other programs include Science of Flight, Bubble Festival, Outdoor Explorations and Itty Bitty Einsteins. The portable planetarium features shows on space, the Lakota tribe, and underground geology. Special events are offered year-round. Field trips and birthday parties are happily hosted.
SD Discovery Center, 805 West Sioux Avenue, Pierre, SD, Phone: 605-224-8295
21. The Journey Museum
The Journey Museum & Learning Center offers exhibits on geology, paleontology, archeology, Native American heritage, and early pioneer history. The museum houses innumerable artifacts and fossils. A fully operational fossil lab and paleontology field-tent are on property grounds.
Guests can dig and explore exhibits containing dinosaur bones, arrowheads, rocks, and gemstones – treasures that carry with them stories of the past. Visitors get to see Sioux culture expressed within various forms of artistry, garments, tools, and even a tipi. A general store and an exhibit dedicated to Wild Bill take onlookers back to a rougher period in American history. Travelers to the museum can even observe the Stratobowl, which launched some of our nation’s earliest astronauts into space.
The Journey Museum, 222 New York Street, Rapid City, Phone: 605-394-6923
22. The Mammoth Site and Museum
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The Mammoth Site is the world’s largest concentration of mammoths. Discovered in 1974, this indoor dig site is the result of a sinkhole that captured several animals during the Ice Age. Fossils include the bones of mammoth, short faced bear, camels, and ancient wolves. Visitors get to walk the edge of the excavation site, which is active year round.
Personalized tours are designed to meet every grade level. Kid tested “teaching aids” and activity booklets have been carefully crafted by the site. Summer programs, like the Junior Paleontology camp, are a great way for kids to merge their understanding of history and science. Giant Ice Age animal replicas and an on-site laboratory are among other attractions here. More family weekend getaways
The Mammoth Site and Museum, 1800 US 18 Bypass, Hot Springs, South Dakota, Phone: 605-745-6017
23. Wind Cave National Park
At Wind Cave National Park, visitors are taken to another world beneath the Earth’s surface, as they descend in the cave elevator, leaving grass prairies behind. Wind Cave is one of the world’s longest and most complex caves. Named after the barometric winds that blow at its entrance, the cave is naturally accessible by a maze of passages. Wind Cave is famous for its unusual population of speleothems, which have formed as a result of unique weather patterns. Boxwork, a formation created by thin calcite strands forming a honeycomb pattern, hangs from walls and ceilings. Other unique formations include frostwork, cave popcorn, dogtooth spar crystals, dripstone, and helictite bushes. The deepest part of the cave houses Calcite Lake.
Wind Cave National Park, 26611 US Highway 385, Hot Springs, SD, Phone: 605-745-4600
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