FOG and MIST   48.0F  |  Forecast »

Mount Rushmore and More Family Fun in Rapid City, S.D.

Check out the huge sculpture of four iconic U.S. presidents – plus Custer State Park, Bear Country U.S.A. Reptile Gardens and more places kids will love

To celebrate the Fourth of July, there's no better place than the Black Hills – home of Mount Rushmore. Edging the far western side of South Dakota, near the border with Wyoming, Mount Rushmore National Memorial lies in the Black Hills National Forest just outside Rapid City, S.D. In summer, the area becomes a haven for tourists from around the world who come to see the four American presidents etched in granite. But there's much more to do, too!

Visiting with presidents

The first stop in any trek to the Black Hills has to be to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The 60-foot tall mountain sculpture took 14 years (1927-1942) and 400 workers to construct – and bears the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

I recommend visiting as close to the opening time as possible. Mount Rushmore draws nearly 3 million visitors each year, and July is high season. If you get there early, the crowds – and temps – are more manageable.

Now, you might have to explain to your kids, like I did, that you won't be hiking up to Lincoln's nose. While there's a trail under the memorial, visitors aren't allowed to go close to sculptures or hike behind them (despite what you may have watched in the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets). Instead, the area features hiking trails, an outdoor amphitheater, indoor museums, videos and other exhibits to educate visitors about U.S. history and the memorial's construction.

Mount Rushmore is open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. There's no fee to get in, but you will pay to park. It's $11 for 24 hours, which means you could come back for the evening sculpture lighting ceremony, which puts the spotlight – literally – on the stone faces around 9 p.m. nightly.

Custer State Park

Just south of Mount Rushmore, take time to explore Custer State Park, one of the largest state parks in the country. While you'll find all of the expected park features like canoeing, fishing, camping and hiking, one of the real draws to Custer is the buffalo.

There are three popular scenic drives through the park, including Wildlife Loop Road, where kids can take turns calling out the creatures that they spy – elk, bighorn sheep, antelope, deer and the prehistoric-looking bison. Just be careful not to get too close! Pay $15 per car to get into the park; the pass is good for seven days.

For older kids, I suggest hiking Harney Peak trail. The path begins at Sylvan Lake, a picturesque water oasis, and then winds its way three and a half miles to the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains at 7,242 feet. At the end of the trail, there's a fire tower, which makes for a great backdrop for pictures.

Tourist hot spots

With so many visitors to Black Hills in the summertime, it's not surprising that the area is also dotted with attractions. Bear Country U.S.A. is one of our family favorites. Part wildlife drive and part zoo, it has over 100 bears – and two grizzlies – plus coyotes, wolves, beavers, elk and more. It's $16/adults and $10/ages 5-12.

For another up-close-and-personal encounter, kids who love all things creepy crawly will delight at the collection you can find at Reptile Gardens. Deadly snakes, giant crocodiles, Komodo dragons – they're all here. Costs are $16/adults, $11/ages 5-12 and free/4 and under.

Free family fun!

Try these six smart activities for you and the kids in the Rapid City region that won't cost you a cent:

  1. Storybook Island: Open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily, this park is themed around fairy tales. Free kid-friendly shows are shown all day in the park's theater.
  2. Dinosaur Park: Fred Flintstone would feel right at home among the seven imposing concrete dinosaurs that line a ridge above town.
  3. The City of Presidents: Downtown, your kids can spot around 40 presidents. Can you say photo-op?
  4. Canyon Lake Park: This 29-acre park is perfect for picnics and just kicking back. Paddleboat rentals are available.
  5. Main Street Square: This new spot boasts live music, farmers markets and a sweet water fountain area where kids can play and get wet.
  6. Outdoor Campus West: Inside the facility you'll find wildlife education exhibits. Outside, explore the 32 acres of trails and habitats. Plus, various learning programs are available throughout the summer.

To start planning your trip to the Black Hills and to one of America's most famous memorials, visit the websites for the South Dakota Department of Tourism and Rapid City Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Add your comment:
Advertisement

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Popcorn Treats for Halloween

Popcorn Treats for Halloween

Get popping with these kooky recipe ideas that are perfect for All Hallows' Eve. Learn how to make a white chocolate popcorn skull, popcorn balls and more!

Popsicle Stick Spider Web Craft with Pompom Spider

Popsicle Stick Spider Web Craft with Pompom Spider

Classic DIY materials are a cinch to transform into a darling Halloween decoration! Have kids get involved with this simple project for October.

'Breaking Bad' Action Figures Pulled from Toys R Us Shelves

'Breaking Bad' Action Figures Pulled from Toys R Us Shelves

After a Florida mom petitioned on Change.org for the toy store chain to stop selling the dolls from the AMC TV show, the toy store has agreed.

Starry Nights and Snowman Fun: Winter Crafts with Olaf, More

Starry Nights and Snowman Fun: Winter Crafts with Olaf, More

Turn a white sock or marshmallows into everyone's favorite goofball from Frozen or gear up for snowy evenings with a constellation lightbox and table runner.

Kids and Indoor Exercise During Cooler Temperatures

Kids and Indoor Exercise During Cooler Temperatures

Keep your kids off the couch this winter and get them active and healthy with these family-friendly fitness tips from the community program director at the Macomb Family YMCA.

Sage Yet Strange 1920s Baby-Naming Advice

Sage Yet Strange 1920s Baby-Naming Advice

Modern flapper era mamas had plenty of progressive advice. But when it came to baby name tips, it was a mixed bag. (And especially tough for poor Lenora!)

Dessert Pizzas Recipes That Kids Will Love

Dessert Pizzas Recipes That Kids Will Love

Slice into sweetness with these kid-friendly ideas – thanks to Betty Crocker, Taste of Home and more – that transform pizza into something oh-so-sweet!

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement