Living in Minnesota is great. There is so much beauty in the land of 10,000 lakes. There are however two major things that I crave seeing every once in a while which you can’t find in Minnesota – oceans and mountains. Getting to the ocean takes either a plane ride, or a multiple day road trip just to get your toes in the sand. But some of the most beautiful mountains in the US are found in a state just to our west – South Dakota, “The Mount Rushmore State”.
South Dakota has been a favorite destination of mine since I was a kid going on road trips with my parents. Rolling prairies and ranch land, the thrill of driving into Chamberlin and crossing the Missouri River. My Dad’s voice still echoes in my head everytime I cross that river telling me that when we got to the other side of the river we were “out west.” Badlands National park offers some of the most unique scenery in the country…and the Black Hills… the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. Those are just some of the highlights from one of my favorite states.
I have taken my kids through South Dakota twice. Both times we traveled during the off season; once in the September and once in May. Summer is peak season for travelling, and when travelling to mountain regions it is also the safest time. We were lucky both trips and had perfect weather. The off season offers the advantage of fewer crowds and cheap hotel rooms! The downside is that there are some attractions that are only open during the summer, and of course the weather can be a factor.
Rapid City is 600 miles from Minneapolis. Driving straight through is about 9 hours. When I am road tripping with my kids, I like to take 3 days to get to the Black Hills. Making frequent stops help to keep the trip fun for the kids, so they hopefully never learn to dread “boring” road trips.
When travelling from Minnesota, our first stop is in Blue Earth, MN to see the giant Jolly Green Statue! While older kids may not get a kick out off a statue, little ones are fascinated by it! There is a parking lot and a nice large grassy area great for running around.
Our next stop is always in Sioux Falls, SD. Sioux Falls is a charming town. The downtown is very nice but for us the big attraction is Falls Park. Located on the Big Sioux River, Falls Park is one of the most scenic city parks I have ever been to. It is free to visit, with easy parking. My kids could probably spend all day there. The falls are very pretty, but the real attraction for them are all of the rocks to climb on! Sioux Falls also has a replica Statue of David in Fawick Park, which my kids find hilarious – trying to explain to a 5 and 3 year old that it is a copy of a very famous statue was lost on them over their giggles at the giant “nakey” man statue.
From Sioux Falls, we head to Mitchell, SD. We stay the night in Mitchell, making sure to get a hotel with a pool. Mitchell is home to the world famous Corn Palace. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend that you visit at least once in your life!
Day 2 we travel to Wall, SD. On day 2 you cross into Mountain Daylight Time, there is something about crossing a time zone that really makes you feel like you are on vacation! It’s great on the way out because you gain an hour, but something to keep in mind coming home when you lose an hour.
Wall, SD is of course home to another world famous attraction – Wall Drug. A lot of people make fun of Wall Drug; after seeing hundreds of billboards for hundreds of miles they think it is a let down. Personally, I love Wall Drug but I am kind of a sucker for tourist traps, and if you are travelling with kids Wall Drug is a must see! From Wall you are only 55 miles to Rapid City, the entry point to the Black Hills. If you have the time I recommend staying in Wall so that you have plenty of time to explore the Badlands. We like staying at the Frontier Cabins in Wall, they are affordable, adorable, kid-friendly and the customer service can’t be beat. Wall is located outside of another must see location, Badlands National Park.
Badlands National Park is an amazing place. The scenery is gorgeous and the wildlife is so exciting to see. We have seen big horn sheep, buffalo, mule deer, prairie dogs and even a rattle snake! The national park offers a wonderful visitor center and plenty of spots around the park to stop and do some hiking. If you are travelling during the summer then I’d recommend going to the park either early or in the late afternoon because it does get very hot!
On Day 3 we head to Rapid City. On our last trip we decided to stay in Rapid City and drive into the Black Hills for daytrips. Rapid City has many great attractions such as:
- Dinosaur Park – a must see if you have small kids
- The Outdoor Campus – West
- The Presidential Walk downtown
- Museum of Geology
- Storybook Island
- Chapel in the Hills
The Black Hills of South Dakota are the next attraction on the journey. Within the Black Hills there are endless options for family adventures; it just depends on your family’s interests and how much time you have. Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association has an excellent website to help you plan your trip at http://www.blackhillsbadlands.com
Some of our personal favorites include:
- Custer State Park
- Needles Highway
- Mount Rushmore
- Deadwood, SD
- Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway and Roughlock Falls
- Iron Mountain Road (Hwy 16A) – There are tunnels built to give you a head on view of Mount Rushmore as you drove through.
There are still a number of places on my South Dakota bucket list that we can’t wait to get back out there to check out:
And that is just to name a few! Stay tuned to sKIDaddler’s adventure categories for South Dakota as we continue to add new adventure ideas!
While all seasons offer their own advantages and disadvantages, there is one time of year that I would not recommend taking your family vacation to the Black Hills – the first week of August. During this week almost a half million people descend on the Black Hills for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Hotels become crazy expensive and it is terrifying driving with tens of thousands of motorcycles! (Trust me, I lived this first hand driving out to pick up my parents one year after my dad sustained an injury and couldn’t drive his motorcycle back!)
Road tripping with kids takes a little bit of planning, but a little planning and organizing ahead of time will make for a better trip for everyone! sKIDaddlers has some great ideas under our Tips & Goodies section, check out “Keeping Kiddos Happy on Road Trips” for some ideas!