Family Vacations to South Dakota - Family Traveller (USA)

South Dakota – Family Vacation Guide

Get a taste of the rugged and wild west in gorgeous South Dakota. Here, a vast and varied landscape awaits, with dramatic views that range from wide open plains dotted with buffalo to lakes set in forests to the spectacular and distinctive Badlands. With cities like Sioux Falls and Rapid City that act as perfect bases for everything from visiting interactive museums for kids to seeing the presidents’ faces at Mount Rushmore or hiking to the top of the tallest peak east of the Rockies, there are seemingly endless options for family-friendly spots and outdoor activities in this state.

Explore South Dakota


Why Go

  • Outdoor Activities

    From the Badlands to the Black Hills there’s no shortage of breathtaking views. Hiking, camping, canoeing, horseback riding, biking, skiing and wildlife spotting are just a few of the activities you can enjoy while taking in the scenery.

  • City Life

    Rapid City and Sioux Falls make great bases for experiencing the state. Explore the downtown shops and restaurants, visit interactive museums or feed animals at the zoo.

  • Road Trips

    South Dakota offers some of the most scenic drives in the country. Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, Spearfish Canyon and the Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park are a few of the most spectacular. Visit in early autumn for peak foliage that will truly wow.

  • History

    Slipping in educational opportunities is easy here. Tour the life-sized statues of all past presidents in Rapid City, learn about four pivotal presidents at world-famous Mount Rushmore and experience Native American culture and history at Crazy Horse Memorial or a pow wow. Visit Deadwood for a taste of the true Old West and see the spot where Buffalo Bill was shot.



Where to Go

 

From cities and towns to rolling hills to famous sights like Mount Rushmore, South Dakota has it all.

Rapid City

Rapid City is the perfect spot to make your home base for exploring the stunning Black Hills region.

  • Learn about American history with the City of Presidents that features life-size statues of of all past presidents scattered on corners throughout the city.
  • Drive a short 30 minutes and experience world-famous Mount Rushmore. Walk the Presidential Trail to see the faces from all angles and learn about the lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Kids will love Reptile Gardens, the largest reptile zoo in the world. Get up close and personal with snakes, see a gator show and meet giant tortoises.
  • Explore the many shops and restaurants found downtown and at Main Street Square. Be sure to stop in at Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries for quality handmade Plains Indian arts and crafts.
  • Learn about everything from the geology of the region to the Native American culture at the Journey Museum. The museum often hosts learning forums for kids and fun interactive activities for younger toddlers throughout the week.

Where to Stay: The WaTiki Indoor Waterpark Resort offers a complex of four different hotels with a variety of room types all just steps from an indoor waterpark that kids will love splashing around at.

Sioux Falls

South Dakota’s largest city is an ideal place to visit and set up camp for exploring the east side of the state.

  • Walk from downtown to Falls Park where you’ll see the city’s namesake. Water drops over 100 ft over the course of the falls and the views are extraordinary.
  • Kids will love the Great Plains Zoo that houses more than 1,000 animals. Highlights include African Savannah animals like rhinos, zebras and giraffes. Plus, don’t miss the award-winning Snow Monkeys exhibit or big cats like tigers and snow leopards.
  • At the Butterfly House & Aquarium families can wander through over 800 free-flying butterflies from around the world. On the aquarium side, The Cove plays host to hundreds of species of fishes and corals and kids won’t be able to get enough of the touch pool experience featuring two types of sharks and stingrays.
  • Get your sugar fix with a French macaron, loaded brownie or other pastries at CH Patisserie. Pastry Chef Chris Hanmer is a winner of Top Chef: Just Desserts so you know you’re in for a real sweet treat (pun intended!).

Where to Stay: Dakotah Lodge is just minutes from downtown and offers families a wide variety of options for rooms, including family suites. Relax by the fireplace on the outdoor patio or let kids tackle the 167-ft waterslide in the indoor waterpark while adults relax in the hot tub.

Custer State Park

Set in the Black Hills just a 30-minute drive from Rapid City, this 71,000 acre park features a stunning range of views and incredible wildlife.

  • Drive the Wildlife Loop and be on the lookout for buffalo, antelope, donkeys, prairie dogs and more.
  • Take a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour and get a once-in-a-lifetime experience off the beaten path in an open-air jeep for up-close-and-personal views of the animals and educational facts from the knowledgable guides.
  • Take a hike or do a guided horseback ride along scenic trails.
  • If you time your visit right, you can watch over 1,000 buffalo get wrangled by cowboys and cowgirls at the annual Buffalo Roundup.

Where to Stay: Sylvan Lake Lodge is located right inside the park and you can walk to Sylvan Lake for hiking, kayaking, canoeing and beautiful views. They also offer cabins that come with full kitchens and the biggest cabin can sleep up to 20 people — so you can bring the entire extended family.

Brookings

Just an hour north of Sioux Falls, Brookings offers exceptional opportunities for families.

  • Don’t miss the Children’s Museum of South Dakota. This highly interactive museum lets kids get a real farm-to-table experience as they role play growing food on the Prairie Farm and then selling it in the Market Fresh Grocery. Other experiences include working on fixing a car at Under the Hood, producing a newscast in the Kids Live! studio and a MiniExplorers gallery for kids four and under.
  • Transport yourself back in time with a stroll through Historic Downtown Brookings. Most of the buildings were built between 1894 and 1928 so kids can get a true taste of the past.
  • Experience life back in the pioneer era with a trip to the Brookings County History Museum. Kids can see an old school house, vintage farm equipment and a log cabin from 1870.

Badlands National Park

A short one hour drive from Rapid City you’ll hit the captivating Badlands National Park, a maze of buttes, canyons and spires that seem straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.

  • Take a scenic drive through this striking landscape and experience the other-worldly terrain from every angle. Make sure you have your cameras ready.
  • Get a closer look with a hike or a stay at one of the campgrounds.
  • Kids can become Junior Rangers and learn about the plants, fossils and history of the park. They can also take part in the ranger-led Night Sky program for incredible stargazing views.
  • Be on the lookout for buffalo, goats, coyotes, eagles and more wildlife.

What to Do

  • Mount Rushmore

    See the world-famous carved faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

  • Children’s Museum of South Dakota, Brookings

    Kids will learn everything from farming and fixing cars to broadcast television and art at this highly interactive museum.

  • Custer State Park

    Take a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour for up close animal encounters or drive the Wildlife Loop.

  • Falls Park, Sioux Falls

    Take in the stunning waterfalls and views that give this city its name.

  • Hollingsworth Horses

    Get off the beaten trail and freely ride through the Black Hills National Forest on horseback.

  • The Badlands

    The result of millions of years of wind and water erosion, these canyons, spires and buttes are one of the most unique landscapes in the country.

  • Reptile Gardens, Rapid City

    Kids will delight in visiting the largest reptile zoo in the world featuring gators, snakes, giant tortoises and so much more.

  • Home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, De Smet 

    Visit the homestead of the famed Little House on the Prairie author and be transported back to the pioneer era.

  • Wind Cave

    Explore this underground national park and have kids take part in the Junior Ranger Program.

  • Scenic Drives

    Drive some of the most scenic routes in the country for tunnel views of Mount Rushmore, stunning fall foliage and loops of wooden bridges.




 

Getting Around

A car is best for getting around South Dakota. While Rapid City offers a bus system and Sioux Falls has a reliable metro system, a car is necessary for visiting some the best and most famous sites, such as Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and the scenic highway routes.

 

All photos courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism.

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