South Dakota Summer Vacation

Hello! Happy summer, it's hot here and finally feels like summer! I'm so excited for all the adventures we will have and for the lazy days too. We just got back from Yellowstone and I'm just starting to sort through pictures. Last summer we spent a week in South Dakota and loved every minute of it, so I thought I'd share about that trip in case you are still planning this summer's adventures.

2016 is the 100th anniversary of our National Parks. National Parks are my absolute favorite and basically every vacation we ever take in America will likely include a trip to a National Park or Historic Site. I just think it is such a great value and a great opportunity to really see America. If you are going to visit more than one place in a year, I definitely recommend getting an Interagency Pass. The Interagency Pass is $80 and it's good for one year for your entire family (or whoever is in your car) at any of the national parks/federal lands/historic sites throughout the country (read about that here), there's at least 64 places just in Colorado. Additionally, if you are in the Military or 4th grade, your pass is free (for the whole family)! You can see all the places your National Parks pass is good right here. 

I've mentioned before that our boys love earning Jr. Ranger badges at all the National Parks/Memorials/Historic Sites. Thing One earned SIX badges on this South Dakota trip, and the whole family had fun exploring together from climbing to caving, we did it all. Here's the highlights:

We were driving from Colorado, so we decided to start by swinging up north to Devil's Tower in Wyoming. We spent just a couple of hours here checking out the visitor center and climbing on the boulder field. The rocks were huge and I was a little nervous as the crevices between them were large enough to swallow a small child or two, but it was fun and we returned with both boys.  It's cool to watch the expert rock climbers make it to the top. They look so tiny up there! It was a great chance for us to stretch after several hours in the car. Then we continued the rest of the way to Rapid City, SD.

The view of Devil's Tower from afar.

When we got to Rapid City we spent the first day just exploring the small town. It's a super cute town with lots for families to do. We especially loved the splash park in Main Street Square. 


Rapid City is known as the "City of Presidents" because they have a statue of every president on the corner of almost every downtown block. Check out the city website here for info on the presidential scavenger hunt. Things One and Two loved trying to find them all and match up the picture clues.

The other thing that was fun in Rapid City was Storybook Island. This is a giant free park that is filled with play forts and characters from classic children's tales. The park is free, but they sell snacks and charge for rides on the mini train and carousel (you are not allowed to bring in outside food, but there are picnic tables just outside the gates in the city park). This was a great afternoon activity for young kids. Both boys loved finding characters from so many stories (The Wizard of Oz, Winnie the Pooh, Cat in the Hat, and all the classic fairy tales).

The next day we sent to both Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument. The great thing about the caves is that weather is never a factor. Whether its rainy or 100º the caves are cool and mostly dry. 

Wind Cave National Park.

Jewel Cave National Monument. The caves were a little different than other National Parks/Monuments, because you do have to pay to go down into the caves. You can hike and explore above ground, but going into the caves requires a tour guide for safety, so you need to buy tickets and plan your day around the time of the tour you're taking. We stuck with the short and really basic tours, since we had pretty small kids. Young kids are not permitted on the longer underground hikes. So make sure to check all the details before buying your tickets. 

One of our favorite parts of the trip was driving through Custer State Park. It's so beautiful. 

We drove Needles Highway and hiked around Sylvan Lake.

Of course we went to Mt Rushmore,

and saw Crazy Horse.

We did do Bear Country USA. It's like a drive through zoo of bears, and a few other animals. It was both weird and cool. It was pretty fun to see all the baby bears and so many big bears, but felt really touristy. A lot like the zoo I guess. 

I wouldn't have know about this if I hadn't read it on another blog, but out toward the Badlands you will find the Minute Man Missile National Historic Site. If you are a collector of Jr Ranger badges, or interested in the Cold War,  this is a good stop. Thing One and I went through the museum-like visitor center in about 45 minutes and watched the video, which was pretty interesting. 

Probably my favorite day of the trip was the day we went to Badlands National Park. We saw buffalo, big horn sheep, a burrowing owl, and a turtle fossil and the landscape was just amazing. 

It was over 100º the day we were there in July, so we actually drove out to Wall Drug for a few hours in the afternoon, had dinner there, and came back to the Badlands for a sunset hike. It had cooled off a lot by then and the sunset was amazing.

Wall Drug was the highlight of Thing One's trip. He had built it up in his mind and I don't think he was disappointed. : ) They have a splash pad in the "backyard" now and that was great because like I said, it was 100º!

The boys also loved the live dinosaur. Wall Drug is an experience for sure. If you haven't been there, you just have to go. I enjoyed reading the history of it (find it here), and we all enjoyed our free ice water and a stop at the ice cream parlor (and the restaurant, and the bookstore, and the arcade...).

On our last day we toured the Big Thunder gold mine, and also panned for gold. They have gem panning for younger kids so that they are sure to find some treasures. We didn't find a lot of gold, but did have a good time.

And that was our trip to South Dakota. I couldn't recommend it more. The whole time we just kept saying how fun it was. America has a lot of really great places to visit. I feel pretty lucky to be in Colorado where we are 8 hours or less to so many awesome National Parks. Rapid City is just a 6 hour drive from Denver. So you can leave early and be there for lunch. Even a long weekend would be worth the drive. Whatever your plans this summer, I hope that you get to enjoy some nature and some history and make some awesome memories with your family. Happy 100th, National Parks. We love you a lot!

Happy summer and happy travels!!


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