Rapid City, South Dakota

8 years
6 years
4 years
2013-07-12 to 2013-07-14

We visited Rapid City, South Dakota this past July and we were amazed at just how much there was to do there! We're usually pretty nomadic when we travel, staying in one place for only a day at a time. This trip was different though. Our first night in Rapid City, we decided to camp at the Rapid City KOA. We've only been camping as a family a handful of times, but I have to say, staying at a KOA is a MUST with kids! They really take care of everything for you. I booked our campsite online as we drove into Rapid City that night and when we pulled in to check in, they had all the paperwork prepared and we had no hassles.

We had enough daylight left to get our tents set up and the kids ran around like crazy at the playground, which was right next to our tent site. They had the playground, a pool and hot tub, and even an indoor arcade, so there was plenty to keep the kids busy. The bathrooms were clean and also close by. They had showers we were able to use and I was SO thankful for the laundry facilities.

kids looking at the prairie dog townIf you're going to camp, this is the place to go. I have to admit, our family is not great at camping. It's hard for the kids to go to sleep and they wake up as soon as the sun comes up. I think overall though, our camping experience was good. I was especially thrilled for the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast they had in the morning. The hardest part of camping is feeding your family breakfast and KOA makes that part super easy. They even had eggs, sausage, and bacon available to go along with the pancakes. Our family left after breakfast, happy and full!

The awesome thing about Rapid City is it's just a short drive to Keystone and Mt Rushmore. Keystone is a pretty big tourist town, so it's FULL of kitschy, overpriced tourist traps. Rapid City is a bigger city and certainly had it's fair share of tourist attractions, but overall, I think the quality was much better.

We visited Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, and Dinosaur Park and we loved all three! We ended up staying in an Econolodge for several nights after spending one night at the KOA. The weather was flaky for most of our trip and we didn't want to camp in the rain! The kids were really stoked on the hotel because it had an indoor pool with a water slide. It's funny how excited kids will get over a water slide. Seriously. The hotel was nice enough and it had a free breakfast, so for the price, you couldn't beat it! It was much cheaper staying in Rapid City than Keystone!

Reptile Gardens:

Located at 8955 S. Highway 16 Rapid City, SD 57702

Open daily April to November with varied hours

Free parking is available on site

Admission varies from season toseason but ranges from $8 to $16 per person

giant alligator at Reptile Gardens in South DakotaI had read great reviews about Reptile Gardens, so we were pretty excited about it. We visited the dome first, which housed tons of snakes, birds, and reptiles. Max did a report on snakes in second grade, so he was very excited about seeing all the snakes. They had so many snakes on display, it was incredible… little snakes, big snakes, venomous snakes, non-venomous snakes, rattlesnakes, and cobras.

The bird aviary reminded me of butterfly garden at the botanical gardens. It was enclosed but the birds were allowed to fly around. There were canaries and quails running around and macaws hanging out in the trees. They had tons of turtles to look at too and a guy holding a snake that the kids could touch.

Downstairs in the dome, they had alligators, crocodiles, and various bearded lizards and such. The alligators and crocs were humongous… they had one that was 33 feet long! We’ve seen crocodiles at the Kansas City Zoo and they always look like they’re sleeping but these guys were really active, walking around their enclosures, splashing in the water.

After the dome, we headed to catch the tail end of the snake show. The guy doing the show was really knowledgeable. He brought out several different snakes including a cobra and a prairie rattlesnake (which is native to South Dakota). He talked about the different snakes and let them slither around on the stage (behind a plastic wall of course).

things to do in South Dakota with kids visit Reptile GardensMax really enjoyed the snake show and I really liked the fact that it was the same guy doing all the shows. The times were staggered so you could watch all three shows (snake show, alligator show, bird show) right in a row. When the snake show was over, we headed over to watch the alligator show.

The trainer told us all about the differences between alligators and crocodiles (and caimans), he showed us how to wrestle an alligator (even I was impressed!), and then he fed the alligators. The kids really loved that show and the best part was the kids got to pet Fluffy, the baby alligator.

We skipped the bird show, but instead wandered around the outside animal areas, looking at the prairie dogs and the giant tortoises and playing on the small play area. And of course we hit up the gift shop on our way out (which was HUGE!). I found some car bingo boards and an I Spy road trip card game that were just perfect for what we needed. Overall Reptile Gardens was a great time and definitely worth the money.

Bear Country USA:

bighorn sheep at Bear Country USA Rapid City South DakotaLocated at 13820 US 16 Rapid City, SD 57702

Open daily May through November (closed during inclement weather)

Free parking is available in their parking lot

Admission ranges from $10 to $16 per person (children 4 & under are free)

All visitors must remain inside their cars for the drive-through portion of the park, with windows rolled up, and no feeding the animals

Josh and I visited BearCountry USA on our honeymoon ten years ago and we just loved it, so we knew we wanted to take the kids for sure. In the first part of the drive through Bear Country, most of the animals were hiding in the tall grass. We let the kids unbuckle and they crowded around the windows looking at the reindeer, the bighorn sheep, and the bobcats. It's totally safe to do this since you're only driving about 5 miles an hour.

baby bears wrestlingMost of the drive through area was mildly interesting, but when we got to the bear section, it was very entertaining. There were tons of bears and they were all wandering around right near the road. The kids were so excited to see them so close up. The bears were wandering around, climbing on rocks and logs and a few were even swimming.

After we finished driving through the park, we parked our cars and walked through Babyland. They have tons of different baby animals though most of them were snoozing in their little houses. We saw arctic wolves, beavers, bobcats, black bears, red foxes, and timber wolves. 

The best part of course was watching the baby bears. The keeper had them out playing and it must have been feeding time because most of the babies were out running around. We spent at least twenty minutes being entertained by the wrestling baby bears.

Dinosaur Park:

Located at 940 Skyline Drive Rapid City, SD 57702

Open daily May through October

Free parking available in the adjacent lot

Gift shop open May 31st to September 6th

Dinosaur Park in Rapid City South DakotaDinosaur park first opened in 1936. It's located up on a hill overlooking Rapid City. Our kids had seen the giant dinosaur statues up on the hill as we commuted between Rapid City and Keystone. Most of the reviews I read online said it was a lame park, so we almost skipped it. Lia really wanted to go though, so we squeezed in some time at sunset one evening and we were glad we did!

I'm not sure why people give it such bad reviews to be honest. It's a free park with seven huge dinosaur sculptures for kids to climb on. I'm not sure what's not to love! Our kids were entertained for almost a solid hour, just runnind around climbing on the statues and pretending to be dinosaurs. It was a welcome retreat from the crowded, expensive (but fun!) tourist attractions.

Aside from having some awesome dinosaurs to look at, Dinosaur Park boasts 100 mile views! I will say, you could definitely see far and the view was gorgeous! They also had a gift shop that was open while we were there. We popped in and ending up getting quite a few little dinosaur trinkets and several books. The gift shop had a great variety of fun things for purchase and it wasn't overpriced! I highly recommend stopping here for a quick trip if you're ever in Rapid City. It would make for a great picnic spot as well!


boy looking at turtles at Reptile Gardens
awesome birds at Reptile Gardens in South Dakota
kids looking at the animals in the Dome
boy looking at a giant snake at Reptile Gardens
kids looking at an alligator
giant alligator at Reptile Gardens in South Dakota
kids looking at the prairie dog town
trainer wrestling an alligator at Reptile Gardens
things to do in South Dakota with kids visit Reptile Gardens
kids petting Fluffy the alligator
girl playing on the balance beam
kids looking at the prairie dogs
kids checking out giant tortoises at Reptile Gardens
little girl petting a giant tortoise
boy touching a snake at Reptile Gardens
deer in the tall grass at Bear Country USA
Bear Country USA drive through zoo
bighorn sheep at Bear Country USA Rapid City South Dakota
things to do in South Dakota with kids
bears taking a swim
brown bear at the Bear Country USA
bears hanging out at the zoo in South Dakota
Bear Country USA top attractions in Rapid City South Dakota
baby bears at Babyland
baby bears wrestling
baby bears playing at Bear Country USA
Dinosaur Park in Rapid City South Dakota
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kids playing on dinosaur statues
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kids playing at Dinosaur Park
girl on a dinosaur statue
Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions


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