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Economical Family Trip

Cloquet, Minnesota
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Economical Family Trip

I will be travelling to South Dakota with my three ages 6,8 and 12 on August 23rd. we are traveling from Minnesota, will spend out first night in Sioux falls and then I think that we will go to the badlands on day 2 and Mt, Rushmore on day three.

I have never been to South Dakota and am a little hesitant to make this trip with the kids on my own. I would also like to stay on a pretty tight budget for the trip. Our one big splurge will be Bear Country USA.

Does anyone have any suggestions for an itinerary that we should use that might work better than what I have planned?? What are your favorite free attractions? Is there an inexpensive motel that we should look at or a very inexpensive campground?

Thanks for all of your help :)

Apple Valley...
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1. Re: Economical Family Trip

Mt Rushmore takes about half a day, several hours to explore. It is $10 to park there as well but otherwise its free. It is $15 for a vehicle to enter Custer State Park nearby and that would include several scenic drives and fun things for the kids to do as well, including swimming and climbing on the rocks at Sylvan Lake, driving the Wildlife Loop Road to see bison, deer, prairie dogs and burros. Needles Hwy and Iron Mountain Rd with the curves and tunnels, just fantastic scenery all around and from the top of Mt Coolidge Fire Lookout Tower or hiking Harney Peak. There are also Junior Ranger programs the kids can particpate in that I assume do not cost anything....and very easy to just bring a picnic lunch and not have to worry about restaurant costs. Do make sure to keep your Mt Rushmore parking pass to go back for the evening lighting ceremony as well.

Also $15 to enter Badlands Natl Park I think. There are several parks in the Rapid City area that would also be free, Dinosaur Park and Storybook Island I believe. Rapid City is about 30 minutes from the Mt Rushmore area but would possibly have cheaper lodging options.

Make sure to checkout Falls Park while in Sioux Falls, it is very pretty and free with an observation tower/elevator as well.

Also near the Badlands is Wall Drug were you can get free ice water and explore the backyard area with animal statues to play on.

Edited: 8:09 pm, August 11, 2013
Atlanta, Georgia
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
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2. Re: Economical Family Trip

Check out the map and online travel guide for the Black Hills at-


It has lots of good info!!

Pitman, New Jersey
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for Rapid City, South Dakota
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3. Re: Economical Family Trip

Iowagirl mentioned the most economical attractions, and the nice thing about the national parks, and even Custer SP is that those entrance fees are good for a week. The caves operated by the park service are also very economical, if they are of interest to you.

You could do a drive-by of Crazy Horse Memorial which would also be free. If you venture up to the northern hills, the DC Booth Fish Hatchery there is totally free and was really enjoyable. There's a house to tour, a railcar that transported the fish in yesteryear, and a small museum. The grounds are beautifully kept, and of course, you get to see many trout of different sizes. Spearfish Canyon is also free and has some easy hikes to beautiful waterfalls that would be well managed by your children. In Rapid City, Chapel in the Hills is free and is a very pretty Norwegian style church. This could be a quick stop, or longer if you are interested in attending a service. I believe they have them nightly.

We just returned from the area and found the parking fee for Rushmore has increased to $11. :( Inflation.....

Overall, I find the Black Hills is a pretty economical place to vacation.

Although not as central to attractions, Rapid City does typically have cheaper lodging. You might also look at the Rocket Motel in Custer. It's highly rated on this site and is a "throwback" motel that is rated as extremely clean but has 50ish style furnishings. It's pretty reasonably priced, but it is popular, so it's tough to say if it would have any availability.

Let us know if we can provide additional help.

South Dakota
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4. Re: Economical Family Trip

I agree about Story Book Island. Your older kids are too big for it, but the 6 year old will love it and your older ones will not die if they are forced to go. It's well worth your time. I also agree about the fish hatchery. It's adjacent to a pretty city park that would be a good spot for a picnic.

South Dakota's state parks have very affordable camping and tent sites are usually not too hard to come by. Custer State Park is the crown jewel of South Dakota camping and is in a good central location, but I'm not sure you'll find anything available this close to your travel date. It doesn't hurt to check, though. Go to www.campsd.com to see what's still open. There are some other state parks in the Hills that might have openings. Angostura Reservoir has camping, but the location is not central and you'd have to spend more time in the car to reach your destinations. If you're desperate, you could make it work.

Alberta, Canada
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5. Re: Economical Family Trip

If you do the wildlife loop, don't forget to take a couple of bags of carrots for the burros. Your kids (and you too) will get a kick out of this - very entertaining. The first time, we only had 1 bag - not nearly enough! On the second trip we made sure that we had 2 bags, and trust me, you won't have leftovers.

With regards to lodging:

We stayed at the Chief Motel in Custer in 2010 & 2012 and enjoyed our stay both times. The motel has a large indoor pool, parking outside your door - which is very convenient, and you can buy tickets from the motel for $1.99 each for a full breakfast (excluding drinks) at the Wrangler restaurant. I just checked the Chief Motel's website and for a 2queen room, the price states $64.99 + taxes, for a total of $72.51, and they had availability. If the price is acceptable to you, check out their website.

Fort Frances On.
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6. Re: Economical Family Trip

We pulled into Rapid City and tented 3 nights at Teepee Campground. We found it to be a great starting point each day. Camping was $16.00 / day with good bathrooms and clean shower house and free wifi. From there we did Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and drove through Custer State Park one day. The next day we went the other way to Sturgis and Deadwood. The 3rd day we went through the Badlands National park on our way home. Beside Teepee is the Dancing With Wolves film set with an all you can eat pancake breakfast for .99

7. Re: Economical Family Trip

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