We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.
Book On TripAdvisor Bonus Book your hotel on TripAdvisor — then save 20% on things to do for your trip. Use code BOOKTOSAVE.

Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

Which South Dakota hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
Winona, Minnesota
Level Contributor
46 posts
1 review
Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

Hi all. I'm doing some fun pre-planning for our Summer 2014 family vacation to the Black Hills. We are coming from extreme Southeast MN. We are close to Interstate 90 and will take that all the way across. We are going for nearly 2 weeks and will be spending 9 nights in the Black Hills. We have 3 children who will be 3, 7 and 10 at the time and unfortunately, they aren't the most patient travelers, so we'll be breaking up the trip on the way there and back in Sioux Falls. We've never been there before, so excited to spend some time there! We're ones to spend a fair amount of time (2-4 hrs.) at various attractions, so I hope I'm not packing too much in. That's where I might need your help. While our kids are not good travelers, they make up for it by being superb during the day, lots of stamina and they don't need much for daytime "down" time. We should be able to go, go, go! We're not ones to vacation the same place twice very often so I' would like to see as much as possible. We will do a good mix of dining out and packing stuff. Will likely have at least 1 meal out a day. Here's what I've come up with so far....

Day 1- Leave home at 1pm, pit stop at the Green Giant statue /DQ in Blue Earth, MN, continue to Sioux Falls/Falls Park. Considering staying at the Brimark Inn.

Day 2- Great Plains Zoo, Sertoma Butterfly House/The Outdoor Campus, get on the road to Porter Sculpture Park .... continue to Mitchell for the night. Considering staying at the Comfort Suites being they have a small waterpark.

Day 3- Corn Palace, Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, get on the road to 1880 Town in Murdo.... continue to (or hoping to stay at) Cedar Pass Lodge/Badlands for the night.

Day 4- Explore the Badlands most of the day and Wall Drug.... continue to Hill City and check into cabin for the next 9 nights

Day 5- Bear Country, Old MacDonalds Farm, Reptile Gardens (curious about lunchtime fare during this day... go into Rapid City? Are there quick restaurants close?

Day 6- (Rapid City day) Museum of Geology, Journey Museum, downtown Rapid city (art alley/fountains/presidential statues, etc.), Storybook Island and finish the night at Dinosaur Park

Day 7- (Hill City day) 10am 1880 Train Ride round trip, Black Hills Institute Museum, Teddy Bear Town, rock shops (Dakota Stone Rock Shop/Things That Rock?), end the day at Fort Hays Old West Town & Dinner show.

Day 8- (Keystone day) Wax museum, Rushmore Cave/Eagle Zipline, etc., Alpine slide (late lunch at the top), Red Garter Saloon show, explore downtown Keystone (have a friend that lives there so we'll spend time with them this day), end the day at Cosmos.

Day 9- Needles Hwy/Iron Mountain Rd drive, Sylvan Lake swim/hike, Hike Harney Peak (or attempt it!), end the day driving Wildlife Loop and Mt. Coolidge Drive.

Day 10- Jewel Cave Tour, Crazy Horse and the scenic way to Mt. Rushmore/Presidential Trail....staying for the evening lighting ceremony

Day 11- (day trip to Spearfish/Devils Tower) Drive up Spearfish Canyon to the 10am tour at Spirit of the Wildlife animal sanctuary, the Fish Hatchery (if open, rumors it's closing?), continue to Devils Tower and spend most of the day, head back down Spearfish Canyon to be back to the cabin in Hill City before dark. Anything else that we should do this day? What are the best/most obvious stops along Spearfish byway?

Day 12- Another trip to the Wildlife Loop (this time, up and at 'em early!), Wind Cave National Park tour, Mammoth Site, maybe find Cascade Falls/Springs?, end the day at Evan's Plunge since it's open until 9pm (or is that something to skip? My kids love swimming and we aren't doing much swimming this vacation like they are used to, so it might be a really fun thing for them. Unless it's just simply really bad, like several reviews) ...

Day 13- Check out of cabin and start the journey home. Stop at Call of the Wild/Gas station, Visit the Air and Space museum, thinking of the Minuteman Missile site?, stop at the Chamberlain Lewis & Clark rest stop, continue to Sioux Falls for the night.

Day 14- Head home! Hit the SPAM museum in Austin.

I should note that one evening we want to see the Grand Magic Show located at Bedrock City, but unsure if they'll be running weekend or weeknight shows at that time. And maybe spending some time AT Bedrock City? Unsure about the quality vs. $ spent on that attraction yet.

One more thing... Circle B Ranch Chuckwagon event. Going back and forth on that one as well. Is that one better than Fort Hays in anyone's opinion? Or is another one better? Looking for the most things for the kids to do. My boys will be 3 and 7 so definitely into all things cowboy.

What do you think?

South Dakota
Level Contributor
3,834 posts
161 reviews
1. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

Wow! I just have some random, opinionated comments to throw at you. Take them or leave them. :)

-Day 5: Yes, you could head into Rapid for lunch. It's not far from these attractions. With kids, one thing you might want to consider is buying groceries and doing sack lunches. Many of the places you'll visit on this trip may not be close to a restaurant when you want to break for lunch. This way, you can eat lunch when you're ready and not have to interrupt whatever you're doing to drive a ways and find food.

-Day 9: This day is way too full and doing all those scenic drives in one day will drive the kids batty. You will not have time for the Harney Peak hike (need to allow around 5 hrs) plus the three drives and swimming at Sylvan. I would also say that Harney Peak would be really hard for the 3 y.o. to do. Split up the drives so that you're doing at least one of them on a different day. The drives have slow speeds, lots of photo stops and winding roads, so they will take you longer than you'd guess. You could do Iron Mt. Rd. on the way to Rushmore on day 10.

-Day 11: No need to add anything else to this day. It will be full. Roughlock Falls is, in my opinion, the prettiest thing to see in Spearfish Canyon. It's a short drive on a gravel road behind the Spearfish Canyon Lodge.

-Day 12: I haven't been to Cascade Falls. It's supposed to be really nice, but your kids might be a bit too young for it. Reviewers have said there are deep spots and the water rushes pretty quickly. Yes, Evan's Plunge has gotten bad reviews. Earlier this year, though, it was purchased by the city of Hot Springs, so it's possible things will improve.

-Day 13: If you want to be able to tour the Minuteman Site, you need to get there first thing in the morning. I would maybe nix one of the other museums in Rapid in favor of the Air and Space Museum on Day 6.

-You didn't mention your specific dates. Since you said "summer", I'm guessing June-Aug. Be sure to avoid the Sturgis Rally the first half of August. I'm guessing, though, that you've already done your research into this and are aware of the rally.

South Dakota
Level Contributor
3,834 posts
161 reviews
2. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

Oh, and the Sioux Falls portion. The Brimark is a nice value for the money. There's not a lot nearby for restaurants. If you're looking for a place to eat, get back on I-29, go south and take the 26th St. or 41st St. exits. Lots of dining options there. The 12th St. exit comes first, but I think you will like the neighbhorhood and the options better at the other two exits.

You might want to skip the Butterfly House and Outdoor Campus. The Butterfly House is small and expensive and both are on the south side of town. I'd personally do the zoo (The Washington Pavilion is a good option if it's raining) and then hit the road west.

Winona, Minnesota
Level Contributor
46 posts
1 review
3. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

Thank you! Yes, that is exactly the kind of input I want, haha. I was wondering about the scenic drive day being a bit much, I'll put Iron Mt. Road before Mt. Rushmore, great idea. We do have a toddler backpack hiking carrier that he might be able to squeeze into for Harney Peak, or at least walk some/carry some. Or maybe we'll skip it, we'll have to play that one by ear. I sure would like to though, ugh! Tentatively, I'm planning on leaving June 8th and back home on June 21st. Maybe we'll even get done before the large summer crowds? Wishful thinking :) Good info. about the Minuteman site, we'll have to play that one by ear. If my husband isn't interested in it, we can skip. I'd like to hit most of the museums, the kids are into the good "hands on" stuff most have. Thanks again, much appreciated.

Edited: 8:11 pm, October 04, 2013
Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
Level Contributor
5,196 posts
34 reviews
4. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

Great comments and advice from 3174. I completely agree to not do all the drives in Custer SP in one day, particularly with kids. I don't know how they'd be on the Harney Peak hike, but you should definitetly allot a fair amount of time for it. I haven't done it, as it's a bit ambitious for us. For the drives, it's great to group the Wildlife loop with the Mammoth Site and Wind Cave. It also makes sense to group Crazy Horse with Jewel Cave, Sylvan Lake, and the Needles.

I believe the fish hatchery has received funding, so hopefully it will remain open for when you are there.

How much do your kids like trains? It's often recommended to have a person drive a car to either Hill City or Keystone (depending on which way you ride) and just do the 1st leg, as the narration is the same and can be boring. I am not a train person, so I would only do the train if you have nothing else of interest for the day. It's warm and not overly scenic. Just my opinion, for you might really want to ride.

Also, in Spearfish Canyon, Spearfish Falls are also very nice and are located behind the Lachstring Inn. The hike is quite short and very manageable.

Good advice on the Minuteman Site. We arrived at 9:15 and the earliest tour we could get was 1:30, and our entire party would have not been able to be accomodated. YOu might try to arrive early on day 4 for early tickets and then head to the Badlands. Also, I believe the Air and Space Museum has a replica of a missile you can tour, so if you can't get tickets, you could check this out.

I can't comment on Bedrock City, as I havent't been there, but I will say that it looks like it's been spruced up a bit from the outside. I am sure it's pretty small. I think I'd play that one by ear and only go if there's nothing else of interest.

I've heard positive things on the Fort Hayes Chuck Wagon, as well as the one at Blue Bell Lodge in Custer SP. However, it is pricier than the others. I will say the quality of food at the lodges is excellent, so you will get a good meal for sure. We aren't much into western music, so we have not tried one of these due to lack of interest.

If you haven't done so, be sure to order the travel planner at travelsd.com to get a great feel for the area.

Let us know if we can help further.

Winona, Minnesota
Level Contributor
46 posts
1 review
5. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

Thanks again everyone! Keep the suggestions coming, I appreciate them. Thanks for the "grouping attractions" recommendations also. Has anyone noticed if there's any key attractions or sights I'm missing? Good suggestion about the train ride, I bet we could get our friends who live in Keystone to take our vehicle to the other side.

Edited: 5:53 pm, October 05, 2013
Arlington, Virginia
Level Contributor
10,513 posts
109 reviews
6. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

I spent my childhood summers in the Black Hills and we returned for 9 days in mid-June 2013. We found it to be a great time of year to be there. The attractions we visited were busy, but not overrun yet with tourists. Also the weather was very good. So I think you are planning your trip for an excellent time.

I won't comment on every day's itinerary, although I find it a bit too busy for me (and I'm someone who is always on the go on vacation too.) Don't be surprised if you find you can't fit everything you have planned into each day. You might want to choose a couple of "must do's" for each day and then fit in extras if time permits. Stuff happens, especially when you travel with kids.

But here are a couple of comments:

1. I definitely would not do the 1880 Train round trip, and I'm not sure I can even recommend doing the train at all. I remember going on the 1880 Train when I was about 10 years old and found the whole trip rather boring. There was no air conditioning (remember it's 1880) and the carriage was hot and we sometimes had ash from the engine coming in the windows. Unless you and the kids are keen on trains, you might want to re-consider this activity.

2. Hiking Harney Peak will be a challenge, especially for the 3 year old. I've done this hike 4 times, the first time when I was about 10 years old. As an adult, I did this hike once with my 4-year-old son. He managed to walk most of the way, but had to be carried by his dad some of the time. It will take most of a day to do this hike with kids. If you want an easier hike, the 1-mile loop around Sylvan Lake is good. There are some places where the kids can scramble on the rocks and it's quite scenic.

3. Personally, I don't think the kids will get much out of a visit to the Minuteman Missile Site, but do go if it something the adults want to see it because it's very worthwhile. However, there is no way you are going to get tickets unless you are there first thing in the morning. (Like Sirtravelplanner, we were at the MM site by 9am and there were not available tickets until 1:30 pm.) There is a replica of the MM launch room at the SD Air and Space Museum and you can also go on your own to the Delta 09 site near the Badlands and see a missile in an underground silo.

4. I might also give Flintstone Village a pass. I went there as a kid and enjoyed it, but that in was in the days before attractions like the Alpine Slide, Bear Country, etc. So Flintstone Village was pretty cool then. We took our kids when they were 4 and 7 and they weren't really impressed and neither was I. Mostly you walk around and look into the various Flintstone character houses--you can't go inside most of the buildings. There is a pretty fun playground, however. Unless your kids are big fans of the Flintstone cartoons, they aren't going to appreciate most of the stuff there anyway.

5. I had dinner with a friend tonight who'd gone to the Spam museum this summer and she said it was really fun.

Edited: 11:39 pm, October 05, 2013
Winona, Minnesota
Level Contributor
46 posts
1 review
7. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

Thanks Longhorn! I think we'll definitely do the one way train trip and have a friend drive our vehicle to the other end. I have 2 boys that I *think* (hoping!) will enjoy the trip one way at least. We've been to a handful of train museums and rides and they like it, so crossing fingers. I'm sure my 10 year old daughter will be mindlessly bored, but she'll have to take one for the team.

Harney Peak... yes, I think we'll really have to reevaluate this one closer to the time. The Sylvan hike is on the itinerary, is there any other less than 2 mi. scenic hikes in the area that are noteworthy?

I agree on the MM missile site and Bedrock City, I think we'll likely skip both of them. We'll definitely find time for the Air and Space museum, so that should be sufficient. The magic show is at BR City, so I was thinking to look around a little before that if time, but it's likely not worth the admission fee.

Thanks again everyone!

South Dakota
Level Contributor
3,834 posts
161 reviews
8. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

We did the train round trip, and, if I had to do it again, I'd have one adult drive (as you've said). We all enjoyed the ride over. We took the first train out of Hill City in the morning and it was not crowded. However, we made the huge mistake of getting off in Keystone to use the bathroom (there are none on the train) and got behind a huge mob of people waiting to board in Keystone. By the time we got back on, there were no seats left together. Our oldest child had to sit in a car by himself with strangers while DH and I each took one of the younger kids in separate cars. Then we found out they used the same dialogue on the trip back and I think we were all more than ready to get off long before we returned to Hill City.

Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
683 posts
12 reviews
9. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

On Day 5 you asked if there are any quick restaurants in the area. Both Reptile Gardens and Bear Country have grills were you can purchase food.

There are many hiking trails which you could do with your 3 year old. Harney Peak and Sunday Gulch Trails are two of our favorites but may be a little too long or strenuous for a 3 year old. You might consider the trail to Little Devil's Tower which is in the same area. It is much shorter, a little over a mile one-way, and has terrific view at the top. Most of the trail is what I call moderate but does involve some rock climbing at the end that would probably be considered strenuous. However, we have seen families navigate the rock climbing with small children around the age of your 3 year old and seem to have no problem. In fact, I think the younger ones scurry up the rocks quite easily. The trails around the Custer State Park lakes, Sylvan, Legion and Stockade, are fairly easy. Here is a web site describing the trails in Custer State Park. …sd.gov/state-parks/…hiking-biking.aspx Another easy, beautiful trail is what we call the Deerfield Lake Trail, although I am not sure that is it's correct name. A favorite of the locals, it is located northwest of Pactola Lake which is about 8 to 10 miles north of Hill City. To get to it, take US 385 past Pactola Lake to the road to Silver City, about a mile north of the lake on the left hand side (west) of 385. Follow the gravel road, approximately 3 miles, to the end. There is a small parking lot at the trails head. The trail is level and follows Rapid Creek through a beautiful canyon all the way to Deerfield Lake, but you can turn around at any time. The creek is crystal clear. You can see trout and other fish swimming. In fact, if your kids like to fish, it is a great place to do so. It is a catch and release only fishing spot and you would be required to obtain a fishing license. There is also a pretty little, short trail on the northeast end of Pactola Lake also with beautiful views of the lake. Once you are in Spearfish Canyon, you can hike or drive to Roughlock Falls. We prefer the easy, beautiful trail to the falls which starts right behind the Spearfish Canyon Lodge. It takes us about a 1/2 hour to 45 min. to hike one way. As mentioned by srltravelplanner, the short 10 min. hike to Spearfish Falls is worth it and easy. The trail around Devil's Tower is paved and a very easy hike. I think you will find you will only spend about an hour here. There is a prairie dog town that might add 15 minutes to an half hour to your time at Devil's Tower but I think you will actually spend more time in Spearfish Canyon.

Another activity that might interest you would be to rent a boat for a morning or afternoon and go out on either Pactola Lake or Sheridan Lake. Sylvan and Legion Lakes in Custer State Park have row boats, bicycle boats and kayaks to rent also. We usually spend part of a day on Pactola Lake and have the broasted chicken offered by the marina for lunch while tooling around the lake. We prefer Pactola Lake over Sheridan Lake because it is larger, and the owner's of the marina are great, but have enjoyed being on Sheridan Lake as well. I have included Pactola Pines Marina's website for you. http://www.pactolapines.com/

We have been to several of the Chuckwagon Dinner and Shows and found Blue Bell Lodge's to be the best we attended. Although we have not attended, we have heard very good things about the show and dinner at the Circle B and mixed reviews about Fort Hays. I think Circle B will have a lot of activities for your children's ages and be the better choice for your family. The Circle B Cowboy Dinner & Show is located at the High Country Guest Ranch which also has a small outdoor theater where the Native American Band Brule performs. They are fantastic and I highly recommend seeing them in concert, also. Their music is contemporary with an influence of native chants, drums and the flute. Native American dancers, in gorgeous, full regalia, perform with them. Native American traditions and beliefs are explained, making the concert educational as well. Our audience was filled with families with young children, many who had just come from the Cowboy Dinner & Show. Everyone was on their feet at the end of the concert, including the little ones. Tickets for the concert are pretty reasonable. You can check out TA reviews for Brule and I think you will find most are in agreement with me. Brule will be performing June 17, 2014 through August 30, 2014 at the theater. I don't believe their schedule is up on the website yet. I would check again after the first of the new year. For info go to www.highcountryranch.com/bruletickets.htm

Kenora, Canada
Level Contributor
13 posts
89 reviews
10. Re: Summer 2014 family vacation Itinerary plans...input?

The best treat we found while on our trip this September was the ice cream at Mount Rushmore that is made from Thomas Jefferson's recipe. Also stop for a piece of pie at the Purple Pie Place in Custer - huge pieces so remember to share. The saloon in Keystone and the Firehouse Brewery in Rapid City are really nice themed restaurants that the children might like to visit - both have good food and quick service. There is to much to see You will love the black hills!