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Help on ininerary and lodging for South Dakota trip.

Lincoln, Nebraska
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Help on ininerary and lodging for South Dakota trip.

Hello Everyone,

I'm planning my first trip to South Dakota with my wife and our 2 1/2 year old son. Just have some questions on our lodging and itinerary. We are planning a 4 or 5 day trip in late June and are driving from Lincoln, NE. I know things book up early so I want to get everything figured out ASAP.

First thing I'm wondering about are cabins. We would love to stay in an affordable cabin that has nice scenery and possibly a playground or pool for my son. Any thoughts on where to go? It looked like Hill City had a lot of options but I wasn't sure.

As far as our itinerary we would love to do things my son will enjoy. He will be 3 when we go on this trip. We definitely want to see Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, Reptile Gardens, Wildlife Loop, the 1880 train ride, and go horseback riding. Anything else we should see and do? Are there any of these things we should plan for more time for than others, driving included?

Also had a question about horseback riding. Will my son be able to ride a horse with me or my wife if he is 3? What are some of the best horseback riding spots?

I really appreciate any tips and advice you guys have! Thank you so much!!!


South Dakota
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1. Re: Help on ininerary and lodging for South Dakota trip.

Hi Phillip,

We are working on getting a Top Question up about cabin rentals. Until then, here's a link about cabin rentals. Please read the first response post following the original question (authored by Mt. Mama).


I think all your choices are kid-friendly. I would also definitely add Bear Country and Storybook Island.

As far as the 1880 Train goes, it gets mixed reviews on here. My family enjoyed it, but if we had to do it again, we would do it like this:

-Get on the first train of the day in Hill City. That way, there will be plenty of seats.

-Have one parent drive a car and meet you in Keystone. Only ride one way. If you choose to do the round trip be warned that the narration and scenery are exact duplicates of whatever you saw/heard on the first leg of the trip. My kids were pretty bored/antsy on the return trip and they were older than your child. Also, there are no restrooms on the train, so if you get off to use the bathroom in Keystone, you will get caught in the mob waiting to get back on the train and getting seats together is tricky. If you go round trip, make sure one parent stays on the train to save your seats.

Time allotment:

-Rushmore- half day

-Custer State Park- Needs a full day, but we recommend splitting up the scenic drives into two different days. There are three scenic drives (Wildlife Loop, Needles, Iron Mt. Rd). You might also like the short hike around Sylvan Lake, a cool swim in Legion Lake or the drive up Mt. Coolidge. If your child is not angelic, you may want to bring something for him to do in the car because kids don't always appreciate scenic drives. That being said, I'm a firm believer that vacations are not just all about the kids, so definitely still do the drives for your own entertainment. They are must-sees.

-Bear Country-2 hours. Reptile Gardens- Half day. Do these on the same day because they're close to each other.

-Storybook Island-2ish hours. I would be sure to do this one. He is the perfect age for it and it's free.

Finally, I would work in the Badlands on your way to or from the Hills. Like the other scenic drives, it is a must-see. Allow 2-3 hours to drive the main loop.

As a side note, I usually recommend Spearfish Canyon to people, but in your case, with a young child, I'd probably skip it on this trip. I think you'll be spending enough time in the car with him and it's farther north than the other things you're seeing. The other scenic drives have some unique features: Iron Mt. Road has views of Mt. Rushmore framed through the tunnels, Needles Hwy has the Needles and Cathedral Spires, your son will like the burros in the Wildlife Loop and the Badlands are fantastic. While Spearfish Canyon is pretty, the tree covered hills and stream aren't completely unique. Maybe save it for another trip when he's older? Just my opinion, though.

Pitman, New Jersey
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for Rapid City, South Dakota
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2. Re: Help on ininerary and lodging for South Dakota trip.

Hi Phillip,

Great advice above from 3174. I agree to skipping Spearfish Canyon with your young son. Many of the Rapid City attractions are perfect for him, including the previously mentioned Bear Country, Reptile Gardens, and Storybook Island. Some other fun things for him would be Old McDonald's Farm, Dinosaur Park, and maybe Watiki Water Park.

I would skip the 1880 Train, as I have not found it overly interesting either. I think your time could be better spent elsewhere.

I would also recommend considering hotels with family suites for your lodging in addition to the cabins. THe Rusmore Express and Roosevelt Inn in Keystone both offer large suites that will allow you to put your son to bed while you stay up and watch tv or relax. Both hotels have pools. Not sure how the rates would compare to a cabin, but you might want to check them out and compare.

As for horseback riding, the most popular places are Andy's Trail Rides in Lead and Blue Bell Stables in Custer State Park. I am not sure on whether your son could ride with one of you.

Let us know if we can help further.

Custer, South...
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3. Re: Help on ininerary and lodging for South Dakota trip.


We're glad to see you're gearing up for your 2014 roadtrip to South Dakota! Don't forget to pack the trail mix & comfy walking shoes!

A cabin is a great choice-- I'm sure your entire family will enjoy that! I have recommendations for cabins based upon your criteria of having a playground or pool. Beaver Lake Campground is an excellent choice with cabins, a playground, and a heated pool-- as well as many other amenities. Their website is http://www.beaverlakecampground.net/. Their cabins all have air-conditioning and wi-fi. They are located 3-4 miles from downtown Custer. Another option is Custer Crazy Horse Campground just one mile from downtown Custer. Their website is http://rushmorecabins.com/. Their cabins are camping cabins-- meaning you bring your own bedding (i.e. sleeping bags, pillows). These cabins consist of bunk beds, a table and bench/chairs, electricity, and a swing or bench on the front porch. Custer Crazy Horse Campground has a heated pool and a game room. Custer/Mt. Rushmore KOA is just 3 miles west of Custer, including a pool and Jumping Pillow (for an additional fee). Please visit their website http://rushmorecabins.com/ for more information. The cabins are again camping cabins, which include the basics: beds, electricity, porch, and firepit. KOA has different cabin layouts, including 2 bedroom options. Also available in our area is Flintstones Campground, which might be a fun option for your young son! They have camping cabins available and a pool, as well as many activities. Their website is www.flintstonesbedrockcity.com. Rock Crest Lodge and Cabins has lots of floorplan options with pool and playground. Rock Crest Lodge is located close to downtown, shopping, and restaurants. More information available at their website: www.rockcrestlodge.com. Hill City also has options for you, including: High Country Guest Ranch that has a swimming pool and is the home of the world famous show, Brule. More information at their website: http://www.highcountryranch.com/. Black Hills Cabins & Motel at Quail's Crossing is another excellent option in Hill City including a pool and many activities for your family. Their website is: http://www.quailscrossing.net/. Please visit www.custersd.com for more accommodations.

All of the attractions you've listed sound like wonderful memories for you and your family on your trip. I know your soon-to-be 3-year-old will have a wonderful time! You will want to designate an entire day for both Custer State Park's Wildlife Loop (an 18-mile road) and for Needles Highway. There are many things to do on each of those days surrounding each scenic drive. I guarantee your family will enjoy time spent at Sylvan Lake, a beautiful man-made lake (perhaps a great place for a picnic!) on your way to Needles Highway aka Highway 87 (a 14-mile, winding road through granite rock formations called "needles" with beautiful scenery and photo opportunities!) Another excellent stop in the park is Mt. Coolidge. Here's a link to more information: …sd.gov/state-parks/…mount-coolidge.aspx.

In addition to Reptile Garden, I would suggest looking into Bear Country USA, also in Rapid City. Both attractions would make for a wonderful day trip from your home base. Mt. Rushmore, located in nearby Keystone, is 20-25 miles from Custer depending on your route and depending on what you wanted to see or do on the way to or from!

As far as horseback riding goes, all local companies I have read policies on require the rider to be older than your son will be at the time of this trip. It is also not permitted to ride with two people on one horse due to safety reasons. Luckily there will be plenty of prairie dogs, bison, and pronghorns for your son to enjoy (from a distance). The burros found on the Wildlife Loop are the only approachable wildlife in the park. You will see them sticking their heads in people's cars to get a close look at who's inside and begging for snacks. Though, it is not permitted to feed wildlife.

I might also suggest visiting Crazy Horse Memorial and their extensive museum, which is just 4 miles north of Custer's downtown.

Phillip, please let me know if you have any other questions regarding your trip to the Black Hills. You may e-mail info@custersd.com with any questions or to request a Southern Hills Vacation Guide to aid in planning your trip! Happy planning & we can't wait to see you in June!

Custer Area Chamber of Commerce



Edited: 7:17 pm, February 06, 2014
Lincoln, Nebraska
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4. Re: Help on ininerary and lodging for South Dakota trip.

Wow, thank you all for the great response and information. I will look it all over in the next couple days and start planning our vacation. I'm so excited for trip now, June can't get here fast enough!

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5. Re: Help on ininerary and lodging for South Dakota trip.

Sounds like you got a lot of feedback already, so I'll only tell you about what my kids liked when they were your son's age....

-playing in the Wall Drug Backyard Fountains...they also loved the T-Rex, but this is definitely dependent on the kid as some kids get really scared... eating Wall Drug Donuts and/or Ice Cream

-if you do the Badlands National Park Loop Drive, and get up to Interior, The Ranch Store lets you hand feed their resident prairie dogs with peanuts from the store (.50 cents/bag).

-Storybook Island, Reptile Gardens, Old MacDonald's Farm in Rapid City..(your son will LOVE these)

-playing in the Main Street Square fountains in Rapid City

-if your son likes airplanes, you can visit the Ellsworth Air Force Base for a free tour of their museum, they have lots of airplanes, jets, etc. outside and smaller exhibits inside

-seeing the fossils and t-rex skeleton at the Museum at Black Hills Institute in Hill City

-feeding the burros at Custer State Park

-swimming in the lakes in Custer State Park (Sylvan Lake is especially pretty)

-the ice cream at Mt. Rushmore

I agree with the poster above that says the 1880 Train, while interesting, does get to be a LONG trip, especially if it's hot outside that day.

I don't think you'll find anyplace that will allow tandem horseback rides, or that will allow your son to ride by himself. We had to wait until this past summer when our youngest turned 6 before we could horseback ride. There are a couple of places that offer pony rides, I can't personally vouch for any of them except for the one at the Old MacDonald's Farm, which was fine, they just walked around in a circle though.

Lincoln, Nebraska
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6. Re: Help on ininerary and lodging for South Dakota trip.

Thank you gypsymamma for the reply. We are definitely going to look at doing some of the things you and others suggested. We just got our cabin booked so now I need to get our itinerary figured out!

7. Re: Help on ininerary and lodging for South Dakota trip.

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