Top 10 Things to Do with Kids in the Black Hills
1. 1880 Train
Every kid beams when when the steam whistle blows on this historical train that chugs between Hill City and Keystone in summer and fall. Even if you don't take a ride, it's fun to watch it rumble into the depot.
2. Mount Rushmore
Get the kids involved in presidents and history with a Junior Ranger activity packet and the chance to earn a ranger badge at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Return later in the evening for a stirring patriotic program that includes lowering the United States flag and illuminating the monument.
3. Custer State Park rides
If you've never been on a horseback trail ride, the scenery of Custer State Park near Blue Bell Lodge makes this a memorable place to cowboy up and venture into the woods on a guided ride. You also can get close to the park's iconic bison on a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour from the State Game Lodge.
4. Cave tours
Kids can earn Junior Ranger badges while learning about cave formations such as boxwork, flowstone and underground pools at Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, the third-longest cave system in the world.
5. Rapid City
Start downtown—there's a wealth of things to do between Main and St. Joseph streets and Sixth and Seventh streets. Pose with life-size statues on the City of Presidents walk, admire Smithsonian-worthy Native American art at multilevel Prairie Edge and Sioux Trading Post and splash in fountains at Main Street Square. Grab a tasty lunch in the outdoor courtyard at the family-friendly Firehouse Brewing Company. And in the afternoon, be sure to drive to Dinosaur Park overlooking Rapid City — the kids will love giant concrete re-creations of dinosaurs.
Related: Top Things to Do in Rapid City
6. Wildlife Loop
Drive the 18-mile Custer State Park Wildlife Loop on the lookout for antelope, Rocky Mountain sheep, the park's comical begging burros, chirping prairie dogs that duck up and down from stretches of prairie, or the herd of 1,300 bison. Don't miss a side trip up Mount Coolidge; binoculars bring into view both Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments, plus the Badlands on a clear day.
7. The Mammoth Site
Tap your inner paleontologist at The Mammoth Site, a world-class 40-year-old ongoing dig into an ancient sinkhole filled with mammoths.The Hot Springs dig site is surrounded by the exhibit hall. See if children's activities have resumed, such as paleontologist excavations or an atlatl throwing experience.
8. Sylvan Lake hikes
Whether you have kids in a stroller or teens chomping for action, head to Sylvan Lake Lodge to connect to a number of trails. The loop around Sylvan Lake ranks among the easiest and prettiest hikes in Custer State Park. Go behind the lake and dip into the rocky wonderland of Sunday Gulch or grab a map to tackle Little Devil's Tower, Cathedral Spires or Black Elk Peak trails. Keep an eye out for mountain goats!
9. Bears and reptiles
Zoo-loving kids go wild at two of the area's top animal attractions, both within a 4-mile stretch on Interstate-16 south of Rapid City. Give bears the right of way on a 3-mile drive through Bear Country USA, which also includes elk, bighorn sheep, bison and wolves—then see cubs romp through a grassy enclosure. Explore the fascinating, slithery world of snakes, amphibians, alligators and insects at Reptile Gardens.
10. Black Hills museums
The Museum at Black Hills Institute in Hill City displays T-rex skeletons, triceratops and ancient sea fossils at a location run by the folks who unearthed the T-rex named Sue displayed at Chicago's Field Museum. A bonus: Everything Prehistoric is one of the area's best souvenir shops, with field guides, educational games, rocks and fossils. For more dino exploration, head to The Journey Museum and Learning Center in Rapid City, where a big-screen movie sets up your walk through time. Progress through exhibits that show how the area changed from the dinosaur period to Wild West days to the devastating flood of 1972.