Black Hills with kids -- a trip report

Old Jul 28th, 2008, 10:54 AM
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Black Hills with kids -- a trip report

We just returned from our trip to the Black Hills area of South Dakota. Thanks to everyone who answered questions for me on this forum as we were planning. Here's a bit about our trip.

On this trip: me, husband, son and daughter (both 11 years old).It was a drive of just over 700 miles for us, so we split it into two days. The first day was nothing but driving. The best thing about the first day (aside from the amazing lack of arguing between the kids) was the Comfort Inn where we stayed the first night. It is in Mitchell, SD, and the kids adored the fact that it had a waterslide with the indoor pool. And I mean, a waterslide good enough for any waterpark. Really neat for us after a day in the car. (Yes, I went down it a few times myself.)

Day 2: We drove through central and western South Dakota. FYI, there can be long stretches there with no food, water, or gas, so be prepared. We stopped at Badlands National Park and took three short hikes. If memory serves, they were the Door hike, the Window hike, and the Fossil Exhibit trail. It was too hot for longer hiking. All of us liked Badlands. Surreal scenery really. After stopping at the visitors center for a bit, we drove on through the park west on the "Badlands loop". When you come out on I-90 then, you are at the town of Wall. We did stop at Wall Drug, mainly just to see what the fuss is about. Okay, it's a really big souvenir shop. The kids enjoyed the animatronic T-rex in the back. Then we got back in the car and plowed on to Keystone.

We stayed in Keystone at the Rushmore Express. This location served us well, and we liked the hotel. I did notice that several hotels in town seemed really short on parking, but we never had a problem at ours. Our room was really large and had a refrigerator and microwave. The hotel does not have a free breakfast, but we just bought a few things at the mini-mart down the street. The hotel did have an indoor pool; it was fine, but about five degrees too cold for my taste. Of course, the kids thought it was great anyway.

Restaurants in town: Dairy Queen and Subway were the only recognizable fast-food places we saw in the whole Black Hills area (outside of Rapid City). I know many people don't even want fast food on a trip, but sometimes it is nice for the kids especially to have something they are familiar with. So we patronized DQ and Subway once each, and then ate at some local places and at the attractions. One good meal was at the Ruby House, although there was quite a wait for a table.

To be continued...
kansasmom is offline  
Old Jul 28th, 2008, 11:12 AM
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Trip report continued...

Day 3: Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Wax Museum.

All of us loved Mt. Rushmore. I actually figured the kids would say, "okay, it's heads on a rock, can we go now", but we all enjoyed walking around up as close as we could, and then watching the film about it, and looking at the exhibits in the museum.

We went to Crazy Horse next. I just wasn't nearly as impressed as with Mt. Rushmore, but I've heard other people say just the opposite. It is definitely worth seeing.

We went to the Presidential Wax Museum next. We just did this because it was literally across the street from our hotel, and the kids had never seen a wax museum. They absolutely liked it, especially because you get an audio wand with your admission, so you can go at your own pace and hear your own private tour.

Day 4: Custer State Park. We started the day with the hike to Harney Peak. This is seven miles round-trip, but we managed it just fine. My daughter only did a small bit of complaining on the way up, and my son had tons of extra energy and kept urging me to go faster. The hike was beautiful through the national forest, and the views at the top were great.

Then we took a jeep tour to see buffalo. We did get to see a lot of them up very close (almost close enough to touch), and we saw pronghorn and burros as well. It was nice just to let someone else do the driving, and hubby and I could just watch the scenery.

Day 5: Tourist trap day -- Reptile Gardens, Bear Country, Big Thunder Gold Mine. We really liked Reptile Gardens and Bear Country. They both were like small zoos, obviously one featuring reptiles and the other the mammals. Reptile Gardens had three shows: alligator/crocodile, bird, and snake. We only went to the allig/croc one, but it was very good. Bear Country had a drive-through portion, and a walk-through part. It was very nice, and we did see a ton of animals.

My least favorite attraction of the whole trip was the gold mine, but I think this was because of the tour group we were with. A couple of kids of about 6 and 8 years old were talking non-stop even as the guide was talking, and it made it difficult to hear anything. Also, the group was quite large, and we were at the back. The mine itself was neat to walk through.

Day 6: Mammoth Site, Wind Cave, Alpine Slide.

Here we took a drive down to Hot Springs for the Mammoth Site. It was a very good tour of the site. All of us really liked it. Wind Cave was also awesome, but we usually like caves. We had a great tour guide, a young lady named Jenni. The Alpine Slide was back in Keystone, and that was just pure fun. You take the ski-lift up the mountain and ride a sled down a concrete chute to get to the bottom again.

The next two days were spent driving home. It was a great vacation, and we were never bored.
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Old Jul 28th, 2008, 11:30 AM
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kansasmom,

Glad to hear you liked the Harney Peak trail. DH took me on my first backpacking trip to the top eons ago. DH stills tells stories of going to Reptile Gardens every summer when visiting grandparents, that was an eon and a half ago. Glad you all had a good time.

ST
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Old Jul 28th, 2008, 11:30 AM
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Glad you enjoyed it, kansasmom! Thanks for your report.

Just last night I got a phone call from my brother filling me in on his trip to the area with his kids. I'd been telling him for years that he needed to take them to Custer State Park. I was a little nervous! As he said, I'd pushed it hard. But he really enjoyed it and his kids loved it. A relief but not a surprise. It's one of my favorite places.
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 09:05 AM
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Thanks for detailed day-by-day trip report! We are visiting soon with boys ages 7 (nearly 8) and 11. Our itinerary is pretty similar though we are staying a bit longer so we'll head to Devil's Tower, Spearfish Canyon and Deadwood. Thanks for the feedback on Big Thunder - I'm trying to decided which mine to visit. Also on my list are Wade's and Homestake.

How long did you spend at Bear Country and at Reptile Garden? How much time at the Mammoth site?
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 09:24 AM
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I remember going to Reptile Gardens when I was around 4 or so. My parents had bought me a little plastic alligator and afterwards we went to see the snake handler who wrangled a bunch of rattle snakes in a big pitt. I accidentally dropped my toy into the pitt with the snakes and was devastated until the guy leaped into the pile of snakes and saved my toy for me!!! I've never forgotten that day.

Wonder whatever happened to that little alligator...


Did you go to Dinosaur Mountain in Rapid City?
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 11:21 AM
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Hi again --

I'll try to answer your questions, singermom4. We stayed at Reptile Gardens the longest, probably 3 or 4 hours, but that included eating lunch there. Bear Country only took us about 60 - 90 minutes, and that includes the drive-thru part and the walkaround part. But that depends of course on how long your boys like to watch each particular animal before moving on. The Mammoth Site was great also. The tours were very good and informative, and then you could go walk through any or all of it again, to make sure you'd seen everything. We probably spent 90 minutes there or maybe a bit more.

To answer your question, zelphiacat, we did not make it to Dinosaur Mountain. Too much to do and too little time. It really was a great trip.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 07:22 AM
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Thanks for the report. My husband and I (both 30yo) and my parents (58yo) are going in 2 weeks. Would you mind providing a little more information about the hikes? About how long were they (distance and time)? Difficulty level? Any you would clearly recommend over the others? My parents are in good shape, as are we, but I think we're more of the "rustic walk" types rather than true hiking. Anything with great views and wildlife is worth it to us, so long as it doesn't steal most of the day and is not too strenuous.

Thanks!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 09:25 AM
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Kansasmom, I'm so glad y'all did the hike up Harney Peak. I first did this hike as a kid about 40 years ago when the fire lookout station was still manned. If you made it to the top, the fire officer in the lookout gave you a card making you a member of the "Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels". I still have my card.
My last visit was about 12 years ago when we took our own kids (both under the age of 7) on the Harney Peak hike. They did great!
After reading your trip report, I'm ready to go back again!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 09:46 AM
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Hi mindibz --

Are you referring to the hikes in Badlands NP? We only did three extremely short and easy ones there, because it was very warm that day. They were on level ground and each was maybe 1/2 mile long at most. The "door" hike and the "window" hike led to really neat views. I'd probably skip the "Fossil exhibit" trail. It actually was not that interesting. There are longer hikes available of course; I really don't know anything about them.

The hike we did to Harney Peak in Custer State Park was absolutely beautiful. It was in the forest and was so nice. I would definitely recommend doing it or just do part of it and then turn around. It was about 7 miles round-trip hiking from the lake to the lookout on top. It isn't tremendously steep; we didn't have walking sticks and never felt that we needed them, but it definitely gains some elevation. There are a lot of hikes in Custer State Park of various lengths and elevation gains. If you look on the Custer State Park website, you'll find lots of info.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 12:20 PM
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Thanks so much, kansasmom!

Do you recall how long time-wise it took you to do the Harney Peak hike? I keep reading online that it is gorgeous, but it also says "moderately strenuous", which worries me...

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Old Apr 10th, 2011, 06:01 PM
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