A mountain wilderness adventure awaits in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This scenic area is home to Mount Rushmore and expansive parks teeming with bison and other wildlife. Ranging from stunning homes in the city of Hot Springs to remote wilderness cabins, Black Hills vacation rentals offer a relaxing place to rest and reflect on the beautiful natural surroundings. At the Black Hills, visitors can enjoy riding an old-fashioned steam locomotive, as well as visiting a historic Old West town. That said, here are a few of the most exciting things you can do with your kids on your next Black Hills adventure.
1. See Mount Rushmore
One of the most recognizable monuments in the nation, Mount Rushmore is a must-see for families with kids of all ages. Snap photos of the presidents’ faces carved in granite from the viewing platform, or take the hike around the monument. Be sure to keep an eye out for curious mountain goats during your visit. Before heading back to your cozy rental, check out the museum area or grab a souvenir at the gift shops.
2. Hike Through Custer State Park
Featuring hiking trails through prairies and mountain wilderness, Custer State Park is the perfect place to spot wildlife such as bears and bison herds. Stop by the visitor’s center for a trail map, and find shorter loops through flatter terrain if you’re traveling with little ones. For an extra special experience, see the bison up close from a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour leaving from the State Game Lodge.
3. See the Black Hills From Horseback
Nothing beats the feeling of traversing the evergreen woods, prairies, and granite outcroppings of the area from horseback, a favorite of older kids and teens. You can find a number of ranches throughout the Black Hills offering horseback rides, including Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park.
4. Step Into Jewel Cave National Monument
Kids young and old itch for the chance to descend into the world’s third largest cave system where unique formations and winding passageways abound. Embark on the mild Scenic Tour if you’re vacationing with younger kids, or set off on the Lantern Tour if you have some adventurous older kids. This National Monument is also a great place for kids to earn their Junior Ranger patch.
5. Take a Ride on the 1880 Train
The young and young at heart are sure to enjoy the 20-mile round-trip train ride on a vintage steam locomotive that transports them back to the old days of the American West. Over the two-hour ride, enjoy the sights of the Black Hills wilderness while listening to the educational narrative. Big train fans may also enjoy the Engine House Tours where they can learn more about the history of the railroads and engines of the area. You might also catch a special event such as an Old West shootout or the Mother’s Day Express.
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6. Step Back Into the Old West in Deadwood
Historic Deadwood is a living piece of Old West history right in the heart of the black hills. In addition to walking through important sites around town, you can step into museums and watch shootouts and other street shows in which actors dress up like characters from the Old West. You can also stop by the Broken Boot Gold Mine where kids of all ages can enjoy underground tours of the century-old mine or even pan for gold. Before heading back to your vacation rental for the evening, grab a bite to eat at an old-fashioned saloon.
7. Check Out the Mammoth Dig Site
Kids of all ages love to step into the Black Hills’ ancient past at this authentic dig site where they can see mammoth skeletons being unearthed in real time. The site also offers a museum area featuring a life-sized mammoth replica, a walk-in mammoth bone hut, and replica skeletons of a giant short-faced bear and other ice-age mammals.
8. Pet the Begging Burros on the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop
Along the scenic 18-mile loop, wild burros may come up to your car and beg for food. While you aren’t supposed to feed the adorable animals, kids young and old love petting the burros as they stick their heads into the car. The whole family can also keep an eye out for prairie dogs, bison herds, Rocky Mountain sheep, and antelope. Remember to bring a few pairs of binoculars and a picnic prepared at your Black Hills vacation rental to enjoy on the road.
9. Take a Dip at Sylvan Lake
Located in Custer State Park, this mountain lake surrounded by rock walls and forest is the perfect place to kick back for a relaxing afternoon. Kids love jumping into the water to cool down on a summer day, but you can also take a hike around the lake or enjoy a family kayak excursion. Keep an eye out for geese families as you explore the pristine shoreline.
10. Visit Needle’s Eye
Venture down the winding road of Needles Highway, which features towering rock formations, tunnels, and pigtail bridges, to reach this unique granite formation nestled in the Black Hills. Older kids are sure to appreciate the sharp rock outcroppings and the thrilling drive to get there, and you might even spot a few rock-climbers daring a climb up the near-vertical rock structure. Remember to keep an eye out for Rocky Mountain sheep and other wildlife while exploring the area.
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