The Black Hills area has become the perfect family-friendly vacation destination! Your kids will find learning opportunities visiting the National Parks and monuments, as well as enjoy exploring nature trails, scenic lakes, caves, wildlife parks, and more. There is so much to do and see here you’ll want to spend an entire week!
Of course, lodging in the summer months can book up VERY fast, so you’ll want to get on that as soon as possible. At Hinterwood Inn & Cabins, for example, we have reservations coming in 6-12 months in advance and much of June and July is booked up by February.
JUMP AHEAD TO A SECTION:
Visit The National Parks + Monuments
The Badlands are basically Mars on Earth and totally worth the trip (especially if you’re trying to get every National Park off your bucket list). It’s a little further away from other main attractions in the Black Hills area so plan on this destination taking up half the day. It’s a great opportunity to let the kids run around and hike in an unforgettable landscape. After exploring the park you can swing through the infamous Wall Drug for lunch and souvenir shopping on the way back.
Mount Rushmore is the biggest draw to the Black Hills area with approximately two million visitors each year. It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn about the park, its history, and the surrounding nature. Take part in the Junior Ranger program and the kids can get a Junior Ranger Badge after the completion of the booklet. Don’t forget to explore the museum, gift shop, and restaurant that are right on-site.
Wind Cave National Park is one of the nation’s oldest National Parks. It’s also one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. Seeing the cave in person with a guided tour, and exploring the hiking trails, wildlife, scenic views above ground will be worth your time — and will surely be something your kids will remember for years to come. Guided tours are year round and its recommended to buy tickets in advance online if you can, though you can purchase them day-of in the Visitors Center. Keep in mind, tickets are sold in the Visitors Center starting at 8 a.m. and they can sell out in the summer months. Plan to get there early!
Experience the third longest cave in the world, filled with fragile cave formations and learning opportunities for your kids. Explore the world underground with a cave tour, followed by a hiking tour of the grounds above. There are several marked hiking trails to explore.
Crazy Horse Memorial is open year round and has a museum, viewing area, a gift shop, and even a restaurant. You can plan to spend some time there because there is plenty to see and do! From the Welcome Center you can take a bus ride to the base of the mountain, watch the historic video in one of our two theaters, and enter the museums. There are several events to participate in throughout the year (See: Special Events), including the bi-annual Volksmarch (an organized 6.2 mile hike/walk) where you are able to walk up on top of Crazy Horse’s arm!
Visit The Caves + Mines
Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument are mentioned above, but there are other caves and mines if you are really into exploring the world underground (and our area’s rich history in mining for gold!). And of course, a cave tour is a great way to beat the summer heat! It tends to be a little chilly underground and it’s recommended to bring a light jacket.
Rushmore Cave (Located at Rush Mountain Adventure Park)
Rushmore Cave was the original attraction at what is now referred to as Rush Mountain Adventure Park. Take the cave tour, which takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour, with no reservations required. Of course, you’ll want to check out the other attractions while you’re there, which include a Mountain Coaster, Souring Eagle Zipride, and more!
Take a step back in time at the Broken Boot Gold Mine in Deadwood, SD! There are tours every 30 minutes where you’ll have the opportunity to explore the underground passageways of former miners and their ore cars as they bravely sought to get rich on Black Hills gold! While you’re there your kids will even be able to try their hand at gold panning (and keep the gold they find!).
Tour a historic gold mine in the heart of Keystone, SD, dating back to the 1890’s during the Black Hills Gold Rush! There is something for the whole family here, from the mine tour to experiencing what it’s like to pan for gold. There is even the Big Thunder Bar & Grill on-site if you’re ready to eat!
Black Hills Caverns is another great cave to explore, formed from “Paha Sapa Limestone” and discovered in 1882 by gold seekers. Here you’ll have the option of the short 1/2 hour tour, or take the full hour long tour to see it all. The kids can have fun panning for gemstones in the “Kids Zone” and then find something to take home in the gift and rock shop.
If you find yourself in the Northern Hills for the day, such as Deadwood, Lead, or Sturgis, you might want to consider a tour of Wonderland Cave. They are open 7 days a week and offer tours between 9-5 p.m. (the last tour starts at 4 p.m.). Like the other caves, plan to spend some time there and bring a light jacket. Take a tour, visit the gift shop for a souvenir, and enjoy the beauty of Vanocker canyon!
Get In The Water
Sylvan lake is probably one of the most popular lakes in Custer State Park (and in the area!). It has a great beach for swimming, beautiful rock formations to climb, hiking trails surrounding it, and a few non-motorized watercraft rentals for you to enjoy, such as paddle boats and canoes. Fishing is allowed as well, as long as you have a valid South Dakota fishing license. There are several hiking trails around the lake, but Black Elk Peak is probably the most noteworthy! It’s the tallest peak east of the Rocky Mountains and has quite a view from the top. You can access a trailhead to get there from the Sylvan Lake parking lot. And depending on how you access Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake is a great stopping point before or after a drive through Needles Highway.
Pactola Reservoir is the largest and deepest lake located in the Black Hills National Forest. This is a great lake if you’re interested in boating day (and swimming day) with the family. You will find a swimming beach, picnic areas, two boat launches, and both motorized and non-motorized boat rentals right at the reservoir. Check out the Pactola Marina to reserve anything from a standup paddle board to a motorized pontoon or fishing boat. Make your reservations as soon as you can as the slots do fill up!
Sheridan Lake has a great beach and swimming area, plenty of campsites, and a picnic area to spend the day. The water is warmer than Pactola Resevoir, and it’s a great option for both motorized and non-motorized watercraft. The Sheridan Lake Marina has rentals available, everything from Pontoon boats to canoes and standup paddle boards.
If you plan on spending any time in the Southern Black Hills, a day spent with the family at Evans Plunge in Hot Springs should definitely be on your list. This place has been a family favorite for many years. It’s an indoor warm mineral springs swim center, with slides and a fun, challenging rope course. It’s refreshing way to spend a summer day with the average temperature of the water being 87 degrees Fahrenheit.
Located in Rapid City, Watiki is a huge indoor waterpark with over 30,000 square feet of swimming/splashing pools and water slides. It’s a great way to spend the day with the family if it’s just too hot to be outside. They are open year round with an arcade and dining options onsite.
If you are going to be in the Northern Black Hills for the day, carve out some time to cool off at the Spearfish Water Park. The facilities offer three huge water slides, a 260-foot lazy river, a zero-entry kiddie pool, food and beverage concessions, and even a climbing wall.
Devils Bathtub Hike
Located in Spearfish Canyon (Northern Black Hills), Devil’s Bathtub hiking trail has become extremely popular in the summer months. Expect to get your feet wet as the trail goes along the water, with rocks and logs acting as bridges across the shallow stream. At the end of the hike you’ll reach the “bathtub” where you can slide down and splash into the deeper pond. Bring your swim suits and water shoes!
See The Wildlife
The Custer State Park Wildlife Loop is an 18-mile road that passes through an area where much of the park’s wildlife calls home. The main attraction is the wild buffalo that graze the grasslands there, but you will likely see other animals as well: burros, elk, deer, turkeys, coyotes, prairie dogs, birds, and more. Keep in mind, buffalo are dangerous and you will want to make sure you stay in your car if they are close by. However, there are areas of the loop where you can get out and stretch your legs if you need to. Be sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center at the entrance of the Wildlife Loop.
Bear Country is a drive-thru wildlife park where the main attraction is probably the bears, but you will also see other animals like elk, mountain lions, and wolves. There is a drive-thru section of the park where your windows need to stay up the entire time (make sure your A/C is working properly!). There is also a Wildlife Walkway where you will be able to stretch your legs and likely see the baby bear cubs playing, and see/learn about some of the smaller animals in the park like the Lynx, bobcat, skunk, beaver, and more. Feeding the animals is not allowed, but if you’re interested in that see the section on Old McDonald’s Farm below.
As the World’s Largest Reptile Zoo in the Guinness Book of World Records, this place is always a hit with the kids! It is a very busy place in the summer months. Get ready to see a lot of reptiles, including some of the deadliest snakes in the world, crocodiles, giant tortoises, prairie dogs, and even a bald eagle. The Spring Creek Gulch Fun-tier Town has additional kid-friendly activities and photo opportunities for the family during your visit.
Do your kids want to feed and touch the animals? This is the place to go! This family-friendly attraction has over 100 popular farm animals: goats, horses (full-size and miniature), cows, emus, chickens and baby chicks, ducks, alpacas, llamas, hogs, sheep, rabbits, and more — and you can feed and pet many of them! You can purchase animal food right on-site. This is a great attraction for kids and adults of all ages. The best part is your admission fee guarantees you up to three visits within a week. Just hold on to your receipt and bring the family back later.
Visit The Adventure Parks
Plan to spend several hours at this magical place! Rushmore Tramway Adventures includes a Zipline Tour, an Alpine slide, an Arial Adventure Park, a Jump Tower, and a Scenic Chairlift! Get the tickets for attractions separately, or get a package that includes several. You won’t want to skip the Scenic Chairlift up to George’s Grill for lunch. The chairlift and the restaurant will include unparalleled views of Mount Rushmore National Monument in a beautiful setting surrounded by Black Hills National Forest!
The Rush Mountain experience can include a tour of Rushmore Cave, and/or rides like the Rushmore Mountain Coaster, the Soaring Eagle Zipride, and the Gunslinger 7-D Interactive Ride. You can test your fear of heights at the Wingwalker Challenge Course, or stay on the ground and go Gemstone Mining, sifting through dirt and sand exploring different gems, fossils, arrowheads, and minerals in a real sluice box. Rush Mountain is a great way to spend the afternoon with the family.
Trail rides are typically available Memorial Day weekend through September, but see each individual establishment for current openings.
Let the family experience a horseback ride through the beautiful Norbeck Wildlife Preserve! This is such a fun and unique way to spend the day. They offer 1 and 1 1/2 hour trail riding tours customized to your experience. The rides are typically 5 to 8 people per tour, but call and talk to them about larger groups, if needed. And like much of the activities in the Black Hills, try to plan ahead and make a reservation in advance. Riding tours and book up in the summer months.
This is another great option for spending a morning or afternoon on horseback with the family, and they even have pony rides for kids 6 years old and under. Trail rides are available here Monday through Saturday, and they even offer group roping lessons and private riding lessons.
Ride The ATVs
Exploring the Black Hills National Forest on an ATV has become extremely popular in the area. The rentals around here are street legal, so you can take them around town, as well as take them on Forest Service roads throughout the area. Just make sure you stay on designated Forest Service roads! It’s illegal to have a motorized vehicle in the National Forest unless you are on a Forest Service road (download the free Avenza Maps app before your trip). We recommend booking an ATV for a full day, packing a cooler with lunch, and finding a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy lunch deep in the forest. A few nearby rental options that we recommend are below:
(located a few minutes down the road from Hinterwood Inn & Cabins!)
Experience The Chuckwagon Dinners + Shows
Chuckwagon dinners are entraining for the whole family! Don’t let your vacation go by without experiencing one of these great South Dakota traditions.
This is a 45 minute hayride and cookout, complete with country folk song singing, entertainment, and a scenic wildlife tour though Custer State Park. Your ticket includes a cowboy hat and bandana to help you play the part. Reservations are required so call the Blue Bell Lodge in advance to get yours.
Take a ride on a covered wagon (or on horseback!) to a remote mountain meadow where real cowboys and ranchers will sing songs and prepare you a 5-star, Dakota-grown, steak dinner — complete with all the fixin’s! Enjoy traditional cowboy music featuring Paul Larson (South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame), joined by stand-up comedian, Gordy Pratt. This is an experience you won’t forget and is fun for all ages!
See Live Music
Regular Musical Events or Venues:
Join the fun in downtown Rapid City every Thursday night, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This outdoor event is free and includes live music and food and drink vendors. It’s a great way to spend a summer evening — and there are plenty of great restaurants and shops downtown to explore while you’re in the area.
The Custer Beacon is located in Custer, SD, and it’s a great place to eat, drink, play, and listen to live music. Check out their event page to see the live music line up here. Many of the events are free and open to the public.
Annual Music Events:
Deadwood is a great place to be during Kool Deadwood Nites, an event that takes place each year. You’ll see old cars, a parade, free live music, and more! Check out the current schedule of events here.
Miner Brewery hosts a free outdoor music festival every summer with a full lineup of live music throughout the day. It’s a great event for the whole family. Spend the afternoon on the lawn playing Bocce Ball, throwing a Frisbee, and enjoying a beautiful Black Hills summer day. Generally, food trucks are also available during the event, but there is also the option of grabbing food at Prairie Berry Winery next door and bringing it back to the lawn.
Hills Alive is a free, outdoor musical event that is held in Memorial Park in Rapid City each year. It showcases many of today’s top Christian artists over two days. Your kids can stay entertained by the children’s activity tent and bouncy house, and there are also several food and merchandise vendors during the event. Grab a blanket and some lawn chairs and enjoy the free entertainment!