The Rapid City and the Black Hills area of South Dakota offers many activities for your big family. You could set up base at a hotel in Rapid City or look for hotels closer to the Mount Rushmore area. You’ll be able to find big family friendly hotels using our search. When we visited we stayed at two different Choice Hotel properties as they were offering a stay twice and earn a $50 gift card.
Each of the planned days is packed with activities, especially the road trip loops. You might want to trim or break up a few of the days depending on your family’s travel style.
Day 1 – Explore Rapid City
Start the day off at South Dakota Air & Space Museum, located 7 miles east of Rapid City on Interstate I-90. If you have aviation fans, this is a must-stop. The free museum covers the achievements of aviation, space, and military service. View 30 vintage military aircraft ranging from World War II bombers to the B-1. The museum is free and Ellsworth Air Force Base Tours are available at a cost.
Explore the Journey Museum & Learning Center to learn about the Lakota people, pioneers, and the scientists who now study the paleontology, geology, and archaeology of the area.
Day 2 – Road Trip Loop 1 – Wall Drug, Minuteman Missle National Historic Site, Badlands National Park
Now you’ve probably heard that Wall Drug is one of the biggest tourist traps in the world, but we think it’s a fun pit stop to make. Originally known as the Ice Water Store, it now has many stores full of souvenirs, trinkets, mementos, and whatnot. The Back Yard Mall was a great place for the kids to stretch their legs. The area includes a train station, prairie wagon, jackalope, stagecoach, and teepee to climb on and explore.
Stop two of the day is the Minuteman Missle National Historic Site. A relic of the Cold War, this silo was one of the hundreds of nuclear missile sites deactivated in 1991. View one of two 1960s era Intercontinental Ballistic Missle sites. Learn how the U.S. Air Force secured and maintained the missile field. Ranger-guided tours include a walkthrough of the ground, the topside support building, and an underground control center. Check the site for limitations and reservations.
Visit the Badlands National Park and drive the Badlands Loop Road. The loop is a scenic road 42 miles long with 11 overlook points. Each overlook point gives views of the area’s well-known spires, pinnacles, deep canyons, and eroded buttes.
Day 3 – Road Trip Loop 2 – Rapid City to Devils Tower to Deadwood
Get up early and head west into Wyoming on Interstate 90 for a day trip to visit Devils Tower National Monument. The loop is 230 miles long and includes a drive through the Black Forest and stops at Spearfish, Deadwood, and Sturgis.
Day 4 – Bear Country USA + Crazy Horse Memorial
Bear Country USA is a wildlife park that allows visitors to drive through the park while the animals roam free. View black bears, elk, mountain lions, buffalo, and more. After the driving loop, view more animals and the popular baby bear cubs in the Wildlife Walk area.
In the afternoon, visit the Crazy Horse Memorial. The memorial, when completed, will portray the Lakota chief on horseback pointing southeast. Construction started on the memorial in 1948, currently, there is no estimated time for completion. When completed the sculpture will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long, much bigger than Mount Rushmore.
Day 5 – Cave Tour – Wind Cave National Park or Jewel Cave National Monument + Dinosaur Park
Rainy days are good for cave tours. Head underground to explore some of the longest and biggest caves in the world. Jewel Cave National monument is the third-longest cave in the world and over 202 miles of explored passageways. Wind Cave National Park is the sixth-longest cave in the world and has over 150 miles of explored passageways.
I recommend that you purchase tour tickets online to confirm that the cave is open and reserve your spot (currently both caves are not giving tours). If you want to visit both caves, check to see if it is allowed on the same day. White-nose Syndrome in the bats can be a problem and the caves do not want you to track anything on your shoes between the two systems although when leaving you will walk through a decontamination mat to help eliminate the spread.
Both tours have a lot of stairs and therefore are not stroller friendly. Also, make sure to wear good securely fastened shoes. Sandals, flip-flops, or slides are not allowed.
After a few hours exploring a cave and the surrounding area, head to Dinosaur Park to climb the dinosaurs!
Day 6 – Mount Rushmore National Memorial + Keystone
Start the day off by visiting the most famous attraction in the area – Mount Rushmore. This National Memorial is a must-see during your trip.
After a morning at the monument, head over to the tourist town of Keystone. Eat lunch, do some shopping, and take the self-guided walking tour.
If you have big Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, stop by the free museum in the charming two-story Victorian schoolhouse. Laura’s sister, Carrie Ingalls Swanzey, managed the Keystone Recorder and lived for 35 years in the area. The museum is small but boasts the china shepherdess figurine Ma would place on the mantle.
This nature and wildlife-filled road trip loop is packed with outdoor fun. Starting at Rapid City, drive Highway 16A to Iron Mountain Road to the East Entrance of Custer State Park. The highly enjoyable Wildlife Loop Road will lead you to Needles Highway. Enjoy a break at Sylvan Lake before heading back to your hotel.