Skip Thunder Head Falls, Check Out Dinosaur Park

    Thunder Head Falls

    On our trip to the Mt Rushmore area near Rapid City, SD, we decided to go to Thunder Head Underground Falls. Located just 10 miles southwest of Rapid City, SD the trip to the falls was beautiful as the road meandered through tall trees and over a peaceful stream.

    Update- This business has closed. I will leave this up in case it reopens in the future.

    The website explains how in 1878 gold miners working the shaft would use black powder to get through. The mine had been worked on for 20 years. However, one day a blast unexpectantly resulted in a blast of icy cold water.

    With such a blast of water coming into the mining shaft; there was no way they could continue working the mine, so it was shut down.  The underground waterfall was forgotten until 1949 when Vera Eklund on a train sightseeing trip, noticed a stream of water coming from the side of the mountain.  She convinced her husband to help her find the source.  Once they saw the waterfall inside the mountain they bought the land and opened it to the public.

    When we arrived at the falls, we parked our car and walked down a set of wooden steps down to the stream bed.  The surrounding scenery was pleasing to the soul.  Tall pine trees straddled a 15-foot wide rippling stream. Meanwhile, the wooded mountain set as a great background. 

    We walked up to the little building that served as a ticket stand.  Knowing the mine shaft would be chilly and have the sound of rushing water, I made everyone take a restroom break.  For the six of us, it would cost the maximum charge of $27.  Tours are self-lead so we headed up the steps to the mine.

    The path leading to the falls is narrow and wet.  The whole shaft is very dark with lighting every 10 feet or so.  I held on to Momo’s hand as I thought the dark, loud shaft might be a bit scary for her.  The six of us walked single file down the 600-footh-path to the falls.  The path has 4-foot wooden rails to keep you from falling into the stream coming out of the mountain from the falls. We had to slow down a few times to let people coming from the falls to go past us.

    When we finally made it to the end, to the falls itself, it was a great disappointment. When I think of waterfalls I think of water beautifully cascading down.  This was more like a fire hydrant that had been turned on pouring down onto one rock and bouncing onto another before streaming out the mountain.

    The water crashing in was loud. According to the website, it pours in at a rate of 8 cubic feet per second. You could feel the mist of it as you walked closer.  We stood for a few minutes watching the “falls”.  We looked up at the top of the mine to see where the miners had chipped away at the mountain to form the mine. Then we walked out.

    Total time spent in the mine – about 6 minutes.  $27 for 6 minutes.  I felt really bad that we had spent so much on something that was so disappointing. It’s taken me longer to write about this poor excuse of an attraction than it took for us to visit it. So my dear POMers (Parents of Many), I recommend you skip this one.

    Canyon Lake Park

    On our way back to the Comfort Inn & Suites in Rapid City we stopped at Canyon Lake Park.  Located on Hwy 44 or Jackson Boulevard, Rapid Creek flows through it. The park has great paths near the lake that make for a great way to stretch the kids’ legs.  The grass looks great, but be careful!, it’s full of dog and goose poop.  My kids said it should have been called Goose Poop Park. An afternoon rainstorm was coming in so we only were able to walk out to the gazebo island and back.

    Dinosaur Park

    Dinosaur Park is a free park located on a hill overlooking the city.  We had a little trouble finding it since I hadn’t looked up exactly how to get there and because we didn’t see any signs for it.  But we could see some of the concrete dinosaurs from highway 44 and decided to take some neighborhood roads to get closer. Finally, we saw a sign and drove up to the gift shop. Since it had started raining we decided to go in.

    The gift shop was a great pit stop.  They had all the usual trinkets and t-shirts but the t-shirts were cheap. We bought 4 shirts and for some reason a coon cap for the Boy for $40.  There’s also an eating area that looks like a soda fountain counter.  The food was cheap too.  I recommend stopping at lunch as you could get a hot dog and drink for 99 cents. The menu had many reasonably priced items. You could have ice cream too and feed everyone on the cheap.

    The staff was very nice.  The Boy knocked over a low glass shelf breaking it.  The staff was understanding, “These things happen” they said.  All in all a great pit stop.

    The rain cleared so we went to check out the 7 concrete dinosaurs which were built in the 1930s.  There were a lot of steps leading to the dinosaurs.  Not stroller friendly, so remember to bring the baby carrier. The dinosaurs are spread out on the concrete path.

    I’m sure your kids could tell you what each one is, but I can’t.  A dinosaur is a dinosaur in my book.  My kids liked the park. We liked the price, the views, and that it was well-maintained.

    We recommend including Dinousaur Park in your Rapid City itinerary, perhaps after a day at either Jewel Cave National Monument or Wind Cave National Park or pairing it with Skyline Wilderness Area Park.

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    Theresa Jorgensen

    Theresa is the mother of four including twins. She is the owner of SixSuitcaseTravel, a travel site for big families of 5, 6, 7, 8. She enjoys helping other big families build life-long travel memories. Her family's travel bucket list includes Washington, DC (done!), Yellowstone (done!), London, and anywhere in the Caribbean.