An adventure destination for family vacations that no one knows about (yet).

June 6, 2023 0 Comments

“], “filter”: { “nextExceptions”: “img, blockquote, div”, “nextContainsExceptions”: “img, blockquote, a.btn, ao-button”} }”>

When you take your family somewhere new, it feels like a real adventure—for all of you. If you’re after this experience, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than South Dakota. With dense forests and deep lakes, maze-like cliffs, numerous archaeological sites and amazing sunsets, South Dakota is a family-friendly destination. Wild, open and full of wildlife, there’s something for kids and parents alike. The best part? Somehow, this outdoor tourist attraction managed to get overlooked. That means you’ll have the whole place to yourself, more or less, this summer. So hit the road, pitch your tent, drop your rope and cave on this kid-approved seven-day itinerary.

Days 1-2: Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls may be South Dakota’s largest city, but with sprawling state lands and just 200,000 residents, it feels like a charming prairie town. Start your trip at Palisades State Park, just 25 minutes from the city. Spend the day kayaking beneath the pink quartzite cliffs on Split Rock Creek. You can rent kayaks at the hotel. Want to up the ante on adventure? Check out the park’s climbing and bouldering routes, which range from beginner scrambles to 5.12 ascents. Camp in the Palisades or head back into town for easy access to Sioux Falls restaurants.

In the morning, rent bikes for a ride around downtown Sioux Falls. A 29-mile bike path circles the city, connecting 80 parks and green areas. Stop at Falls Park in the heart of the city and enjoy a view of the city’s namesake waterfall from the park’s observation tower.

Day 3: Badlands

Drive west to Badlands National Park, the highlight of any South Dakota itinerary. The park is home to one of the richest mineral deposits in the world. Visit the fossil preparation lab to learn from working paleontologists conducting research in the park. Of course, there are also many opportunities to see live animals. “Stay away from bison, endangered black-footed ferrets and bighorn sheep,” advises Patty Ressler, executive director of the local nonprofit Black Hills Parks and Forests Association. Wildlife and natural history are only part of the appeal, Ressler adds. With nearly 7,000 years of indigenous origins, this region has a rich cultural history.

Whether you’re booking a campsite or planning a road trip, be sure to stay in the park for sunset. As the light fades, the pink-and-white-striped hills transform into a pastel moonscape.

Days 4–5: Southern Black Hills

Head west again to Custer, a great base camp for exploring the Black Hills. Visit two parks in one at Wind Cave National Park. The above-ground sprawling prairie is home to elk and a thriving bison population. Below you will find one of the longest and most complex cave systems. According to Lakota legend, the Wind Cave contains a portal between the human and spirit worlds from which their people emerged. Learn about natural and cultural history on a ranger-led cave tour. Book in advance – tours sell out during peak travel periods. You can make a reservation on from three to 120 days before the tour date.

Then visit Custer State Park, where Ressler recommends hiking the 5.8-mile Grace Coolidge Trail. “It’s completely paved and there are lots of places to hang out,” she says. “It’s great if you have little kids.” Finish with a dip in Center Lake, one of Custer’s hidden gems. Then explore the third longest cave in the world at Jewel Cave National Monument. Fun fact: Because the cave has only one entrance, it’s technically the most remote point on Earth. Join a ranger-led tour to see the interior and learn more about the cave’s rock formations. Reservations are recommended and available through

Days 6-7: Central and Northern Black Hills

Pack a picnic lunch and drive north from Custer to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Ressler recommends stopping at Breezy Point Picnic Area, just off Highway 244. “There’s a short hike that takes you to the overlook,” says Ressler. “It’s one of the most amazing views in the Black Hills.” Once at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, walk the 0.6-mile President’s Trail to see the faces of our forefathers. Then treat yourself to a night of glamping at Under Canvas Mount Rushmore.

Spend the last day of your trip at Spearfish Canyon State Nature Reserve for a morning hike. The park’s trail system connects two magnificent waterfalls, Raflock Falls and Spearfish Falls. See both on a four-mile hike. If you have the fishing gear and energy for another two miles each way, head to Savoy Pond to try casting for rainbow trout. After a day of exploring, don’t miss Deadwood. The city is known for its historic buildings and the re-enactments of the Wild West that are regularly held on Main Street. For families who thrive on two wheels, the 109-mile Mickelson Trail begins here (you can also hop on 15 peaks along the way) and follows the historic railroad right through the Black Hills.

A trip to South Dakota improves the quality of life for South Dakota residents and visitors by strengthening communities, encouraging responsible governance and creating meaningful experiences for all. Together, we are here to serve the people of South Dakota and all who come to explore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *