Content produced in partnership with South Dakota Department of Tourism
Vacations are a great way to make long-lasting memories, but crafting an itinerary that can appease the whole family is not an easy feat. In order to strike a balance between fun attractions and (unbeknownst to them) educational opportunities, look for places that will grab the kids' attention, while still allowing the adults to let their hair down a tad. It just so happens that South Dakota is full of stops that amount to the perfect, stress-free family vacation for all to enjoy.
Nothing says epic family photo like a giant head photo bomb. Part of “The Great 8,” Crazy Horse is considered one of the must-see cultural stops in the state. An important Native American memorial site, it's also a great place to sneak in a quick history lesson at the Indian Museum of North America, while Mom poses everyone for the perfect jump shot. For a dash of adventure that'll wow the entire family, opt to see the world's largest mountain carving from up above in a helicopter or hot air balloon.
Deadwood is a town frozen in time and a trip back to the late 1800s all in one. Play cops and robbers in the Wild West as you watch reenactments of shootouts or pan for gold while Mom and Dad hit the saloons or casinos. There are walking tours to see the final resting places of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and other notorious figures, but with the entire town a designated national historic landmark, anywhere you visit will be infused with a bit of history.
The Badlands are as famous for their ridiculously colorful scenery as they are for the dinosaur bones. Home to one of the world’s richest fossil beds, let the Badlands become your classroom by participating in an archeological dig or perusing the boardwalk full of museum-quality exhibits. Bone fragments and teeth from triceratops, edmontosaurus and other creatures that once roamed the area are commonly uncovered. While the kids are digging for buried treasure in a place that looks like its straight out of Jurassic Park, the parents can get some fresh air by hiking one of the numerous scenic nature trails in the park.
With a town name like Hot Springs, you know you’re in for some much-needed rest and relaxation. Mom will love melting the stress away in one of the six mineral spas, while the children can stay busy at Evans Plunge, an indoor waterpark full of water slides and kiddie pools. Founded as a frontier health spa town with a charming downtown to explore, the kids won’t even know the water’s good for them. We won’t tell if you don’t.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Tour
Author of the Little House on the Prairie series, Laura Ingalls Wilder is practically South Dakota royalty. The author chronicled most of her life during her time spent in DeSmet. Now a vibrant frontier town full of reenactments, the kids can test drive covered wagons and learn pioneering life skills at the Homestead just like the pioneers did back in the day. They’ll be put to work doing laundry with a washboard without even realizing it’s a chore!
South Dakota Children's Museum
Located 50 miles north of Sioux Falls in Brookings, the Children’s Museum of South Dakota stimulates the imagination by combining learning with playful interactive exhibits. The highlight is the indoor-outdoor prairie complete with teepees, dinosaur dig, and maze. All of it is there to remind you there’s nothing better than seeing (or learning!) through the eyes of a child.
The Missouri River
As the longest river in North America, it's safe to say the banks of the Missouri are full of summer fun. Spend time in the lake regions of Oahe, Sharpe, Francis Case, and Lewis and Clark to take full advantage of the numerous outdoor attractions like camping, fishing and boating in historic areas. As a rule, Chamberlain should be ground zero for any exploration. From there, you can experience a day in the life of the Akta Lakota Indians at the Museum and Cultural Center or climb aboard a replica of the 55-foot keelboat used by area settlers.