Experience The Black Hills

Top free family attractions in the Black Hills

Let’s face it, one of our biggest concerns when planning or enjoying our family vacations is figuring out our budget; or more specifically, how to save money while still having a great time. We want to pack in as much adventure as possible, but still want to be able to pay the bills when we get home. So how do you keep a car full of kids, and yourself, entertained when spending time in the Black Hills, and still keep some money in your pocket? Well, you follow our advice and check out some of these free attractions, that’s how! All of the attractions listed here are family friendly, and we promise, fun for everybody in your pack!

Outdoor Campus-West

If your family enjoys the outdoors, or learning about nature, or seeing massive aquariums, then the Outdoor Campus is a must stop during your Black Hills vacation. Visitors can explore indoor exhibits showcasing a variety of western South Dakota habitats and wildlife, along with a 4,600 gallon freshwater aquarium. They also offer a variety of educational opportunities and classes all throughout the year that you can take part in, or you can take a walk along their 1.5 miles of nature trails. The building, and the scenery surrounding it, is reason enough to visit this awesome family attraction, but seeing your kids’ faces as they check out each interactive activity will be the highlight of your day! For more information, or for directions and hours of operation, check out their website at South Dakota Game Fish & Parks.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

It would be foolish to visit the Black Hills and not take a drive through one of South Dakota’s most beautiful treasures. A short drive from Rapid City, the town of Spearfish is an absolutely amazing little community. Frequently landing on multiple “Best of” lists for small towns in America, the crown jewel of this area is the stunning Spearfish Canyon Byway. You can cruise along the 19-mile byway, surrounded by towering limestone walls and lush, dense deciduous forest, or park and ride your bike. There are multiple waterfalls along the way that feed into the rushing Spearfish creek, which travels throughout the entire canyon. Two must stop points along your journey are Bridal Veil Falls, which offers you a chance to trek through the creek and stand directly beneath the waterfalls brisk water, and Roughlock Falls State Nature Area, which is not only the most popular waterfall in the canyon, but possibly the most beautiful area in the entire state of South Dakota. There are endless opportunities for fly-fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching throughout the entire canyon. Visit Spearfish Canyon, your spirit will thank you!

Wall Drug Store

If you drove into South Dakota along I-90, you no doubt saw dozens and dozens of signs for Wall Drug. There are approximately 300 billboards for this roadside tourist attraction scattered throughout the Midwest, with several more that can be found in some very unlikely locations. Signs for the once quiet town of Wall, South Dakota can be found in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, and even both the north and south poles! It’s one of the most well-known attractions in the world, and it all started from a very basic marketing strategy: put up billboards offering free ice water. Simple. From that, the kitschy town grew into a destination visited by 2 million people a year. During the summer months, Wall Drug serves an estimated 20,000 cups of ice water each day! Located 55 miles east of Rapid City, and on the outskirts of the beautiful Badlands National Park, Wall Drug is sort of a cowboy themed shopping mall, with a drug store, gift shop full of treasures, a 500 seat restaurant, various other stores, as well as an eclectic art gallery and an 80 foot brontosaurus replica. Because why not! Plus, they still serve that free ice water, as well as 5 cent coffee!

Mount Rushmore

One of the most recognized monuments in the entire world, Mount Rushmore is a true marvel to behold. The faces of former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, carved across a giant slab of granite in the middle of the beautiful Black Hills, is a testament to the sculptural ingenuity of Gutzon Borglum. Work began on the monument in 1927 and was completed and dedicated in 1941. It now draws more than 2.5 million visitors every year. Anytime is a good time to visit Mount Rushmore, but evenings after sunset in the early fall is an especially great time to see the faces, as the nightly ceremony lights up the mountain, creating a truly amazing experience.

South Dakota Air and Space Museum

Located just out front of the Ellsworth Air Force Base, the Air and Space Museum is one of the Black Hills most inspiring exhibits. It celebrates the military personnel who have sacrificed so much for our country, and the role that Ellsworth A.F.B has played in defending this nation. The museum also has four large inside galleries of artifacts covering the history and heritage of military and civilian aerospace achievements covering the past century. The museum itself is housed in four aircraft alert hangers in which Air Defense Command fighters sat on alert waiting to engage penetrating Soviet bombers during the height of the Cold War. 

Museum of Geology

The Museum of Geology is a fun place to learn about geology through exhibits in both paleontology and mineralogy. These eye-popping exhibits showcase mounted skeletons of mammals, fish, marine reptiles, and dinosaurs as well as rare fossils from the White River Badlands. Mineral displays include the Hall of South Dakota Minerals, meteorites, and even a fluorescent mineral room with a serious wow factor. There is a kids’ zone with hands-on fun for the little ones, and a museum gift shop with toys, books, and unique items to round out the experience. The museum offers guided tours for those who call ahead.

Explore the Black Hills National Forest

There is no admission fee for day use in almost every area of the Black Hills National Forest. Even camping is free for up to two weeks, as long as you’re not in a designated campground. There is no end to the sights and adventure that can be had by simply journeying out into the land that makes South Dakota such a unique and beautiful place to visit. This land is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, and if you ask around, the locals will be happy to point you in the direction of some truly remarkable hidden gems, of which there are plenty!

Storybook Island

If you are visiting with children, be sure to make this one of your first stops in Rapid City. Storybook Island has been a source of imagination and wonder for nearly every person that grew up in the area. You’d be hard pressed to find any long-time local that doesn’t have fond memories of being a child and enjoying the magic of Storybook Island. Filled with all the characters of your childhood, this park boasts several acres of huge figurines, statues, bridges and playground equipment for children to enjoy and play out the adventures of their favorite stories.

There is no shortage of fun and exciting Black Hills attractions, and there’s no reason it should have to break the bank to go out with your family and enjoy them. Each day can be spent exploring all there is to see and do, and at the end of your day, you can return to your comfortable room here at the Comfort Suites, get a great night’s sleep, and wake up refreshed and ready to do it again!