South Dakota Family Road Trip Itinerary
A South Dakota trip is one of those road trips that should be on every family’s list of road trips before they die. Nothing can beat the beautiful views and all the fun things to see and do while visiting South Dakota. As a matter of fact, it can be super overwhelming planning a road trip to South Dakota because of all the fun things to see and do.
I am breaking down our 6-day road trip to and from South Dakota beginning in Des Moines, Iowa. No matter where you are coming from, I know you will be able to take bits and pieces (or even the whole itinerary) and have a successful family trip exploring South Dakota.
Day One | Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The total length of time to travel from Des Moines, Iowa to Rapid City, South Dakota (our final destination) is 8 hours and 45 minutes. This could probably be done in a day, but we have two young children and love to explore new cities. We decided to break up our trip by driving half the distance and stayed the night in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
We rolled into Sioux Falls right around lunchtime and headed downtown to grab a bite to eat. MacKenzie River Pizza, Grill, & Pub offered delicious food, cold brews and a fun kids menu including mac & cheese pizza!
Afterward, we strolled around the cute downtown and made a stop at local Fernson Brewery and the Washington Pavillion which had a fun dinosaur display outside. I wish we had planned more time in Sioux Falls because I quickly discovered there was so much to see and do! I see another trip in our future.
Before heading to our hotel to check-in and swim for the evening, we made a stop at Falls Park which was super impressive and fun.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota is known for Fall Park and covers 123 acres. The park and falls were covered with rocks and plenty of climbing opportunities. There were areas where you could stick your toes in the water.
We did not leave Falls Park without enjoying some local scoops of ice cream overlooking the breathtaking view.
Where should you stay in Sioux Falls, South Dakota? The Clubhouse Hotel & Suites was perfect for our one-night stay. Their rooms were great, they offered a free breakfast, a peaceful and fun outdoor area (where we enjoyed a bonfire and s’ mores), and a fun pool with water slide. It was the perfect place to unwind after a day of driving and exploring.
Day Two | Wall Drug + The Badlands
Day two was our second day of diving the final 4 hours to Rapid City. On our way into Rapid City, we made stops at Wall Drug and The Badlands.
Wall Drug is one of those attractions that many people visit while traveling to South Dakota, so they can just say they have been there. It is a super touristy area. We did enjoy some of their famous donuts, grabbed lunch, then headed to The Badlands.
The Badlands was amazing and highly recommend for anyone who is planning a trip to South Dakota. The views are breathtaking and pictures do not do it justice.
One of our favorite parts of the Badlands were the bighorn sheep. They were so much fun to watch them in their element. They jumped from rock to rock at incredible heights. The kids also loved climbing, jumping and taking in all the views. Bonus, it is a National Park, so if you have a National Park Passport make sure you grab your cancellation!
We arrived into Rapid City, South Dakota around dinner and check in to our cute and quaint Airbnb. We love to stay in Airbnb’s while traveling. It helps us save money with eating out and we are not confined to a hotel room.
Gayle’s Cottage was perfect for our family. It was located on the side of a hill in Rapid City. We saw deer daily in our yard. One night we saw ten in the front yard! We also saw live turkeys. There was a pool to cool off and unwind after a long and hot day exploring, and a fun clubhouse and hammock swing the kids loved playing in.
Day Three | Bear Country USA + Mount Rushmore + Crazy Horse
We awoke bright and early to visit Bear Country USA. I was not really sure what to expect, but I had heard from many that this was a must-do! This may have ended up one of my favorite things we did.
Bear Country USA was filled with bears, deer, goats, mountain lions and more. As you drove through the park, you have to make sure to keep your windows up at all times. These animals would walk right up to your car! It was very neat to see them in their element. In the end, there was a walk through the park where you could see other live animals and super cute bear cubs playing.
Bear Country USA was right on our way to Mount Rushmore National Park. After viewing all the fun animals we headed to see the majestic figures carved in stone. Another must-see when visiting South Dakota.
The experience at Mount Rushmore is very well organized. Parts of the park were closed due to renovation, but there was still a path you could follow to climb closer to the faces. Heads up, it is a workout! Both kids did a great job though.
After Mount Rushmore, we headed towards Crazy Horse but did not enter the park. It was $30 per car and I had visited when I was little. We decided to take pictures from the roadside and call it good. This is definitely something you could add to your day though!
We drove a bit more south to Custer, South Dakota and grabbed a late lunch at Mount Rushmore Brewing before returning back to our Airbnb to swim and play.
Day Four | Devils Tower + Spearfish Canyon + Deadwood
Day four was the day we planned to do a bit more driving and head to Wyoming to visit Devils Tower National Monument. It is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes from Rapid City to Devils Tower and definitely worth the trip when visiting South Dakota.
Devils Tower is the first national monument and filled with rock climbing and history. If you want, pack a lunch and spend the day exploring and climbing. We could have easily spent an entire day there climbing.
Spearfish Canyon and Deadwood are two stops that were recommended to us and were on our route back to Rapid City. You can easily stop at one on your way to Devils Tower if you wish.
We stopped for lunch just outside Spearfish Canyon at Spearfish Brewing before exploring the canyon.
We drove the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway which takes you by the waterfall and some fun places to stop and explore. Another great place to take in all the beauty, explore, splash and climb.
We drove all the way through the canyon and headed to Deadwood, South Dakota to see a live shootout on the street. Another, must-do that was recommended to us while in South Dakota.
Day Five | Jewel Cave + Custer State Park
Our last full day in South Dakota was spent exploring Jewel Cave National Park and Custer State Park.
Jewel Cave was an incredible experience. Make sure you arrive early to purchase your tour tickets because they sell out quickly!
We experienced the Scenic Tour which is the most popular and lasts about 1 hour and 20 minutes. The tour consists of 723 stairs along a 1/2 mile loop! The kids did a great job through the whole thing and learned so much. Make sure you were closed-toed shoes, with backs and a sweatshirt.
Afterward, we headed back toward Rapid City to Custer State Park, but not without a quick bite! We enjoyed lunch at Miner Brewing Company located just outside Custer State Park.
Custer State Park is another attraction that you could easily plan to spend an entire day hiking, swimming, and exploring. Custer State Park is located on 71,000 acres in the Black Hills and is famous for the granite peaks, and three large lakes. The most recognizable lake of all is Sylvan Lake which is where we visited and hiked to.
When we entered Custer State Park we came across nature trail. Without even thinking, we stopped and began hiking the path with gorgeous views (we even saw a deer!) and ended up out by Sylvan Lake. We had no idea where the path was leading us until someone else let us know. My husband ended up turning around halfway to go get the car to meet us as we finished. It was fun not to kind of wing our experience, but you can definitely map out your adventures more before you arrive.
After some rest of our day of climbing and hiking, we grabbed dinner at Firehouse Brewing Co. If you are driving to Rapid City, you will NOT miss their fun billboard signs with a real fire truck in front of every single one. The Firehouse is a unique landmark in Rapid City and home of an old firehouse. They offer pub food, brews, and each child gets a fire hat when they visit!
We headed to grab an ice cream and enjoy their cute Main Street Square with spray ground after dinner. It was a perfect evening and the perfect way to end our visit to Rapid City, South Dakota.
Day Six | Cosmos Mystery Area + 1880 Town
Cosmos Mystery Area was the last place on our list before leaving Rapid City. A friend had mentioned this attraction to me and I had no idea what to expect. The kids loved it!
It is super hard to explain, but make keep your mind open and have fun during the experience.
I always feel that our road trips home are always a bit tougher because everyone is exhausted. We found a great pit stop on our way back to Sioux Falls. The 1880 Town offered a fun place to grab lunch at the 50’s Train Diner which was located on an actual train. The kids loved this fun and unique experience.
We arrived back into Rapid City just as dinner rolled around and grabbed some take out. The kids burned off all their energy playing in the pool at The Clubhouse. Their pool is no deeper than 3 feet and it was not super crowded which made it stress-free.
Day Six | Drive Home
Our final day was planned for just driving home and we made it home right at lunchtime!
A road trip to South Dakota can be planned so many ways! I felt with our planning we were able to see and experience the major things we wanted to see and do. Of course, there are so many more options and no wrong or right way.