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Does my itinerary look reasonable?

Waukon, Iowa
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Does my itinerary look reasonable?

Hello Everyone. Just wondering if you can help with my itinerary. Let me know if my times are off or if I have too much or too little in one day. We are planning our trip for early June. Husband, myself and our 10-year-old twins. We will be coming from NE Iowa. I have been to the Black Hills twice, but not since I was a kid. Hubby and kids have never been.


Leave late afternoon (hubby works)

Drive to Sioux Falls


Drive to Mitchell - short stop at the Corn Palace

Drive to Badlands - drive the loop, lots of photo ops, a few short hikes.

Drive to Rapid City - check in at hotel and supper, if a pool is available, kids can swim.


Bear Country - 2.5 hrs.

Reptile Gardens - 4 hrs. incl. lunch

Cosmos Mystery Area - 1.5 hrs.??

Alpine Slide if time.

Stay in Keystone or Hill City


Mt. Rushmore - 3 hrs. ??


To Hill City - 1880 Train (1:15-3:30) roundtrip

Drive to Crazy Horse - 1-2 hrs.


Mt. Rushmore lighting

Back to Hotel in Keystone/Hill City


Driving Tour - Horse Thief Lake Rd. (244), Needles (87), Custer/Wildlife Loop, Iron Mountain Rd. (16A) and back to Hotel. Stops for lunch and lots of photo ops.


Depart Keystone/Hill City

Travel Hwy. 385 to Lead, then Spearfish Canyon (14A)

Stops at waterfalls and photo ops

Drive to Devil's Tower - spend 1-2 hrs.??

Return to Rapid City via Vanocker Canyon and Nemo Rd.

Stop at Thunderhead Falls if time

Hotel in Rapid City


Depart for home

Thanks in advance for any advice you might have!

Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
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1. Re: Does my itinerary look reasonable?

You have a very nice itinerary planned. Just a couple questions/thoughts.

Are you interested in seeing Jewel or Wind Cave? Both are very worthwhile. I think one could be worked in (not sure on both). I totally understand if caves are not your interest. They aren't for everyone.

On Thursday, would you ever consider heading out to Devil's Tower and then seeing Spearfish Canyon on the way back? Devil's Tower is a must see in the area, IMO. You could still head down 385 (great drive!). The Pactola Reservoir area is gorgeous and is worth a stop just to stretch the legs and take some pictures. I will never forget seeing it for the first time. It just comes up suddenly and was breathtaking for me. I would probably skip Thunderhead Falls. This is one of the few attractions in the Black Hills that we found to really not be worth the time/money.

I would also be on the fence about the 1880 Train. It's ok, but I think there are better attractions in the area..more scenic. You might not need 3 hours at Rushmore. Just an idea..if you could catch a train a little bit earlier, you could head to Hill City and have lunch at the Alpine Inn. You don't have to head back on the next train; you can wait until later in the afternoon. I think this is the only way I'd do the train. Eating at the Alpine is worth it! You could possibly see the lighting ceremony on your Rapid City attraction day, depending on your energy level. You are seeing quite a bit that day, so you may feel too tired. It depends on your travel style, really. You will also be switching hotels this day.

Let us know if you have additional questions.

Waukon, Iowa
3 posts
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2. Re: Does my itinerary look reasonable?

Thanks so much for your reply and input. Regarding the caves, I have considered it and do think we could find time. I'm just not sure about it. My son once completely freaked out about going in a cave (though he was very young at the time and might be fine about it now). I have been to a few caves, and while I find them interesting, they are not my favorite thing.

As for Thursday, I apologize but I am a bit confused as to your point. We DO plan to go to Devil's Tower via 385 and Spearfish Canyon on the way and I thought we would hit Vanocker Canyon and Nemo Rd. on the way back to Rapid City. I did not know about Pactola Reservoir, but we would go right by on our way to Spearfish and Devil's Tower, so we can definitely make a point of that. Is Vanocker Canyon and Nemo Rd. not worth it? Good to know about Thunderhead falls - I just saw it on the map and figured, what the heck, it's right on the way back into Rapid City so we could stop.

I wondered about my time allowance for Mt. Rushmore, but thought if we went on the hike, we might need the extra time (although I am struggling with a bad foot, so the hike might be out anyway.)

I have been on the fence about the train also. It is expensive. But a friend told us it was excellent and a must-do. Now I'm not so sure.

Are there any other attractions that you would recommend - especially things that might be more fun/exciting for the kids??

Thanks again for your input!

Pitman, New Jersey
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for Rapid City, South Dakota
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3. Re: Does my itinerary look reasonable?

SD Tripper,

First of all..my apologies! I totally blew by your line about seeing Devil's Tower. I'm very sorry.. I must have not been too together when I responded to that paragraph, since I also blew by the Nemo Rd/Vanocker Canyon part! Pactola is on Rt 385. It's definitely worth a stop, perhaps enroute, even if it's a quick one. I have not driven Nemo Rd, so I unfortunately cannot comment on it being worthwhile. A friend of mine who goes to Sturgis has been on this road and seemed to enjoy it, but I can't say first hand.

We have spent close to 3 hours at Rushmore, but that was taking the Presidential Trail out to the Sculptor's Studio and checking out the visitor's center. We also did the Jr. Ranger program. If your foot can manage the hike, I'd strongly recommend it. There are some steps involved.

As for the caves...they might not be a good idea. I am thinking if you are still struggling with your foot, the steps involved may be a problem. There's over 700 on the Jewel Cave tour.

You have really chosen wisely as far as attractions. You have included all the must sees. Do your kids like waterparks? There's WaTiki Waterpark in Rapid City that you might enjoy doing your last night there? If you are looking for something probably a little less time consuming, perhaps Putz & Glo Mini Golf on Rt 16 in Rapid would be fun. It's indoors, so no rain worries. I don't think you'd have time for the attractions in Hot Springs, and I don't know if your twins would enjoy the Mammoth Site there. It's very interesting, particularly for those who enjoy fossils. There's a Jr. Paleontology program there. The Wild Horse Sanctuary is in Hot Springs, but it is quite expensive for a family of 4. We enjoyed it, but I can understand why people balk at the price. The only other thing missing might be a gold mine tour or gold panning. Wade's Gold Mill in Hill City gets rave reviews. You have Big Thunder Gold Mine in Keystone and Broken Boot Mine outside Deadwood that also have panning. I've done Big Thunder but not Broken Boot. Our 8 year old daughter found the tour "Lame" at the time, but I didn't think it was that bad. Kids!

You have a great trip planned, so if you keep with the current plan, everything will turn out well. Please let us know if you have additional questions.

Rapid City, South...
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4. Re: Does my itinerary look reasonable?

Some helpful hints for your trip:

When you do the 1880 train I would plan to have lunch in either Hills City or Keystone, and walk the town... the two hour round trip train ride is much more enjoyable when you split it up instead of having your return trip directly following your first trip.

MONDAY: ( I would switch up your Bear Country and Reptile Gardens) When you leave Rapid you will get to Reptile Gardens First -this way you dont have to back-track )

Bear Country - 2.5 hrs. It usually takes an hour to drive the park and 45min-1hr walking through babyland

-Reptile Gardens - 4 hrs. incl. lunch - Dont forget to look at the schedule for the shows they have

-Cosmos Mystery Area - 1.5 hrs.?? - this sounds like a reasonable amount of time

-Alpine Slide if time. - Do the Alpine slide on your way to Mount Rushmore

-Stay in Keystone or Hill City - I would suggest staying in Rapid City so that you have an abundance of choices for dinner and entertainment once your ready to wind down for the day

Wed- Plan on lunch in Custer State Park or pack a picnic, options are limited on the driving loop

Thunderhead falls is in Spearfish Canyon, so hit that up while you are in the canyon

Pitman, New Jersey
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for Rapid City, South Dakota
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5. Re: Does my itinerary look reasonable?

RC Local,

Just for the benefit of others reading this information, Thunderhead Falls is not in Spearfish Canyon. It's located on Rt. 44 outside Rapid City.

Chicago, Illinois
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6. Re: Does my itinerary look reasonable?

I think RC local might have meant Roughlock Falls. Spearfish Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are the other two main falls in the canyon. You are correct srltravelplanner. Thunderhead Falls is not located in Spearfish Canyon.

7. Re: Does my itinerary look reasonable?

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