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Need suggestion where to stay Mt.Rushmore trip, with kids

Plainfield, Illinois
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Need suggestion where to stay Mt.Rushmore trip, with kids

My husband and I are driving from Chicago area to see Mt. Rushmore end of June beginning of July. Have two boys, 6 and 10 yrs. old. Our priority/main reason to go is to see Mt.Rushmore. Want to see the lighting ceremony and hike the presidential trail. Since planning have found the following sights and activities that would be of interest to my kids-

Big Thunder Gold Mine

Rushmore Tramway

Custer State Park- see the wildlife, Buffalo

1880 Train (for train fanatic 6 yr old)

Any other suggestions?

I currently have 2 nights in State Game Lodge booked. Thought they would enjoy staying in a cabin. However, I am reconsidering staying in Custer at Rock Crest Lodge and Cabins, for the entire time...4 nights total, as they have a pool and playground which would be great for the kids to swim and play at the end of or days. Wondering if both locations are close enough to where we will be spending most days sightseeing. I see Keystone is where most attractions are, but was trying to not stay in a typical hotel/motel. How long in real time would it take to get to Mt.Rushmore from both locations? How much time will we spend at each sight? Do I have too little sightseeing and activities planned or not enough?

I would really appreciate any input and suggestions as this is our first driving family trip and first trip to South Dakota. My children have been talking about seeing Mt. Rushmore for years and that is why we are doing so. Thanks!

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State Game Lodge
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Rock Crest Lodge
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Chicago
Chicago
Illinois
Buffalo
Buffalo
New York
Custer
Custer
South Dakota
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Keystone
South Dakota
South Dakota
South Dakota
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South Dakota
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1. Re: Need suggestion where to stay Mt.Rushmore trip, with kids

Anything in Custer State Park is a good location. The City of Custer is not as centrally located as Keystone or Hill City, but is still doable as a base. Definitely find something with a pool. We rented a beautiful private home in Hill City. The location was terrific, but with no pool, the kids got antsy in the evenings and we had to make some trips to the city park.

You said four nights, so I'm guessing this means three full days. We usually suggest that people arriving from the east try to do the Badlands (which are a must-see) on the way in. In order to see the Badlands and still make it to the Black Hills by a reasonable hour, I'd suggest spending the previous night in either Mitchell or Chamberlain. If you also want to do the Minuteman Site, then spend the previous night in either Wall or in the Badlands because it's necessary to arrive at opening to secure tickets. (I'm guessing you were not going to drive straight through from Illinois.)

As far as time goes, my guesstimates would be:

-Mt. Rushmore, 3-4 hours. Since you want to see the lighting ceremony, go at the end of the day so you only have to make one trip. If you arrive around 4:30 ish, you could hike the Presidential Trail and take your photos before dark. You'll also probably want to do the Sculptor's Studio and exhibit halls. Eat a picnic supper or in the cafe and then stay for the lighting ceremony.

-Big Thunder Gold Mine: An hour. If you want to pan for gold (extra cost), allow a bit more time.

-Alpine Slide (part of Rushmore Tramway)- An hour unless you want to eat in the restaurant at the top, then more time.

-1880 Train. 3 hours. It's an hour each way, with about 15 minutes for the stop. My suggestion is this: Get on the first train of the day in Hill City so you can all sit together. Have one parent drive to Keystone instead of riding the train. The return trip has identical scenery and dialogue and our kids were pretty bored by the end. If you absolutely must all ride it, have one parent stay on the train to secure your seats, because there will be a mob waiting to get on in Keystone. We had to use the bathroom, so we didn't save our seats, nor did we have any coats to leave on the seats. When we got out of the bathroom, the train was full, so we ended up being separated into three different cars.

-Custer State Park- A full day (for Sylvan Lake, Needles Hwy, Iron Mt, Rd, Mt. Coolidge and the Wildlife Loop). It's best, though, to break up the scenic drives into different days, especially with kids or they will get tired of sitting in the car.

I think you could add some more attractions. I can tell you that we did Mt. Rushmore, the Alpine Slide, Big Thunder Gold Mine and Iron Mt. Road all in the same day, and we were done by around 6PM.

If you've never been in a cave, you might like Jewel Cave. Arrive at opening to secure tickets. Other options would be Bear Country and Reptile Gardens.

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Chamberlain
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Illinois
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United States
Pitman, New Jersey
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for Rapid City, South Dakota
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2. Re: Need suggestion where to stay Mt.Rushmore trip, with kids

Rock Crest would be a little bit closer to Rushmore (35 mins vs 45), and with young kids, I think the pool is a good idea.

The Badlands are a must see on the way in or going back. The kids will love this park, particularly hiking and climbing.

When touring Custer SP, it is a great idea to split up the drives as 3174 mentions. Good pairings are the Wildlife Loop/Iron Mt. Rd. and Sylvan Lake and Needles Hwy. You can add Rushmore to the Iron Mt Rd day, and if interested, you could add Jewel Cave or Crazy Horse to Sylvan Lake, etc.

If time permits, I like adding Reptile Gardens and Bear Country. Both are very worthwhile and fun for kids.

Let us know if we can help further.

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The Rushmore Hotel & Suites
The Rushmore Hotel...
908 Reviews
Rapid City, SD
Sylvan Lake
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1,442 Reviews
Custer, SD
Reptile Gardens
Reptile Gardens
1,833 Reviews
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Bear Country USA
Bear Country USA
3,218 Reviews
Rapid City, SD
Custer
Custer
South Dakota
Plainfield, Illinois
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3. Re: Need suggestion where to stay Mt.Rushmore trip, with kids

Thank you both for your helpful replies. We do plan to stay over in Mitchell the first day we leave Illinois. We are going to visit the Indian Village on our way out the following day, head to the Badlands and then end up in Custer, Rock Crest Lodge, where I booked 4 nights (decided to stay there as a base, mostly because we want to stay in a cabin and there is a pool and playground.

Now, we are working on Mon. Tues. and Wed. itinerary...Mt. Rushmore, 1880 Train,(I will ride the train with 6 yr. old and Dh and 10 yr. old will wait in Keystone as 3174 suggested) Jewel Cave tour and pan for gold, Bear Country, Custer SP, Iron Mt. ,Sylvan Lake, Needles hwy., Rushmore Tramway Adventure (thinking we will be there atleast 2.5 hours as our 10 year old will want to stay in the Adventure Park for a while, as well we will all do the slide. I like the idea of splitting up CP as both suggested. Crazy Horse can be done if we have time.

**Has anyone seen a play at the Custer SP Black Hills Playhouse? Wondering if it sells out and if we should purchase tix in advance.

**Are there coupons available on line anywhere for any of the sights we will be visiting? I have looked at the Black Hills Discount Book but the few we would use wouldn't make up for the cost of the book..(There are many coupons to be used in Rapid City).

Thank you both, 3174 and slrtravelplanner for your responses which has helped us to make some decisions! I know I'll be back with more questions.

Mentioned in this post
The Rushmore Hotel & Suites
The Rushmore Hotel...
908 Reviews
Rapid City, SD
Rock Crest Lodge
Rock Crest Lodge
159 Reviews
Custer, SD
Mount Rushmore Tours
Mount Rushmore Tours
330 Reviews
Rapid City, SD
Bear Country USA
Bear Country USA
3,218 Reviews
Rapid City, SD
Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake
1,442 Reviews
Custer, SD
Mitchell
Mitchell
South Dakota
Illinois
Illinois
United States
Custer
Custer
South Dakota
The Black Hills
The Black Hills
South Dakota
Rapid City
Rapid City
South Dakota
Illinois
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1,416 posts
254 reviews
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4. Re: Need suggestion where to stay Mt.Rushmore trip, with kids

I think Mitchell to Custer with all your planned stops is a bit ambitious-can you squeeze an extra night in there? The Badlands is/can be a full day, especially if you factor in a stop at Wall, which might be hard to skip considering you will have passed about 47000 billboards for it by the time you get there.

Good stops on the way, even for an hour to stretch your legs, include the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, MN,Palisades State Park in Garrettson, SD,and the rest stop/Lewis & Clark exhibit at Chamberlain.

Is there an Entertainment Book for the area? Might be a good coupon source.

Have a great trip!

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Badlands Wall
Badlands Wall
1,168 Reviews
Badlands National Park, SD
Palisades State Park
Palisades State Park
81 Reviews
Garretson, SD
Mitchell
Mitchell
South Dakota
Custer
Custer
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Chamberlain
Chamberlain
South Dakota
Pitman, New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Rapid City, South Dakota
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5. Re: Need suggestion where to stay Mt.Rushmore trip, with kids

I have purchased the coupon book at BlackHills Discounts in the past, but it would certainly be your call if it would be worth the $20 cost. For us, it was, but I realize it might not be for everyone. It seems like anymore, it doesn't take long to spend $20. The entertainment books are great also, and they do have lots of coupons, and sometimes, late in the year, you can get the books for a a very reasonable price.

I have not been to the Black Hills Playhouse, so I am not sure if tix sell out. If it was me, I think I would purchase slightly in advance, just to guarantee my seats and have one less item to worry about, but that is just my nature.

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The Black Hills
The Black Hills
South Dakota
6. Re: Need suggestion where to stay Mt.Rushmore trip, with kids

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