We just returned from a trip to S.D. and I wanted to thank everyone who posts in the forums here. I found the information here extremely helpful when planning our trip. I took a few day road trip with my 9 year old son.
Our first day in S.D. we drove to Blue Bell stables for a 2 hour horseback ride. The horses and trail guides were great. It is a true trail ride where the horses follow each other and slowly walk the trail. But it was perfect for my 9 year old.
We then spent most of the rest of the first day on the Wild Life Loop in Custer State Park. It was amazing! We saw Bison, Prairie Dogs, the begging burros, lots of deer, and beautiful scenery. We then drove Iron Mountain Rd. to the Mount Rushmore lighting ceremony. All I can say is thank you TA forum posters who stressed that the best way to see Mount Rushmore for the first time is on Iron Mountain Rd. As it appears for the first time once you pass through the first tunnel it really is magnificent. We stopped at every lookout and took pictures and savored each new view of Mount Rushmore. The lighting ceremony is a very nicely done patriotic service to honor our veterans. We enjoyed the informative movie they showed which gave a little history on each one of the 4 presidents.
The next day we toured Jewel Cave (yes, we knew to make reservations thanks to TA forum). We hiked around and spent time at Sylvan Lake. Then we took Needle hwy to see Needle's Eye. We went back to Mount Rushmore to walk the Presidential Trail and take in the monument during daylight hours.
I packed sandwiches during the day and also brought breakfast items and snacks. There is a Walmart that you can stock up on waters, food, and any supplies you forgot to bring. I bought my son a pair of binoculars for $10 that he absolutely loved viewing the animals with. Our second day we saw pronghorn antelope, a mountain goat (at Mount Rushmore), chip monks, and an Elk.
I wish we had more time because there is a lot more to do in the area. Next time I would follow the advice that many of the TA forum posters gave and stay in either Keystone or Hill City. I did not like staying in Rapid City. It was a town full of punk kids who seemed to hate tourists. They drove around at night not stopping at stop signs, pulling out of nowhere to cut you off, throwing smoke bombs at you out of their truck windows. Some of them had mini dirt bikes and rode them crazy weaving around cars. They all seemed to have a death wish and where hanging all around town looking for trouble. Experiencing this I would never stay in Rapid City again. Keystone and Hill City are smaller towns with character that I am sure I would have enjoyed more.
The Black Hills and Mount Rushmore are breathtaking and so much fun to explore. I recommend to anyone who is contemplating taking this trip to do so.