There is more to South Dakota than Mount Rushmore. In addition to the faces of four U.S. presidents - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln - a monument to Crazy Horse is also carved in the mountain. Wind cave National Park, the world's second longest cave, is more than an underground maze. Up top sits one of America's last mixed grass prairies. Jewel Cave National Monument is all about calcite crystals. Black Hills National Forest was sacred ground for the Lakota and home to a plethora of Wild West characters. Grasslands meet eroded canyons at Badlands National Park. Custer State Park may not have national standing yet it has nothing to envy. It boasts scenic drives, hiking trails, clear blue lakes, charming lodges and wildlife. A family vacation in South Dakota is about prospectors, Native Americans, bison and homesteaders as well as wide-open spaces.
South Dakota is one of the least served states in America. There are only two regional airports, Rapid City and Sioux Falls. Amtrak doesn't make one single stop. South Dakota is a long drive from the East Coast as well as the West and most points in the Midwest. Northwest, Allegiant, Delta, United and Frontier service Rapid City Regional Airport with direct flights from Chicago, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver. Delta, United and Allegiant service Sioux Falls with direct flights from Chicago, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver. Family travelers road tripping in the American West should carefully consider distance before pointing their vehicle in the direction of Mount Rushmore or elsewhere. The Black Hills are 314 miles or 505 km from Denver, CO.
A family vacation in South Dakota is tantamount to a road trip. Unless you travel by bus, there are no alternatives to the automobile. Greyhound offers bus service between the principal towns in South Dakota. Jefferson Lines connects 24 South Dakota cities and towns. Both Sioux Falls and Rapid City have public transport systems. A variety of companies offer shuttle service to Black Hills hotels. Renting a car? Take note of the following: Distances are great. There are only 2 interstates; I-90 and I-29. Service stations are few and far between. Animal crossings are a common occurrence. Winter travel can be hazardous.
South Dakota has a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. The average temperature in January is 12°F (-11°C). The high in summer often exceeds 100°F (37°C). And while the temperature is fairly consistent from east to west, precipitation isn't. Eastern South Dakota lies in Tornado Alley and, in addition to twisters, receives three times more rain and snow than the western part of the state.
Heat, sun and wildlife are the main health risks in South Dakota. Apply high factor sunscreen to all exposed areas, including your child's nose, ears, and toes, before you set out and repeat applications throughout the day. Carry plenty of water (4 liters per person per day is recommended when hiking in summer) and encourage the children to drink regularly. Select activities that are commensurate with the age and ability of the kids. View wildlife at a safe distance and never feed animals, no matter how small. South Dakota law requires children under 4 years of age or less than 40 pounds (18 kg) be in a child restraint. All children over 4 or 40 pounds must wear a properly fitting seat belt.