South Dakota road trip with kids itinerary

The Ultimate South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary

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Are you planning a trip to South Dakota with kids? We have the perfect 6 day South Dakota road trip with kids itinerary for you! From Rapid City to Mount Rushmore and the National Parks, South Dakota is one of the best states for a road trip. We will tell you what the best stops are on a South Dakota road trip are and where to eat and stay. Read on for our South Dakota road trip itinerary, including where to stop, eat and stay.

What is the best time to visit South Dakota?

The most popular time to visit South Dakota is late May through early September to avoid cold temperatures and possible snow. We visited in mid June and the weather was perfect-not yet too hot and the crowds weren’t terrible since many US school districts were not yet on summer break.

South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary

If you’re wondering what order to do your South Dakota road trip in, keep reading! We flew into and out of Rapid City, so our trip started and ended there though we drove straight to Deadwood after landing and picking up our rental car. Here is our South Dakota road trip itinerary.

Stop 1: Deadwood

After landing in Rapid City, we immediately drove to Deadwood to start our South Dakota road trip. Step back in time as you explore this historic city. Deadwood’s Main Street is full of fun shops, restaurants and lots of sights. This is one of the best stops on your South Dakota with kids road trip itinerary.

Where to stay in Deadwood

There are many family friendly hotels in Deadwood but we prefer Marriott properties since we have point to use so I recommend the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Deadwood. It’s a short walk to their historic Main Street and there are some restaurants within a short distance to the hotel.

If you want to see other family friendly lodging options in Deadwood, check out the interactive map below.

What to do in Deadwood

Deadwood is a super cute little town just 45 minutes from Rapid City. The downtown (Main Street) of this historic gold rush town is listed as a National Historic Landmark. You’ll find lots of little shops, restaurants and if you come in the summer months (not on Sunday), you’ll probably see a shootout reenactment.

Where to eat in Deadwood

As you are walking along Main Street, you will see tons of different restaurants and saloons. Keep in mind that some do not allow children and some allow them up to a certain time.

We had lunch at the oldest bar in Deadwood, the Buffalo Bodega Saloon. The food isn’t great but it was cool to see the inside of this place. They have a nice outdoor patio as well for the warmer days.

Deadwood’s oldest bar

Stop 2: Mount Rushmore

No trip to South Dakota would be complete without visiting this iconic monument. This is one of the most popular things to do in South Dakota and a must stop when doing a road trip through South Dakota. You’ll see 4 heads of Presidents carved into the mountain, a great way to incorporate American History into your kids’ curriculum. At the time of our visit, parking was $10/car.

If you’re visiting Mount Rushmore with kids, they do have a Junior Ranger program so be sure to pick up your age appropriate activity booklet from one of the rangers! Once your kids complete it, they will earn a Junior Rangers badge. You can pick up the booklet as soon as you enter the area at the little store on your right. You can also return it there but I highly recommend returning it to the visitors center at the end of the walkway. Your kids can be sworn in overlooking Mount Rushmore if you go there!

Stop 3: Custer State Park

The wildlife loop in Custer State Park should be on any South Dakota road trip itinerary! If you want to see bison in the wild, just a few feet from your car, this is the place to go. Do not be like some people and get out of your car to take photos or get close to the bison. These are wild animals and I promise, you won’t outrun them. Stay in your car and enjoy the herds of buffalo as they walk past you. If you’re lucky, you might even see some babies like we did!

We also saw lots of deer with babies and wild donkeys in the park. You will see people get out of their cars to feed the donkeys, don’t be that person. While very friendly, they are wild animals and don’t need our help in eating. We stayed in our car and multiple donkeys approached but quickly lost interest when they realized we aren’t going to feed them.

Stop 4: Wind Cave National Park

After doing the wildlife loop at Custer National Park, we drove to Wind Cave National park, less than an hour away. If you want to see our full Wind Cave with kids itinerary, be sure to read our separate post. Once you reach the open prairie, slow down and look out for prairie dogs. We saw hundreds of them popping in and out of their dens! There’s a parking lot where you can pull off and you’ll hear them when you exit the car. My daughter loved seeing these guys in the wild!

Stop 5: Custer

After visiting Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park, we spent the night in Custer. Their downtown is super cute with lots of restaurants and shops. While walking around Custer, you’ll notice these colorful bison statues on each corner. Your kids will love seeing all the different designs!

Where to stay in Custer

There are lots of family friendly hotels in Custer, so you won’t have an issue finding a place to stay. We had IHG points so we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Custer-Mount Rushmore, which was great and a 5 minute drive to their downtown area.

If you want to see other family friendly hotels in Custer, check out the interactive map below.

Where to eat in Custer

There are lots of family friendly restaurants in Custer, though most serving the same type of cuisine (American). We did find Maria’s Mexican restaurants and while it wasn’t the best Mexican food we’ve had, it was much better than the burgers and chicken fingers offered everywhere else.

A must visit while in Custer is the Purple Pie Place. They are known for their many pie flavors and delicious ice cream. They serve food as well however we only came for dessert. This is one of the best kid friendly restaurants in Custer!

Another place we tried in Custer is Horatio’s Homemade Ice Cream. If your family likes ice cream, don’t miss this local gem! The ice cream here is really good and all made on premises. We got a flight so we can try multiple flavors.

Stop 6: Badlands National Park

We love visiting National Parks and Badlands was number 30 for me and my 12 year old in the last 2 years. It quickly became one of our favorite National Parks! Badlands is one of the best National Parks to visit with kids. If you want our full itinerary, including what to do and where to say in Badlands, read our Badlands National Park with kids post.

South Dakota road trip itineray
Notch Trail in Badlands National Park

Stop 7: Badlands Ranch Store

We heard about the Badlands Ranch Store from several people and even the park ranger mentioned that a large prairie dog colony is right next to the store, which is less than 10 minutes from the entrance to Badlands National Park. This store encourages you to purchase peanuts and feed the prairie dogs but please don’t do that. Prairie dogs don’t eat nuts, they are actually really bad for them. And wild animals don’t need our help in finding food, they do just fine on their own.

South Dakota road trip itineray

We stopped here just to admire them from a distance and take some photos of the cute little guys without feeding them. There were tons of them here! Remember, they are wild animals. We saw people telling their kids to pet them which isn’t the smartest. They have been confirmed cases of plague among prairie dogs in the area and you really shouldn’t be handling them or getting close to them.

South Dakota road trip itineray

Stop 8: Wall Drug Store

If there’s one thing you know about South Dakota, it’s probably that Wall Drug Store exists. This popular tourist attraction is one of the only things you’ll see signs for as you’re driving on I-90. We weren’t sure what to expect so we stopped in for a visit. Spoiler alert: We hated it!

South Dakota road trip itineray
South Dakota road trip itineray

We love Buc-ee’s and were kind of expecting something similar, a large place with food, snacks and drinks. This is essentially a mall with small stores inside selling things like boots, candy, souvenirs, toys, etc. It was so bizarre and not at all like what we wanted. We actually had to go to another gas station to get some water and snacks because they don’t sell that here.

South Dakota road trip itineray
My daughter wanted to try a buffalo hot dog.

If you’re short on time, I would skip it. Otherwise pop in for some ice cream and be on your way.

South Dakota road trip itineray
Huckleberry milkshake

Stop 9: Rapid City

We ended our South Dakota road trip back in Rapid City, where we spent 2 nights this time to explore the city.

Where to stay in Rapid City

We stayed at the Courtyard Rapid City, which was a short drive to everything we wanted to see in Rapid CIty.

If you want to see other hotels in the area, check out the interactive map below.

What to do in Rapid City with kids

There are lots of things to do in Rapid City with kids, especially during the warmer months.

Do a President Scavenger Hunt in downtown Rapid City

One of the best things to do in Rapid City with kids is a downtown scavenger hunt. Pick up your scavenger hunt map at the Visitors Center and walk around to find all of the Presidents that are on every corner in downtown. This is great because it gives you a walking tour of downtown while keeping your kids engaged and focused on an activity. Be sure to stop into the small business if you see something you like! My daughter is obsessed with books so we had to stop in and buy one from Mitzi’s bookstore on Main Street. When you complete the scavenger hunt, bring it back for a prize.

South Dakota road trip itineray
South Dakota road trip itineray

Visit Dinosaur Park

As you’re driving around Rapid City, you will see the giant dinosaur sculpture on top of the hill. That is where Dinosaur Park is and this free attraction has several dinosaur sculptures but also offers beautiful city view since it’s on a hill overlooking the city below. This is one of the best things to do in Rapid City with kids who love dinosaurs.

South Dakota road trip itineray
South Dakota road trip itineray

Cool off at the fountains at the Main Street Square

If you have kids who love splash pads, head to the fountains at Main Street Square. This is a cute area where you can sit and relax while your kids play with the water. After, walk over to the ice cream shop by the fountain or one of the many local restaurants in the downtown area.

South Dakota road trip itineray

Coffee and the Cats Cat Cafe

Does your family like cats? Then head to the only cat cafe in Rapid City! For just $5/person, you can play with the kitties in their cat room. Most are available for adoption (aside from the house cat) so it’s also a great place to go if you are planning to adopt since you can really see their personalities.

Go to Mitzi’s Books

We love visiting and supporting local bookstores when we travel and my avid reader daughter really liked Mitzi’s. It’s a small store with a surprisingly large selection of books. My daughter found 6 books here off of her wish list so we ended up buying more than we thought we would! Go support this cute independent bookstore.

South Dakota road trip itineray

Who’s Toy House

Have little ones who love toys? Then this Rapid City toy store is great for them! They also have a fenced in area on the side of the store where they can play. This is one of the best places for toddlers and younger kids in Rapid City.

South Dakota road trip itineray

Visit Candyland

Do you want to see one of the biggest selections of candy in one place? Then take your kids to Candyland! If they don’t have it, no one will. Here you will find every variety of candy, unique soda flavors and even a huge selection of flavored popcorn. This is one of the best things to do with kids in Rapid City.

Visit the World’s Largest Quarter Pounder statue

Yes, you read that right! We love checking out the Roadside America app to see what unique things are along our route and this was definitely different! Standing at 9 feet tall and 8 feet wide, you can find this statue in front of the Cheyenne Blvd. McDonald’s. It’s believed that Rapid City residents consume the most Quarter Pounders with cheese in the nation so they got their own statue to commemorate that feat.

Visit the Berlin Wall

In downtown Rapid City at Memorial Park, you will find a huge section of the Berlin Wall on display. There are placards with the history of the wall, great learning opportunity if your kids are homeschoolers.

South Dakota road trip itineray

Where to eat in Rapid City with kids

Firehouse Brewing Company

In the middle of Main Street is a building that resembles a firehouse. The Firehouse Brewing Company has lots of beer options but also a pretty large food menu, offering everything from kid meals to bbq options. Your kids will get a kick out of the fire theme (pick up a firefighter hat when you walk in) and you have an option of sitting outdoors if it’s warm.

South Dakota road trip itineray
South Dakota road trip itineray

Kathmandu Bistro

Let me preface this by saying we love Indian food and it’s actually my daughter’s favorite cuisine. There are multiple Indian restaurants in Rapid City, but we only went to this one. Now I’m not particularly recommending it because the food here wasn’t good at all. In fact, it didn’t taste Indian. It’s almost like they forgot all of the Indian spices/seasonings that typically go into Indian food and used way too much cream. It tasted like canned tomato sauce with a ton of cream, something that would be better on pasta. My daughter loves spicy food and told them medium spice when we ordered but there was absolutely no hint of any spice at all. Maybe order super spicy if you come here or just go to one of the other Indian restaurants in town for a more authentic experience.

Essence of Coffee

One of our favorite breakfast places was Essence of Coffee. They had a great coffee menu and some breakfast items as well. My daughter loved her breakfast quesadilla and I loved my sourdough French toast.

Harriett and Oak

Another great breakfast/lunch in Rapid City is Harriet and Oak on Main Street. Lots of coffee options and yummy sandwiches. I had the avocado turkey and my daughter had the chipotle chicken and both were really good.

El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant

One of our favorite restaurants in Rapid City was El Sombrero. Located in a strip mall, we weren’t expecting much but the food here was actually really good. If you’re looking for Mexican food in Rapid City, this is the one!

As you can see, a road trip through South Dakota can be a fun vacation for your entire family. Want to read this later? Pin one of the images below!

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