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South Dakota History Bucket List for Families

Explore Native American and Pioneer history in South Dakota with these interactive attractions for the whole family.

 Our family has been reading through "Our 50 States" geography curriculum with Notgrass publishing this school year, which has given me so many more things to add to our family road trip bucket list.  I have very fond memories of driving through South Dakota with my family as we headed to my grandparents' house in Illinois.  Frequently, we'd take an extra day or two of our trip to visit some attractions around Rapid City.  Now that I'm the mom, I'm excited to share all of my favorite places with my kids.  Here's what's on our "hope-to-visit" list:


Explore Native American and Pioneer history in South Dakota with these interactive attractions for the whole family.


The most famous attraction in South Dakota is Mount Rushmore.  I've been three times now, twice as a child and once as an adult.  We visited last summer, and were very disappointed about the entire experience.  Of all the things we visited, this was our least favorite.  My kids were totally unimpressed and we spent less than fifteen minutes there.  Should you go there with your family?  Sure.  But, if you're on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the Black Hills, I would skip it.  Instead, I would visit some of these other awesome locations.


Explore Native American and Pioneer history in South Dakota with these interactive attractions for the whole family.


Pioneer History

1800s Town

I loved the 1800's Town when I was growing up, and I've been anxious to take my own kids someday soon.  The 1800's Town is an attraction along I-90, where they have rebuilt a life-size model frontier town out of abandoned buildings from around South Dakota.  They have a general store, a photography studio, a few churches, a school, a saloon, and more.  You can walk out to a homestead and experience what it might have been like to live there and have to walk to school every day.  There are animals to visit, train cars to climb in, and so many fun places to take pictures.  You can even spend a few bucks to rent a costume for every member of the family to make the experience even more realistic.  Some knowledge of history would be helpful before your kids visit to make the attraction more significant.


Laura Ingall's Wilder Home

Fans of the Laura Ingall's Wilder book series need to visit her childhood home on the Shores of Silver Lake.  You can see the original cottonwoods that Pa planted for his girls, sit in the school where she attended, and see original artifacts and graves from the family.


Black Hills Mining Museum

Pulling valuable rocks out of the mountains were a big business in South Dakota, and your family can learn more about how mining happened in the past at this museum.  You can see the tools of mining and even experience a simulated mine tour.  If your family is interested in geology, you should check out this museum!


South Dakota State Railroad Museum

It seems to be a theme with these museums and attractions that they so often have very bad websites with very little information on them.  It's makes it a bit difficult to research them and to write reviews of them (sigh).  This train museum has great reviews from other families, lauding its interactive exhibits and train rides.  This would be an especially important place to visit if you have any train nuts in your family.


Prairie Homestead Sod House

Explore an early 1900's prairie homestead complete with farm animals at this original sod house near the Badlands (one of our favorite places).  The house is still full of artifacts from the family and gives a very good idea of how pioneers lived and how difficult their life would have been on the prairie.  They also have prairie costumes to put on to enhance the experience and give you great Christmas card pictures.  Of you're lucky, you might even see a prairie dog!


Explore Native American and Pioneer history in South Dakota with these interactive attractions for the whole family.

Native American History


Crazy Horse Monument

You might be tempted to pass by this mountain carving as just another Mt. Rushmore, but I think this attraction might be worth visiting.  Besides the gigantic size of this monument, the site also hosts the Indian Museum of North America.  You can see a good overview of the museum and the location on this Underground History video.  I haven't visited this place, but based on the video and the things I've read, it seems like an attraction that would be better for older kids, as it doesn't feature anything interactive and contains a lot of fine art and artifacts.


The Journey Museum

My family visited The Journey Museum in Rapid City when I was a young teenager.  We didn't know anything about it before we went and were very impressed.  It looks like the museum has expanded even more in the past twenty years and has even more opportunities for kids.  The building takes you on a literal journey from the geological formation of the Black Hills, the age of the dinosaurs, ancient civilizations, Plains Indians, pioneer history, and more.  There are even interactive exhibits to engage this kids even more!  I'm very excited to take my kids to this museum the next time we pass through the area.


Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

This museum is an ongoing archeological dig site, where an ancient civilization once stood.  The museum hosts lots of artifacts from the area and has the opportunity for kids to dig for arrowheads.  It sounds a lot like the Mammoth Dig Site that we visited this summer (see my post here), which prompted a lot discussions while we were driving.  I think this attraction would fire kids' imaginations, too.


Akta Lakota Museum

The website for this museum doesn't have a great amount of details, so I'm really not sure how good this place is for families.  It's built on the site of St. Joseph Indian School (a name with a troubling history), but the museum seeks to preserve the history that the school once tried to eliminate.  According to some Google reviews, there are many interactive exhibits for kids, which makes me very happy and moves this place up on our bucket list.


What are your favorite places to visit in South Dakota? 
Comment below!


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