Traveling with families, some sort of budget is ever present, it has to be with so many mouths to feed and potential gift store purchases because its one for all, whatever that one may be. Vacation costs can become exponentially out of control if its not at least floating in the sub-conscious of one of the the controlling parties. That's the nature of the game but certainly never one that should prevent travel and quality time together.
A great thing about the Black Hills and Badlands is they are home to a bevy of stops and attractions, and a strong selling point for the region is how affordable so many are. Some even no-strings-attached free!
So as a father of two and with the married with children demographic in mind, presented here are ten favorite free things to do in the Black Hills (or very nearly any ways) in no particular order. Of course, these are just a some of the free or inexpensive things to do in the Black Hills. With so many national & state parks, city parks, trails and otherwise, one can fill five days with amazing experiences including every town in the Black Hills while still holding to a budget (miserly or loosely).
City View Trolley Tour, Rapid City - We promise free stops in the headline and then start the list with a nearly free item. "Of course," you say and we say, "Yes, of course we did but hear us out." Because this tour can encompass an entire day and includes stops at numerous free attractions with unlimited on/off access for only $2 per adult and $1 for kids 12 and under. It includes vintage fun stops like Storybook Island and Dinosaur Park, two family attractions that have been giving kids and their parents a great way to spend a couple of hours for generations. It also includes newer notable attractions like the City of Presidents and Main St. Square and more! The value of this offering really can’t be beat.
Museum of Geology, Rapid City - This free attraction located on the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus, houses an impressive collection of dinosaur fossils like a colossal Mammoth skull or triceratops skull plus shiny baubles, gems and stones that will blow the minds of ma, pa and the little ones.
Outdoor Campus West, Rapid City - The outdoors are a big part of life in South Dakota and the amazing new Outdoor Campus allows visitors of all ages the chance to experience why. And for free.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone - For the sake of variety (and because we started this list with a not technically free attraction) we waited to mention America’s Shrine of Democracy. Technically it is free but that would involve dropping off your better half with the children, parking in Keystone and then hiking two miles or so uphill to join them. I would just pay the $11 parking fee which will get you in absolutely free next time you visit; plus, averaged out between the bunch, we’re only talking $2-$4 per anyways.
Wall Drug Store, Wall - The Wall Drug Store is another quintessential Black Hills attraction that has been spurred lively debate between Americana road side attraction or tourist trap. We say don’t overthink it and enjoy all the quirky little things (and free ice water) that have made this such a popular free stop for generations as well.
D.C. Booth Historic Natural Fish Hatchery and Spearfish City Park, Spearfish - The heart of Spearfish is very much evident to anyone who’s come across the park and D.C. Booth on a zippity-do-da sunny day. The area is beautiful and the kids (and adults) love skipping stones in the stream and feeding the fish in the Hatchery with a $1 or $2 bag of fish food from the gift store.
Roughlock Falls State Rec Area, Spearfish Canyon - I always mention this one as its a favorite stop of my family for years now and we’re not alone in that sentiment. Park at Spearfish Canyon Lodge and take the easy Roughlock Falls Trail up to this serene waterfall. All ages appreciate the beauty of this place.
Mount Moriah Cemetery, Deadwood - The history and heritage of Deadwood is a colorful collection of western lore for sure, much of it now (hopefully) resting at Mount Moriah overlooking this legendary town. Granted its not a playground and could invoke discussion on some heavy concepts for young inquiring minds plus it costs a whopping $1 a piece for entry. But pony up the dough because its location and chance to hear/share some good western stories about Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock and others make it a must see.
George S. Mickelson Trail, Hills-wide - This isn’t technically free either but at $3 per rider its super cheap and one of the most immersive ways to experience the beauty of the Black Hills, whether by hiking, biking or horse-back riding. This 109-mile trail runs cuts through the center of the Black Hills, from north to south.
Black Hills National Forest Hiking Trails, Hills-wide - There are 1.2 million acres of public lands in the Black Hills National Forest and dozens of trails await within. Check out the Flume Trail, Harney Peak South Trail or Crow Peak Trail for some amazing time with the family exploring nature.