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Rapid City, South Dakota: Family Travel Guide

Make your way to Mount Rushmore from this South Dakota city
Rapid City, South Dakota
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/ Source: TODAY

What to do in Rapid City

This small city is best known as a gateway to the national icon of sculpted Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills National Forest.

Mt Rushmore National MemorialGetty Images

Where to go in Rapid City

The journey to Mount Rushmore on the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, with its stone tunnels and switchbacks, is almost as memorable as seeing the massive stone carving of the four presidents. When you've finished admiring the mountain, head to the visitors' center to learn more about the sculpting process and a bit of presidential history, too. About twenty minutes south is the unfinished granite memorial of Lakota chief and warrior Crazy Horse. It has been under construction since 1948 and when it is finished, it is expected to dwarf Mount Rushmore. Visitors can also learn more about the Lakota and the progress on the memorial at the Native American Educational & Cultural Center and the Indian Museum of North America.

To the south, the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs is a working paleontological excavation area that researchers estimate to be between 26,000 and 50,000 years old; it was discovered by an equipment operator in the mid 1970s. As the story goes, a cavern collapsed thousands of years ago and a 65-foot sinkhole was formed. It filled with water, luring thirsty animals, and some of them drowned inside. The fossils of not only mammoths but also bears, camels, llama, wolves, moles and ferrets have been discovered, and more are still being found. There's a museum on site, and if you sign up in advance, kids can help excavate during special summer classes.

Crazy Horse MemorialKevinEilbeckPhotography / Crazy Horse Memorial

Where to stay in Rapid City

Families can feel good booking at the Cambria Rapid City, since they're guaranteed to get a room with a sofa bed in a separate sleeping area. Deluxe suites take privacy a step further with an actual door. The Lazy U Motel is a mom-and-pop motor inn with spotless rooms, affordable rates (well under $100 per night!) and a homey vibe. There are double queen rooms or, for even more space, book a group suite, which has three queen beds.

Lazy U HotelLazy U Hotel

Where to eat in Rapid City

The name of the restaurant kōl is pronounced "coal," as in the stuff that powers their fiery oven. Not surprisingly, the hand-tossed pizzas are the house specialty (there's even a gluten-free crust option) and there are several creative choices, like Notorious P.I.G., with three types of pork (bacon, pork belly and sausage) and Figgy, Figgy Parm (made with fig, prosciutto, arugula, pear, and various cheeses, including parmesan). Laughing Water Restaurant overlooks the Crazy Horse memorial. House-made Native American fry bread is used in dishes like tacos and also served topped with wojapi, a warm berry sauce, for dessert. Coffee is always served on the house, which road-weary parents will appreciate.

Looking for more of the best vacations with kids? Check out TODAY's Family Travel Guide.